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Rae in White Blouse Off Shoulder

Rae in White Blouse Off Shoulder
Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in., c. 1955

2022 marks the 30th anniversary of The Studio of Ben Solowey presenting regular interpretative exhibitions at the Solowey Studio. In that time we have presented 40 exhibitions displaying more than 1,000 works by Ben. There have been paintings in oil, watercolor, casein, and gouache. Drawings in charcoal, pen, lithographic crayon, conté crayon, pencil, and marker. We have included woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, monoprints and photographs. We have also featured sculptures in plaster, bronze, clay, and wax. We have also exhibited Ben’s handcrafted frames and furniture, all, of course in the studio he created for himself at the center of this 34-acre farm. It was Rae Solowey’s wish that the Studio and its contents be preserved for future generations to enjoy, and after all these years, showing all these works to thousands of visitors, I know I’m not alone when I say I’m glad that wish came true.

We want to put on a very special show this year, bringing together select Solowey classics, as well as paintings by and of Ben that you have never seen. A show that not only celebrates the 30 years of exhibitions, but the 80 years since the Soloweys moved permanently to Bucks County from Manhattan. (As I write this, it is almost exactly 86 years since Ben and Rae first walked up the driveway and decided to buy the farm.).

In all that time, it is remarkable how little has changed on the property. Some trees are bigger, some have fallen, but Ben’s peonies, daffodils, hydrangeas, Joseph and Marys, hostas, false snapdragons, irises, and so many other flowers—a number of which he immortalized in his paintings—are all still here. The buildings are the same (even if the house is larger after our addition in 2005, the view from the studio is the same), and even the surrounding landscape is basically unchanged, save for the dairy farm across the road now has three silos and a milking barn. Mount Haycock, Bucks County highest peak, which Rae said “kept everything in perspective” can still be seen but is somewhat obscured by tall trees miles away. You may be happy to learn that we finally decided to pave our quarter mile driveway and are parking area.

While the studio itself is still intact—indeed it the only intact studio from the Bucks County Golden Age of painting—as you know the walls of the studio, and even sometimes the configuration of the studio changes regularly, just as it did when Ben was alive. We think that is one of the ways it still feels so alive, as the art critic from The Philadelphia Inquirer once wrote, “The charm of [the Studio] is its sense of intimacy and immediacy. Nothing is under glass or roped; rather, it conveys the uncanny feeling that Solowey has just stepped away from his easel and will be back any minute.”

We will be doing things a little different this year. Our new exhibition, “Welcome Back: Celebrating 80 years of Ben Solowey in Bucks County” will open on Saturday, June 4th from 1 – 5 pm, and run Wednesday to Sunday, 1 to 5 pm, through Friday, June 17th. After we will be open by appointment through the summer and the fall.

David Leopold, Director

Marie Burke in “The Great Waltz” Charcoal on paper, 22 x 18 in., 1935

When producer Max Gordon came to John D. Rockefeller about investing in a musical based on Johann Strauss’ relationship with his father, set to Strauss’s most popular melodies with new lyrics, and a book by Moss Hart, he had no idea that Rockefeller would not only say yes, but offer the brand new Center Theatre, part of the brand new Rockefeller Center. The Great Waltz, as the show would be called, was the first production in the 3,000 seat theater. Directed by Hassard Short and designed by Albert Johnson, the show had a cast of 180, over 500 costumes and massive sets that moved by an innovative hydraulic system. The “Blue Danube” finale brought a 53-piece orchestra up from the depths, eight crystal chandeliers down from above, and the entire cast waltzing on in lavish period attire. It was the biggest spectacle Broadway had ever seen. Most critics like but were not bedazzled by the spectacle, but ticket buyers packed the theater (now the site of Rockefeller Center’s parking garage) for months, making the show a profitable hit.

Marie Burke, an English actress had trained as an operatic singer, but found more success in stage musicals. She had been playing on Broadway since 1910. In The Great Waltz as Countess Olga Baranskaja, she effects the reconciliation between father and son Strauss leading to the panoramic finale. Ben drew her from life and his work appeared in thejust before the show took a summer hiatus. It was her final appearance on Broadway, but she continued in the West End, as well as in films, and eventually television.

Chic Sale in “Hello Paris” Charcoal on paper, 22 x 18 in., 1930

Charles “Chic” Sale was a vaudevillian whose specialty was playing “rural parts’ or what we would call country bumpkins. He was successful enough at it that the Shuberts put him in their annual Passing Show revues, and even Ziegfeld put him into one of his Midnight Frolics.

He found fame in 1929 writing The Specialist, a play about “Lem Putt,” an outhouse builder he claimed to have met in Urbana, Illinois. It was a huge hit in vaudeville, and in order to copyright it, he wrote a book of the same name, which sold, according to Time magazine, 650,000 copies, and earned him a celebrity endorsement deal for Ex-Lax, then a relatively new “purgative.”

