This is a detail of the painting, Chowdertown, from the new book about Charlotte. Now available on createspace and Amazon!
This was a village that was set up by one Ray Schmitt. My family visited there, and we enjoyed seeing the antiques and and period accoutrements. I hope that it can be restored and find a new life, now that it has a new owner.
In 1967, she attended a party of her old Yale classmates in New Haven, and met up with Ed Paier, proprietor of the Paier School of Art in neighboring Hamden. He kindly asked her to come and teach. At this time, many of the old Yale crowd were there: Ken Davies, Jean and Rudolph Zallinger, Leonard Everett Fisher, and even Charlotte’s drawing teacher, Deane Keller. Other good Paier friends would be part of our world as well. In 1970, my family decided to move to Cheshire, closer to Charlotte’s old home base. Charlotte would teach at Paier until 1984, primarily rendering and perspective in the Interior Design department, but later perspective, creative painting, and egg tempera in the Illustration and Fine Art sector.
Charlotte enjoyed her “kids” tremendously, often becoming a confidante of theirs.It was her custom, for many years, to have a tea party for the Interior Design students. This was a delightful event, featuring tea sandwiches, cakes, etc. A very large bouquet graced the coffee table. All these years later, I still correspond with some of her students.
Charlotte also did some china design work for Design Point Decal, prints with Greenwich Workshop, and licensing with Applejack Art Partners. She showed several paintings at the Ferguson Gallery in Hartford and the Greenwich Workshop gallery in Fairfield. She became more and more known for her large village scenes and interest in the antique. Meanwhile, she explored New England, particularly Connecticut. My explorations also were inspired by a library of art books that my parents both collected. I too would grow up to draw and paint. She passed away at age 83 in 2003.
It was in Charlotte’s case as Robert Frost had said of his own life:
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
She had a speech which she used to give to her students as inspiration, which summarizes her philosophy of art, and life:
As a general rule, resist what is fashionable. Your work will be “modern” simply because you are alive. To try to work in a fashionable “style,” or in an admired artist’s “technique” is a certain way to lose sight of your Self—the biggest mistake you could ever make! The only thing that would ever make your paintings desirable to others, or even great, is the fact that it is yours, and no one else could possibly have done it. Some say we are all as ants in this universe—what we say, do, or feel amounts to nothing, and makes no difference one way or another. I feel strongly that this is not true. Everything we say or do affects someone else, whether we, or they, know it or not: and it’s up to each of us, as individuals, to be conscious of this fact and arrange our efforts towards the benefit of every other person and of the world in general. To proliferate evil or ugliness in any form is to drag down the dignity of mankind. Many say mankind is foolish, lazy, ill-tempered and brutal, so why bother? Yes, he is all of these things, but he is also genial, loving, patient, and heroic in the troubles he must bear. Does he not deserve the best you can give him? Can he not use the encouragement? Can he fail to respond to beauty and not be the better forit? He cannot fail to respond—even the dullest brute is calmed by beauty.You will find that when looking into the depths of your Self, you have an inexhaustible supply of fascinating pictures, unlike any that any other person can produce. The older youare, the more pictures there are. Your own experiences in living, or simply in fantasizing,brought through your brain and fingers into picture form, is certain to appeal to other people, who will recognize the content of these pictures as common to all human beings, and will be delighted by them.
Charlotte continued to travel to New York on business throughout the 40’s and early 50’s. It was in the early 50’s that she had an art show at a local bank in Wallingford, Connecticut. Here she met my father, Arthur Koch. He also was a graduate of Yale, (1920) and spent many years teaching at Choate School. At first, it was a meeting of the minds, and later of the hearts. They were married in 1953.
In 1952, she did a commissioned portrait of Mrs. John Lodge, wife of the Connecticut Governor John Davis Lodge. This won first prize at the local Meriden Arts and Crafts show. Her hometown would eventually honor her with a spot in Meriden’s Hall of Fame. Early in their marriage, my father had done some work as an artist’s agent, for my mother and a few other artists. He had previously been director of American Artists Galleries. He formed a business association with one Andrew Baldwin, and later Mr. Baldwin commissioned Charlotte to paint a portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960.
