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2017 marks two special anniversaries for The Studio of Ben Solowey. 75 years ago, Ben and Rae Solowey moved permanently to Bucks County. 25 years ago, we began to present regular interpretive exhibitions at the Solowey studio of Ben’s work, his contemporaries, and occasionally a contemporary artist. Our plan is to celebrate both anniversaries this year with exhibitions in the summer and fall, along with special events and programming starting this spring.


Ben and Rae had bought the 34-acre farm on which the studio sits in 1936. Armed with real estate sections from the New York Times and Herald Tribune, they left their Fifth Avenue home and studio and came out to Pipersville, Pennsylvania in upper Bucks County where a local farmer, Reed Nash, who moonlighted as a real estate agent, took them to thirteen different properties before they stopped on the main road outside of the village of Bedminster, at the end of a quarter mile driveway to a small farm. It was April, and it had rained, and the horse and buggy tracks that served as the driveway were not sufficient to drive a car on, so the Soloweys got up and walked up the path. According to Rae, by the time Ben got to the barn, he had decided that this property would be the last they would visit that day. He had found a new home.

The barn before it became Ben’s studio, c. 1936

What Ben saw in it that day is hard to say. It was pretty run down, with Rae comparing it to the poor tenant farms of the novel Tobacco Road. It had no running water or electricity and it was miles from anywhere. It may have been precisely those reasons that attracted Ben, 41, for he had a vision of what it could become and looked forward to the effort to make it a reality.

Paul Muni, 1930

For the next six years the Soloweys went back and forth to New York, increasingly spending more time at the farm. That may have continued their trips, but with gas rationing at the start of World War II, they had to decide whether they were going to be city or country. It seems that everyone, including Rae thought they would remain in New York, where Ben had established himself a renowned painter and was acclaimed for his “Theater Portraits” that appeared regularly in the Sunday editions of the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. They had a beautiful home and studio on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, and many friends and neighbors such as Arshile Gorky, Diego Rivera, Freda Kahlo, Ford Maddox Ford, along with a steady stream of theater people who regularly came to Ben’s studio to be drawn. Nevertheless, Ben decided to go to Bucks County, and the Soloweys moved in November 1942. Ben would remain on the farm until his death in 1978, and Rae would live here until her passing in 1990.

Rae in the studio, 1984

It was Rae’s wish that Ben’s studio be open for future generations to enjoy. She was not clear on exactly how that was to happen, as she did not want to dictate the course when she not be here to help. Although there was support from family, friends and collectors, almost all were sure that no one would come to a remote location to see the studio and the work in it, and if they came, they would not make the trip again. In 1992, we presented our first exhibition, “A Place for All Seasons.” Ben’s name and art, and the fact that this was the only intact artist studio from the Golden Age of Bucks County, attracted visitors. Exhibitions and positive reviews followed, and soon we decided to limit the number of people on our mailing list for the simple reason that we did not want to alter either the property or the community with larger crowds.

Early on, the Studio was described as “Bucks County Best Kept Secret” and that is still true today. Although the studio has been fortunate to receive press both in the region and in major publications around the country, it does no advertising. We have no real gift shop or tea room, and for years people had only a mowed field to park their cars, yet they still came, often bringing friends with them. Articles on the Studio also brought out new visitors, and the cycle continues today.

Over these last 25 years we have presented more than 40 exhibitions on different aspects of Ben’s career. Some of these shows have traveled to museums and galleries, and we regularly loan Solowey works to other exhibitions, both local and national. We feel that we not only have fulfilled Rae’s wish for the Studio, but also fill a need in the region as both a historic and arts venue.

It is remarkable that the studio and the farm have changed so little in the intervening years, as has the surrounding environment. The property is still farmed by the same fellow who farmed it in Ben’s time, although he is a grandfather now. The studio has remained intact not because we left everything in the same place, but as anyone who has visited knows, it is because we regularly move pieces around, much like Ben did when he was working. While one does not have to go far to see “progress,” when one stands at the Studio they are seeing virtually the same landscape Ben saw that April afternoon in 1936, save for the trees, many of which Ben planted.

Next month, we will announce our two new exhibitions this year and reveal some of our special programming to go with them. We will send monthly updates through our email newsletter. If you want to receive an invitation in the US mail, write to with your address.

This is going to be a special year for the Studio of Ben Solowey and we hope to see you out here. As Rae was so fond of saying—

We’ll see you when we do….

