A rare exhibition of the works on paper by Ben Solowey is going up October 3 at the studio-cum-museum that bears his name, a cable from its director, David Leopold, informs us. His wire comes with the subject line “Worth the Wait,” and I have no doubt of it, and not just because Solowey openings are rare. The painter, who lived and worked at Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was one of my boyhood heroes and, by any account, is an American master.
It looks like the show about to open is something of a scoop, focusing as it does on works on paper. “Some of Ben Solowey’s greatest works are on paper, not canvas,” says Mr. Leopold. “He was an acknowledged master of draughtsmanship, and there are terrific drawings in the show, including portraits of his favorite subject, his wife Rae. Yet there are also sublime paintings in watercolor and casein, and a small but remarkable body of monotype prints that reveal his lifelong interest in experimentation.”
Mr. Leopold writes that the museum was offered a “cache of some of Ben’s finest drawings and paintings from a private collection,” almost all of which will be in the show opening next month. “Many of these have either never been exhibited before, or have not be on view to the pubic over fifty years. They are hidden treasures.” The include “Young Woman With Still Life,” for which Rae was the sitter, and “Pink Tablecloth,” which hasn’t been to the studio since it was painted there in 1948 (it won in 1954 the Gold Medal from the Fellowship at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,” Leopold reminds us).
It is, I have learned from personal experience over the years, a thrill to see paintings exhibited in the studio in which many of them were created. As a boy, I visited Solowey many times at his studio, set amid a small farm that was kept in immaculate condition by both him and Rae, a master baker. Rarely has life and art blended so well together. On visits to the Berkshires, where I grew up, Ben, a friend of my parents, permitted me to accompany him in his massive Buick on excursions to the Clark Museum, where he would lecture me on technique while standing before works by, to name but a few, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, and George Innes.
Solowey was an artist of the old school, for whom accurate drawing was fundamental, and it is clear from the wire that Mr. Leopold sent that the exhibition about to open will give a glimpse of his dedication to this element of art. Solowey had honed his abilities doing theater drawings for the New York papers. The great thing about that line is that it requires speed, an often underappreciated skill of the greatest artists (and essential, given the fleeting nature of facial expressions and postures). What a shame that Solowey and Rae have long since gone — but what a joy that Mr. Leopold has dedicated so much of his career as a curator to keeping his art alive.
Regular admission to “Ben Solowey’s Paper Trail” is $5, Saturdays and Sundays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through October 18th. The Studio of Ben Solowey is located at 3551 Olde Bedminster Road in Ottsville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.