"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
June 01, 2015
Post Tuna, Part Two
by Lawrence Jeppson

Gene Galasso came back from the Bruxelles Worlds Fair chockablock with visual ideas. The fair was an optical extravaganza, ranging from the architectural exclamations of the towering Atomium, to promotional movies, giant photographs, and all manner of written images.

The paths through many of the pavilions were rigid: you entered this portal and you came out another, every step channeled. The eye-fetching, circular American Pavilion designed by Edward Durell Stone allowed visitors to enter in various places and wander about without being forced this way and that. [The pavilion led to Stone’s designing the Kennedy Center in D.C.]

What really astonished visitors to the United States Pavilion was the first European showing of a selection of artists known as Abstract Expressionists, a movement that would overtake and dominate the world, in one form or another, for several decades.

Unlike the simplicity of the Americans, the French Pavilion was intended to demonstrate that no one in the world could match French structural imagination and engineering.

The graphic ideas of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian were evidenced everywhere: it was the heyday of Mondrian layouts: squares of varying sizes and colors hemmed in by strong black or colored bars. No curves, no squiggles. Gene brought Mondrianism back with him and occasionally used its principles in some of the printed pieces we produced for clients.

The young artist who had almost lost his life to a big tuna off Cape Cod was quickly broadening his horizon.

[I first told his tuna adventure in detail in “An Arty Fish Tale,” 6 August 2012. When Gene appeared to me seeking a job as my graphics designer he had already made strides as a painter.

[In my earlier column is a picture of his oil painting of a lonely fisherman standing on the shore. Gene entered this is a competition at the Baltimore Museum of Art at a time when only abstract paintings got critical recognition. Unlike the trend, Gene’s painting won first prize.]

As I reported last week, Gene went from Bruxelles to Paris to meet with my new friends and clients, the cartonniers who were creating modern, handwoven, Aubusson tapestries.

In the spring of next year, 1959, the first showing in America dedicated exclusively to modern French tapestries was held in the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, just off Fifth Avenue in Mid-town Manhattan. Mathieu Matégot was one of the artists I had met in Paris. He came to the opening as official delegate from the Association des Peintres-Cartonniers de Tapisserie, just one of many meetings we would have on both sides of the Atlantic, as we became very close friends.

The head of the museum, Tom Tibbs, and I also became friends. Tom went on to direct the art museum in Des Moines and later the one in La Jolla.

The Mycenae behind the museum, Contemporary Crafts magazine, and the entire American crafts movement was Aileen Osborn Vanderbilt Webb, a woman of erudition, taste, enthusiasm, energy, and deep pockets. Matégot and I were invited to visit her in her posh apartment. It was the first time I saw privately owned paintings by Van Gogh and Gauguin.

The grand, by invitation, museum opening was a social event, meaning the guests included many who flitted back and forth over the ocean but had little understanding of art. Among the gadflies I met Salvadore Dali. A day or so later I visited Tibbs in his office. Scowling, he was not happy with the opening and referred to the guests as including a lot of “Euro-trash.”

Time magazine gave the show a two-page review, which included illustrations of a tapestry by Mario Prassinos and one by Matégot. I believe this may have been the historic first occasion that Time used color in its editorial pages. (Shirley MacLaine was on the cover.) The story was entitled “Murals of Wool.”

After the exhibition closed at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts I brought it for showing at the new Washingon headquarters of the National Association of Home Builders. Mrs. Anne Marie Pope, the head of the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service, saw it there and asked to take over and circulate the collection to other American museums.

This circuit proved so successful that Anne Marie asked for a second group of tapestries to circulate to other museums. I worked it out, and the circuit was equally successful.

The Crafts Museum catalog was a modest black and white production. Informative, but not thrilling. Gene and I set out to create something much better — a new book, lavishly illustrated. This would be the first book I’d write about art.

Appropriating Time’s title, I researched and wrote the text, which I called Murals of Wool.

Then Gene and I went to work to give the spiritually created physical form.

Like the Crafts Museum, we didn’t have a lot of money and needed to economize whenever possible. Color photography and color separations were costly. The rotogravure section of The Philadelphia Enquirer printed a full page of color illustrations. For each illustrated tapestry, the newspaper and Time generously provided us with proofs of each color separation, and Gene was able to adapt these to our use.

