ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 27 Frances Foy
“I expected to see a Botticelli lady with a lily in your hand!” exclaimed an impulsive member of the Chicago Woman’s Aid, startled on being suddenly introduced to Frances Foy. Instead, she was confronted by a smiling, blue-eyed, full-lipped Irish girl, looking and feeling her robust nationality. It was the youthful Miss Foy’s paintings that had been at fault. They were delicate and spiritual and poetical — girls and girl children — maybe akin to “the Blessed Damozel” of Rossetti, but the Irish branch of the family, not the Italian.
While her work then, as now, may be of the racial inspiration that produced Irish poetry from Tom Moore to Yeats, Miss Foy has none of the morbid mysticism of the Yeats school of verse or the Dublin school of drama. She was fed plentifully in her childhood on giants and banshees of Irish folklore, her grandparents on both sides of the family vying with each other in telling her tall tales. But her mature outlook on life and her materials of art are the healthy, romantic, clear-eyed sentimentalism of Tom Moore, rather than the strange morbidities of the poets and dramatists of the new republic.
Not that she is Irish of the “auld sod” — she was born and brought up in America, and on her one visit to Ireland during the days of the rebellion, she found Dublin as strange as any of us might — strange as her mother found it, only in a different way.
The mother had been brought up there in a convent school which had been founded personally by Queen Victoria for the education of daughters of the veterans of the Crimean War. Mrs. Foy, who had married and emigrated to America, dreamed of a return to her convent for a living over, for a few hours, of the old times.
But years and the Irish uprisings had intervened. The French nuns were gone. Queen Victoria was not only dead but her spirit no longer brooded over rebellious Ireland.
Frances Foy financed this pilgrimage to Dublin for herself and mother out of her own earnings as an artist. Only now she doesn’t consider it “art” — it was “fashion drawing.” She has been fortunate in developing a dual personality that is a rarity among artists. “Commercial work” takes heavy toll. The “commercial artist” at some time or other, and always after he makes a fortune, longs to turn “ethical” — to produce “real pictures.” Usually his transformation is woefully incomplete. The resulting pictures bear a reminiscent stigma.
Frances Foy, however, has had no such difficulty. Her “fashion drawing” has been one thing — her “art” another, no more related, apparently, than is this “art” to an old job of hers as filing clerk at Donnelley’s printing establishment.
\She went in for “fashion drawing” in the flush times immediately after the World War and got out of it not only her trip to Europe, but trips to New Mexico, New York, and wherever else her fancy led her.
Miss Foy was born in Chicago on Congress Street near where that thoroughfare cuts Sacramento Boulevard. The house still stands. Her first remembers experience of “art” was a carpet on the bedroom floor with pomegranates in the pattern.
Her father was — and is — James A. Foy. He went to parochial school in Chicago in his own youth. A playmate was Edward Fitzgerald. One day when they had both become young men, they met again. “Foy, I envy you — I wish I had a short name like yours,” said Edward Fitzgerald, who was developing stage ambitions. Years rolled by and “Eddie Foy” became a nationally renowned comedian. He was the Edward Fitzgerald of Chicago parochial school days.
Before she was old enough to protest, the Foy’s left Congress Street and took Frances to live with them in Oak Park. There, at the age of 13, she won a school prize in drawing. But it was a lot bigger than just that — the prize was awarded in New York, where work from Oak Park had been submitted in competition with work from the country over.
The Foy’s naturally were elated, and the following summer they sent Frances to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts to study with Wellington J. Reynolds. That was the beginning of her “formal” art education, as well as the extent of it for some years to come. Out of that summer’s training and the training she got the next few years in high school, she developer her facility for fashion drawing and easy money.
While in high school, incidentally, she illustrated for the high school paper stories by Susan Wilbur, now Mrs. Llewellyn Jones and a literary critic and author in her own right.
Presently, after high school, Miss Foy went to Donnelley’s as file clerk. But she had art ambitions. Donnelley’s published books among their numerous printing enterprises, and Frances Foy hoped the contact would result in her becoming a book illustrator. It didn’t, and she quit.
But the old ambition to illustrate books is being now gratified, this summer of 1935. She is working with her husband, Gustaf Dalstrom, and other artists on an extensive series of drawings for a book on surgery, sketching operations. Dalstrom also is gratified — he once aspired to be another Howard Pyle.
