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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

What happened is this:  a friend forgot her birthday flowers. They sit in a sky blue vase in Steve’s kitchen catching the morning light.

And so I have this unique opportunity, until their owner’s return, to photograph many pretty petals, in black and white and in color.

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I still have rocks to photograph, an acorn cap, and even the wings of a wasp.  I am grateful for the “nature offerings” that people give to me with the simple charge of “try photographing this.”  Today’s offering that called to me was a branch with many curled leaves. It is an evolving photo shoot that began with the branch on a black plate.  And then, as usual, I wondered what would happen if I filled the plate with water.  And then, as usual, wonderful things happened, I think.

 

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paintings by carl hofer

paintings by carl hofer

I enjoyed photographing the apricot and other fruits earlier this week.  In part, I was inspired by Carl Hofer‘s Bowl of Peaches and his other fruit still life paintings.  I did not know he was an artist when I began researching his life, nor could I imagine how much I would love his work.

paintings by carl hofer

paintings by carl hofer

My research began with only a name engraved on custom stationery and a signature at the bottom of a handwritten letter, dated 1948, addressed to Joseph A. Horne, the Director of the Offenbach Archival Depot.  The script was beautiful but illegible for me since it was in German.  Horne’s son remembered his father referring to the man but no other details about who he was or how his father and this Hofer might have met.

carl hofer painting

carl hofer painting

As part of my ongoing walk through history with Mr. Horne, I wanted to know more about this man in his life.  Translation of the letter would come later, but I began by researching the only words in the letter I could immediately understand, his name.

carl hofer self-portraits, spanning1920-1945

carl hofer self-portraits, spanning1920-1945

I quickly learned that Carl Hofer (1878-1955) was a noted German expressionist painter, printer and illustrator whose work  had been appearing in exhibits around the world since the early 1900s. At the end of this post are some of the links I found describing this important artist and teacher whose name may not be that familiar today outside of art circles. If not for Horne’s letter, I would not have learned of his work.

carl hofer paintings

carl hofer paintings

Of the many documents lost over time, that letter was one of the few that Horne retained.  For those of you familiar with my Interludes series, you know that Horne was involved with the recovery and restitution of stolen artwork, books and other cultural items in post-war Germany.  And he was also involved with those activities to foster and reinvigorate the artist communities in a war-ravaged Germany.  It is undoubtedly through these activities that Horne and Hofer met in the late 1940s.

carl hofer in later years, late 1940s

carl hofer in later years, late 1940s

Earlier, in the 1920s Hofer had been teaching art at a respected German institution and his work celebrated world-wide.  But, by the 1930s, he’d made Hitler’s list of degenerate artists.  He was removed from his teaching post.  Over 300 of his works were confiscated from museums and several included in a traveling exhibit of degenerate art alongside the works of Beckmann, Chagall, Kadinsky, Klee, Nolde and other artists.  By the war’s end, in Allied Occupied Germany, he would be reappointed as teacher and director of a new arts academy. As for the years in between and soon after …

carl hofer paintings, period 1947-1948

carl hofer paintings, period 1947-1948

In his memoir, From the Ashes of Disgrace, sociologist Hans Speier describes what happened to Hofer under the Nazis and Speier’s impressions of the man after they met in late 1945:

…The failure to find a safe place to work and live pushed [Hofer] to the brink of despair.  In 1943, a fire destroyed his studio along with all his paintings from the past ten years. He resumed work at once in a room in his apartment, only to be completely bombed out and lose everything in November 1944.  Thereafter he finally found refuge in a sanatorium in Babelsberg near Berlin, where the Nazis were hiding the French politician Herriot … Now [in November 1945] he owns no furniture, and he is hungry.  Nor has he suitable quarters for doing his work.  However, as president of the academy, which has been reconstituted … he is quite busy.  I was almost awed merely by seeing the expression on his face, and by his reserve and his dignity.” (page 25)

I was especially excited to find Speier’s 1945 account because his words corroborated and complemented what Hofer would write to Horne three years later in March 1948.  Once translated, the poignancy of the content came across although the specific meaning of words and references were not immediately clear.  Hofer writes of being touched by Horne’s inquiry into his well-being.  Then, he writes, after having been in the insane asylum for years, “now we are back in an asylum again.” He alludes to the monetary reforms of  postwar Germany that result in the “black market blossoms as never before, only this time prices are higher.”  Finally, he writes of “the American planes drone above our heads, reassuring us day and night that we won’t starve, unless the red Hitler gobbles us up.  It has been a crazy time, so different from what we pictured in our naive hope three years ago.

