Palm Beach Social Diary Books, Birds & Art Studios

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The Society of the Four Arts welcomed 400 of its generous supporters to the 2016 King Fling that benefits the Gioconda & Joseph King Library. Guests were given first dibs at the annual book sale while enjoying plates of tasters from area chefs and an assortment of various wines. Above, the Pannill Pavilion overlooking the central fountain and plaza donated by the late Naoma Donnelley Haggin.

The annual convergence at Palm Beach is underway. With The Four Arts Library closing in April for its much anticipated makeover, I stopped by Friday night’s final King Fling, at least until 2018. I had  somehow overlooked the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens on West Palm Beach’s Flagler Drive.  This past week a friend asked me over to meet New York sculptor  and Cornell art professor Todd McGrain whose Lost Bird Project opens in January at the Ann Norton. Regret not stopping sooner, as the gardens are an oasis. Then a morning at former NYC versatile artist Patricia Nix’s aerie studio on Worth Avenue that led me through the veritable rabbit hole of tracing the fascinating architectural history of Patricia’s building, home to Saks’ Palm Beach store for almost 50 years and built by early Palm Beach gallerist Glenn Vera Hodges.

2016 King Fling benefit at The Society of the Four Arts
November 4, 2016
The 2016 King Fling, Palm Beach’s annual season kick-off celebration, also marks the Gioconda & Joseph King Library’s final fundraiser until it reopens after a $12 million renovation of its Treanor & Fatio-designed 1938 facility. With construction planned to begin May 2017 and completion projected for December 2018, all proceeds from this popular benefit are earmarked for the new facility. Among the generous donors underwriting some of the evening’s expenses were: Mr. & Mrs. Michael Amico, Mrs. J. Simpson Dean, Jr., Mr. & Mrs. Barry Hoyt, Mrs. Philip Hulitar, Mr. & Mrs. Leonard Lauder, Mr. and Mrs. John J. Pohanka, Mr. & Mrs. Samuel D. Warriner, Mr. & Mrs. Thomas E. Hassen, Dr. & Mrs. Randolph H. Guthrie,  Mr. & Mrs. Patrick Henry, PB Catch, Amici Market, Taboo, Bistro Chez Jean-Pierre, Mr. & Mrs. C. Payson Coleman, Jr., Mr. & Mrs. David Hubbard Morrish, Mr. & Mrs. Peter Garvy, and Mr. & Mrs. Robert L. Forbes.

Donna Plasket, David Breneman, president of The Society of the Four Arts, and Carolyn Potter.
L. to r.: Cheryl McKee and Cynthia Bennett. A touch of Palm Beach cheer.; Ted Cooper.
Susan Collins, Patty Garvy, and Friederike Wood.
Garth Wakefield, Joan McGivern, Jennifer Borg, and Jim Oxnam.
Victoria Baker, assisting at the Mystery Wine table.
Patrick Henry, chairman of The Four Arts board of trustees.
Pam and Gib Harris contemplate sculptor Lawrence Holofcener’s bronze Allies, portraying Franklin Roosevelt & Winston Churchill.
Michael J. Pucillo, president of the Palm Beach Town Council.
Rachel Schipper, director of libraries at The Society of the Four Arts.
After several weeks of blustery weather, Friday night’s cold front plunged temperatures into the low 70s.
L. to r.: Karen and David Morrish.; Mary Lawson.
A little night music …
L. to r.: Nancy Mendel with a book about Lilly Pulitzer. ” A gift for my client who bought Lilly’s house …”; Sara Skillern and Eric Kramer.
Author Paulette Cooper Noble and Paul Noble.
Guests enjoy a few hors d’oeuvres inside the Panill Pavilion.
Author Charles Todd with Jeff Jacobus, owner of the Classic Bookshop.
Richard D’Elia.
Ronnie Serlin and Linda Stambaugh.
Dusk in the Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden.
Inside the Pannill Pavilion, guests didn’t stray too far from the buffet tables.
Nightfall at The Gioconda and Joseph King Library.
The Four Arts Rovensky Administration Building was originally named the Singer Building, designed in the Venetian style by Addison Mizner for Paris Singer. It later became known as the Spanish Provincial Apartments. The first-floor of the building was utilized as an exhibition space by The Four Arts until they moved into the Fatio-designed building that became the library. The Singer Building’s Gothic windows and artful Italian details were obscured when the building was modernized in a later renovation.