While fashion drawing didn’t weigh on Frances Foy’s mind to the point of making her brood and become morbid, she good-naturedly suggested to herself that there might be something better for her in art. So she hunted up her old teacher, Reynolds. By now, he had left the Academy and had gone to teach at the Art Institute. Miss Foy entered night classes there, continuing her fashion drawing by day.
Presently, along came George Bellows as “visiting instructor.” He was the sensation of the year, bringing to Chicago scholasticism the gospel of Robert Henri and the “French moderns.” Frances Foy was among the young “rebels” to join his class, much to the disgust of Reynolds and the other conservative instructors. Another of the “rebels was Gustaf Dalstrom. It was as fellow students in the class of Bellows — who “opened the door and let us sett out,” as Frances Foy expresses it (speaking of art) — that she and Dalstrom developed the friendship that led presently to their marriage.
The fact that she married an artist and developed her ambitions along with his is given me by Miss Foy as a very good reason why she is now an “artist” instead of indolent, if rich, draughtsman of fashion figures for the advertising agencies.
After Bellows had “opened the door,” Miss Foy’s pictures, sometimes of young girls and of children, sometimes of “still life,” began to attract attention in the circles of the artists, where a painter comes to maturity before the outside world has an inkling.
The Chicago Woman’s Aid, then in an eager and successful period of discovering new talent, gave her a show. (Salcia Bahnc was another of their “discoveries.”) The show established Frances Foy as an artist to be reckoned with. A visitor was “Pop” Hart. Much interested, he went also to her studio and he became a warm well-wisher of hers through his life.
Another visitor was Tennessee Anderson, also now dead, to the irreparable loss of Chicago. Mrs. Anderson, a moving spirit among musicians and writers as well as among artists, not only admired Frances Foy’s work but took a strong personal liking for her. “You speak my language,” she remarked. And she arranged, presently, a show for Frances Foy at the Romany Club, a “one-man show” at the Art Institute, and shows at the Walden Gallery, and increased Robinson’s have followed.
Miss Foy went abroad with her husband for a year’s sojourn not long after their marriage. But as in his case, she didn’t become Europeanized.” Her greatest delight on the trip was the island of Gottland, her husband’s birthplace. What she found there to center her attention were crude and violent old religious paintings of early centuries in the churches, covered up during the period of the reformation but now restored, with an easing of the Protestant-Catholic tension.
Just as Miss Foy is not “a Botticelli lady with a lily in her hand,” neither is she lost in her own Irish dreams. A painter of the exquisitely poetical, she had an alert sense of what is transpiring in the world in these depression (post-depression?) days. She entered vigorously into the New Deal’s PWAP project, now defunct, for the rehabilitation of needy artists, serving on the Chicago regional committee which was directing the work. She is participating now in the government’s project to adorn new Post Offices and other public buildings with murals. She has been commissioned to do the mural for East Alton.
“And why a mural for a building that will be wrecked within a few years to make way for another building as flimsy?” I asked.
“And why not?” she countered, and she went into the history of old-time murals — how the old artists of Italy painted in spite of the uncertainty of the preservation of their work, knowing the next Pope or the next might order covered up their decorations in the Vatican or the big churches to make room for the murals of some new favorite painter. She believes it is only the accident of the Italian princes having grown poorer, the wealth going to France and the north, that Italy is now the treasure house of Raphael and Michelangelo. Had the great families retained their wealth to do it, they would have covered up these “masters,” too.
So why worry about the fate of your Farley Post Office mural?
Miss Foy has been a director of No-Jury almost from the outset and is still one. She participates in most of Chicago’s radical movements — but has been teaching this summer at the Art Institute.
She started painting children, not from any over-developed “mother instinct” but “because there were so many kids in her neighborhood.” She used in recent years her own youngster as model until of late (he is now half-past four) he wouldn’t stay still long enough to pose.
She is resourceful and observant in life as in art. Once, in New Mexico, she and her hose were caught alone in a sudden sandstorm — a real stiff one that came up suddenly with a roar. The horse stuck his nose in the ground. So did Frances Foy, and she survived along with him.