During my second year in art school and near the end of my first year in painting class, Susan Gertrude Schell, my instructor, assigned me to arrange a still life setting that I would like to paint. I selected the items I thought I needed from a trunk full of various items in the corner of the painting studio: a table cloth, a brandy bottle, a couple of plates, a wine glass, and a chair. I arranged these on a table and called Miss Schell for her approval, which she gave.
Without further ado, I began laying out the arrangement on the largest canvas I had ever worked on, 22”x 32″. A real challenge, I thought, but my teacher seemed to feel I could handle it. There was a lot of space to fill with paint but as it progressed I began to get a “feel” for it to the point I began to like what I was doing. The background, I thought to myself … how do I fit that into a still life? Paint what I see! I decided to use a space divider and show the studio wall which would take care of the rest of the background. That’s it! I’ve got it made, I said to myself. But it still needed something, something interesting. It needs more thought. Right!
I added a wall and a hallway behind the divider panel. That added some depth, I put a chair and a throw rug in front of the far wall; that would look natural. So I put it in and added cast shadows on the floor and wall. I looked at my table and decided it looked empty. Food! What’s a plate without food, so I brought a dinner roll to the next session and gave it a place on the plate in the painting.
It sure takes a lot of thinking to put a still-life together and make it look natural, I thought to myself, so I stepped back to look at the “big picture.” I decided it needed some human interest to liven it up, so I invented earrings and a string of pearls (female element) and a pipe and Zippo lighter (male element). This human interest was good but I had to give them more purpose, suggestive purpose, so I added a door (that wasn’t there), partly ajar, and give the appearance of a soft light in the room (that wasn’t there). Pretty interesting I thought. Wonder how this might be interpreted? Then the divider panel needed something, so I added what might be a calendar. Finally, I painted my jacket and cap on the chair by the table. Done!
The painting was given a prominent spot in the end-of-year display of student work. Julius Bloch, a prominent Philadelphia painter who occasionally visited the classes, stopped by and I pointed out my painting to him. He smiled and nodded and appeared to be pleased, which also pleased me.