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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.

This is my favorite time in preparing an exhibition. Almost everything is up on the wall, and what for months have been ideas now become reality in installation. The Second Studio, with a stunning array of works on paper looks wonderful. Portraits of Rae inter mingle with landscapes, theater portraits, still lifes and figure works. Drawings hang side by side with watercolors, monotypes, woodcuts, etchings, and pastels. We have created a novel way of seeing some double sided works as well, giving visitors a unique view of Ben’s restless need to create.StudioSelfPortrait

In the Main Studio, hang a number of oils that audiences will marvel at. Still lifes that date back to 1926 reveal that Ben had already mastered this genre at a young age, and several others in the room show that he only got better as he matured as an artist. Over the main wall, we have hung two remarkable portraits of close Solowey friends: artist Joseph Meierhans, a Swiss abstract artist who settled in Bucks County and opened a studio to showcase his work and his contemporaries; and writer Virginia Castleton, a long time Solowey friend who wrote a landmark profile of Rae for Prevention magazine and who would also write the appreciation to the historic retrospective at Woodmere Art Museum in 1979.

Fall is starting to make itself known outside the studio as the green of summer is being replaced by the browns, reds, yellow and oranges of autumn. The fields that line the lane into the property have soybeans this year, and they have reached maturity and await harvesting. They come right up to our new parking area which nature itself is camouflaging.

We hope that you have received your invitation in the mail with its delightful 1934 portrait of Rae in a fur collar. We are looking forward to welcoming everyone on October 3rd both in the Studio to see the exhibition and down at the house for some home make baked goods.

David Leopold

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of America’s oldest, and most prestigious museums. It’s collection is filled with masterpieces of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art; Old Masters; European and American decorative arts; Asian art; modern and contemporary art; architecture, industrial and graphic design; and American art such as Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” and Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.”

For three-quarters of a century, the Art Institute mounted annual exhibitions of American art, which included a wide range of painters, both well known and emerging, from across the country. Ben Solowey was frequently included in this survey, and was often part of the smaller, but distinctive, touring exhibitions of the best from each year’s display.

In Ben Solowey’s Paper Trails, visitors will have the opportunity to travel back in time to 1944 to see Ben’s entry in the annual show, his striking“Spring Flowers.” IMG_3545

This lovely watercolor whose subject was almost certainly culled from Ben’s garden here on the farm is a terrific example of his still life painting of the period. The angle of the picture frame, the colors, the personal touches such as the pipe and ashtray, and the flowered pitcher (which has been featured in Solowey still lifes for nearly twenty years at this point in his career), are all hallmarks of a signature Solowey painting from the 1940s.

We are presenting the work exactly as it looked to audiences at that time in the same grey-blue frame with its exhibit sticker still affixed to the glass. This work hung alongside works by Charles Sheeler, Paul Cadmus, Charles Burchfield, Marc Chagall, George Grosz, Reginald Marsh, Man Ray, and many others in an exhibit that ran from June to August before touring to several other museums.

We will have the watercolor along with its crate in Ben Solowey’s Paper Trails to document the various institutions it visited after it left the Art Institute before returning to Bucks County, along with the catalogue from the 1944 exhibition and several others at the Chicago landmark that Ben was represented in. We invite to come see this beautiful work that impressed audiences of the period and the show’s three-man jury which included Andrew Weyth.



Tokiyatro Tsutsui, 1930

Japonisme was the term used to describe the influence of Japanese art on fashion and aesthetics on Western culture. Like many artists of his generation, Ben was influenced by Japanese woodcuts and had several hanging in his home, and through the European interpretation of the woodcuts in the work of Impressionist artists such as Manet, Monet, Whistler, and Degas who synthesized a great deal of Japanese style into their art.

In Ben Solowey’s Paper Trails, you will also see how Ben personalized the flat colors and draughtsmanship of Japanese art in a selection of monotypes and woodcuts in the exhibition, as well as a handful of watercolors and drawings that have a sublime beauty and tranquility that can be traced to Asian art but is uniquely Ben Solowey’s.

Mae LingFang

Mei Lanfang in The Chinese Plays, 1930

Ben also captured the Asian influence on Broadway in the 1930s. On March 2, 1930, his portrait of Tokujiro Tsutsui, a Japanese actor-manager, filled a sizable portion of the front page of the Drama section of the New York Times. Tsutsui capitalized on the vogue for Japan by bringing his troupe of Kabuki-like performers to the Booth Theater for two weeks, performing his version of Kabuki masterworks with much more swordplay, which was his specialty. Tsutsui’s portrait will be on the wall in our new exhibition.

