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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lewiston woman modeled for painter 100 years ago

Lewiston woman modeled for painter 100 years ago

AUBURN — Family stories: Everyone has them.
Anecdotes that become tall tales and eventually, myths. For Elaine Makas of Lewiston, one such family story involving renowned American artist Charles Webster Hawthorne has moved from family legend to family fact. 

Last week, Makas and her mother, Doris Bryant Makas, traveled to New York City to view a Hawthorne painting which many believe shows a 15-month-old Doris sitting on her mother's lap. The work is undated, but according to Smithsonian records it was painted prior to 1915.

Elaine Makas puts that estimate closer to 1911 or 1912, or about nine months after her grandmother, Mary Anne Bryant, took her two children and "moved, penniless, from Everett (Mass.) to Provincetown" to escape an alcoholic husband.  

It was in Provincetown that Bryant came in contact with Charles Webster Hawthorne, who was at that time already highly regarded for his innovative genre painting. "He had his studio there, and he was working with a lot of other artists," Makas said.

Bryant worked odd jobs in Provincetown to support her two children. Makas recalled hearing stories about her grandmother, and was touched by "the courage it must have taken to pack up and leave for a better life." And Hawthorne also must have recognized this maternal courage, she speculated, looking over a miniature print of Hawthorne's painting. He titled the piece "Motherhood Triumphant." 

But that was nearly 100 years ago. And although Makas heard stories throughout her childhood about her mother modeling for Hawthorne, it was not until a few years ago that she began actively searching through images of his work to determine whether the stories were true. Among his paintings, Makas found two that seemed to match accounts given by her mother. 

Another of Hawthorne's paintings could also be of her mother, Makas said. "My mom said she was asked to sit on a nail keg, on a beach," when she was 6 or 7 years old, to model for one of Hawthorne's art classes. "She remembered how uncomfortable the nail keg was to sit on," as well as the white dress and bonnet she wore, Makas said.
Searching Hawthorne's works, Makas found one, untitled, showing a young girl in a white hat and bonnet sitting on a squarish, brown object. 

But the main interest has centered around "Motherhood Triumphant," a 5- by 7-foot piece painted in high light, showing a young mother seated before a washed-out seascape, her child stretched out on her lap. The painting was sold to an unknown buyer in 1918, and then resold at auction by Christie's in 1999. The painting was bought by Michael and Marjorie Loeb of New York for $60,000. 

This year, through chance meetings, the Loebs discovered that the little girl in their treasured painting was still alive and living in Maine. Last week, they invited Doris and Elaine Makas to their six-story mansion on the Upper East Side, where "Motherhood Triumphant" has a place of honor beneath a large stained-glass window on the highest floor.
"'That's me,'" Makas said her mother responded when seeing the work.

Beyond its history, "Motherhood Triumphant" possesses something intangibly valuable to the women whose lives it has touched. The Loebs acquired the painting just after Marjorie delivered triplets. In a New York Times interview published Wednesday, Marjorie Loeb said, “I loved the title and I said, ‘I just had three babies — I’m motherhood triumphant.’”
Elaine Makas has also been touched by the work, which she sees as symbolic of her grandmother's love, courage and maternal power.
"Margie," said Elaine Makas, speaking of Marjorie Loeb, "said she visualized it as a painting of a woman whose husband had gone off fishing, maybe to return, maybe not, and her face says, 'I'm determined to take care of my baby.'" She paused for a moment. "It's incredible how close our perception is to the truth."

found this article -- here -- http://www.sunjournal.com/city/story/940589

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