From the Archive: Thanksgiving at Hans Hofmann’s, Provincetown 1958
By Jason Andrew
Sometimes the most memorable and historic moments in the art world are those that take place far from the grand stages of the world's most famous galleries and museums. We have come to cherish these rare intimate moments captured in photographs where we see the solitary artist in his/her studio or a group scattered around a dinner table or crowding over a bar deep in conversation.
Recently discovered negatives from the Tworkov Family Archive shed light on a never before seen lively gathering of friends and family celebrating Thanksgiving 1958 at the Provincetown home of Hans Hofmann.
Recently discovered negatives from the Tworkov Family Archive capture one such moment on Thanksgiving Day 1958 at the Provincetown home of the artist Hans Hofmann and his wife Miz. These photographs, never-before seen until now, capture three of the leading post-war artists Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, and Jack Tworkov enjoying their friends and family while celebrating a humble festive dinner with each other. All three artists would go on to represent America at Documenta II in Kassel, Germany in 1959.
The dinner, hosted by the Hofmanns, featured not only their best china but guests Franz Kline and his companion Betsy Ross Zogbaum, Jack Tworkov and his wife Wally and daughter Helen, Giorgio Cavallon and his wife Linda Lindenberg, Myron Stout, Vita Peterson and her daughter Andrea. It’s hard not to see the love and companionship these artists had for one another.
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966). By 1958, Hans Hofmann was a celebrated artist and teacher. Having fled Germany, Hofmann arrived in New York City in 1932 and established his now legendary school the very next year as well as a summer school in Provincetown the year after. Hofmann’s school in Provincetown filled the vacuum left by Charles Hawthorne’s death in 1930 and became as important to modern painters as Hawthorne’s had been in its capacity to mold a generation of American artists.
It wasn’t until late in his career that Hofmann’s reputation as an artist would catch up with his reputation as a teacher. First Exhibition: Hans Hofmann opened in 1944 at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century. It was the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York. He was 64. In early 1949, Hofmann returned to post-war Paris for the opening of his one-person exhibition at the Galerie Maeght. During his visit he returned to the studios of his contemporaries namely Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and Miro.
"Hofmann thought highly of Miro,” says Jim Yohe of Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe. “The gouache* by Miro hanging in Hofmann’s Provincetown home which is shown in these terrific Thanksgiving photographs, was no doubt a work that he considered a crown jewel in his personal art collection. In fact, the surreal figure in his Miro re-appears in a number of Hofmann’s own paintings and drawings.”
In spite of his growing recognition as a painter, it wasn’t until 1958, at the age of 78, that Hofmann was finally able to resign as a teacher and devote himself fully to his art. Just the year prior, in the spring of 1957, the Whitney Museum of American Art opened a major retrospective of the artist's work which traveled to a number of American institutions ending at the Baltimore Museum of Art in June of 1958. Though a generation older than Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Tworkov, Hofmann took his place as a major and influential member of the thoroughly American art movement of Abstract Expressionism.
Jack Tworkov (1900-1982). By 1958, Tworkov had gained recognition as one of the “most masterful artists of his generation” as Thomas B. Hess wrote. A charter member of the Eighth Street Club, Tworkov was grouped along with Hofmann and Kline as a first-generation Abstract Expressionist. He was known among the artists of the New York School as an eloquent writer. Natalie Edgar in her book Club Without Walls described Tworkov as “a very sensitive man whose talking on art bordered on poetry. His soft voice always answered with a sensitive and poetic point of view. He was extremely intelligent and unknotted problems that needed abstract thinking.”
Ever since he hitch-hiking his way there in the early 20s, Provincetown remained a special place for Tworkov. He and his sister the painter, Janice Biala, originally arrived to study with Charles Hawthorne. But both found Hawthorne’s classic approach too rigid. Moreover, they both hated painting outside. So Tworkov aligned himself with the modernism offered up by the likes of Ross Moffett, Karl Knaths and Edwin Dickinson. That first year Tworkov rented a room from a Yankee Ship Captain who had retired from the East Indies Trade. The Captain and his family asked Tworkov to church every Sunday, and he went. The next year Tworkov rented a small fishing shack on the bay. Hundreds of fishing boats filled the harbor then.
Provincetown meant a lot of things to a lot of artists. For Jack, “there is a quality of light that you get nowhere else because the bay and the dunes act like mirrors to the sky.”
“By 1935 I thought the town was ruined, submerged by visitors and I decided not to come back,” Tworkov said. But he did. In 1954, Tworkov walked down Commercial Street to the Moors west of town. He acknowledged the changes but he realized that “what I came for was still here.”
In August of 1958, the same year Hofmann closed his school, Tworkov and his wife Wally purchased a home on Commercial Street on the West End. The home was one of the historic homes shipped from across the bay. They purchased it from Ursula Maine who had made the property infamous as a whorehouse. The Tworkov’s first Thanksgiving as homeowners was spent with the Hofmann’s who lived just a short walk on Commercial Street. Incidentally, Hofmann wasn't the only artist that held Miro in high esteem. Tworkov also owned a work by Miro, a black and white abstract work in ink purchased from the Pierre Matisse Gallery.
Tworkov would have a long life in Provincetown. And as he often noted of his generation, artists identified with the struggle of the working class—the fisherman, the carpenters, the laborers. In Provincetown the artists and the working people adored each other. Concerned about the psychological toll the off-season took on their friends and neighbors when they were unemployed, living on the dole during the idle winters, Tworkov partnered with poet Stanley Kunitz to found The Fine Arts Work Center. Tworkov then the Chairman of the Art Department at Yale University, would offer the first official Work Center’s seminar to six fellows on March 28, 1968. His devotion and commitment to the Provincetown community and to young artists continued until his death in 1982.