Paul DuSold at work, 2016

For more than 25 years I have both literally and figuratively looked over the artist’s shoulder as he/she works at an easel. That’s what curators do. We want to see not only what the artist has created, but when possible, how they did it, what was their motivation, and what was the context. Sometimes it feels like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, with the best result being a complete picture with every piece in its place. This rarely happens because…a wide range of reasons. Most artists rarely keep detailed diaries of why and how they are working and memories are faulty or circumspect. An artist can have reasons why a work was created and ten years later look at the same work and see a different set of reasons. 25 years or more, the artist may have different reasons then the first two proffered. It isn’t that the artist is lying, it is simply human nature to see things differently as we get distance from them. Curators try to provide the history and context of a chosen work for an exhibition or publication from extant evidence, but rarely are in the studio while the artist works to observe and ask questions.

During the run of our last exhibition, Leaving a Mark: Second Annual Works on Paper Exhibition, we invited Paul DuSold to return to the Solowey Studio to present one of his celebrated portrait demonstrations. Visitors may remember that in 2010, during the run of a joint exhibition of Solowey and DuSold paintings here at the Solowey Studio (one of the two times we have showed a contemporary artist’s work here), Paul made history by painting the first work in the studio since Ben Solowey’s death in 1978.

Paul is one of the few accomplished portrait painters who not only can capture the personality of his sitter, but also speak intelligently to an audience while doing it. In his first demonstration, he worked in oils before a rapt audience. This time we asked if he would draw rather than paint in honor of the exhibition. He agreed, a date was set, and a model was engaged. As the day approached, our model was unable to make it. I called someone else, but they were unable to come, so as the morning broke, I realized that since my wife and son were unavailable or unwilling, I would take the chair on Ben’s model stand and sit for Paul.

I was to have done that once before, in the fall of 1978, when my twin brother John and I were to have sat for a portrait by Ben himself. In the family, when one approached the age of 13, someone—frequently Rae’s sister Rick—often commissioned Ben to draw a portrait. My late sister Ann had sat for a lovely pastel portrait at the age of only eight, and my older brother Matthew had sat for a charcoal drawing at 13. Rae would later tell me that Ben was looking forward to drawing my portrait and John’s because he could not tell us apart, but he knew that once we sitting in front of him our distinct personalities would make it clear who was who. Unfortunately, Ben died three months before the portrait was to have been drawn. At the time, it was of little consequence, but over the years and my deepening involvement with all things Solowey, I regretted that we were denied the experience of sitting for Ben.

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dusold-portraitOn Saturday October 15th, award-winning artist Paul DuSold will give a portrait demonstration in the Main Studio at 2:30 pm. Visitors may remember that six years ago, during the run of a joint exhibition of Solowey and DuSold work here at the Solowey Studio, DuSold made history by painting the first work in the studio since Ben Solowey’s death in 1978.

Like Ben, DuSold is one of the few accomplished portrait painters who not only can capture the personality of his sitter, but also speak intelligently to an audience while doing it. We are thrilled to have Paul return to create a new portrait in Ben’s remarkable studio. He will be drawing this time instead of painting, in honor of our works on paper exhibition. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to see DuSold in action.

The day after this demonstration, DuSold’s work will be featured in a new exhibition, The Nude, Mirror of Desire opening at the Wayne Art Center through November 19, 2016. The show also includes the work of Scott Noel, Ben Kamihira and Margaret MCanne. To learn more about DuSold and his art, visit

nosferatuPlease join us for our first film event on October 22nd at 7 pm. This special showing of the classic silent film, Nosferatu in the Halloween season is sure to memorable, as it is not only considered a film masterpiece, but it will have live musical accompaniment by the “boy wonder” of the theater organ, Brett Miller.

Brett is an organ prodigy who has studied with the top organists in the country. Bucks County’s County Theater hires him to play at all four of their theaters, and he is a staff organist at Loews Jersey City, one of the classic movie palaces from the 1920s. Analyzing the film, Brett has composed a score that is firmly rooted in the classic silent film tradition.

Nosferatu, according to film critic Roger Ebert, “is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than thirty other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires… It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us.” Directed by the legendary F.W. Murnau, it draws on the great visual tradition of the early silent, when images were more important than words. If you have never seen a silent film, or never seen one with live music, this is a must. If you have, you won’t want to miss this special presentation.