The Shuberts thought enough of it to make him the star of a new revue, Hello Paris, which opened on Broadway on November 15, 1930, six days after Ben’s drawing of the actor appeared in the Herald Tribune. Unfortunately for the producers, both critics and crowds mildly enjoyed (and endured) Sale’s bathroom humor, but thought it was the high point of the musical revue, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the show. The show only ran 33 performances, and proved to be Sale’s last Broadway appearance.

When the show closed, Sale returned to Hollywood where he had been carving out a career playing backwoods characters in silent shorts. He continued making shorts, performing his most distinguished role as Abraham Lincoln in The Perfect Tribute. Sale’s Lincoln is disappointed by the lackluster reaction to the Gettysburg Address until he meets a dying soldier, who not knowing he’s talking to the President, tells Lincoln how inspiring the speech was. Sale died less than a year after the film was released, although short films he appeared in continued to be released through 1937.

Ethel Merman in “Girl Crazy,” 1930

The Cole Porter musical Anything Goes cemented Ethel Merman’s status as a star. While she had made a hit in the Gershwin’s Girl Crazy three seasons before, Anything Goes, filled with a hit laden score that includes “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and the title tune, showed new dimensions of Merman’s talent, which helped it run 420 performances on Broadway from 1934 to 1935, one of the longest runs for a musical comedy at the time.

In the summer of 1935, Ethel Merman, who typically stayed on until the end of the run of her shows, decided to leave for Hollywood, after Samuel Goldwyn dangled a juicy part in a new film with Eddie Cantor. She had conquered Broadway and now wanted to do the same in Hollywood.

Benay Venuta in “Anything Goes” Charcoal on paper, 22 x 18 in., 1935

How does a one replace a force of nature like Merman? Producer Vinton Freedley went with a relatively unknown actress and singer, Benay Venuta. Venuta had begun her career in show business a dancer in vaudeville, but her “brassy, all out style that showed more than a little Merman influence” attracted Freedley’s attention and he hired her. She learned the part in three weeks, by rehearsing at Cole Porter’s apartment for her Broadway debut. Merman and Venuta would end up becoming close friends for the rest of their lives, even playing together in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun in 1966 at Merman’s suggestion. Venuta had also been in the film version of the musical in the 1950s.

Venuta went on to star in both comedies and musicals on Broadway, including Rodgers and Hart’s last new show, By Jupiter in 1942, where she introduced “Ev’rything I’ve Got” which the songwriting team had written in rehearsal to showcase her voice (and it became one of the hits of the show). She later starred in the original production of Jule Styne’s Hazel Flagg and she made her final Broadway appearance in Romantic Comedy in 1980.

Enjoy this footage of Karen Gross “misbehavin'” from her June 2018 appearance at the Solowey Studio

Ben as the figurehead of a boat he and his friends had.

In this undated photo (c. 1920 – 24), Ben is caught in a rural landscape that maybe in Fairmount Park or Chester Springs.

Sherlock Jr.
Starring Buster Keaton
with live musical accompaniment by theater organist Brett Miller

June 16, 2018
Doors open 7:30 pm; Film at 8:00 pm

Did you ever wish to know what it was like in the 1920s? Time travel may still be far off, but for one night we hope to transport you back to that golden age when movies were silent and musicians made the noise.

In conjunction with our new exhibition, “Portrait of the Artist as Young Man: The Early Work of Ben Solowey,” we are bringing back the “boy wonder” of the theater organ, Brett Miller, to accompany Buster Keaton’s silent classic, Sherlock Jr. This 1924 comedy is one of Keaton’s best-loved films, equally embraced by long-time aficionados as well as newcomers to silent comedy. In fact, modern audiences easily take to the fast pace and complex film-within-a-film motif. Set mostly in a dream, Pauline Kael called it “a piece of native American surrealism.”

Buster is the projectionist and janitor of a small-town movie theatre. The projectionist’s real ambition is to become a master detective. He would also like to win the heart of a local girl, though he is short of funds and must also compete with a conniving rival suitor, who sets up Buster to take the fall for his crime. When Buster returns to the projection room, he falls asleep and it is during his “dream” that real hijinks ensue.

Seating is limited to 40, and if past screenings are any indication, tickets will go fast. This is a benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and tickets are $20. To reserve a ticket contact us with your credit card and we will save your seats. You can call 215-795-0228 or email us at

Cast in Charcoal

The Earliest Solowey Drawings from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Cast Drawing, 24 x 16 in., c. 1919-20



The earliest works of Ben Solowey that remain today are those from his time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Ben enrolled in classes in 1919, beginning his formal study of art that would lead to his lifelong career/passion. The Academy was founded in 1805 and is the first and oldest art museum and school in the United States, and at the time that Ben attended it offered a classical approach to making art.

