Archive for the ‘artists’ Category

ts-herndon gravesite

Lexington, Ky.

Sweet Evening Breeze home
186 Prall Street

Born James Herndon in 1892, “Sweet Evening Breeze,” or “Miss Sweets,” was well known and respected in Lexington before and after World War II as the most conscientious hospital orderly in town. Sweets was an African-American gay man who had been abandoned at Good Samaritan Hospital in the city as a child, and eventually came to live and work there.

Sweets was also famous for her drag performances. In a conservative Southern city that had a law on the books against cross-dressing (except on Halloween), Sweets was amazingly accepted and tolerated because of her notable kindness, generosity, and expert abilities as an orderly. (There is one story, though, of her being arrested for cross-dressing and entertaining the guards with a drag show.) Her home on Prall Street (in a predominantly African-American neighborhood) was reportedly an ad-hoc gay center; for a while, she lived here with Henry Faulkner, who went on to become a noted “primitive” artist.

When Sweets died in 1983 at the Homestead Nursing Center in Lexington, the Royal Sovereign Imperial Court of All Kentucky named its highest honor the James Herndon Award. She is buried in Lexington Cemetery.

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Taos, N.M.

Mabel Dodge Luhan home
240 Morada Lane

Born to a wealthy family, Mabel Ganson (1879-1962) made a name for herself in early 20th-century New York as Mabel Dodge, a patron of the arts and the host of a weekly salon at her apartment. She married four times and enjoyed numerous heterosexual affairs, but her autobiography, Intimate Memories (1932), also chronicles her early passions for women.

Dodge first saw New Mexico on a trip in 1916. She fell in love with the area, moving there in the 1920s and marrying Tony Luhan, a Pueblo Indian. They settled in this adobe home in Taos, which at that time was a dusty village with few white inhabitants. She helped promote an artists’ colony in the town, introducing artists and writers such as Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence to the area. The Luhans’ home is now an inn and conference center.

In 1925, while visiting Santa Fe, Willa Cather received an invitation to call on the Luhans. Taken with the beauty of the region and determined to write a novel set there, Cather accepted the offer, and she and her partner, Edith Lewis, spent two weeks with the Luhans. They stayed in the “Pink House,” which had been decorated with a drawing of a phoenix by its previous resident, D.H. Lawrence. Tony Luhan graciously acted as tour guidem driving Cather and Lewis throughout the countryside and showing them sites that would later be incorporated into Cather’s New Mexico novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop.

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Lancaster, Pa.

The Demuth Museum
120 East King Street

Born at 109 North Lime Street in Lancaster, the artist Charles Demuth (1883-1935) moved at the age of 7 with his family to this location. Demuth’s family was wealthy, owning the oldest tobacco and snuff factory in the country; their tobacco shop was next door to their home.

Demuth suffered from a childhood disease that left him lame, and he spent several years confined to his bed. But he showed an early talent for painting, and as a young man, was able to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Later, he came under the aesthetic mentoring of gay artist Marsden Hartley. Inspired by Hartley’s work, Demuth developed a precisionist style of painting, and his depictions of modern city architecture are what many critics consider his greatest contributions.

But gay critics are more interested in Demuth’s renderings of the early homosexual community in New York City. In 1918, Demuth accomplished a series of paintings depicting gay men at bathhouses in lower Manhattan (see above). Another group of paintings from 1930 bear names such as “Two Sailors Urinating” and “Three Sailors on the Beach,” and also have a strong gay sensibility. Even Demuth’s later still-life paintings of fruits and flowers are amazingly phallic.

According to one biographer, Demuth was more a voyeur of gay life than an active participant. He traveled in bohemian circles, frequented Mabel Dodge’s salon in New York, was an ancillary members of the Provincetown Players, and spent several summers rooming in Provincetown with Hartley. Eugene O’Neill patterned the sexually ambivalent Charles Marsden in his play Strange Interlude (1928) after the closeted Demuth.

Demuth’s home on King Street is now The Demuth Museum, but at the website, you’ll find scant reference to his homosexuality.

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St. Louis, Mo.

Statue of Beatrice Cenci (1856)
St. Louis Mercantile Library
Thomas Jefferson Library Building
One University Blvd.

