No. 94 Gerald A. Frank
Why does Gerald Frank paint always in blues and greens? The question has been asked scores of times in front of Mr. Frank’s painting in shows around town. And I was a bit curious myself. So I did the thing nobody had ever thought of doing before: I up and asked him!
“Why do you always paint in blues and greens?”
“Because I like blues and greens.”
Who can imagine a better answer?
Besides, Mr. Frank doesn’t always paint in blues and greens. He has tried reds and yellow, and he doesn’t like them.
Blues and greens are also the colors he prefers in his clothes, his shirts, his ties. Once he bought a brown suit. He didn’t wear it out, and he never bought another.
“Blues and greens,” he enlarged musingly after his perfect answer, “seem to interpret what is in me. Reds and yellows clash with my emotions. Maybe there’s something mystical in me, something morbid.”
Decidedly, I should say, after reviewing rapidly photographs of his early work — the first I saw on exhibition walls ten or a dozen years back. Among them are mystical nudes, not pagan, but medievally religious.
It developed further in the conversation that Gerald Frank was never instructed to lean to greens and blues. Nor does he adhere to any “ism” of greens and blues. They are spontaneous.
Mystical and morbid, maybe, but I have known few artists with less temperament (“bohemian” brand) than Gerald Frank. His feet are on the ground. He doesn’t pose, and he is a bit timid. Frank he is by name and nature — maybe a bad pun — but the “analysts” often find names influencing the natures of their owners.
Timid? Gerald Frank admits it, and long ago he took measures (though not on purpose) to overcome it. He was mature (25) when he made up his mind to be an artist. At about the same time, he started to be an actor. In art circles, as a popular young man, he was called upon sometimes to help show ladies’ clubs and the like the wonders of the Chicago and Vicinity shows at the Art Institute. He found that his training as an actor helped him overcome blushes and confusion as an amateur art lecturer.
Artist, actor — what else? Gerald Frank raises dogs, has been doing it all his life, and he looks forward to the time when he can retire to the suburbs and build a kennel.
“Two cairns in a two-room apartment, just now, make life a little trying,” he told me.
Queerly enough, though he is devoted to dogs, he is no dog painter. Two or three times he has painted his little Scotch cairns, but no oftener. Dogs don’t seem to be an obsession of his art life.
As for his acting, if he were 15 years younger, he would go on the stage seriously. He is character actor with the Playwrights Theater, founded by Alice Gerstenberg — character actor, charter member, on the board of directors. The Playwrights Theater gives an annual performance at the Arts Club, among its other activities. That is a proud night for Gerald Frank, who is also a charter member of the Arts Club and (for the past 18 years) its treasurer.
His interest in the stage: he is an omnivorous reader of plays, published and unpublished (the published for his delectation, the unpublished in search of scripts for the Playwrights Theater, which produces only the untried — his interest in the stage has led to some interesting acquaintances, and to one of the “big thrills” of his art life, as he states it.
The “big thrill” was painting a portrait of Mary Garden. He was nervous and ill at ease until Miss Garden, in a few tactful words, assured him that she was nobody but that he was a great artist. Miss Garden, besides, bought two pictures from him. Other close friends from the stage have been Pauline Frederick and Glenn Hunter.
However, as in the case of his dogs, the stage is curiously something apart from his painting. He is interested n acting, not in scene designing, and “the theatrical” is not sensed in his canvases.
Gerald Frank was born and grew up in Chicago, studied and practices his art here, takes an occasional and frequent jaunt abroad, but insists nothing that would interest “your readers” has ever happened to him.
For instance: When he was a boy of 14 or 15, he was on a party traveling through Glacier Park, on invitation, before it was opened to the public as a national recreation ground.
A guide they encountered was a young Indian boy, deaf and dumb, about his own age, bright and eager. The boys became friends, talking to each other by scrap pad and pencil. The young Indian was trying to carve animals in wood with his hunting knife.
On his return to Chicago, Gerald Frank sent him a complete set of wood-carving instruments.
The Indian grew up to be John Clark, now sensationally known in Chicago, New York, and other “civilized” centers for his superb carvings in wood, particularly his bears. One of Clark’s first shows was at the Arts Club of Chicago.
For instance, again: Last summer, Gerald Frank was in Dublin, Ireland, where he was visited by his old friend, Pauline Palmer, and others of a party Dudley Crafts Watson was taking into the Scandinavian countries on an art tour. Mrs. Palmer took time out to go with Mr. Frank to see the Abbey Players. The party wanted Gerald to go on into Norway, but he had other plans.
He agreed, however, to meet Mrs. Palmer some weeks later in Copenhagen. He kept the appointment but she didn’t. When he arrived, he learned she was dying in a little village in Norway, victim of pneumonia.
Pauline Palmer had been for years his art mentor, as she was to so many others. She was one of the busiest of Charles W. Hawthorne’s friends. Frank was one, among many, she allured to Provincetown and to Hawthorne’s school.
Gerald Frank wasn’t destined by his family and friends for a career as artist. He was born Nov. 22, 1889, in Chicago. His father, George Frank, was a prosperous businessman of a line of businessmen. His mother’s ancestry was also commercial. There is not art, that Gerald knows, hanging in his family tree.
After high school, he was given a job at the Fair store, with the chance to work his way up, through family friendships. He stayed there three years. Then he went to a store in Baltimore for a year, and a store in Sioux City, Iowa, for another year.
By that time he was 23, thoroughly convinced he didn’t want to be a businessman, but an artist. Hadn’t he illustrated his high school books in the margins more avidly than attending to the texts? Couldn’t he copy the head of a Gibson Girl as well as Gibson himself could draw her?
So he sought out, on recommendation, Wellington J. Reynolds, instructor in painting at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He already knew how to draw, he told Reynolds. All he wanted to learn was how to paint. Reynolds smiled, let him have his way for a few days, and then Gerald sought his instructor out for a private interview in which he confessed that maybe he was a little “previous” in claiming to know how to draw.
He followed Reynolds to the school of the Art Institute.
At this period, too, he studied etching for a time with B.J. Norfeldt, a “modernist” painter as well as etcher who had a studio in the 57th Street art colony. It was Gerald Frank’s first contact with “modernism,” and he wasn’t particularly impressed. Norfeldt painted a wild portrait of his student in vivid greens. He offered it as a present to Gerald, but the young man preferred an etching. Now, Gerald Frank wishes he had taken that portrait!
Wonder if that stab of conscience has anything to do with his own devotion to greens? Only Gerald’s greens are not “modernistic.”
Next Frank established a studio in the Tree Building where he has been ever since. A neighbor in the building was Pauline Palmer, and so off to Provincetown went Gerald, where he studied not only with Hawthorne, but with Ambrose Webster as well. A short course in Paris in the studio of Simonidi, and a few private lessons with Walter Ufer complete his formal art education. The rest is long practice in his studio and on painting tours of Ireland, Scotland, England, and particularly the Scandinavian countries, which he loves best.
He became a director in the ‘teens of the century of the Chicago Artists’ Guild which had quarters in the Fine Arts Building, now occupied by the Ackermann Galleries.
When the Arts Club of Chicago was formed, the membership of the Guild was taken over a charter members.
The Guild was interested in the crafts as well as in painting. It was in one of the Guild shows that Gerald Frank won his first prize — “The Lord’s Prayer” on parchment in illuminated letters. It hangs in his studio today, after a quarter of a century.