Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Vignettes from Vermont: Naked Coincidence (UPDATE)

Bob Furda and Grace Gilbert

BENNINGTON -- At 2 o'clock yesterday, Art Gallery Dude told the world that his resume includes a job posing nude for art students at the University of Iowa. 

At 6 o'clock, in the dying minutes of another business day in downtown Bennington, the man and woman in the picture above, their names are Bob Furda and Grace Gilbert, invited AGD to an art exhibit down the street at Phoenix Wing Productions in the old Fienberg Building, about 100 paces away.

The exhibit was a celebration of Norman Strite, who paints nude models.

That's just a little strange, but AGD is used to strange coincidences.

Anyway, after talking to Bob and (and to a lesser extent) Grace for about 20 minutes, AGD closed the gallery and took the elders up on their invitation to check out Strite's work.

What followed during the next hour on the second floor of a dwelling rebuilt in 1929 with excess Empire State Building materials -- after a 1926 fire -- was a carnival of gallery folks and nudes (artist, paintings, models) and hors d'ooeuvres (Sangria, Vienna sausages) and live music (Austin singer-songwriter Danny Whitecotton) and a long intricate story featuring child abuse, millionaire money, drugs, River Phoenix, drugs, Keanu Reeves, drugs and Tim Burton's purple hearse. Phoenix Wing proprietor Danny Turcotte told the doozy.

Here's a little visual of the Strite soiree ...

The old Fienberg's building (burned in '26, rebuilt in '29)

Man of the Hour

Norman with models and their acrylic likenesses behind them

Concert room at Phoenix Wing Productions (excellent acoustics)

Strite also wrote a book

Three more Strite works

Dan Turcotte and his girlfriend Kathleen,
who handles music production at Phoenix Wing

... and so this is a pretty decent example of the "Brattleboro Vibe" Bennington needs to start embracing more. "Brattleboro," AGD always tells Fiddlehead customers, "is everything Bennington should be."


As much as AGD loves naked women, he couldn't get his mind off 94-year-old Grace Gilbert.

Wait, that didn't come out the right way.

Who is Grace Gilbert, and why did she come from Amsterdam, New York, to attend the art party last night in Bennington? Then AGD remembered Bob Furda saying Grace painted.

Enter Google:

Grace Gilbert doesn't paint. She captures moments one stroke and color at a time, and in 1939 she used charcoal on canvas to celebrate the nude body ...

... here is what Grace wrote about herself in 2009 (on the link above):

"My travels took me to Egypt (I rode a camel there), a donkey in Greece, a gondola in Venice, lived with a French family near Paris and was almost run over with a bicycle in China. Many more countries I visited expanded and influenced my art style. My works is a wonderful paint box filled with color, family, friends and always adventures to explore. My paintings are like me, full of adventure and they sometimes tell a story. I paint in several styles like the Old Dutch Masters with a dark background (dark to light) and like the French impressionists filled with light and fresh colors. At 91 years old I am still painting, enjoying my sons, family and friends and this wonderful world filled with color and people. My paintings are my expression of it all!"

Art Gallery Dude called Grace Gilbert this morning to ask if she wanted to show her paintings at Fiddlehead at Four Corners in downtown Bennington.

UPDATE: Fiddlehead won't showcase Grace Gilbert's work. During a call at noon today she told AGD that after "years and years" she pulled her collection from the Sorrelle Gallery and entered a prestigious juried show -- "I won 1st place for oils." She also said Fox23 TV in Albany ran a big story about her prized works, and that's when art lovers pulled out their wallets like tomorrow was doomsday. "I don't have anything left in my inventory."

AGD continues to research Grace Gilbert to find a story about that art show. He did find a cool story Philippa Stasiuk of the Altamont Enterprise wrote (HERE) on October 29, 2009. Turns out Grace Gilbert was one of the first westerners to visit China after Nixon's trip in '72, and try not to spit Dr Pepper on your screen while reading the camel story.

So, bummer. No Grace Gilbert.

Well then. Here's a 6-minute chat with Norman Strite, showing his work for the first time.

"It's something I would like to have to happened at 21," he said, "but I'll settle for it at 77."