Sunday, May 30, 2010

Visiting The Parkhurst Archives in Stevens Point Wisconsin

In May I made a trip to Helen Parkhurst’s Archives in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The collection represents an eclectic combination of personal mementoes, awards, publications, mixed with personal writings and memorabilia such as diaries and scrapbooks. There are copies of the Education on the Dalton Plan, in several languages, as well as notebooks and manuscripts for future projects. The archives found their way to Stevens Point as a gift of Parkhurst’s brother, Alden. Wisconsin was her birthplace and she taught in the Stevens Point Normal School from 1912 – 1915 before she left to go to California to work with Maria Montessori, where her gifts as an educator soon brought her to the position of Director of Maria Montessori’s schools in the United States.

In coming to the archives, I had hoped to discover communications between Parkhurst and some of the early art faculty that would help shed light on the role she wanted the arts to play within the Dalton program. However, nothing I found shed new light on this specific subject. What did became clear, was a view of Helen Parkhurst herself. Here was a woman who completely committed her life and energy to exploring the way children learn, evolving educational practices to encourage developmental, intellectual and cultural growth in young people and the dissemination of her ideas. Her independent travels around the world were striking for a woman in those early years of the 20th Century. She was the first woman educator to be welcomed to China in 1924 and throughout the world, spoke publicly to learned groups of academics and politicians, met with government ministers, royalty, and leading educators in an array of countries. The archives give evidence through newspaper clippings, letters, awards, and translated publications that the world was excited by her ideas and that she was honored as a thinker and an educational activist. There were personal sacrifices in evidence as well. In one letter she expresses her decision not to have her own children in order to serve the greater cause of education, and in another, is revealed the deeply upsetting rift with her mentor, when Montessori openly rejects her Dalton Plan as divergent from Montessori’s own vision, after receiving a review copy, unable to give support for Parkhurst’s vision. In all of this, Helen’s boldness, even to the firm style of her handwriting, and her intensity, come to life.

Right : Helen Parkhurst's Japanese Journal, July 1924

Left: Education on the Dalton Plan by Helen Parkhurst, Japanese edition

From the Helen Parkhurst Papers, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

There were a few personal papers, and journals along with a trove of various awards that Parkhurst collected during her lifetime. These included a Radio – Television Critics Award for her 1948-49 ABC radio show Child’s World where Parkhurst began her broadcast career. In each program she took on a different topic, discussing pertinent subjects with a small group of middle school aged students. Parkhurst desire was to investigate how children view and process information. Each week she would select a different theme for her program and the subjects ranged from the serious such things as lying, jealousy, and death, to more typically age appropriate concerns like imaginary friends, heroes, and ambitions. Her direct and frank questions to these children gives the impression that she always treated them with respect, putting each child at ease while masterfully drawing out their personal thoughts and ideas. The show was quite popular, and it aired on 215 ABC affiliate stations. Parkhurst managed to do quite well in the ratings too, and pulled a 4.5 in the Hooper Ratings opposite her competition, Jack Benny.

There are medals from various countries; especially notable among them is the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Orange - Nassau bestowed upon Parkhurst by the Queen of the Netherlands in January of 1957 for her contributions to education. The Dutch appreciated the Dalton Laboratory plan early on, and it is still widely practiced there today.

Oranje - Nassau Medal and Proclamation awarded to Helen Parkhurst, May 14th, 1957, Helen Parkhurst Papers, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Perhaps one of the most fascinating discoveries found in the archives was an unpublished manuscript Parkhurst had written in 1937 titled The Children’s Japan. This long abandoned project was in poor shape with brittle, crumbling pages and missing photographs. The staff of the archives agreed to scan the fragile pages and digitally preserved the book, so that there would be a more stable record of this unusual document. It reflects Parkhurst’s love of the Japanese land, culture and people and the work is profusely illustrated with extraordinary black and white photographs of the places she traveled while exploring the daily life of children. A photographer, she identified only as “Mr. Hamilton,” accompanied her, and produced illustrative images to tell her story. The project never progressed past this hand typed and picture pasted volume. One can only speculate on why it was never published, but as world events began to grow more sinister and Japan’s aggression continued to escalate, it seemed the wrong time to publish such a book. What is evident was Helen’s passion and commitment for this project, for learning about the impact of cultural contexts on children. It also expresses Parkhurst’s sensitivity and character as the teacher, always wanting to share and educate.

