Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Rediscovering a treasured artist

"Girl with a Muff," by Cherry J. Huldah

When I was a little girl, I used to love to visit the home of Auntie and Uncle Bill.

"Auntie" was actually my mother's Aunt Cynthia. (She was Cynthia Pearl; my mother was named Cynthia Anne after her, and I am Cynthia Susan.) Uncle Bill was a West Texas executive with the Gulf Oil Corporation.

Many of my childhood memories revolve around visits to their lovely and gracious ranch-style home in Midland, Texas. I loved everything about it, including its characteristic fragrance that I couldn't quite put my finger on. My mom later said it was the smell of expensive things--good perfume, quality furniture and clothes, I don't know...I only wish I could approximate that smell in my own home.

Uncle Bill was a remarkable man of German descent. The couple had no children of their own, and they took my married-very-young parents under their wing. They lavished them--and later us children--with affection, timely gifts of both material things and money (always seeming to arrive when it was most needed), and, in Uncle Bill's case, practical advice and insightful wisdom and guidance. My mother adored Auntie and Uncle Bill, and the adoration was mutual.

Auntie had been a beautiful woman, and was still striking in her sixties. (Uncle Bill died of what used to be called "sugar diabetes" on the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.)

Auntie and her sister, my maternal grandmother, were both enamored with cosmetics. I always think of Auntie with her rather exotic-looking black hair and naturally dark complexion (no tanning booths for her!), wearing red lipstick and red nail polish on her long fingernails, dressed impeccably in tasteful but fashionable clothes and jewelry, smelling like a million dollars and looking like someone in a Barbara Stanwyck or Katherine Hepburn movie.

(My memories of my grandmother, by the way, include sitting up with her watching the late show on TV while she carefully slathered her face with various creams in her nightly routine. She used to say that she could never pass up a cosmetics counter, and I inherited the fascination. It is hard-wired into me to linger at the Estee Lauder bay.)

Something else I may have inherited from Auntie was my fascination with the "beautiful people." One feature of her lovely home was a magazine holder that was generally stacked with movie magazines. During my visits, I perused them even though my parents didn't approve at all. Everything Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were up to at the time was chronicled in those magazines. I usually just stared in fascination at the pictures of Elizabeth, who I believe really was the most beautiful woman in the world at the time.

And even as a little girl, I was drawn to interior decorating. I knew what I liked. I knew I loved the den, with its graceful armchairs and leather-bound books and authentic German beer steins and Hummel figurines, and the beautiful desk, and one of the first color television sets I'd ever seen. I even loved the kitchen, where Auntie always made sure the refrigerator held Borden's Dutch Chocolate milk, which I remember being almost as thick and creamy as a milk shake. Do they make it like that anymore?

But most of all, I loved the bedrooms, with their four-poster beds and vanities and snowy chenille bedspreads and graceful lamps.

My eyes were always drawn to the framed prints of lovely, serene, sooty-eyed 19th-century ladies, dressed to the nines with upswept black hair and little hats, looking like they were out for a discreet little stroll with parasols in hand.

The prints were signed in slanting black cursive: huldah.

When Auntie died in 1969, my mom inherited the house and everything that was in it, so the "Huldah" prints became a permanent part of my growing-up years. I loved the feeling that just looking at them invoked.

Now, my husband and daughter and I are on the verge of moving into a home that is new to us, and we're excitedly planning how we're going to decorate each room (although I'm sure it will be an evolving process.)

For the first time, Liz and I will have a bathroom that will pretty much be the girls' room. So we've painted it pink, and it's going to have a Paris theme, with touches of black.

Not long ago, I was given a gift certificate to a local antiques mall. I was delighted to find a framed Huldah print for twelve dollars. The beautiful dark-eyed girl is dressed in pink, with touches of black. Yep, it's going in the ladies' bathroom.

Curious about Huldah, I did a Google search. There's little information about her online, but I did find this short bio at CHERRY JEFFE HULDAH (20th C. American)--

"An American fine artist, Huldah was an accomplished figure painter who studied at the Art Student’s League and Grand Central School in New York City. She focused on turn of the century women and adolescent girls. Her young ladies are costumed in the fashionable attire of the period, and her style hints of impressionism with a strong Renoir influence. Inspired by a period known as La Belle Epoque, Huldah’s designs were incorporated into 31 collectible porcelain works of art which were created between 1959 and 1968 and distributed into the 1980s. Huldah retired in Palm Beach Florida. 'I was mad about the turn of the century,” she says. “Women were so feminine. Their clothes were so beautiful. I was inspired by that era.'”

The picture you see above and another print called "The Last Act," depicting ballerinas, are among the only available Huldah prints online. I did see one circa 1979 picture on eBay, but the style was slightly different from the earlier ones that I like so much.

Just as rediscovering a favorite childhood book invokes happy, nostalgic memories, rediscovering Huldah has warmed my soul with memories of loved ones and an era in my life long gone. It's wonderful to recapture even a wisp of that feeling.

The Christian Carnival is up...

Do check out the Christian Carnival, which is being hosted this week by Wallo World. It's a round-up of some really good posts made by Christian bloggers during the past week.

Anyone can participate--go here to read the guidelines.

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