Tickets are $10 as the event will be a benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Seating is limited and tickets are already going fast. to reserve yours, contact the Studio by email at or by phone at 215-795-0228.

After Ingres

To highlight works in the exhibition, Homage: Ben solowey’s Art iNspired by His Influences, we are providing articles on the artists he admired and the works they inspired:

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867) was on a quest to capture the ideal beauty. A student of Jacques-Louis David, then Europe’s greatest artist, Ingres learned the Neoclassical style but soon emphasized the contours of his figures, in a way, becoming one of the first Modern painters. Though he was dedicated to the academic panting of the classical era in his early life, he would eventually become experimental in his art, breaking many of the boundaries set by the classical painters.


“The Valpincon Bather” by Ingres

Like Ben, Ingres felt that drawing was the foundation of art, and his paintings and drawings reveal his detailed approach to draughtsmanship. Ben Solowey collected reproductions of both his drawings and of his most famous paintings, “La Grande Odalisque,” one of the first pure nudes (without any historical justification), which Ben alluded to in a number of works throughout his career, and “The Valpincon Bather.”

“The Valpincon Bather” is one of Ingres’ most renowned works. The nude, seen from the back, has many anatomical distortions that would become synonymous with Ingres. This work is considered to be his first great work of the nude. One critic remarked “Rembrandt himself would have coveted the amber colour of this pale torso.” The painting would inspire a number of Solowey paintings and drawings, and like Ingres himself, he would return to the figure throughout his career. He kept a reproduction of the work in his studio and in his oil, “Still Life Materials,” now in the collection of the James A. Michener Art Museum, which depicts elements of still life paintings, he included the reproduction – a direct acknowledgement of the inspiration, virtually the only time he made such a direct link.

AfterIngresIn an undated work on paper, Ben brings a soft treatment of the body to his own version of the Valpincon Bather. Here, Rae models for this modern adaptation in his New York studio. The pose is not identical, but the view of the bather from the back along with the pink and white turban hints to the Ingres tradition Solowey is drawing upon. He combines it with a fascination with mirrors that can be traced to the work of Manet. With the addition of the mirror, we can see the front of the nude, though the reflection is dark and less defined. While much of the background has a sketch quality to it, the skin of the nude is soft and supple, not unlike the original Ingres’ work. Ben stayed true to reality with anatomically correct proportions.

red ribbon copy“Red Ribbon,” a 1956 casein, also pays tributes to Ingres’ classic work, this time painted in the distinct Solowey style with vibrant colors and Rae modeling once again.

In a 1950 oil, “Pink Turban,” Ben turns his model around and gives us a portrait of Rae, as if to to reveal the identity of his bather. It was a work that must have been close to his heart and his made the canvas himself, and in our Homage exhibition, it is one of Ben’s best hand carved, gold PinkTurbaninframeleaf frames.

Katherine Eastman

Associate Curator

Photo 10Thurs. June 2nd  at 7:30 pm at the Studio of Ben Solowey

80 years ago, the deadliest flood in Pennsylvania history covered more than 1/15th of the state in water for days & resulted in flood control legislation nationwide. Rae’s family was particularly hard hit, with her family’s business, home and adjacent properties all destroyed. A fascinating letter to the Soloweys from Rae’s sister Rick, written days after the flood, gives a remarkable first hand account of the sights, sounds, & smells of the disaster that changed the face of Pennsylvania and the country.

In an illustrated dramatic reading of the letter, presented to great acclaim in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on the anniversary of the flood, you will see startling pictures of the state submerged & learn about the people affected in this special presentation.

Seating in the Second Studio is limited. Reservations are encouraged. Contact or 215-795-0228 to save your seat this one night only performance.


Thurs. May 26th  at 7:30 pm

Join David Leopold as he takes us on a tour of the Hirschfeld Century, an 82-year era in which Al Hirschfeld both recorded and defined so much of popular culture, especially through his drawings of productions on Broadway and in Hollywood. He was there at the birth of television and captured its first half-century. He recorded more popular music than any MP3, CD, LP, or wax cylinder ever did. His drawings of dance are among his most accomplished works.