From Helen’s illustrated work The Children’s Japan, she certainly saw the importance of the photographic image as a teaching tool. To her the picture could be worth a thousand words. This concept once again becomes evident in another photographic document produced for Dalton in 1941. It is a photo essay on the school itself, containing a few carefully chosen words to accompany over 50 images of the students, teachers, classrooms, and activities found on a daily basis when Dalton was a school of 545 students with 85 teachers housed in 10 floors of the brick building at 108 East 89th Street. It is an accurate portrait of a progressive school at the height of Parkhurst’s career. Photographer Barbara Morgan captures the range of activities happening in this small community with crystal clarity. Morgan was a gifted photographer, who was producing some of her most important photographic work with dance pioneer, Martha Graham and her company. In the Dalton essay, Morgan captures children in their daily activities from playtime on the roof to dissecting frogs in the science lab. One is struck by the active quality of the school and the energy and excitement of children in action. Many images represent the arts - dance, theatre, music, painting and sculpture. They help shed light on what was to be a hallmark of a Dalton education, the integration and appreciation of the arts. In one of the Morgan photographs taken in the art studio we find Dalton senior Constance (Heiman) Feinson, class of 1941, posed with her sculpture of a flamingo with it’s long neck looped around to rest on the birds right wing. Behind her stands her sculpture teacher, Alexander Archipenko. Though only at the school for this brief time, we can see the Archipenko influence on this young woman’s work. The bird is a series of sympathetic arcs from the small details of its feather to the neck’s curve and finally to the sculpture’s curvilinear wings revealing the bird’s torso. The bird is a composite of realism and abstraction that contains both solid and void, color and detail. Though the more junior artist doesn’t yet command the medium, she has learned and processed much from her artist teacher. Vividly this one picture captures the influence of Archipenko as teacher, and Dalton as learning environment.

Photographs of The Dalton School Facade (cover) and Archipeko with his student were taken by Barbara Morgan
for the 1941 photo essay on the Dalton School
This publication is part of the Helen Parkhurst Papers at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Conversation with Frances Archipenko Gray

In late March, I visited the Archipenko Foundation in Bearsville, New York, a two mile drive due west of Woodstock center. Archipenko maintained a studio, home and school on this 13 acre wooded site for most of his career. He summered there, maintained his studio, and conducted classes in painting and sculpture for students looking to advance their artistic understanding. As you come through the main door of the Foundation you enter a clean white contemporary work place with computers on desks, lateral file cabinets and busy archivists performing a range of activities. But soon you realize that you are standing in the converted atelier for his school. A diagonal wall with a patchwork of large windows offers a view of a vertical moss covered rock wall of the former quarry that once occupied the site. In this well illuminated and irregular space, made by the hands of Archipenko, it is easy to imagine the former school filled with modeling stands, bags of clay and interested young students. A black and white photograph on the wall attests to the studio’s former life and its jumble of activities, accretion of materials and student work. Archipenko stands surrounded by young men and women and one sees the space as it once was, filled with a different energy and excitement.

I have come to meet Alexandra Keiser, Research Curator of the Archipenko Foundation. We have an appointment to go over the few details she might reveal about the artist’s teaching experience at Dalton in the early 1940s, or perhaps details of two gifted students, Lu Duble and Rhys Caparn, who subsequently taught sculpture at Dalton in Archipenko’s wake. Alexandra greets me, apologizes for not having very much information about Dalton and introduces me to Frances Archipenko Gray, the artist’s widow. Both Frances and Alexandra seem curious about my research as it offers them a small window into a history with which they are less familiar. We stand and talk and I fill them in on how Parkhurst brought all these interesting artists to her progressive school. As I continue to share my findings and ask questions, Frances invites me up the stairs to the connected living space, renovated since Archipenko’s time, to sit and conduct an impromptu interview. Without tape recorder, video or much preparation, I asked her a few questions to learn more about Archipenko the artist and teacher. My only distraction is Frances’ standard poodle Lucy who desires much petting and attention. Here are some of my recollections of our conversation.

