* ENCOUNTERS: Louise Nevelson *

Pat Healy with kids 1955
Patricia Healy in 1955
with George (her right) and James Chevallier

Though I was vaguely aware that my mother had known the sculptor Louise Nevelson, I'd always assumed it was before I was born. In fact, it turns out that she met and frequented Nevelson during the summer of 1956, when my brother and I first went to summer camp. From the little she notes in her diary, I can understand why they got along well - they seem to have shared an acerbic sense of humor. In the event, towards the end of the summer, my mother met and fell passionately in love with my step-father, Robert Harrison, effectively ending her interest in other diversions.

The Louise Nevelson shown in a picture from this year is nothing like the sepulchral figure in a scarf that became her iconic public image. Just a touch zaftig, she was still clearly a beautiful woman, not particularly unconventional in appearance. She had recently had a pivotal exhibit and was just developing the monumental black-box structures which now define her style. In short, though hardly unknown, she was just coming into her prime.

The photographer's claim below that she was unfeminine is belied by the little I've read of her at this time. She could be quite decidely feminine when it suited her - as suggested by one of her remarks to my mother. (My mother's assumption too that she made off with a bottle of whiskey should probably be taken with a grain of salt, though it may have reflected her impression of Nevelson's habits.)

A few notes on the people mentioned in these passages (from my mother's diaries):

  • Lee Leary was a gossip columnist who'd long been a friend of Nevelson's and had helped publicize her work in her column.
  • Eilshemius was a painter, of wealthy origins but poor, more than a little eccentric, who considered his work equal to Rembrandt's but did not hesitate, on occasion, to give it away (quite often to Nevelson).
  • Mr. John was a fashionable milliner. Though it wasn't clear how Nevelson afforded his hats, she wore quite a number of them.
  • NOTE: I have somewhat arbitrarily edited what follows.

    Thursday, May 24, 1956

    Bon voyage party on Ile de France for B***** M******’s widow: enamelled face and rhinoceros hide neck. Her son, entering, cried, "Sweet mother, I’m here!" And later, when Lee Leary wanted him to photograph her, "No, if you don’t mind, only Sweet Mother." All so cheaply dressed. Lee, sweet and bubbly, Louise Nevelson in witches hat with fey look…



    Handwritten notes: "CENTER - PAT Louise Nevelson at left"

    NOTE: 'Pat' is my mother, Pat Healy at the time - she's the one with her eyes closed, wearing a round hat. Nevelson is to her right, wearing the white shirt with the double collar. I don't know who anyone else is, though probably the two to Nevelson's right are Lee Leary and her girlfriend (see below). Please e-mail me if you have any ideas/info.

    Friday, June 22, 1956

    Last minute rush to 42nd St. for George Jr. [?] Republic boat ride Lee had invited me to. Without Lousie Nevelson -"All I’ve ever cared about is my work. To keep going, I’ve begged, borrowed and stolen. And f***ed, too." - and the riverside landscape, it would have been a mortal bore. A Gallic looking man at our table caught my eye - Al L*****, it turned out, the photographer assigned to the trip. Most caressing voice. He, Louise and I left together - altho Lee had wanted me to return villagewards with her girlfriend: God! - went out to drink at the Commodore, then to Louise’s. Three floors of her work, black and abstract, a mass of Eilshemius’ paintings, divans lost in this wilderness of sculpture. Then Al brought me home, exhorting me, " Stay a woman, stay feminine, don’t become neuter like Louise",..

    Tuesday July 3, 1956

    All day cleaning up for party Lee Leary has foisted on me. Uninteresting people, except for Lydia Franklin, exquisite Russian dancer who is the wife of a Venezuelan milliner. At dawn cleaning up wondered where bottle of Scotch was - finally realized Louise Nevelson must have made off with it hidden under her skirt.

    Wednesday, July 18, 1956

    To Louise Nevelson’s for the cocktail party; drank No-Cal at first, listened to Mr. John. Admired his friend, Peter Brandon - not at all what I expected. Chuck Carroll, great success, much to my surprise, especially with little Texas girl. Others: Everett English, Gustavo and Lydia Franklin, Wed Murphy (Chuck: "Well, from now on, I call myself divorced Carroll",) Margaret Coty, Lee Leary, Marion Damroth. At end went to Chuck’s apartment with Marion and Everett who brot me home.

    Friday, July 20

    Too sick to go to Cathie’s party. Visited Louise long enough to get the hats she had offered me, then home to bed.

    Updated August 2000