Before PAFA students were able to draw live models, they were required to complete “Cast Drawing” class, in which students drew from casts of ancient sculptures. Beginning in the 19th century, art schools began to amass casts of sculptures for their students to learn anatomy and form. Many museums also began to have halls full of casts. One well known collection is that of the Victoria and Albert museum in London. Opening in 1873, the Museum has one of the most comprehensive collection of casts and its hall is a visitor favorite. These casts were treated as works of art, rather than teaching tools or mere reproductions of statues of antiquity.
In 1805, PAFA founder Charles Willson Peale requested casts from Paris museums to be sent to the yet-to-be-built Academy. Seventeen statues, twenty-five busts, and six of feet and hands were sent to Philadelphia. Among the included were the Belvedere Torso, the Venus de Medici, and Jean Antoine Hudson’s L’Eorché (The Flayed Man). The casts were used in “Antique Class” (to be renamed “Cast Drawing” at a later date). The ability for students to work from these casts made the experience of “drawing from life” more accessible. Once students became proficient in drawing the cast sculptures, they moved on to drawing from live models.
Former PAFA archivist Cheryl Leibold gives an accounting of the collection: “An Academy property catalogue of 1889 lists 280 casts of statues, busts, reliefs or anatomical fragments in the collection probably the highest total ever.” New casts continued to be added to the collection up until 1920, just as Ben entered the Academy.
In 1880, the casts were moved to the studios to be used exclusively by students, no longer on view for the public. Once the casts were in the studios, their educational value also shifted from that of anatomy to also include expression. Late 19th century Academy teacher Thomas Anshutz favored charcoal and relied heavily on high contrasts of light and dark. This contrast of light and dark can be seen in Ben’s casts drawings that will be on view for the upcoming exhibition. We are very lucky that Ben, for whatever reason, decided to keep these earliest drawings.
Looking through Ben’s morgue (an artist’s collection of reference material), there are a many reproductions from Europe and museums featuring sculpture that he admired or drew inspiration from. He never gave up studying art from the past and present. In the 1940 United States Census, Ben lists that he did not attend college, as the Academy did not begin to issue BFA’s until 1929, and the degrees were issued in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to this, the Academy was well-known for their 4 year certificates. Yet his time at PAFA gave him a rich education to help him create his own signature work.
-Katherine Eastman


Terra Incognita

Early Solowey Landscapes of Chester Springs

Crisp Day, Chester Springs
Oil on canvas, 13 x 16 in., 1924

It is well known that Ben won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in a painting competition judged by Edward Redfield and Alice Kent Stoddard in 1919. His three plus years there were Ben’s only formal art education, although he studied art history and techniques for the rest of his life. Ben enjoyed every day at the Academy and learned a great deal about the classical approach to art from teachers, many of whom were the leading modernists in the region. In our new exhibition, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man: The Early Work of Ben Solowey opening June 9th, we will explore the effect the school, his teachers, and events at the Academy had on the young artist.
What we are just learning about as we research the exhibition is Ben’s time at the Academy Country School, commonly known as “Chester Springs.” When Ben started at the Academy, Chester Springs was relatively new, having been established by the Academy in 1917 as a summer school of open-air painting, an early-twentieth-century legacy of the impressionist movement. The Academy Country School’s emphasis was on plein air painting, but open-air figure study, still life, and animal painting were also offered. The site, where three historic natural springs emerge, occupied more than a hundred acres in Chester County, about six miles southwest of Phoenixville. It had been a medicinal spa before the American Revolution and served as a hospital during and after Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge. A former hotel on the site became a dormitory, while sheds and barns became studios. Tuition was low, and sessions generally lasted six weeks.
We know that Ben painted landscapes at Chester Springs, and perhaps other works as well. We intend on including all three extant Chester Springs landscapes in our new show. They are perhaps the earliest landscapes we have of Ben’s and the reveal a quickly maturing artist synthesizing his education and current art movements into his personal style.

Trees At Chester Springs Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in., c. 1925

Chester Springs’ solitude and its endless variety of nature may made a lasting impression on Ben, as the farm was similar in its colonial architecture, natural landscape, and relative solitude. For fellow painter and friend, Charles Ward, who studied at the Academy and Chester Springs just a few years after Ben, it certainly left a mark. “I remember the mud, the stillness, the light green of new leaves upon the willows along the creek,” wrote Ward to his fiancée in 1941. “I remember the thick trunked wet black barked willows. They were mostly trunk with their thick branches broken off with new lighter branches sprouting from the rugged trunks. One fellow said he’d be glad to get out of the place. A hell of a mud hole. But I thought the place was beautiful.”

See for yourself on June 9th, when we open our news show Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man: The Early Work of Ben Solowey from 1 to 5 pm. We will be also opening the Solowey home and fill it with home made refreshments as usual.

-David Leopold

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