Tales from Golden Heart, Part Three: Documenting the Life and Times of Bolton Artist Weber Furlong
By Anthony F. Hall
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
For much of his life, Clint Weber has lived with a mystery: the source of an extraordinary collection of art he found himself the guardian of.
“Even as a nine-year-old, I would take these portfolios from underneath my bed and gaze at these wonderful things,” said Weber, a former Navy submariner now managing information systems for health care centers in Texas.
Those “wonderful things” included paintings and drawings by artists such as John Graham, David Smith, Dorothy Dehner, Max Weber and two remote relatives: Thomas and Weber Furlong.
The collection had passed from Thomas and Weber Furlong to their nephew, Clint’s father, and then to him.
“Fortunately, my family’s the kind that never throws anything out,” said Clint.
A few years ago, he met Mona Blocker Garcia, a world traveler who had settled in Marfa, Texas, which is frequently described as the emerging arts capital of the southwest. There, she bought a building on what had once been the campus of Fort D.A. Russell and turned it into the headquarters for her International Women’s Foundation, which she describes as “a training center for the artistic development and healthful aging of mature women artists.”
(Garcia’s building, Building 98, was once the officers’ club. It contains murals painted by German Prisoners of War during World War II, which she is restoring.)
“As soon as Clint told me about the collection, I had to see it,” said Garcia. “And as soon as I saw it, I knew he had to do something with it. It’s too important to be kept hidden.”
“Mona is the driving force. Without her, these things might still be under my bed,” said Clint.
This fall, Garcia and Weber will exhibit the collection at the International Women’s Foundation in Marfa.
The centerpiece of the exhibition will consist of Weber Furlong’s own paintings and will constitute the first major retrospective of the work of the artist, who Weber claims is “America’s first woman modern artist.”
As Weber and Garcia began to appreciate the depth and the extent of the collection, they felt compelled to learn more about the woman behind it.
What sort of woman could hold the respect and friendship of so many great artists, or create such astonishing work herself?
“I had found my life’s mission – to preserve the legacy of Weber Furlong and to create a record of her life,” said Weber.
That mission led Weber and Garcia to Bolton Landing, where Thomas and Weber Furlong lived from 1921 to 1952 at Golden Heart Farm, in the hills above Bolton Landing.
The house was built in the 1860s by Rufus Randall, a returning veteran of the Civil War. He cleared and farmed the land and raised his family there before selling the property to another Bolton man, Edson Persons.
The farm was reputed to have “one of the most magnificent views of the lake in the vicinity,” according to a newspaper clipping from 1961.
“Although my father had visited the farm when he was a child, I didn’t know much about it – where it was, whether the house even still existed,” said Weber.
He finally reached Bolton Town Clerk Pat Steele, who put him in touch with Ted Caldwell, the town’s historian.
Caldwell told him all there was to know about Golden Heart, and invited Weber to come see the farm himself.
In early May, Weber and Garcia flew in from Texas to begin documenting Furlong’s life in Bolton Landing and in Glens Falls, where the artist lived and worked from 1952 until her death in 1962.
“This is hallowed ground; this is where it all happened,” Weber said as he and Garcia arrived at Golden Heart Farm, where a reception was held in their honor.
According to Weber, Thomas and Weber Furlong were drawn to Bolton Landing by another artist, opera singer Louise Homer.
“Louise Homer’s daughters were attending a boarding school here in Bolton, and she recruited Weber Furlong to design some sets for a theater program,” said Weber.
(The school, Bremestead, closed in 1924. It was located near Braley Point.)
The Furlongs moved to the farm in 1921. Although Weber Furlong was an administrator at the Arts Students League rather than a teacher, like her husband, she is generally regarded as the better artist.
Weber Furlong was born in St. Louis in 1878. She studied with William Merritt Chase and Max Weber and Furlong himself, whom she called “the best and most important” of her teachers. After the two were married, they moved to a building on Washington Square where John Graham, Alexander Calder, Thomas Hart Benton and Rockwell Kent also rented studios.
Weber Furlong refused to call herself a teacher. Rather, she saw herself as an enabler of other artists, distributing advice and encouragement.
After Thomas Furlong’s death in 1952, Weber Furlong moved to Glens Falls, where she continued to teach and paint until her death in 1962. James Kettlewell, a curator at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, organized an exhibition of Furlong’s work at The Hyde in 1966, and he is largely responsible for the belated recognition she received from critics, collectors and museums as a serious, mid-century artist.
“Weber Furlong emerged as an artist only after Thomas Furlong’s death in 1952. And at that time the only art that could make it in America had to be very large and abstract. Nevertheless the art she produced was entirely of her time,” Kettlewell wrote in a catalogue for the exhibition.
Although she painted almost nothing but still-lifes, Furlong’s work was influenced by the abstract expresssionists, said Kettlewell.
“If she finds the place she deserves in the art historical record,” Kettlewell wrote, “she will be classified with the Abstract Expressionists, as was her friend, the greatest sculptor of the American modern movement, David Smith.”
(The Furlongs are credited with introducing David Smith to Bolton Landing, having invited him to stay at the farm in 1929. Shortly thereafter, he bought the farm on Edgecomb Pond Road.)
Kettlewell was among those interviewed by Weber during his visit to Warren County.
He also met some of Furlong’s former students, such as Loren Blackburn, visited The Hyde, which owns several Furlong works, and examined private collections containing pieces by both Furlongs.
“This was an amazing visit; I was able to fill in so many gaps in my knowledge of Weber and Thomas Furlong and their careers,” said Weber.
Weber is at work on a documentary film and book about the Furlongs, both of which he hopes will be completed before the exhibition of pieces by Furlong and her friends opens in Marfa in September.