David has spent 25 years studying Hirschfeld’s work, the first thirteen as Hirschfeld’s Archivist, visiting him in his studio once or twice a week. He now is the Creative Director of The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. His new book, The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of An Artist and His Age (Knopf) has been called by The Washington Post, “An instant classic.” Booklist declared, “Leopold emulates the economy and fluidity of Hirschfeld’s drawings in this star-studded, anecdote-rich, critically clarifying, and thoroughly enlightening portrait of the portraits.” It has also received rave reviews in The New York times, Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

David’s improvised, illustrated talk will show you rarely seen images as well as old favorites.Seating in the Second Studio is limited. Reservations are encouraged. Contact or 215-795-0228 to save your seat this one night only performance.

Mail Call

IMG_5796The letters that Rae Solowey wrote to family, friends, and patrons over the years provide the clearest picture of what life was like for the Soloweys on the farm. With no outside entertainment save for the radio (when it worked), the mail provided Ben and Rae a connection to the rest of the world, especially in their earliest days.

Fortunately people who received letters from Rae (and they were almost always by Rae) often kept them, and some have returned them to be part of our archive. They offer a fascinating window into the everyday world of the Soloweys, and all are written in Rae’s distinct voice, so they are almost like a recording in ink rather than tape of Rae musing about their life.

Recently, we received a treasure trove of letters that Rae wrote in the months after the Soloweys moved to the farm in the fall of 1942. While they had purchased the farm in April, 1936, and spent a great deal of time here, the war, with its rations on gas and rubber forced them to make a choice of whether to live in New York or Bucks County. To everyone’s surprise, including Rae’s, Ben decided to cast their lot in Bucks County, despite the fact that they had no running or heat.

The letters, provided by Gloria Paseline and her family, were written by Rae to Gloria’s Aunt Lil, who was a friend of Ben ad Rae’s in New York. They all had a great deal of affection for each other and in the early days of the Soloweys in Bucks County, they wrote each other every week. Lil sent care packages to her friends living in the “wilderness,” and one for Ben elicited the very rare Ben Solowey letter.

The letters describe the weather on the farm in their first days, which was pretty rough. The winter of 1942-43 saw an extraordinary amount of snowfall, and the Solowey frequently found themselves snowbound. To get gas rations, they had to be classified as farmers, and they set up a 300-chick operation that produced eggs, but was mainly meant to sell the chickens and roosters as they matured. The letters detail the work, their success, and the near tragedy when a chick almost pecked out Rae’s eye.

Although Rae would eventually type all of her letters, in this period they are all written in her delicate penmanship, in which she capitalized the first letter of every line. Few are dated in a conventional manner as to determine the exact date, with most labeled “Wednesday A.M.” or “Thursday Noon.”

Here are a few snippets from the letters. Probably more will come in the future:


“…typical winter scene is truly one of breath-taking magnificence. Only in Central Park can one get the same effect.”

Lil sent clippings from time to time including one about an exhibition that Ben’s work was hung at the metropolitan Museum of Art alongside paintings by Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, Jackson Pollock, Marsden Hartley, and Bucks County stalwarts such as John Folinsbee, Daniel Garber, and Walter Baum:
‘It was interesting to read about the Artists for Victory show. We learned that Ben’s watercolor, ‘Heathers’ was included and he’s pleased with the selection as it is one of his best. The Chicago Art Institute returned this after a year on their rotary exhibition.”

In regards to a clipping about city and country people:
“You see Lil there are many ‘city folks’ who look down on the sort of thing Ben is doing at the moment. After all, they say, it’s only manual labor requiring nothing more than that, while they, now are thinkers and that’s something. That it is more difficult and wearing to have to contend with an office, etc….I prefer to ignore the whole thing because I see what Ben does. If an engineer or builder gave him a set of blue prints and he made these things—that’s manual labor. But to have to figure it all out and right and then execute it well, there’s no sense in even talking to people in that light.

The Soloweys were friends with impresario Sol Hurok and were invited to several early Isaac Stern recitals. They could not make his first Carnegie Hall recital in 1943, but Lil took Rae’s sister Rick:
“We’re really sorry we won’t be in on the Isaac Stern concert as we did enjoy his last two recitals. Not that we feel we have any right to express musical criticism (I always visualize people who ‘go in for’ artistic analyses—and I shudder!) But we felt Isaac definitely had a touch of genius, more than just talent anyway. Here’s hoping he makes the grade.”

The Carnegie Hall recital was Stern’s breakout performance.