Diana sightings at Palm Beach
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor

Just as many more New York residents are filing a State of Florida Declaration of Domicile, replicas of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ iconic sculpture Diana, once a lithe gold-leafed figure designed as a weather vane atop Madison Square Garden, are finding their way to Palm Beach . In 1979 a gallerist was permitted to cast a set of six replicas rescaled as seven-foot figures. A gold-leafed and waxed adaptation was recently installed at The Society of the Four Arts’ Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden. Yet another Diana, waiting to be gilded, has been lodged by a private collector in a rooftop garden high above Worth Avenue.

Former Lake Forest residents Miranda and Robert Donnelley donated their Diana to the Hulitar Sculpture Gardens in honor of Nancy Mato, longtime curator and vice-president at The Four Arts.
Diana. Detail. Recast edition 4 of 6. Bronze with gold patina. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor. Philip Hulitar Sculpture Gardens.
A private collector has a weather-worn Diana, from the same 1979 edition of six, affixed on a roof top courtyard, soon to be gilded.
Diana, in the garden and on the roof top.
Regarded as the world’s leading authority on the works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, author John Dryfhout’s comprehensive book was first published by the University Press of New England in 1982.

Bird Watch
The Lost Bird Project at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens
2051 South Flagler Dr., West Palm Beach

I was looking forward to lunch with art advisor David Miller recently to catch-up on the latest dispatches from Maine. At the last minute, Miller was called in his capacity as the former president and an honorary board member of the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens to show visiting New York sculptor Todd McGrain around the gardens where McGrain’s Lost Bird Project exhibition is set to open in January. “So come on over and we’ll have lunch in the gardens,” David said.

I admitted I had never been to the Ann Norton, located several blocks south of the now under reconstruction Norton Art Museum. Philanthropist Ralph Norton established the art museum with his first wife Elizabeth in 1940.  Ann Norton, a sculptor instructor at the Norton, became the second Mrs. Norton in 1948. If only briefly, as Ralph Norton died in 1953. With the gardens and her sculptures organizationally apart from the Norton Art Museum, following Ann’s death in 1982 her friend Sir Peter Smithers agreed to serve as the  venue’s first Garden Consultant/Designer. A decade later, Veronica Boswell Butler stepped-in and replaced Smithers as the garden’s chief green thumb. Her husband Jim Butler organized the Gentlemen of the Garden organization to help underwrite the gardens’ growing expenses. Today, twenty-five years later, the garden’s ensemble of rare palms and native plants is regarded as the largest collection north of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami.

2051 Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach. Originally designed in 1925 by Treanor & Fatio, the house was redesigned a decade later in a quasi-Monterey style by architect Marion Sims Wyeth for Ralph Norton and his first wife Elizabeth. Following his wife’s death, Norton married sculptor Ann Weave, retaining Wyeth in 1948 to design his wife’s studio on their two-acre estate.
A gecko suns on the handle of a garden temple jar.
Frances Fisher, president of the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens board of trustees, welcomed New York sculptor Todd McGrain.
Ann Norton house, east elevation.

Ann Weaver Norton – Sculptor
Timeline – Selected excerpts

Ann Norton house, east elevation.

Palm Beach Post-Times, January 15, 1956.
Ann and Ralph Norton in the gazebo.
Palm Beach Post-Times, April 16,1967.

In the Sculpture Gardens

Untitled Sculpture No 5, 1979
Ann Norton, sculptor

Ann Norton appreciated monumental scale. Perhaps no other piece captures her rapture for the colossal than Untitled Sculpture No. 5, installed within the reflection pond that replaced the estate’s swimming pool.

Looking east across Flagler Drive toward the Intracoastal Waterway and Everglades Island beyond.
South elevation, looking northwest.
North elevation, looking south.
South elevation, looking northwest.
North elevation, looking southeast.
Sculptor Todd McGrain standing in front of Ann Norton’s Untitled Sculpture No 5,1979, the centerpiece for the historic house’s palm gardens. Last year McGrain’s life-sized bird bronzes were exhibited at the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden and at the National Museum of Natural History. Several of McGrain’s works will be placed around Norton’s work.
Todd McGrain, Cynthia Bebak Inklebarger, curatorial assistant, and David Miller, honorary board member.
Todd McGrain. “I have spent the past several years working on a film documentary about the plight of forest elephants in Central East Africa. They are being killed for their ivory, especially to supply the demand for it in the Chinese market.”