The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a Fernand Leger tapestry when the collection came to Washington, but the separations for pulp-paper printing were not suitable for us.

Gene did a drypoint drawing of old Aubusson, with the Creuse River bisecting it, and a drawing of a generic artist painting a cartoon.

Old Aubusson, with the Creuse River bisecting it.

Generic artist painting a cartoon.

At the start of the text is an illustration of a small metal sculpture depicting a weaver seated at his loom. This sculpture by M. Debičve was given to me by Denise Majorel and Madeleine David of Gallery La Demeure, Paris, the artists’ representatives. I have since used the figure on my letterheads.

Being hand-woven art, tapestries have a tactile feel. To convey this, we decided to print Murals of Wool on a slightly textured stock.

Gene selected a detail from a Matégot tapestry to use on the cover.

Offset lithography uses four colors. Although there are standards, in reality these four colors, including black, can vary.

Before coming to work for me, Gene had been employed as staff artist for Capitol Printing Ink Company. Knowing the demands of our color separations, the nature of our paper, the abilities of our printer, and the results he wanted, Gene personally formulated and supervised the production of the inks our printer would use.

My scanner could not cover it all. There is more to the top and bottom.

The resulting publication was gorgeous. In recognition, the national Printers and Lithographers Association gave Murals of Wool and its creators its highest award.

That was like getting an Academy Award.

Most of my award. Again, the award plaque was too large for my scanner.

As I wrote last week, I was helping as public relations counsel to the American Society of Association Executives. ASAE was holding its annual meeting in the Boca Raton Country Club in Florida. Because my modest firm was working with a number of trade associations and wanted more of them for clients, we needed to have a presence at the convention.

I also wanted to see the country club for personal reasons. During WWII, the Air Corps commandeered it to train its meteorologists. That’s where my brother Morris Richard was sent when he enlisted. When the Corps decided it didn’t need any more weathermen, Richard went off on a sequence of training assignments at Yale, MIT, and Harvard, culminating in his becoming the atom bomb operator on the Enola Gay.

George Romney had headed the National Automobile Manufacturers Association in Washington before he became CEO of American Motors, from which he went on to become governor of Michigan. He was widely considered to be a candidate for the United States presidency.

ASAE wanted to honor him as the Trade Association Executive of the Year. George came to Boca Raton to relax, play golf, receive the award, and give an acceptance talk that was clearly of presidential quality.

My staff and I were involved in these things. I had the delight in telling Mrs. Romney that my mother had been named after her grandmother and that her grandmother and my mother’s grandmother were sisters.

Eager to attract conventions, the four-star resort worked out a deal with the Trade Association Executives. Room rates, which included all meals, as well as use of the private Atlantic beach and the golf course, were slashed. Rates for single or double occupancy were the same. A post-convention trip to the Bahamas was offered.

I planned to drive to Florida, taking my wife and staff members Gene and Harry David, at agency expense of course.

At the time Gene was seriously dating a single mother. I said to him, “If you are serious about Liz, here is a way to save money on a honeymoon. We’ll keep out of your way.”

And that is exactly what happened.

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About Lawrence Jeppson

Lawrence Jeppson is an art consultant, organizer and curator of art exhibitions, writer, editor and publisher, lecturer, art historian, and appraiser. He is America's leading authority on modern, handwoven French tapestries. He is expert on the works of William Henry Clapp, Nat Leeb, Tsing-fang Chen, and several French artists.

He is founding president of the non-profit Mathieu Matégot Foundation for Contemporary Tapestry, whose purview encompasses all 20th-century tapestry, an interest that traces back to 1948. For many years he represented the Association des Peintres-Cartonniers de Tapisserie and Arelis in America.

Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services he has been a contributor to or organizer of more than 200 art exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. He owns AcroEditions, which publishes and/or distributes multiple-original art. He was co-founder and artistic director of Collectors' Investment Fund.

He is the director of the Spring Arts Foundation; Utah Cultural Arts Foundation, and the Fine Arts Legacy Foundation

Lawrence is an early-in-the-month home teacher, whose beat is by elevator. In addition, he has spent the past six years hosting and promoting reunions of the missionaries who served in the French Mission (France, Belgium, and Switzerland) during the decade after WWII.

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