Ben’s portrait of Chinese actor, director and designer, Mei Lanfang is also well known as it was featured in the landmark 1966 exhibition of Ben’s Theater Portraits at Lincoln Center and included in the double portfolio set that was printed for that show. He was perhaps the most famous Peking Opera performer in modern history and was known for exclusively playing Qing yi roles, feminine characters (typically young or middle-aged women with gentle and refined dispositions) whose lines are delivered in song, and even the spoken parts are recited in rhythmic style. Mei Lanfang autographed his portrait in Chinese.

Precious Lady Stream Photo

Helen Chandler in Lady Precious Stream, 1936

S.I. Hsiung was a Chinese playwright who came to London in 1933 to pursue postgraduate studies on Shakespeare. He decided to adapt a Chinese drama for English audiences as a way to create a link between the two cultures and to pay for his studies. Lady Precious Stream is set in the Tang dynasty, and depicts the devotion of a wife (the show’s title character) for her adventurous husband, of his prowess as a warrior, and his ultimate return.

Produced in London in 1934 with an all-English cast, it proved to be a hit, running for more than 1,000 performances. Morris Gest, well known for bringing the Moscow Art Theatre, Eleanor Duse, and Max Reinhardt to American stages in the 1920s, brought the production from London and recast American actors in the roles, with Helen Chandler in the lead role and Mei Lanfang designing the costumes. Chandler was a striking actress who is best remembered today as the love interest in the 1931 film of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, and she split her time between Broadway and Hollywood. Chandler’s portrait, showing the actress in costume will have a starring role in our new exhibition opening October 3rd.

Worth The Wait

I hope everyone has had a wonderful summer. The weather has cooperated, and here on the farm it has been as lush as ever. The response to my new book on Al Hirschfeld and its companion exhibition, as well as for my Grateful Dead exhibition in Chicago has been very gratifying. I am always delighted to tell reporters when they ask how I got involved with Hirschfeld’s work twenty-five years ago, it was because I was researching Ben’s classic theater portraits that often appeared alongside Hirschfeld’s work in the New York Times and Herald Tribune between 1929 and 1942.

I have also had the luxury of extra time to pull together our

Cross River, New York Reservoir Pen, Ink & wash on paper, 1935

Cross River, New York Reservoir
Pen, Ink & wash on paper, 1935

new show here at the Solowey Studio, Ben Solowey’s Paper Trails. It includes a number of fine works that have spent the last thirty years in a private collection and are now having the opportunity to be seen by a wider audience. There are several portraits of Rae that are simply stunning. These portraits range from one of the earliest charcoal drawings Ben ever made of Rae, to works that reveal a much more mature, but still very beautiful, Rae, nearly fifty years later.

There are also exquisite landscapes, primarily in watercolor, of scenes from this property, often times shrouded in snow. These works radiate a tranquility and beauty that Ben felt he saw every time he looked at the window. They are as personal and intimate as his works of his wife.

We have a nice selection of Theatre Portraits in the show, although the emphasis in more on music than theater in this exhibition. Please make sure to read Associate Curator Katherine Eastman’s article on the two drawings from the world of Gilbert and Sullivan.

In the coming weeks we will tell you more about the works in the show, as well as the works in the Main Studio, where we display mostly oils. Look out for news about a “selfie” by Ben that is returning to the Studio for the first time in close to twenty years. There’s also news for the more craftsman minded admirers of Ben, as we will explore Ben’s frame-making featuring a still life in one of Ben’s frame that has never been exhibited before.

We think you will find this exhibition well worth the wait when we open on October 3rd. It will be a great time to take in the beautiful vistas the Solowey farm has to offer in the fall. We look forward to sharing them with you.

David Leopold, Director

In 1955 Ben Solowey embarked on Figure Composition, a painting that would become a favorite of the

Figure Composition Oil on canvas, 1955

Figure Composition
Oil on canvas, 1955

Soloweys, critics and collectors. Ben drew a full size charcoal study before starting his oil. It was not unusual for Ben to make preparatory studies before painting in oils, especially for larger works such as this painting. It was rare for him to make a full size study in charcoal though. It is almost as if he knew he was creating what would turn out to be one of his signature works. Paper Trails will exhibit this remarkable drawing for the first time anywhere. It is a unique opportunity to see the birth of a masterpiece.

After at least five different sittings, Ben photographed the painting in progress, capturing the evolution of one of his best-known works. The work was reproduced widely—on the cover of Prevention magazine and Pennsylvania Heritage magazine to name two— and though many wished to purchase the work, Ben, and after he died, Rae, would never let the work leave the studio for anything other than exhibitions.

David Leopold

Study for Figure Composition Charcoal on paper, ca. 1955

Study for Figure Composition
Charcoal on paper, ca. 1955

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