At the time, Eisenhower had recently left the presidency, and Arthur and Charlotte traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to meet him at his office. Charlotte was astonished at the Civil War cemetery there, with a shocking number of graves throughout the woodlands. Eisenhower was formerly a famous general in World War Two, and commander of the Normandy invasion, which brought American forces ashore in France to fight the Nazi occupiers. When he met Charlotte, he took her all around his office, showing her pictures of the invasion and telling her all about it. She later confessed that she was so impressed that she hardly remembered much of their conversation! She spent a morning there, sketching and photographing him, and made a portrait showing his characteristic gesture of holding his glasses in one hand. The toughest part of this painting was the President’s suit: it took hundreds of strokes to make the smooth-textured fabric blend! This portrait is now in Eisenhower’s hometown of Abilene, Kansas, at the Eisenhower Library.
During the 1950’s, Charlotte had largely stopped working in New York, and eventually Arthur did, too. She kept on doing the Christmas cards, sending several paintings a year to American Artists Group. As time went on, she expanded the range of these cards, painting many different Christmas trees, cupboards, and an enormous variety of snow scenes.
She also did many portraits of me, thirteen in all.
They showed her dreams for my future: expanded imagination, new discoveries, great wonder and new life. She also did ambitious landscapes, eventually executing several that were two by four feet. Many paintings also had family themes: my grandfather’s tool bench, a self-portrait on James Monroe’s porch, or a still life of my great-grandmother’s kitchenware. Many of the card designs contained little references to our family.
The family appeared in some paintings. Another card design showing carolers was inspired by a spontaneous carol sing that occurred in our old neighborhood.
Americana, antique, Charlotte Joan Sternberg, Charlotte Sternberg, Christmas, Connecticut, Egg Tempera, Favorite Places, Harvey Dunn, Historic, Howard Pyle, illustration, James Montgomery Flagg, New England, Painting, Realism, snow scene, World War I
As Charlotte was pursuing her illustration career in New York City, she met up with many well-known artists at the Society of illustrators, such as James Montgomery Flagg, illustrator of the “Uncle Sam Wants You” World War One recruiting poster. The man she would always remember as a kindred spirit was Harvey Dunn.
Another regional artist from South Dakota, Dunn was a pupil of the renowned and revered Howard Pyle. Pyle inspired a whole school of illustration (the “Brandywine school”) and even tutored N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth’s father. Dunn masterfully depicted his own prairie home, ran a small art school in New Jersey and was also known for his realistic World War One illustrations. She had dinner with him and his wife at a Spanish restaurant, where they ate paella and talked nonstop about art for hours. As she said, “He understood exactly what I was trying to do.”
It was also at this time that she began to work for American Artists Group, an association that would last for fifty years. Snowy winter scenes, carefully and lovingly executed in egg tempera, would become her best-known subject. Charlotte’s work looked back to earlier American artists, such as George Henry Durrie, and the Currier & Ives prints. The pleasure she had in completing these paintings seemed to come through in the finished product; her love of the New England landscape, the handsome horses, and the people enjoying themselves. Every year for many years, she completed three or four Christmas card paintings. These were either relatively small pieces done on illustration board, sometimes with a watercolor underpainting, or larger traditional gesso panels, usually 18 by 24. American Artists Group was well-known for its sophisticated variety of cards. Artists involved ranged all the way from the charming Tasha Tudor to the thoughtful Andrew Wyeth. The work she did for this company, more than any other, would put her work before the public eye. People frequently contacted her because they’d seen a card that they liked.
In Syracuse in 1950, Charlotte had an illustration assignment. She had been at the New York State fair all day, gathering reference for a Collier’s cover, and came out late in the evening. Only one restaurant was open. She went in and asked for a table—only to be refused. Decent girls, some thought, didn’t eat late by themselves. In all of her career, she had never been in such a situation. She went out and saw the light of a police station down the street. She went in, told the police the story, and showed them her identification. A policeman took her back to the restaurant, and announced, ”You have to feed this person.” Embarrassed, upset, and nervous, she ate with the cop at her side and her eyes on her plate. She never forgot this debacle. While she had generally been treated well in the business world, this was an exception.
