Wednesday, June 19, 2013
FREEPORT — If ever an art opening had a rock-star feel to it, this was it.
Seated at one end of a sofa, the painter greeted well-wishers one at a time. She looked them in the eye, signed autographs, made small talk. Graciously, she accepted their compliments.
Nearby, a TV cameraman angled for the best shot. A newspaper photographer waded through, holding his flash high above the crowd.
A reporter nestled in, hoping for a few words.
Hundreds of people folded themselves into the cramped gallery, arms tight at their sides and moving like a school of sardines for their one-on-one moment with the celebrity.
Dahlov Ipcar, 90, soaked it in with a hearty laugh.
''I sort of take it all in stride,'' she said. ''At my age, you don't get that excited over things. But this is nice. Very nice.''
The scene at Frost Gully Gallery marked the latest opening for Ipcar, featuring more than 20 canvases the apparently ageless Maine art legend has completed over the past two years.
To hear her dealer tell it, these are among Ipcar's finest works -- finely detailed images of exotic and domestic animals, overflowing with iridescent colors and the artist's bountiful imagination. Rarely has Ipcar been this productive, and the current body of work includes many precise and technically challenging paintings, said Tom Crotty, who owns the gallery and has been championing her work for 35 years.
Crotty is not merely reciting a practiced sales pitch. His point is valid.
Ipcar's new paintings have a special feel to them. There's a certain zest to Ipcar's zebras, a greatness to her geese and an elegance to her elephants. There's a childlike pleasure in her work, capturing a never-never land that exists solely in her mind.
Her nighttime scenes of jungle animals traipsing beneath a sliver moon brim with a blue hue. Her daytime scenes glow in orange and yellow.
In many of her paintings, she incorporates the rooks, knights and kings of a chess game, giving her paintings majesty. Her geometric patterns suggest rhythm, cadence and form.
Longtime family friend Trudy Price of Brunswick said she believes Ipcar is painting better now than she has in many years, partly because she thinks Ipcar feels better physically, and also because she seems unencumbered of stress.
''She gets better and better and better. I don't know anyone 90 years old doing the same quality of work, or better. That is so rare. She seems freer in her choices of whatever she chooses to paint,'' said Price.
Elizabeth Hoglund of Portland owns six Ipcar paintings. She went to the opening last Sunday evening at Frost Gully, and was impressed with the precision of the work.
She said a number of other collectors commented about Ipcar's ''spectacular colors and the fact that the work she produced in 2007 has not slipped an inch. It's still strong, still vibrant with very exact brush strokes. I'm quite impressed. I thought her recent work was all very good, and certainly not of any lesser quality than her older material.''
SEEING MORE CLEARLY
Ipcar, who lives in the same Georgetown farmhouse where she has spent most of her life, attributes her recent bounty to her physical and emotional wellbeing. She feels good about herself and her life, and enjoys waking up each day to paint.
She also believes she is perceiving colors more vividly, which she attributes to cataract surgery several years ago. It's almost as if her palette is expanding, she said.
''The colors seem to be getting brighter. I have never seen colors like this before. They're brilliant,'' Ipcar said. ''Two years ago, I couldn't match anything I saw in my eyes with oil paint. But something is creeping in. The brightness is creeping in.''
Ipcar's lineage dips deep into American art history. Her parents were William and Marguerite Zorach, both of whom achieved greatness as 20th-century American artists.
They raised their daughter in New York, exposing her to the arts at a very young age while encouraging her to find her own voice and style.
Each summer, the family encamped to Maine. Living among nature proved influential to Ipcar, because it introduced her to farm animals and began a lifelong fascination with creatures and critters of all stripes.
After marrying in 1936, she and her husband, Adolph, moved to a dairy farm in Georgetown, where they spent their lives. He died in 2003.
MOMA SHOW IN 1939
As a painter, Ipcar knew success as a young woman. She had her first solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1939 and has shown regularly since. Her paintings are in the collections of many Maine museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and in private collections across the globe.
Some in the current batch of paintings are priced at $20,000 or more, and Crotty said interest in her work among collectors remains strong.
She's painted numerous murals, including at the Georgetown Central School near her home, and received many awards and honors.
She also developed a career as a children's book illustrator. She illustrated her first book, ''The Little Fisherman,'' in 1945, the first of more than 30 she completed.
In 2008, Islandport Press will reissue two of Ipcar's books, ''The Little Fisherman'' and ''My Wonderful Christmas Tree,'' her last book, published in 1986.
Reprinting ''The Little Fisherman'' represents something of a coup for Islandport Press president Dean L. Lunt.
Generations of Maine children were raised on the book, but it's long been out of print. Good used copies are difficult to find, Lunt said, and he worked nearly two years to secure the rights to republish it.
''It's a milestone book,'' said Lunt. ''We plan to present it as a book long out of print by a cherished Maine illustrator and well-known national author.''
Islandport Press will release ''The Little Fisherman'' in spring 2008. ''My Wonderful Christmas Tree'' will follow in fall 2008, he said.
Ipcar is thrilled.
''It's very exciting to me,'' she said. ''I like having my books reprinted, but it's almost like pulling teeth to get anybody to do it. But Dean and his staff were very enthusiastic about it. They persevered two or three years to get the copyright, and I'm thankful they did.''
Crotty put Ipcar's career in perspective, by noting that her peers were Bernard Langlais, Beverly Hallam, William Kienbush, John Heliker and Fairfield Porter.
Ipcar carries the torch of her generation, he said.
Meanwhile, Ipcar remains focused on the future.
At age 90, her goal remains the same as it was when she was 88: to keep working to produce a body of work worthy of another solo exhibition two years hence.
''I just try to keep up my routine. I paint a couple of hours in the morning, and that's it. I don't know what I do the rest of the time. Fritter it away, I suppose. But you have to stop and get your creative energy recharged.
''Something must be working, though, because I feel better than I have in a long time. Except that I need a walker, everything is functioning fine.''
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
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Doug Jones/Staff Photographer, Friday, November,11, 2007: Dahlov Ipcar is 90 and has a show at Tom Crotty's Frosty gully gallery in Freeport to celebrate. she greeted old friends and signed catalogues of the show.