Originally from Watertown, Massachusetts, Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) applied to study anatomy – as preparation for sculpting the human body – at Boston Medical School and other eastern schools and was refused admittance. Wayman Crow, the father of one of her school friends, got her into the Missouri Medical College in St. Louis, where Hosmer lived with his family while she was a student. Crow, a prominent St. Louis businessman, became a lifelong benefactor of Hosmer, and his influence helped obtain important commissions for her. Among her public sculptures in the city are the Senator Thomas Hart Benton statue, Lafayette Park, and “Beatrice Cenci” at the Mercantile Library.

Back in Boston, Hosmer ran with a lesbian crowd, including Charlotte Cushman, the actress and art patron, and her lover, sculptor Emma Stebbins. While touring the country, Cushman was invited to visit the Crows, Hosmer’s second family, and became infatuated with Emma Crow, Wayman’s daughter, addressing her in letters as “my darling little lover,” much to Wayman’s dismay. When Cushman traveled to Rome, Hosmer went with her to study sculpture, writing to her worried benefactor: “I shall keep a sharper lookout on Miss Cushman and not allow her to go on in this serious manner with Emma – it is really dreadful and I am really jealous….” Knowing Wayman would disapprove, Hosmer used the convenient excuse of “keeping a lookout” on Cushman to justify living with her in Rome.

Throughout her life, Hosmer claimed that all she wanted to do was get married, but she never did. In a letter to Wayman, she joked, “I have been searching vainly for Mr. Hosmer.” In 1858, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife visited Hosmer at her studio in Rome, and the writer gave a telling description of her: “She had on a male shirt, collar, and cravat…. She was indeed very queer….”

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Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Union Avenue (between racetrack and Interstate 87)

Originally the home of wealthy stockbroker Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina, Yaddo was named by one of the Trask children – her mispronunciation of “shadow.” The Trasks had four offspring, all of whom died young, and Katrina’s grief made her try to envision a brighter future for the estate as an artists’ colony, after she and her husband had died. In 1926, following the Trasks’ wishes, Yaddo welcomed its first colonists and continues to sponsor writers who must apply for residence.

Yaddo is a gloomy, gothic estate, and on an overcast day, it’s easy to believe the rumors that it is haunted by the ghosts of the Trask children. It is also easy to imagine Patricia Highsmith creating her great psychological thriller, Strangers on a Train, in this “shadowy” setting. Yaddo was also a favorite writing retreat for other queer writers, including John Cheever, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes (fifth from the right, second row, in this 1942 photo), and Carson McCullers (three to the left of Hughes), who finished The Member of the Wedding while in residence. McCullers was a frequent visitor to the colony; on her very first visit, she was placed in the coveted “tower room” that had belonged to Katrina Trask. A few years later, Truman Capote worked on his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, in the very same room.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.

Andy Warhol grave
St. John the Baptist Cemetery
Route 88 and
Connor Road

Pop artist and avant-garde filmmaker Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh; he grew up in the East End neighborhood of Oakland (3252 Dawson Street), attending Schenley High School. A devout Byzantine Catholic, he is buried in his family’s plot in this church cemetery. At his grave site, mourners have been known to leave flowers in Campbell‘s soup cans, to honor the memory of one of his most famous artworks.

Claimed as a queer artist, Warhol was in fact enigmatic about his personal life and seems to have been primarily asexual. Graduated from Pittsburgh‘s Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1949, Warhol moved to New York and achieved fame first as a commercial artist. His silkscreens of Campbell‘s soup cans and of Marilyn Monroe in the early 1960s launched his pop art career. Later, he directed such underground films as My Hustler (1965) and Chelsea Girls (1966). Others films, such as Trash, Flesh, and Women in Revolt, were made by director Paul Morrissey and produced by Warhol at his studio, a Manhattan loft called “The Factory,” and gave prominence to such drag queens as Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling.

In 1968, Warhol’s life was almost cut short when Valerie Solanis, a violent lesbian who authored the “SCUM Manifesto” (Society for Cutting Up Men), shot him. Following his recovery, Warhol became more reclusive and abandoned directing, having already experienced significantly more than the “15 minutes of fame” he said everyone would one day enjoy. He died unexpectedly following a routine gall bladder operation, on Feb. 22, 1987, 20 years ago this week. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky Street, opened in Pittsburgh in 1994.

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