Berliners watch a C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

Berliners watch a C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

It wasn’t until I spoke with a woman who grew up in the Soviet Union that I understood that the reference to red Hitler was Stalin.  And when I looked more closely at the letter’s date, then did I understand the reference to crazy times, the security of American planes overhead and the possibilities of starvation.  Hofer wrote the letter only a short time before the Berlin Blockade.  As the Soviet blockade took place (June 1948-May 1949), Western Allies dropped food and other supplies into Western Berlin by air.  While the blockade would eventually end, the Cold War was only just beginning.  Hofer survived the blockade, and would continue to teach and to create art for several more years.

Life Magazine article, 1954

Life Magazine article, 1954

Today his work is found in museums, galleries and private collections around the world.  While there are a few more bits of correspondence between Hofer and Horne that I’ve found, their translation is a future project.  For now, it has been my pleasure to learn just a little bit about this influential artist, his perseverance, and the beauty he created until the end of his days in 1955.

 

Sources/Additional Reading

Degenerate Art Overview Wikipedia

Spaightwood Galleries Hofer Bio

Hofer Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art

Art Institute of Chicago Collection

Van Ham Art Estate and Hofer Archive

Life Magazine, May 10, 1954 Article

From the Ashes of Disgrace: A Journal from Germany, 1945-1955 by Hans Speier (page 25)

Berlin Blockade

 

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I wish I had the money to wipe away all of the debts of my family and friends.  Because if their debts were gone, would that make them happy?  Would financial freedom allow them to treat themselves better, as well as improve their treatment of the people in their lives?  No fancy behavior required, just respect, if not outright love and compassion.

Would it enable them to give the people in their lives a hug, on occasion, or at least a pat on the hand, and even sometimes to perform such actions without even being asked? Would it enable them to talk to each other and communicate in ways that work for all involved and not just one side? Perhaps conversations could take place without someone always having to be wrong so that someone can be right.

window8But I don’t have such funds to give and even if I did, I’m not sure that it would make a difference because in the end, I can control no one’s behavior except my own.  Maybe I should wish for the money so that I can travel around the world, to where all these friends and family members live, those that are suffering and in some form of pain. Perhaps I could pass out those hugs or those pats on the hand, so that certain people know that they are loved and that their presence does make a difference to the people around them and always has, even if words of gratitude are not often shared.

Of late I have received so many calls and notes from friends and family, all suffering in some way, but mostly feeling alone though they are surrounded by others.  I hear only their words, and know that there is always more than one side to any story.  I can make no judgements about those others in their lives.  I just wish that all were happy and each knew how precious each day was to have such people in their lives.  I can listen to the words and I can read the notes but I cannot change behavior.  But there is something I can do.
Each spring into summer, I buy seeds of all kinds, in packages large and small.  I send them out into the world to family and friends, of all ages, to help people pause and maybe even share a precious moment with others as they plant the seeds in the soil.  I send them to the closest of friends and family, and I send them to family and friends I know not very well at all.  I send them to the people who cannot speak to each other in hopes they can plant a seed together even if they do so in silence.  It is a selfish act — to know that I did something, gave something, to another.  I do not know what the seeds do for the recipients or even if the seeds are planted.  I simply hope they are.  I hope they are.

*the photographs are the latest series of photographs taken through the rippled glass, of life blurried but still beautiful

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A little yellow squash given as a gift by a friend, earlier in the autumn.  Still catching sunlight in the kitchen.

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It has been a hard month, a hard summer, a hard year, for so many family and friends.  I read their words and hear their voices, and all I have been able to do, in the end, is absorb and listen.   On occasion I have been able to touch, to hug, and to encourage others to take such action.  Sometimes I have offered words of advice but I am beginning to think that, for the most part, those words of advice could be a song or poem or a passage from a book.  The words from my mouth are not so important as is my literal or figurative presence.  I am lucky to have them in my lives as well.

Despite the title of this post, I do not feel at the center of it all, whatever “it” may be.  As a writer, photographer, storyteller, I feel on the periphery, observing the chaos of life from odd angles that reveal ambiguities, sadness, horror, pain but almost always, great beauty, too.  When I talk with the friends and family who are struggling I find myself wishing … and then I stop myself.  I cannot live other peoples’ lives, but I can and often do ask them, “Without ignoring all that’s going wrong, what is going right? What’s one thing making you happy?”  One lovely friend will have a tendency to say, “Well, at least my cat is not dead … yet.”  And I’ll say, “Exactly!” 😉

These are the rambling thoughts that come to mind this Sunday morning as I hold close in my heart those who may be feeling a bit alone or vulnerable or just unsure of next steps.  I certainly feel that way about some things too.  And with that said, what is one thing making me happy at this moment?  It is the morning sun falling upon this apple creating a little apple universe.  At least I see the stars.

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A friend passed this leaf and its mate on the sidewalk.  Struck by their beauty, she paused, picked them up and asked herself, “What can I do with these? I know! I’ll give them to Cynthia to photograph.”  How humbling is that? 😉

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