Luncheon in the Courtyard

Chef Sean with Christina’s Catering prepared our lunch featuring delicious brie and plantain turkey sandwiches.
“I really learned the art of sculpture from working for Anthony Caro. Tony helped me set up my first studio.” – Todd McGrain. An associate professor of art at Cornell University, McGrain is currently the artist-in-residence at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. “John James Audubon was an inspiration to me,” said McGrain whose work has been shown at the Audubon Center – Mill Grove, Audubon, Pennsylvania.
“Ann Norton’s mission as an ecologist and artist come together so naturally in Todd’s Lost Bird Project that it had to be presented at the Sculpture Gardens,” said David Miller. “We are all so thrilled to have the exhibition here,” Miller added.
Dessert, a quartet of nibbles.

Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens
Sir Peter Smithers (1913-2006), design consultant
The Life of Sir Peter Smithers

The gardens provide a natural habitat for birds and Norton’s sculptures, sited by Smithers with the intention to surprise the visitor.
The slat house has been refurbished.
The garden has a concentration of palms.
McGrain acknowledges Christopher Cokinos’ book Hope Is the Thing With Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds with transforming a duck sculpture he was working on into something more, the beginning of making bronze tributes for species driven to extinction.

The Artist’s Studio
Marion Sims Wyeth, architect. 1948.

Ann Norton’s studio, north elevation.

“If only I had a studio like this in Manhattan,” remarked McGrain.
Ann Norton’s studio, interior with view to the northeast.
A Palm Beach Post-Times article featured Norton at work in her studio.
The studio house’s Norton’s original models, molds and castings.
L. to r.: The telephone from the studio to the main house.; Shelves are lined with small-scale models.
Forms shaped for possible larger-scale works.
“I know things by touching them. Being a sculptor, making things is how I organize my thoughts and share them with the world.” – Todd McGrain.

Patricia Nix Studio
Glenn Hodges Building, Worth Avenue – Palm Beach

After 35 years of brushwork at her Gramercy Park studio, New York artist Patricia Nix appears to have settled into a Worth Avenue apartment that offers the sanctity of a working studio with the cheer of Midtown’s  attractions and ocean breezes. Nix’s imagination, instinct, ingenuity and inventiveness  are as multi-dimensional as the aesthetic spectrum expressed in her canvasses, collages, constructions, boxes, assemblages, and sculptures.

Patricia Nix’s work has been the subject of numerous one-woman and group exhibitions in New York, Southampton, Paris, Florida, and Texas.

A Texas native who pursued her career in New York, Nix studied at the Art Students League with Vaclav Vyrlacil and at the New School with Anthony Toney. Her first New York exhibition was at the Kolodney Gallery. Elected to the National Academy of Design, Nix  began living and working France during the 1990s.

Patricia Nix’s highly-regarded virtuosity is as complex as the provenance of her studio, housed in an eclectic architectural tour de force where its builder Glenn Vera Hodges played a key role in establishing The Friends of Arts & Crafts, a forerunner of The Society of the Four Arts. During the 1923-1924 season, the exhibition at Hodges’ County Road gallery featuring the work of Paul ManshipJanet ScudderJo Davidson, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney is credited with raising the resort’s status as an art colony.

With plans underway for a new building on Worth Avenue, Hodges incorporated a gallery space where the Society of Arts could mount seasonal exhibitions.  Society portrait artist Mary McKinnon (Mrs. Frederick Johnson), a student of George Bellows’, was among the first to have a studio at the Hodges Building. Later, The Four Arts would initiate exhibition space on the first floor of the Singer Building, later called the Spanish Provincial Apartments, on Royal Palm Way.

I recently spent a morning at Patricia Nix’s studio. Here is a look around.

Patricia Nix Studio, window treatment.
The working studio space has pieces in various stages of completion covering the floors and walls in every room. Apparently, after the Gimbels bought the building in 1948 they took down a wall and rejoined this ballroom-sized space with the third-floor apartment above the original Saks store.
“People with Heads are Rare.”
Early collage works have found permanent spots in the dining room.
Painted construction, detail.
Painted canvas.
Nix’s series of card paintings hold endless fascination.
Double Jeopardy. An exemplar of what Nix calls Trellises.
Hanged Man. Detail. One of Patricia Nix’s ongoing Tarot Card series.
A balcony mirror reflects Worth Avenue below.
From the third-floor balcony overlooking Worth Avenue, the view to the west provides an aerie perspective on the tower at The Everglades Club.
The grapes and prosecco were refreshing.
Patricia Nix’s Studio extends the length of the third floor. The building has a puzzling architectural history akin to a Rubik’s Cube.