After Watteau

Jean-Antoine Watteau, an 18th century French painter and draughtsman “created, unwittingly, the concept of the individualistic artist loyal to himself, and himself alone,” according to one critic. It is said that his work from the 18th century anticipates art about art, especially in his paintings and drawings of the theatrical figures from the commedia dell’arte. While generally considered the first great Rocco painter, it is his work as a draughtsman that had an influence on generations of artists, including Ben Solowey.

In a period where artists made drawings only as preparatory studies for their canvases work, Wattteau filled his sketchbooks with scenes from everyday life, which he would mine for his paintings. He helped to popularize trois crayons, or three chalks, often red, black and white, and his name is synonymous with his ability to use the technique to give his drawings a remarkable flesh tone. His work captured the spontaneity and grace of his subjects that makes them seems as fresh today as when they were drawn four centuries ago.

Ben would have learned of Watteau at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and probably saw the works in person for the first time on his 1924 European trip. He collected reproductions of the artist’s work and personalized Watteau’s trois crayons style in numerous drawings of Rae.IMG_5790Study of "Jeune Femme Assise." Ben Solowey

While combing through Ben’s morgue, we found an excellent reproduction of a Watteau drawing of a young girl. Underneath was Ben’s quick copy of the salient features, which includes a small study of shapes in the upper left hand corner. Beneath that was a drawing of Rae that is not exactly like its inspiration, but certainly influenced by it. The three works present almost a diagram of how Ben interpolated the style of other artists into his own, without resorting to slavish imitation.

In another work, he re-creates Watteau’s drawing of a figure with her arm outstretched. Ben inscribed his version “After Watteau” and while the whereabouts of that drawing are presently unknown, we do have another drawing in a strikingly similar pose, perhaps the next step in Ben’s internalizing of what he learned from his study of Watteau’s original.

IMG_5789We will include these works, none of which have been previously exhibited, and more in our new exhibition, Homage: Ben Solowey’s Art Inspired by His Influences, opening May 21st.


Color offset lithographic poster.

Color offset lithographic poster.

Immigrants continue to be in the news. While Central American immigrants are the focus of attention and sadly, scorn today, a century ago that attention and invective was aimed toward Jewish immigrants, primarily from Central Europe. Those that came to New York congregated on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and a remarkable culture blossomed there. One of the most visible aspects of this culture was the Yiddish Theatre, especially along Second Avenue, which would eventually be nicknamed “Yiddish Broadway.” “Next to the Yiddish press with its seven dailies…,” wrote the New York Times in 1925, “the idiomatic stage is the greatest power in the Jewish life of New York.”


A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, “New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway,” opening March 9th explores this world and documents how not only its stars like Danny Kaye, Stella Adler, Eddie Cantor, crossed over to the American stage, film and television, but its plays, stage design, and music also filtered in the broader American culture leaving an indelible mark on the lives of generations of Americans.


Ben Solowey did not play an active role in the Yiddish Theater but he did draw charcoal portraits from life of many of its stars for the New York Times and the Herald Tribune including Maurice Schwartz, Anna Appel, Maurice Moscovitch, Fanny Brice, and Stella and Luther Adler. The Museum of the City of New York has asked to borrow two of Ben’s portraits of Yiddish Theater performers who made the successful transition to Broadway and beyond.

Joseph Buloff in My Sister Wileen, 1942

Joseph Buloff in My Sister Eileen, 1942


Joseph Buloff, who is best known today for originating the role of Ali Hakim the Peddler in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, was a mainstay of the Yiddish Theater. Even after he “crossovered” he continued to play in Yiddish Theater when not on Broadway and he worked to preserve the tradition for future generations. Just six months before he performed in Oklahoma!, Ben drew him in the hit, My Sister Eileen.


The second portrait to be loaned to the Museum will be Fanny Brice who built her career in part by using a Yiddish accent when ethnic comedy was the norm. This well-known portrait shows Brice as “Baby Snooks,” a character she created in vaudeville, played in the Ziegfeld Follies, before launching a very successful career in radio with a

Fanny Brice in The Ziegfeld Follies, 1933

Fanny Brice in The Ziegfeld Follies, 1933

show about the character.


The exhibition will feature a wonderful collection of material on the Yiddish Theater, as well as objects from the original production of Fiddler on the Roof, Boris Aronson set designs, Al Hirschfeld drawings, memorabilia from the Group Theatre, the Catskills, and much, much more.

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