Winning a Colescott etching
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    Auction Finds

    A whimsical etching of a little girl’s orchestra

    The print was actually quite sweet. It was an etching of a young girl playing “Bo Peep” from sheet music on a Victorian grand piano as other children played a violin, accordion and horn. Some members of her orchestra were wooden figures, another was a court jester, and a little girl was conductor.

    The print stood out among the other modern pieces hanging on a metal rack on a wall at the auction house. It was not the type of artwork that usually spoke to me, but for some reason, this one willed me to stop and visit for a few minutes.

    It was titled “The Orchestra” and created by an artist named Alice Pauline Schafer. She had painted the scene in an oval, which made it seem as if I were looking through a lens or perhaps spying on the little girl and her musicians. It also exuded an intimacy because they were all confined in this embracing space.


    An up-close view of the Alice Pauline Schafer print “The Orchestra” that I bought at auction.

    The paper covering on the back of the framing was torn at the top, allowing me to peek inside where I saw that the artist had written an inscription on the back of the print:

    The orchestra
    an etching
    by Alice Pauline Schafer

    It also included her address in Albany, NY, but no date.

    As I looked again at the etching, I spied a cow in the lower left corner but couldn’t figure out how it fitted in. Then I saw the number “2” on the bottom of the shoe of a little girl on the couch, and realized that these were not actual children but dolls and toys. Looking even closer, I noticed that the boy with the violin had a windup key in his side. And was that a black doll (she had a shaded face) on the sofa with an accordion?


    A full view of the Alice Pauline Schafer print “The Orchestra.”

    How cute! This print would be a great addition to the collection of the many doll enthusiasts out there.

    Despite the “child-at-play” nature of the scene, Schafer had not treated it simply or carelessly. She seemed to have taken as much care with this etching as the little girl who had arranged her playthings into a concert orchestra. So I was curious about who she was.

    Alice Pauline Schafer was not a nationally known artist but apparently made a name for herself in Albany. She was a printmaker, illustrator and painter, born in 1899 and died in 1980 in that city. She spent her life in her birth city, apparently living with her parents on Hawthorne Street. Her father was the prominent president and treasurer of a local banking firm whose 90th birthday was the subject of an article in the local newspaper in 1958. Schafer was mentioned in the article as his daughter, a well-known print artist.

    Schafer frequently used children in her pen-and-ink drawings, watercolors and illustrations. Several of her works also had dolls in them.


    “The Doll Lady,” left, and “Rocking Horse.” Some of artist Alice Pauline Schafer’s prints included dolls. Photos from Martin Gordon Auctions.

    In 1940, she joined the Print Club of Albany, which had been organized seven years earlier, and later became its president (newspaper articles from 1964, 1965 and 1976 identify her as such). At some point, the club apparently created an art prize in her name. I saw several references to the Alice Pauline Schafer Memorial Purchase Prize.

    For more than a decade, Miss Schafer – as she was identified in newspaper articles – was the registrar at the Albany Institute of History and Art.

    She exhibited her works across the country, including New York, where “The Music Shell (circa 1957)” was one of three shown in 1965. The print – along with “Violets (circa 1955)” – is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her work “The Family” is in the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and others are in public libraries in New York and Boston, and in university collections.


    “Violets,” circa 1955, by Alice Pauline Schafer. Photo from Martin Gordon Auctions.

    Her commissions include an etching on the façade of the National Commerce Bank & Trust in Albany (1950) and “The Doll Lady” for the Print Club of Albany (1961).

    Most of the prints I found by Schafer were listed as illustrations but I could not determine what they were illustrated for. I located no children’s books she had illustrated, although one art gallery listed several of what it called her book illustrations. She apparently did some design work early in her career, because I found a poster she offered for a 1921 competition. The poster, “Women’s Wear Textile Design Competition and Exhibition for 1921,” was sold at auction a decade ago.

    Schafer seemed to have been more notable for her printmaking. Here’s a group of what were described as children’s illustrations that were sold last year at auction. In another auction, a  lucky bidder walked off with a lot 20 of her prints – including “Doll Lady” and “Violets” – for a mere $15. On another site, several sold individually from $5 to $25.

    Others of her works can be seen here and here. The only oil painting I came across was of an autumn landscape.


    A watercolor by Alice Pauline Schafer. Photo from Marc Chabot Fine Arts website.


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