Franz Kline (1910-1962). With his signature energetic black and white gestural paintings, Franz Kline by 1958, had become one of the rising stars of the Abstract Expressionist movement in America. Sidney Janis Gallery was representing his work, which had been selected for all the important exhibitions of the new American painting here and abroad. Kline’s close friendship with Jack Tworkov dates back to the early days of the WPA. During the early 50s, they both exhibited at the Egan Gallery (Tworkov in ’47, ’49, ’52, ’54 and Kline ’50, ’51, ’54). Both were instrumental in organizing the landmark Ninth Street Show of 1951. And during the summer of 1952, both artists taught at Black Mountain College—Tworkov in July and Kline in August. Both Tworkov and Kline were fixtures at the Cedar Tavern and their friendship grew even closer when in January 1959, Kline bought a house in Provincetown’s West End just down the road from Tworkov.
Giorgio Cavallon (1904-1989). Giorgio Cavallon was born in Sorio (Vicenza) and came to America in 1922. In 1936, he was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group, a contentious and polemical organization that championed the cause of abstract art. He developed a close association with Arshile Gorky for a time. Cavallon studied with Charles Hawthorne at National Academy of Design and later with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown. He exhibited as well at the Egan Gallery (’46, ’48). During the 1950s he was recognized as the most lyrical of the Abstract Expressionist painters and he, like Tworkov, was a Charter Member of The Eighth Street Club where he participated on many panels.
Cavallon had a reputation as an excellent cook and likely prepared a dish or two for Thanksgiving 1958. Mushrooms were a passion, and he used to hunt for them with Tworkov and the composer John Cage. His recipes for spaghetti with clam-and-anchovy sauce, for spit-roasted leg of lamb and for risotto with mussels found their way into Craig Claiborne's cooking column in The New York Times in 1969. The meal was prepared with the help of his wife, Linda Lindeberg, for their friend the painter Lee Krasner. Cavallon was a great close friend of Jack Tworkov and was very popular among the Provincetown art scene.
Linda Lindeberg (1915-1973). Today, Linda Lindeberg is somewhat of a forgotten figure among the New York School. An early student of Hans Hofmann (‘33-’36), her work has been described as landscapes drawn with almost hysterical haste with clouds of buoyant color. She exhibited regularly in New York, pushing up against the male dominated art world of the time. Later, Lindeberg’s paintings and drawing were collected by the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, Houston Art Museum and the Berkeley Art Museum. Throughout her life she maintained close friendships with Lee Krasner, James Brooks, and Kline. In Provincetown she befriended the poet Stanley Kunitz whose letters and correspondence to and from are numerous.
Vita Peterson (1915-2011). Vita Peterson was born in 1915 in Berlin to an aristocratic, art-loving family—her father was German Secretary of State in the 1920s; her mother was a descendant of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Peterson fled the Nazis and immigrated to New York in 1938.
Around 1945, Petersen met the painter Mercedes Matter while their children were playing together in Washington Square Park. The two became lifelong friends. Matter introduced Petersen to the circle of Abstract Expressionists that included Pollock, Krasner, Kline, Guston, Motherwell, de Kooning, Tworkov, Sterne and others. With them she found friendship and common values. Hofmann invited Petersen to join his classes in New York and Provincetown, and he became a formative influence and close friend. She was also a close friend of Cavallon’s and for his obituary offered this amusing story: ''When Giorgio was a small child, he had to get up at 4 and bring the cows to the field and he was so tired that he took the oxen by the horns and went to sleep, swinging between the horns.''
In 1958, Petersen had her first solo show at the Esther Stuttman Gallery in New York. She would later show her colorful abstractions at the Betty Parsons Gallery and in 1964, with Mercedes Matter at the helm, Petersen started the New York Studio School where she remained a trustee and member of the board of governors until her death at 96.
Myron Stout (1908-1987). Myron Stout originated from Denton, TX. He decided to be a painter while a senior at North Texas State University. He, like Tworkov, admired Georges Seurat for Seurat’s combination of density and discretion, and the ''purer'' developments of abstraction in Europe. Although Stout arrived in Provincetown in 1938, it wasn’t until 1948 and in New York that he went to study with Hans Hofmann. In an interview Stout said of Hofmann, “The whole atmosphere created in Hofmann's class was very stimulating.”
“[Hofmann] had a particular quality of projecting. Not only did he know what the art of painting was, but he had the capacity to project his meanings. His class was very crowded. His painting criticisms were held every Friday afternoon, and no work would go on. I lot of us would come to class and draw and might not even see him all week. On Friday afternoon we would bring the work in. He would go through with a critique of everybody's work, whoever brought it in. It was always very crowded. There would be not only all the people working with him, but everybody interested in what was going on in painting. Because what was going on, in his class, and the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist movement."
In the catalogue for his retrospective at the Whitney in 1980, Sanford Schwartz wrote that Hofmann ''had a special, immediate potency for Stout because his formulations and analogies - about how colors and shapes must be made to wrestle with, and eventually find peace with, each other - have a musical logic to them.'' In the late 40's and early 50's, Mr. Stout's paintings were distinguished by strong, yet resolutely concise movement. Around that time, he arrived at the small easel format he would be most comfortable with. Inspired by the Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Aeschylus, he began working in black and white. In 1968, he too joined with Tworkov and Kunitz along with Fritz Bultman, Salvatore and Josephine Del Deo, Phil Malicoat, Robert Motherwell, and Hudson D. Walker to found The Fine Arts Work Center.
This remarkable collection of photographs is heart warming and tender as friends and family gathered together to celebrate life and Thanksgiving 1958!