Frances spent her youth in New York City, growing up in Washington Heights and attended The Calhoun School. She tells me that private schools were very different then, much simpler affairs, but that Dalton already had a reputation of its own of being more progressive and prestigious then her Calhoun. When she graduated high school she attended Bennington, already knowing that she wanted to make art. Frances began to study with the painter, Paul Feeley1, but she tells me that she didn’t want to commit to his formal class. She just wanted to work. She proposed to him that she paint in her dorm room throughout the semester, and invite him to critique her work at the end of the semester. She seemed surprised when he accepted, and even more surprised when he gave her a favorable review, admitting to me that she didn’t think her work at that time was very good.

As our conversation continues I am developing an impression of Frances as an independent and artistic young woman, ready and willing to engage in something real, tactile and tangible. Feeley offered just the right support to this independent mind, and when she was to apply to graduate school at Yale, Feeley would write her letter of recommendation. Frances would be accepted to the art program and enter in the fall, but she did something that summer that would change the path of her artistic explorations. She wished to continue working over that summer and her sculpture professor, Simon Moselsio, suggested that she might work either with Hans Hofmann or Alexander Archipenko. Archipenko, she was warned, did not always get along with some of his students and could be a bit gruff. But for whatever reason, Frances joined his summer session in the very Bearsville studio that she would eventually call home.

The summer group was small, and she remembered considering many of the students less committed to their art then she. She began studying painting and sculpture with Archipenko and her enthusiasm garnered attention from the master. I was curious as to the nature of his assignments, as they may have had similar themes to his teaching at Dalton. Frances gave me a few examples. Archipenko stressed line in much of his drawing and painting. Students used large sheets of paper and filled them with line drawings as preliminary ideas for sculptures. Archipenko would place emphasis on the lines and proportions, and at times he would alter one linear element in a student’s work. Frances said that this would cause you to rework the piece until eventually you would end up changing the whole composition.

She described another assignment where she would compose a three dimensional still life on a table surface, and then, with her back to the subject, paint the arrangement of objects from memory, not facing the composition she had just constructed. “He was big on memory,” she says. She loosens the severity of the assignment by telling me that you could look at your still life again, but not directly while you were painting. This exercise touches on the essential skill an artist must acquire to be able to “see,” then retain, and finally express.

From these drawing and painting exercises Frances was introduced to Archipenko’s sculptural domain. She had studied sculpture with Moselsio at Bennington modeling in plastiline and casting sculpture in plaster. Her first carvings were done under Archipenko’s tutelage, but first Frances had to construct her own worktable in the studio, using only hand tools to make her first piece of furniture. He was very “hands on” she tells me, and technically proficient. From here she was on her way to falling in love with sculpture.

By summer’s end Frances was ready to leave Archipenko’s Bearsville school and take on Yale. That fall, she found herself surrounded by a prestigious art program in this acclaimed university. The experience was completely different than that of Archipenko’s studio school. Instead of small classes, individual attention, and an emphasis on hands on experience, Frances found herself in a large and impersonal lecture class learning about the color theory of the famous Bauhaus master, Josef Albers. Her course was not even conducted by Albers, but instead by one of his teaching assistants. Each class began with a conceptual centering, and the students were made to raise their arms and trace the air, in unison, to describe both a horizontal and a vertical line. After a few weeks of this prescribed ritual, Frances approached the teaching assistant and asked what was the relevance of the exercise. The assistant did not offer a reason, but instead suggested that she bring her question to Master Albers himself. She was more than happy to do so.

When Frances met Albers face to face, she applied the same question, hoping to discover the meaning behind the gesture. Albers responded with a curt reply, “Perhaps this is not the right school for you.” It was clear that this was not the place for Frances to continue her studies. So within the first few months of her Yale education the young student packed her bags and returned to her home in New York. Softly, she tells me, “My parents were not pleased.”

It wasn’t long before Frances was to return to Archipenko’s studio to complete her education. Even today nearly 50 years after their marriage, Frances Archipenko Gray speaks with of her husband with tenderness and respect. He was a man of many talents and gifts. She speaks of his extensive knowledge of materials and processes, his love of travel and his deep connections to female friends and ex-lovers. He always remained a vital force and was always “truly alive.”