Glenn Hodges Building
Worth Avenue – Palm Beach

When I began reading the Town of Palm Beach’s 105-page file produced in 1990 documenting the historic designation of 306-310 Worth Avenue, I didn’t get past the first paragraph’s reference to Mrs. Glenn Vera Hodges as a Mr. Hodges before I realized the 26-year report had misread the building and overlooked its real significance.

306-310 Worth Avenue, view west to east. “If the walls could talk ..” is a familiar adage when attempting to unravel the history of many Palm Beach’s houses and commercial buildings. A merging of two separate buildings that at one time were legally separated only later to be remerged again. Although long known as the Saks Fifth Avenue building and designated as the Brooks Brothers Building, the Glenn Hodges Building was actually one of the town’s earliest art centers.
1927. Eva Stotesbury hosted the inaugural organizational meeting of The Friends of Arts & Crafts at El Mirasol.
1927. Glenn Hodges’ initial plans for her Worth Avenue building included space for the Society of the Arts.
306 Worth Avenue, architectural drawing. Henry Drewry Baker, architect. Courtesy Town of Palm Beach. The earliest known plans for the west building were by New York architect H. Drewry Baker who shared office space at 52 Vanderbilt Avenue with Marion Sims Wyeth. Baker is named as the supervising architect for Wyeth at Shangri-La, Doris Duke’s Hawaiian hideaway. These drawings were for a two-story building that appear to have been later revised by Treanor & Fatio for a four-story building with a tower housing shops and apartments.
The 1927 building permit apparently shows approval for a four-story building although according to the building department files the building was deemed unsafe and limited to a two-story building. Town of Palm Beach.
In 1926 Saks opened a shoe salon at the Hotel Alba-Biltmore where it also leased space for the following season.

1927. Saks announces lease at the Hodges Building on Worth Avenue.
January 1929.
Saks Fifth Avenue opens on Worth Avenue. Glenn Hodges Building, west section. Prince George of Russia (most likely, Prince George Constantinovich, 1903-1938, son of Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich) managed the Saks store on Worth Avenue for the first several seasons. After all, it is Palm Beach.
The original Hodges Building consisted of the four-story-building with tower on the west side. Glenn Hodges lived in the 4th floor apartment with the tower.
March, 1929. Newport-Palm Beach portraitist Mary McKinnon, at easel.
Palm Beach and Newport portrait artist Mary McKinnon kept a studio in the Hodges Building before moving to Major Alley.
January, 1931.
The building’s larger east side 1929 addition (blurred area)is credited to Treanor & Fatio. The original Glenn Hodges Building is the west side four-story building.
October 1929. Hodges Building expansion.
The 1929 three-story expansion to the east included a via and courtyard shops. Occupying the former Saks/Brooks Brothers space, the ground floor Ralph Lauren shop extends into what was once two separate buildings.
Saks at Palm Beach, 1931.
February, 1945. Following Glenn Hodges’ death, the building was sold to two buyers who would subsequently divide the building. While her chauffeur was driving, Hodges was sitting in the backseat of her car. When traveling through Tallahassee at highway speed, Hodges opened the back door trying to make certain it was completely shut and was thrown from the car, sustaining severe head injury from which she never recovered.
August 1948. After protracted litigation, the two owners split the property back into two buildings.
February 1949. Saks’ parent company Gimbel Brothers Inc. bought the building, variously known as 302 Worth or 306-310 Worth Avenue. In December 1979 Saks sold the building to Murray Goodman’s Worth Avenue Associates LLC for an initial payment of $1.4 million. Saks moved to anchor Goodman’s Esplanade shopping center at 150 Worth Avenue where they expanded into a 30,000 square-foot venue. Burton Handelsman’s 300 Love LLC bought the 25,000-square-foot ensemble of buildings from Goodman in 2002 for $13 million.
Saks Fifth Avenue, 1979.

Back to the Patricia Nix Studio

Shakespeare. Detail.
Painted Constructions.
Assemblage, detail.
An artful construction.
Mother and Child. 1979. Mixed media on wood. Detail.
Wheel of Fortune.
Spat on the Playground. Oil and collage on canvas.
Spat on the Playground. Detail.
Paintings waiting to find their places.
The world of Patricia Nix.

Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur

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