An artist’s ‘dark and stormy night’ painting
As soon as I saw the painting propped against a wall at the auction house, that infamous opening line from many a bad novel immediately seized me:
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
This painting certainly evoked those emotions in me. It was all dark grays and blacks with a touch of beige and purple. The trees were bare and stark, and their limbs stretched outward liked bony fingers. A large three-floor house sat front and center in the watercolor, forcing you to take notice of it. As I looked closer, I saw spots of yellow in two windows – lights on in a room.
It looked like something out of a horror movie, one of those stay-away-from-it houses. Click on the photo above for a fuller view.
I wasn’t sure if I liked the painting well enough to take it home. It didn’t grab me because I like color, lots of it, to stimulate my mind and produce warm feelings. This painting was more a depressant; I sensed no good vibes from it.
It wouldn’t fit into the personality of my home, anyway. I realized how much I love color recently after visiting a friend whose entire house was monochromatic – with colors of beige, cream and white. When I got home, my house was like a spring garden of fresh color, which gave it a homey rather than a model-home feel.
The watercolor was being sold recently during one of the auction house’s special sales, which included works by African American artist Frank Dillon. I’m not sure how this one sneaked in; it was likely from another estate and the auction house saw this as a good way to unload it. I was certain that it would not get many takers.
I checked the bottom right for an artist’s signature, but there was none. Then I turned the painting over and found a label on the back. It was an entry form for a 1960 Scholastic Art Awards program. The old Gimbels department store name was also on the label, indicating that the company may have been the local sponsor of the national program, which had been around since 1923.
The painting had been done by a 17-year-old high school senior named Edward Jones. He was a student at Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, and the label was signed by his teacher Hilda Schoenwetter. He had written the title as simply “Old House.” There was no indication of whether the piece had won a gold medal, but if it had, according to the label, Jones had checked “yes” to selling it for an additional $25 to a sponsor.
The mechanics of the watercolor showed that he had some artistic talent at that age. I wondered if the house actually existed or was pulled from his imagination. I’d love to know. I had never heard of Jones, so I Googled him but found nothing. An art-loving friend recognized him as an African American artist. I’d love to know more about the artist. Did he continue to paint or was this a one-shot school project?
I did find the name Hilda Schoenwetter, a landscape artist who taught at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. I’m not sure if she was the same person who taught Jones.
By the time the painting came up for bids, I had decided that it didn’t speak loud enough to me. My friend – who did not attend the auction – was interested and I bidded on it for him. He was up against one other bidder, and they went tit-for-tat until the price settled at $60 – at which the other bidder dropped out.
Maybe it wasn’t such a “dark and stormy night.”
Watch a video interview of artist Ed Jones.