As far as Archipenko’s connection to Dalton, there is little information regarding his time at the school. In the late 1930s and early part of 1940 he was busy making inquiries at colleges and universities around the country, asking about possible teaching positions and opportunities to exhibit his work. In an undated letter from this time, his first wife, Angelica, writes to the artist from Mexico about a conversation she had with Rufino Tamayo about the possibility of a teaching position at Dalton and passed along Helen Parkhurst’s name as headmistress of the school. Tamayo was already teaching at the school and found the experience rewarding and thought Archipenko might find the same.

In one brief moment during our conversation Frances alludes to the fact that Archipenko probably didn’t enjoy his teaching experience at Dalton. In part it was not the right match. The students were younger than he was accustomed to teaching and the degree of dedication was most likely less committed. Frances also mentioned that Archipenko could feel distanced by his command of the English language that might also account for his short stay at Dalton. However Archipenko brought something of his genius and artistry to our institution as well as influenced two future sculpture teachers who were his protégés, Rhys Caparn (Dalton teacher from 1947-72) and Lu Duble (Dalton teacher until 1947). Both Rhys and Lu carried on the Archipenko tradition in sculpture with great success. They were connected to their students and loved teaching.

Frances Archipenko Gray was only married to Alexander Archipenko for a few short years at the end of his life, yet she has dedicated her life’s work to the stewardship of the Archipenko Foundation. She is the driving force behind the perpetuation of his legacy. Our discussion on a cool spring afternoon shed light on this master of Modernism and insight into his creative drive and powers as an innovative mind and teacher. Dalton was fortunate to have him in it’s midst, even for the brief time he was at the school.

1. This was the same artistic route that Helen Frankenthaler would follow a few years before Gray. After spending her senior year at Dalton and studying initially with Rufino Tamayo, she would continue her artistic career at Bennington, studying with Paul Feeley.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alexander Archipenko

Alexander Archipenko is arguably one of the most important sculptors of the first half of the 20th century. He is often categorized as a Cubist and lumped in a group with Picasso and Braque as if a three-dimensional counterpart to the Parisian based painters. But Archipenko was more accurately part of a defiant offshoot of painters and sculptors who sought something different than Cubism. They met in the Paris suburb of Puteaux and called themselves la Section d’Or (the Golden Section). As their name suggests they were compelled to bring more structure and order to their artistic ventures then the Cubists. Douglas Cooper describes this faction in his seminal book The Cubist Epoch.

A serious division of opinion developed in the Cubist group in the summer of 1912 over the question of whether realism or abstraction was the real goal of the Cubist painting. The principal champions of abstraction gathered in the suburban studios at Puteaux of a mathematically and scientifically minded trio of brothers: Jacques Villon, Marcel Duchamp, and Raymond Duchamp Vilion. The three brothers gave a scientific twist to Cubism and drew into their circle a few kindred spirits such as Gleizes, Leger, Picabia, Lhote, Krupka, and Gris. 1

Archipenko joined the Section d’Or group in October of 1912, announcing a few months later that he had severed his association with the Cubist group. While the work of Archipenko largely remains figurative, portraying mostly female forms, there are two major points where his sculpture departs from his contemporaries. First, Archipenko explores his figures by excavating the traditional volume, offering internal concavities as a contrast to the convex. He pierces his figures with silhouette apertures that offer formal relationships and new sculptural descriptions. In this way Archipenko is the first sculptor to explore this subdermal terrain to define internal form. Again Cooper articulated this point.

In 1912 Archipenko suddenly turned from making conventional figurative sculpture to working in a very modern sculptural idiom of his very own invention. His first piece Walking Figure (1912), already displays many of the stylistic elements which from then on were to characterize his work: formal abstraction, the use of forceful rhythms, the replacement of solid volumes by voids, and the reversal of roles between concavities and convexities. The result is an object of highly stylized abstract forms, which has little power to evoke a figurative image, although by the way the planes are slanted and the rhythms are set up, the displacement of a mass through space is suggested. There is of course nothing Cubist about such a piece of sculpture. 1

Walking Woman, 1912, Denver Museum of Art Female Bather,1915, Städel Museum Frankfurt

In his final sentence Douglas Cooper, an established authority on Cubism, pejoratively drops Archipenko from the roster of true Cubists, but Archipenko’s vision was intentionally different from his contemporaries, and while he sustained this type of criticism his whole life, he saw himself striving for something more. Archipenko was the consummate innovator, working with unyielding dedication to bring his particular vision to the world.

