Bernard A. Drew: Artistic women who shone out west
Two Berkshire women active in the world of art were born the same year: Ala Story (1907-1972) and Yvonne Twining Humber (1907-2004).
Ala Story had a home on Brush Hill Road in Great Barrington opposite Eisner Camp. She was born in Vienna, Austria. Her name at birth was Emilie Anna Maria Heyzszl von Heyszenau. Her father was a commander of the Uhlans cavalry under Franz Joseph in the old Austro-Hungarian empire.
She studied at Vienna Academy of Fine Arts for five years. But when she viewed the first retrospective exhibition of Vincent van Gogh in 1928, "it shattered her illusion of being a creative artist," according to "The Ala Story Collection of International Modern Art," a catalog from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Story's mother sent her to London to learn English, and there she decided to pursue a different career in the world of art. She organized gallery exhibitions of contemporary artists, the first, while still a teenage, happened to be the first London exhibit of Wiener Werkstatte (Vienna Arts and Crafts). She became partner and co-director of the Redfern Gallery in London and founded the Stafford Gallery. She created the British Art Center to showcase the work of soldier artists.
At the start of World War II she moved to the United States. She started the American-British Art Center in New York to provide a venue for British artists. She organized dozens of exhibits of art by Oskar Kokoschka, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Auguste Rodin, Gertrude Stein and others. She was director of the Santa Barbara Museum in California from 1952 to 1957. Then she became staff specialist in art at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
"Her belief in the important place of art and artists in the life of the community and her dedication to the idea of ‘museum' was the leitmotif of her life before, during and after her directorship," said Richard Vincent West, director of Santa Barbara Museum, in an appreciation.
A long-time summer resident in Great Barrington, she was close friend of Erica Anderson, director of the now-closed Albert Schweitzer Friendship House. A true marker of Story's joining the Berkshire community: She worked with Ed Carroll of Barrington Fair in 1948 to put together an art show as part of the annual September event. In 1950 she organized an exhibition of Grandma Moses paintings at Elm Court in Lenox. Two years later, she orchestrated a showing of contemporary British art for Mount Holyoke Friends of Art in South Hadley.
Story's papers are in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian and in the Frick Collection.
Yvonne Twining Humber was Frances Yvonne Twining when she was born in New York City, the daughter of a tea importer and amateur watercolorist, Harry Esmond Twining, and his wife, Emma Potts Twining, an opera singer known as Madame d'Egremont. The family lived variously in London, Wales and Montreal.
After her father's death in 1917, Yvonne and her mother returned to her mother's hometown, South Egremont. Yvonne developed her skills as an artist with neighbor artists Charles and Katherine Almond Hulbert, well-known American Impressionists, according to the Egremont Historical Commission website. She studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and the Art Students League. During her time in New York she lived at the Three Arts Club. She took instruction from Charles Hawthorne in Provincetown from 1928 to 1930. She took commercial art assignments and was staff artist for the Berkshire Courier.
During the Depression, from 1935 to 1943, she was an easel painter in Boston under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration. Her urban scenes and farmscapes drew attention for their distinct style. An oil painting of laborers going home from work at Rising Paper is in the collection of the Great Barrington Historical Society. In it one can see hints of the some of the boldness of the styles of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton.
The artist married wholesaler Irving Humber in 1943. They moved to Seattle, Wash., where she established herself in the art community. She gradually worked away from her original American Realism and Regionalism. At the same time, she did not mimic other Northwest painters active in the area.
She also raised a family and traveled widely. She painted with a group known as the Women Painters of Washington. Her works appeared in numerous exhibits. She endowed the twining-Humber Award for Lifetime Achievement, a $10,000 prize given annually by Seattle's Artist Trust. The Seattle Museum has two of her paintings in its permanent collection.
Critic and biographer Claudia J. Bach said the artist "believed that she was drawn to the visual arts as a way to separate herself from her mother's accomplishments and strong personality. She stated that her art provided a way for her to define her individuality and she had a dogged determination in this regard."
Did the exhibition of late 19th and early 20th century American paintings Ala Story organized for the Seattle Art Museum in 1954 include any works by Yvonne Twining Humber? Likely not as Story concentrated on artists influenced by French Impressionists. Humber, meanwhile, was showing at the Northwest Arts and Crafts Fair.
Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.
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