C.H.F. was not a compulsive writer. She didn’t need to write in order to be fulfilled, or to structure her creative thinking, or to preserve her sense of herself.
She was not by nature autobiographical, let alone confessional. She did not keep a journal. She didn’t, I think, write “intimately,” at least not at any length, in letters to friends, though I have a lovely set of letters to her then recently married younger friend Dorothy Bruhl Anderson back in the Sixties.
When I recently came upon a pocket diary of hers for 1975, all that it contained were some entries for our three weeks in England and France. Here is the complete entry for Monday June 9, one of the fullest. “Paris. Returned to Max Ernst & Jeu de Paume Beautiful weather – depressed!.” (amplified the following day with “No sleep—headache and sore face”).
The reference here to Max Ernst is to the great retrospective at the Petit Palais of one of her favourite artists, which she had been fascinated by when we were in it and to which she returned on her own. The Jeu de Paume gallery on the Place de la Concorde held works by a number of her other favourite artists.
I think she was able, to a remarkable degree, to do her art and art-historical thinking inside her head. But she cared about writing and respected good writing.
Art and English had been her minors as an undergraduate (she majored in Chemistry and Biology), and during that period she wrote over a hundred poems, which she preserved. And as a student in the M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) programme at the University of Minnesota she took a three-term course in poetry and poetics from the distinguished poet-critic Allen Tate.
When she needed to, she could write very well herself.
Her M.F.A. thesis (1959), from which I quote in one of the Jottings, is a lovely piece of work. So is her article that year on the appeal to young women of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which she did for a quarterly journal I was co-editing.
In the Sixties and into the Seventies she published almost nothing. She was probably still partly living off the mental capital of her thesis, in which she had worked out a number of things to her satisfaction.
But in the later Seventies, starting with her catalogue for a show of Expressionist prints and drawings that she curated, and some other catalogue pieces, she began writing again, when she needed to redefine publicly some of her art values.
And in the Eighties, thanks to the supportive editorship of Joe Sherman, she did a number of art reviews for ArtsAtlantic in which, while being mordantly funny on one or two occasions about curatorial pretentiousness and its accompanying obfuscations, she showed herself perfectly capable of looking with understanding at a variety of current artpieces very different from her own.
She also, principally thanks to Mary Sparling at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, gave a number of public lectures.
What input did I myself have into her writings? Very little, an answer that can be checked by looking at the handful of rough drafts that remain.
She was never altogether at her ease with commas and apostrophes, and her spelling (like Modesty Blaise’s) could be a bit impressionistic. But she had an enviable command of syntax and diction, since her mind was clear and strong, and what she put into her pieces was all her own.
Occasionally I might suggest toning down a phrase or clarifying an ambiguity, and she usually agreed, but that was pretty much that.
Here, then, are six of her things to dip into. I have retyped them all, breaking up some long paragraphs and adding Roman numerals, but otherwise not altering the texts.
“The Power of Positive Prophecy,” Graduate Student of English, III (Winter, 1960), 15-19.
The Expressionist Image, exhibition catalogue with introductory essay and descriptive commentary, Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery, 1978 (reproduced by courtesty of the Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery).
“Kokoschka; Knight-Errant of 20th-Century Painting,” memorial lecture, Dalhousie University Art Gallery, 1980.; printed in Article, Eye Level Gallery (Halifax), May 1980.
“Tim Zuck—Paintings,” (exhibition review), ArtsAtlantic, 11, Spring 1981.
“Appearing” (exhibition review), ArtsAtlantic, 19, Spring 1984.
“Actual Size—The Seventh Dalhousie Drawing Exhibition,” (exhibition review), ArtsAtlantic, 20, Summer 1984.