No. 106 Pauline Graff Little
After roaming the world over (two-thirds of it, at any rate), Pauline Graff Little finds her Evanston home her happiest and most inspiration painting spot. She was born there and, except for a matrimonial interlude and for several sojourns abroad, one of them as long as two years, she has spent her whole life in the ancestral home and the house adjoining on the same property. An addition she has built to the last house is her studio, with skylight and north exposure.
Mrs. Little’s husband was John Lee Little, Jr., of the Lee’s of Virginia, member of the National Bank & Investment Company. After six years of marriage, he was killed in February 1938 in an automobile accident in Texas, from which his wife escaped miraculously.
With him, she had made one long sketching trip through Egypt, the Sudan, Palestine, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, and another through North Africa, Morocco, and Algiers.
As Pauline Graff, daughter of a wealthy concrete construction engineer of Evanston and Chicago, she made her first trip abroad at the age of six months, to the native Stuttgart of both her parents, and there were numerous other trips through her childhood, girlhood, and youth. She was planning a tour of the world this autumn and winter, but the new World War has intervened.
The first World War, Pauline Graff has reason to remember with bitterness. Though both her parents had been in Chicago since before the turn of the century, and though they sent three of their sons (Pauline’s brothers) to war on the American side, Pauline, then a schoolgirl, found herself cold-shouldered by her companions of Evanston’s “upper crust.”
Sensitive and shrinking, even then quite accomplished as an artist and musician, Pauline felt the slights to a degree that affected her maturity.
Pauline’s development in art was precocious. Her mother was the daughter of William Mayer, a mural painter of distinction in Germany and in Italy before the franc-Prussian War in which he was killed in action. In the latter years of his life, his daughter (Pauline’s mother) had been his helper, traveling with him and doing designs on the edges of his murals. One of the palaces of the Kaiser had murals of William Mayer’s execution, and he did many others for various public buildings of importance. The granddaughter has many of his notebooks.
From the time she can remember, Pauline was being instructed in drawing by her mother, who had continued her work in Chicago, designing linens and other textiles.
When Pauline was 5 or 6 years old, the next important step in her art education was taken. The family had a cottage at Fish creek, Wis., where artists and intellectuals summered. Among the “colonists” was Dr. Michaelson of the University of Chicago, finding recreation in watercolor painting from his abstruse experiments in physics. Pauline and Michaelson’s two daughters sketched together with him and other of the “colonists” in the surrounding woodlands.
When Pauline was only 12 or 13, she was admitted to the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, an unusual procedure. She had finished grade school and her mother thought her too young for high school. Frederick Freer of the Institute staff was her mother’s nephew, and he succeeded in getting certain of the rules waived. During her high school days in Evanston that followed, Pauline continued at the Institute school, having arranged her high school classes for mornings.
It was in these happy and busy days that America entered the World War. Pauline’s father, Albert Graff, had undertaken some massive concrete road constructions on a “cost basis.” Material shot up in price, and he was all but ruined in fulfilling his obligations.
Albert Graff, besides being a businessman of weight, was an accomplished musician. Pauline remembers him playing on the piano a whole series of Viennese waltzes, including the recently revived “City of My Dreams.” Her mother often would dress in Old World costume and dance to his playing.
The two had known each other as children in Stuttgart. The youthful Graff went to London. Each married and each became a parent. When they met, years later, in Chicago, both were widowed. They resumed their childhood romance and the music of the Viennese waltzes was a part of it.
After high school, Pauline went for a few months to Northwestern University, in lieu of Wellesley, her mother’s choice. However, Pauline wanted m ore to paint, and so entered the school of the Art Institute again and continued until she graduated.
In 1925, she went to Paris and entered the studio of Andre Lhote, considered the “last word” for students of “modernism.” She deserted his class occasionally to work also with Besnard. She lived, along with a Chicago friend, Florence Noyes, in the home of a Spaniard of the minor nobility, working as a journalist in Paris. The girls learned Spanish from their host and hostess, and came in contact with the Spanish colony in Paris headed by Picasso. Pauline also was introduced to Matisse, showed him some of her work, and was invited to enter his atelier at Nice. But fatal illness of her father brought he back to Chicago.
Returning to Europe the next year, she went to Berlin and to the school of Hans Hofmann, where she studied for a year. She pursued, too, her musical education, which she had started under the tutelage of her mother and her father. After Hofmann’s afternoon classes, she and the other students usually would attend a late afternoon concert and would go back to Hofmann’s for the evening sessions. She haunted, too, the opera and beside absorbing the music, she often sketched, between acts, women in evening clothes sitting in the boxes eating sausages.
Her incessant visits to the opera in Berlin served her a good practical turn later in Chicago. She was engaged to do sketches for the sets for summer operas at Ravinia. These sets had to be altered somewhat from the standard sets used at New York’s Metropolitan and the Chicago Opera because of staging conditions at Ravinia. Into the Ravinia sets she sometimes injected some authentic Old World suggestions.
Being pretty much on her own after the death of her father and the dwindling of the family fortune, Pauline, besides her opera sets, did some jobs of interior decorating for wealthy families around Chicago. She formed a partnership with Mrs. Percy Deutsch, and they had some important commissions on the fire when the financial crash came. Another of her activities, which was a salvation, was the teaching of art to children of various rich Chicago families — the Stern’s, the Florsheim’s, the Lasker’s, the Straus’s, and the Greenebaum’s.
Marriage with Mr. Little followed before the Depression had time to congeal into something too oppressive.
Again, as has been related, she resumed her travels.
She recalls with amusement (not to say pride) an incident in Cairo. She and Mr. Little were dining at a café when they noticed three young men eying them and discussing them with apparently lively interest.
Presently, before their interest became rude, they introduced themselves. Two were Egyptian brothers and the other was a Turk. They were all from Oxford and they wished to entertain “the Americans” and to continue practicing their English.
They were quarreling over whether the honor should go to the Egyptians or the Turk. They drew lots as to which should have the privilege first.
The Little’s were somewhat embarrassed and somewhat afraid, but agreed to deliver themselves into their hands and between the three not only saw Cairo and the Pyramids the next several days royally, but in literally princely fashion, for the Turk was a relative of King Fuad, it developed, and the Egyptians were princes of the blood of the Pharaohs.
On this tour and on all the others in her busy life, Pauline Graff Little made numerous sketches. She has piles and piles of them in studio folders. But she doesn’t seem to be ambitious to work them up into finished pictures. There are too many images in her brain, perhaps — a surfeit.
That’s where the superiority of the Evanston studio and her present comparatively quiet life comes in.
She has always sketched people, innumerable people, clothed in all the fantastic costumes of the Orient and the peasant spots of Europe, or nude in the ateliers of Paris and Berlin, or in her own studio when her girl friends pose, for she dislikes professional models.
In Evanston, the neighboring children have found their way to her studio and they insist on being sketched. While she is drawing one of them, the others gather around her, deadly serious, watching her work. Nor are they restrained in their criticism when a sketch is finished. They tell her frankly what they think — and this student of Forsberg, Seyffert, Kroll, Hawthorne, Lhote, Besnard, Matisse, and Hofmann likes it!
She has a dog, too, a fine-looking brute, and thereby hangs a tale. She tried raising blooded pets from puppyhood and three of them died on her. Then she went to the pound and picked out a mongrel that struck her fancy. He grew up to be as handsome as Clark Gable or Robert Taylor. So she decided to “knight” him. When anybody asks her now what kind of a dog he is, she says he’s a “Madagascar boar hound!”