The second element that Archipenko brings to the sculptural arena is his employment of color as an integral component to the sculptural form. One cannot find a contemporary who is able to articulate the physical object as chromatically as Archipenko. His self titled “Sculpto-paintings” where vivid expressions in three-dimensional space. Not since the Greeks, with their highly polychromed architectural sculpture, had there been this vibrant combination of figurative form and color. Many of these polychrome works by Archipenko still shock us today. The best of the sculptor’s works, were fresh expressions that boldly represented the adventurous spirit of the early 20th Century.

1. The Cubist Epoch by Douglas Cooper, Phaidon Press, 1970

Dalton's 1941 Yearbook

Two pages from Dalton's 1941 yearbook show three prominent art faculty teaching at the school at the same moment, Alexander Archipenko, Vaclav Vytlacil and Rufino Tamayo. Archipenko was only at the school for a brief time. His biographers offer a date of 1944 as the single year he taught at Dalton, but he appears here in this 1941 yearbook.
1941 Dalton Yearbook, Collection of The Dalton School

Monday, March 1, 2010

Franz Cizek: Liberating the Child Artist

Franz Cizek's working with his children in the Juvenile Art Class

Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Dr. Franz Cizek was one of Vienna’s best known pedagogues of progressive art education. His moniker as, “the ‘father’ of creative art teaching,”1 was not immediately bestowed on the artist, teacher, and child psychologist, since it took years of diligent study and practice to give credence to his methods as a legitimate way to foster self-expression in children. His approach to teaching was minimal, and strikingly different than the rigid and skill based programs of copying and tracing that were offered in primary schools at the time. In his Juvenile Art Class, a two hour Saturday Program for students ages 5 -14, Cizek approached art making by creating a child friendly environment where formal instruction was non existent and the work was based on nurturing the creative tendencies inherent in all children, allowing them to freely explore their own ideas through a range of materials.

Cizek also expressed a profound admiration and respect for children’s artwork, considering their expressions to be of the purest nature. In short, Franz Cizek’s life work was to provide a free (both financially and psychologically) studio environment where children could revel in self-discovery. He was not making future artists, but allowing children access to their personal creativity. Ruth Kalmar Wilson, who was a young student of Cizek’s, went on to become a textile designer, recalling, ‘Cizek’s class was not directed at all to creating artists but, rather, to unfolding of the artistic personality of each individual.”2

It is worth noting the premise of what made Cizek’s methodology so remarkable and how he came to devote his life work to the study of children and the way they learn. Cizek was born in 1865 in the town of Leitmeritz on the Elbe River in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). When he was 19 he moved to Vienna and studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1885 Cizek rented a room with a carpenter’s family with many children. The young children loved to visit Cizek’s room, where he would give them drawing materials and encourage them to express their ideas. Without instruction and in this friendly atmosphere, Cizek witnessed a joyful self-discovery as these youngsters loved to make art. Cizek was truly impressed with the directness and purity found in these drawings and upon further study he learned that children, the world over, drew in very similar ways when they work in an unrestrained atmosphere working from their imagination.

During his own university study, Vienna was a hotbed of artistic activity. He was friends with many of the Vienna Secessionist artists and architects of the day; Otto Wagner, J. M. Olbrick, Koloman Moser, and Gustav Klimt were fellow artists. He shared with them his research and the work of his young students, and they were fascinated by the authentic expression found in these untrained illustrations. They encouraged Cizek to start his own school, and as a result of this encouragement, he soon applied to the educational authorities to begin his own practice. In his application he had stated a most simple mandate, “Let children grow, develop and mature.”3 The authorities did not immediately accept such a simplistic mandate, but with time and further development of his program, Cizek was allowed to open the Juvenile Art Class in 1897.