She exhibited landscapes at Ferargil Galleries in New York City at this time. The majority of her paintings were based on the rural landscapes of Connecticut: this was the place that she went home to. While much development has occurred here, there are still beautiful and inspiring glimpses of the past. Connecticut’s landscapes are more intimate than many other American scenes. Small towns, each their own microcosm—the barns of yesteryear found in backyards—occasional farms–rolling hills traversed by brooks and stone walls—glowing autumnal color—all of this is part of life in this region. Communities cherish it, and, increasingly, work to preserve it. In common with other regional artists of the twentieth century, Charlotte loved her home and wanted to share the beauty of it with others. Viewers of her work often notice West Peak in Meriden, an enduring sign of her affection.
The oldest manual of egg tempera painting is the twelfth-century Manual for Painters by Cennino Cennini, available from Yale as a reprint. Now, we don’t have to scrape animal skins to make tracing paper, grind our own pigments from rocks, or set weasel tails in quills to make brushes…on the other hand, praying before starting to paint, couldn’t hurt! Robert Vickery, a twentieth-century American artist and fellow Yale graduate, wrote a fine book on egg tempera with a more modern approach. Thompson’s basic book on egg tempera, mentioned before, is available as a reprint.
One of the curious characteristics of egg tempera is its tendency to sink into the absorbent gesso and dry rapidly. The egg yolk binder can also be thinned too much, which may lead to poor adhesion and cracking. Therefore, flowing washes or very wet glazes are unsuccessful. Artists should use many, many individual, semi-dry strokes, ranging from the darkest to the lightest tone in any given passage. The paint appears to be blending, but doesn’t really blend. The overall look of a tempera is “high-key” and “blonde”, generally light and bright, rather than the darkness of many oil paintings.
As is traditional, Charlotte made many preliminary drawings, traced onto the gesso panel. Most paintings took an average of six full drawings before being transferred. She would then use pen, brush, and ink to make a black and white underpainting, which was a guide for her to follow, and finally she began the painstaking layering of tempera paint.
Although it is not a necessity, Charlotte always preferred to use round sable brushes.The excellent point and precise handling enables the artist to execute very fine detail. Of all the opaque paints, egg tempera is probably the best for such detail, because it is so thin.
Charlotte’s earliest temperas reveal her immediate ease with the medium. She hadn’t yet settled on the New England subject matter that she became known for, but she experimented with many subjects. She was generally unafraid of any subject, because her training was quite complete; however, the one thing she hadn’t learned well was perspective. This was something that she’d learn after Ken Davies directed her to Storey’s Theory and Practice of Perspective, prior to her teaching at Paier School of Art. After that, she taught perspective for many years, and became known for her ability to use it well.
American, Americana, art history, Charlotte Joan Sternberg, Charlotte Sternberg, Daniel V. Thompson, Deane Keller, Egg Tempera, Eugene Francis Savage, Jean Day Zallinger, John Trumbull, Ken Davies, Leonard Everett Fisher, Painting, Realism, Richard Rathbone, Rudolph Zallinger, Yale, Yale Art School
Women were accepted at Yale Art School when Charlotte entered, but not in the main part of the university. Her parents were daunted at the financial prospect ($300 a semester!), but somehow managed to scrape the money together. Her future course was set. She arrived at the college on a sparkling autumn day that was unusually cold. Her rooms were in a separate house off the main campus with several other girls (today, the Department of Anthropology.) That evening, she looked out the window and was surprised to see what appeared to be veils of white moving across the sky. These were northern lights, making an unusual appearance in Connecticut. Everything seemed full of mystery and promise.