The doors to the Juvenile Art Class were open without charge to the children of Vienna, to work at their own free will. Children were interviewed and selected by Cizek, but not for their artistic promise or social standing. It was a place where children were respected as fellow artists. There were about 50 students in attendance each Saturday. Cizek had teaching assistants from his university classes at the School of Applied Art (Wein Kunstgewerbeschule), of which Erika Giovanna Klien was one. These younger artist/educators acted as assistants. Some would specialize in a specific media, be it embroidery or printmaking. Children were encouraged to explore a variety of materials: drawing with chalk, or pencils, cutting paper collages and silhouette cutting, wood and plaster carving, modeling with clay, embroidery, crocheting, etching and wood block printing and tempera painting. As Cizek would tell the children, “From every material, something creative can be made.”4

Wool Embroidery from Cizek's Juvenile Art Class

designed by a 10 year old boy, sewn by a 14 year old girl

Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

Gretl Hanus age 14, from Cizek's Juvenile Art Class

Cizek also discovered the process of linoleum block print, commonly referred to as the linocut. Linoleum was a fairly new material used for floor covering made of linseed oil, cork and wood dust and attached to a fabric backing. This was a highly affective material for young children to carve, making it easier to cut into the pliable surface than the traditional wood block. As a result of Cizek’s experimentation with the children, the success of the Linocut as an art form. Embraced by the Secessionist printmakers, the method expanded and traveled to Germany and France as the newest printmaking vogue of the day.

Ine Probst age 14, Linocut from Cizek's Juvenile Art Class

Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

The details surrounding the first meeting between Klien and Parkhurst are yet to be uncovered, but there must have been an immediate understanding between the two, as Klien’s belief in Cizek’s teaching philosophy was startlingly parallel to what Parkhurst espoused in her educational practice. They each placed emphasis on freedom in the classroom, nurturing a healthy degree of self-direction in students, and allowing the child to be guided by his or her own pace and process; all were fundamental to both methods of teaching and learning. This common foundation may have been the reason Parkhurst brought Klien to Dalton seeing the promise of augmenting the breadth and depth of the Dalton Plan through the arts. Both women recognized the importance of fostering creative thought and imagination in children.

One can imagine the young Erika Klien as a promising yet malleable artist in search of her own artistic voice. Soon after she began her studies at the Vienna School of Applied Art, she gravitated to the excitement and wisdom of Franz Cizek. She entered his course on the Theory of Ornamental Form where she was introduced to Cizek’s second great artistic contribution to the art world, the development of the short lived, but compelling, movement known as Viennese Kinetism. The term Kinetism was derived from the Greek root "kinesis" meaning movement, but artistically the roots were certainly connected to French Cubism, Italian Futurism, and Russian Constructivism. Kinetism represented the dynamic and bustling flow of a modern world.

Klien was one of the young artists captivated by this new spirit. She quickly became one of Cizek’s most gifted students and incorporated his theories of Kinetism into her own drawing, illustrations and paintings. Klien also discovered her professor’s enthusiasm for working with children and became equally devoted to teaching young children, assisting Cizek in the Saturday Juvenile Art class. She became Cizek’s trusted protégé representing his methods in numerous schools and conferences throughout Europe. For Klien the love of teaching and art making were inseparable, and she engaged in both throughout her career. In 1929 Erika Giovanna Klien sails for New York, carrying with her the hope and promise of artistic recognition and fervent optimism of bringing the Cizek teaching method to new territory.

1. J.P. Anderson (1969). Franz Cizek, Art education’s man for all seasons. Art Education, Volume 22 Number 7. pp. 27 – 30.

2. Peter Smith (March 1985) Franz Cizek: The Patriarch. Art Education, Volume 38 Number 2. pp. 28 - 31

3. Wilhelm Viola (1938) Child Art and Franz Cizek

© 1936, Austrian Junior Red Cross, Vienna

Printed in Austria by Fredrich Jasper

4. ibid

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Erika Giovanna Klien Brings Cizek Method to Dalton

Erika Giovanna Klien

Photograph Frontispiece: Erika Giovanna Klien, Wein 1900 - 1957 New York

by Marietta Mautner Markof (Vienna: Gemaldegalerie/Michael Kovacek, 2001)

Erika Giovanna Klien only taught art at Dalton for three years, from 1932 - 1935, but she brings an important pedagogical piece to the foundation of the school’s robust art program. Her background and teaching also helped shape Parkhurst’s own philosophy towards cultivating the creative nature of young children.

Klien studied with the revolutionary art educator, Franz Cizek, a figure not commonly remembered today, but who is considered "the father of modern art education."1 In the early decades of the 20th century, Cizek developed an important program at the Vienna School of Applied Art (Wein Kunstgewerbeschule). It was in his seminal course “Theory of Ornamental Form” that Klien first encountered Cizek’s teaching. The educator’s dynamic personality was an important influence over the young group of artist / educators. He, like Friedrich Froebel a generation before, fervently believed in early childhood education. He established free Saturday art classes for local school children that became a laboratory of learning for himself and for his elder students. Children encountered art making in an unstructured environment where personal expression was encouraged through various materials and processes. Cizek’s dictum “let it grow from its own roots”2 was a key to allowing students the freedom to find their own method of personal expression. Cizek’s Saturday class was a training ground for his academy students and Klien became his most ardent follower.

Cizek was also father to a short-lived artistic movement known as Kinetism. It was based in Vienna and centered on the students of the Kunstgewerbeschule. In the winter of 1919 and 1920, Cizek proposed the idea of Kinetism through his lecture The Renewal of the Spiritual Foundations of Rhythmical Creation 2. This extraordinary modern movement represented a conglomerate of German Expressionism, French Cubism and Italian Futurism. Sculpture, painting, graphic design and drawings exemplified in the works of Erika Giovanna Klien, Elisabeth Karlinsky and Otto Eric Wagner represent a dynamic form of modernism, which, despite artistic promise, never received the recognition warranted by the quality of the work produced.

Erika Giovanna Klien, Locomotive, 1926

gouche on Linen, 24 x 40"

Collection Michael Pabst Gallery, Munich

Erika Giovanna Klien was Franz Cizek’s exemplary and most gifted student. She represented not only the promise of Kinetism through her taut synthesis of kinetic movement found in her paintings, but as a teacher she was most dedicated to Cizek’s pedagogy. As such the professor employed her to implement the Cizek method of teaching in a number of venues. In 1926 Dr. Cizek received a request from the educator, Elizabeth Duncan in Klessheim, Austria, to use his approach in adding an art program to her school. Elizabeth was the sister of renowned dancer Isadora Duncan, the founder of the modern dance movement. Elizabeth’s pedagogical leanings brought her to design a program to engage the whole child and the Cizek method seemed an appropriate way to incorporate art into her concept of Body and Mind Education.

Klien spent two years developing the program before being asked by Cizek to again represent their work in a traveling exhibition in Vienna, Stuttgart, and Basel prior to her presentation addressing the International Congress of Art Teachers in Prague.

During 1926, Klien received substantial recognition for her work in America through the support of the Société Anonyme. Katherine Drier, the Brooklyn born painter turned patron of the arts, in conjunction with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, founded the Société Anonyme in April 1920. This organization promoted modern art by bringing new work to the public through lectures, concerts, publications and exhibitions. One of the Société’s most celebrated collaborations involved the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Together they sponsored the International Exhibition of Modern Art. Dreier and Duchamp curated this show with works that represented the first large-scale exhibition of modern art since the 1913 Armory Exhibition. It was truly international in scope including artists from 22 countries. Many of the artists in this show proved to be the seminal pioneers of 20th century Modernism: Marcel Duchamp. Picabia, Gris, Miro, Brancusi, Leger, Mondrian, Klee, Schwitters, Marc, Man Ray, O’Keeffe, Stieglitz, Archipenko, Naum Gabo, Kandinsky, Lissitsky, and Malevich were all represented in the exhibition. The sole artist representing Austria was Erika Giovanna Klien. Dreier had personally visited Cizek and Klien at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna in 1926.3 She sought out Cizek as the decisive leader of Kinetism in search of work that would represent this independent vein of Austrian art. Dreier was impressed with Klien's work and purchased many drawings and paintings to use as part of the Brooklyn show. Klien maintained a long-term friendship with Dreier and gave her subsequent gifts of her work.

Encouraged by the success brought on by Dreier’s support and the influential International Exhibition in America, Klien decided to move to America in 1929 to seek her future and explore the potential of her artistic career. This was not the easiest move however, as Klien had given birth in 1928 to a son out of wedlock. She had also lost her father, and despite requests to return to the Duncan School she found Klessheim remote and inhospitable. It was also a hardship for her to be so far away from her mentor, Cizek. She decided to chart a course for the place that seemed to offer her a promising future, and in September, 1929 Erika Klien left her son in the hands of foster parents and sailed for New York City.