In 1937, the Yale Art School was highly traditional. Time-honored, indeed ancient methods of teaching dominated. Drawing teachers such as the classic portraitist Deane Keller held sway, as well as muralist Eugene Francis Savage. The composition teacher Richard Rathbone, author of an excellent book on that subject, was also one of Charlotte’s great inspirations. He enthralled his classes with analysis of the Renaissance masters, and Charlotte became as fond of Botticelli as her teacher was. Years later, she had an extended trip to Italy, and admired the masters first hand.
Students took drawing in the morning, painting in the afternoon. Beyond that, there was art history, history of architecture and of ornament. They started figure drawing with “cast” drawings: these were studies of plaster casts which were reproductions of famous sculptures. “Life drawing” was done from live models. Anatomy was an important part of these studies, and the students even visited the medical school to see the dissection of a cadaver. Still life and many painterly studies in oils rounded out the curriculum. Students did very few of the quick sketches or “gesture drawings” common today. Instead, they labored all week on a large charcoal figure drawing, only to have the dauntless Keller whack most of the vine charcoal off the paper with his chamois cloth, and correct their efforts.
The social atmosphere was intellectually charged, stimulating, and most enjoyable for Charlotte. She met students from Europe and China, students from all over America, students who’d been to Oxford, students who had been to the Sorbonne in Paris. One of her good friends in school was Nancy Trumbull, “Trummy,” who was a descendant of John Trumbull, painter of the American Revolution. (Unfortunately, Nancy died quite young.) Other dear friends were Jean Day( later Zallinger), who became a renowned children’s book illustrator; her future husband, Rudolph Zallinger, famous painter of the Peabody museum dinosaur mural; and Thomas Wells, well-known painter of the tall ships he’d served on. Other Yale graduates Charlotte would know well included the superb still life painter, Ken Davies, later dean of Paier School of Art, and Leonard Everett Fisher, prolific and famed author and illustrator of children’s books.
As a child, Charlotte struggled with drawing, as most artists do. She labored for many hours trying to illustrate “Heidi.” Inspired by the N.C. Wyeth posters she’d seen in the library, she wanted desperately to put on paper what she could see so vividly in her mind. This was such a frustrating exercise that it often left her in tears. Aggravated by her inability to draw Heidi’s face in profile, she would cover the face over with curly hair and turn the drawing into a back view. She returned to try, yet again…
The Sternbergs were well aware of Charlotte’s interest in art. Unlike many other parents, they encouraged her in every way. She always remembered a conversation she’d had with her father, when she was twelve or so. She asked him if a woman could be an artist. He said, ”Of course. A woman can do anything that she wants to do, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.” He gave her license to spread her wings and fly. This was amazing. Here, in a small city struggling with the start of the Depression, Charlotte’s father Arthur Sternberg gave her complete permission to be herself and risk being an artist, in a most stunning way.
It was a lesson she never forgot, and in turn, would pass down to her students. When she was about thirteen, her parents arranged for her to have art lessons at the trade school in Meriden, after her regular school day was finished. Charlotte took lessons from the same man who taught the young silversmiths the fundamentals of drawing (for Meriden was then the “Silver City,” well known for its silverware industries.) This was Ernst Lohrmann, an immigrant from Germany. He was very exacting. “Observe carefully, Charlotte…”, he’d say.
One of the first lessons was a lemon placed on a white plate. How would you mix the shadow color? The mystery was revealed: small amounts of the complementary color, purple, would solve the problem. She studied classic ornamentation, along with the other students, who would be designing teapots, flatware, and so on. Mr. Lohrmann required them to make faithful “renderings;” these small paintings were done in transparent and opaque watercolors, and meant to illustrate exactly what a cyma-recta curve, corbel table, or egg-and-dart molding looked like. In the old tradition of watercolor, transparent colors were used for darks and shadows, and opaque color was sometimes used to build up the lights and highlights.
In high school, she did illustrations for the yearbook, showing Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Roy Rogers, Wendell Wilkie, Joe Louis and other famous people of the time. She was already known as an artist in town. Charlotte then applied to Yale Art School, entering in 1937.