Soon after her arrival in New York, using her experience as a Cizek protégée, Klien soon secured positions at Stuyvesant School (Stuyvesant Neighborhood House) on St. Marks Place and then in 1930 at the Spence School. She received an invitation to exhibit her works at the New School for Social Research and later taught adult classes at the New School. In September of 1932 Klien would bring her knowledge of the Cizek method to Dalton. And there is a photograph of her teaching young students in her classroom from the school’s archives. Cut paper collages in black and white, typical of Cizek's methodology, can be seen on the bulletin boards as well as clay figures of animals. Judging from the children’s enthusiasm, Klien must have been a dynamic and popular teacher. Despite her successes, New York life was strenuous for Klien as she juggled multiple part time teaching positions while producing and promoting her work as an artist.

Erika Giovanna Klien in her Classroom at Dalton mid 1930s

© The Dalton School Archives

Cizek’s method of teaching art was gaining world recognition through his Saturday classes and dissemination of exhibitions and reproductions of his students’ work in England and America. His combination of careful observation with a child’s artistic development was unparalleled in with art education of the time. Cizek’s disciples, such as Klien, were distributing his ideas worldwide. He was written up in 1923 article in Time Magazine with helped inform the American public about his teachings. Helen Parkhurst was compelled by his methodology and was intrigued by Klien. So much so that she traveled to Vienna to witness Cizek’s classes first hand. We are not sure what she thought, but her collaborator and patron, Josephine Boardman Crane, was knowledgeable of Cizek’s methods. She had clipped and saved a lengthy article from the New York Times Magazine section from November 1923, which spoke at length about the success of Cizek’s Saturday school. So the master was well known to both Parkhurst and Crane well before they were introduced to Erika Klien. She was just what the school needed to integrate the arts with the Dalton plan.

Success came to Erika Klien through another patron of the arts, Evangeline Stokowski, the second wife of conductor, Leopold Stokowski. Evangeline Brewster Johnson Stokowski was the daughter of Robert Wood Johnson, cofounder of Johnson & Johnson. She had lost much of her fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, but still retained enough to support a few philanthropic and artistic causes including The Dalton School and Erika Giovanna Klien. Evangeline had recently married Stokowski and settled into a top floor apartment across from Central Park. Evangeline was good friends with Helen Parkhurst and she not only supported the school financially, but she so believed in the curriculum to the point that she wanted her own one year old child, Andrea, to be included as one of the first Dalton babies to be cared for by high school students in the school’s nursery program.

Erika Giovanna Klien's study for the Stolowski Mural

As far as support for Klien, Ms. Stokowski commissioned the artist to paint a mural from their apartment on the top floor to the rooftop garden. What remains today is Klien’s study for the project, a clever mechanical composition revealing the staircase and mechanical structures that lie beneath. Her approach to the mural is not kinetic but more closely aligned to Leger’s Purism which she had favored at a previous time. The Klien mural does not measure up to her mature work of either her Kinetic style while in school or her fractured interpretations of New York City scenes as represented in her delicate watercolor ”New York, St. Marks Place” of 1930 or the black and white drawing "Times Square Subway Station" of 1931. In these works Klien seems to have taken the Kinetism and made it a part of the staccato experience of New York. These works are at once both hauntingly beautiful but also strangely lonely. In both images the viewer is apart from the scene as voyeur and observer. Klien the immigrant from Austria was looking at this strange landscape with an astute eye and she managed to capture something about New York that few other artists could relay about that time and place. The ever present hustle and bustle, the despair, the haunting beauty are all there in Klien’s depictions of these New York scenes.

.....Erika Giovanna Klien New York St. Marks Place, 1930 .....Erika Giovanna Klien Times Square Subway Station, 1931
.................watercolor on paper, 9" x 15.5"................................................pencil and charcoal on paper, 14" x 20"
.........................private collection...........................................................................private collection, Cologne

1. Erika Giovanna Klien by Marietta Mautner Markhof, (English translation by Dr. John Matthew Mitchell), © 2001 Gemaldegalerie Michale Kovacek, page 10

2. Jahresberichte der Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule 1919-1920 “Erneuer der geistigen Grundlagen des rhythmischen Gestaltens” a lecture held in the winter of 1919 -1920. The Life and Work of Erika Giovanna Klien, ©1989 Rachel Adler Gallery

3. The Societe Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: a Catalogue Raisonne, Robert L. Herbert, © 1984 Yale University Press.

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