Mica and Emma Jane, in Theorem

Daily Draw October 31st, 2012

This is from a new collection of postcards called American Radiance: Selections from the Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum, published by the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. Ralph Esmerian donated over 400 paintings, sculptures, watercolours, weathervanes, carvings, pottery, fraktur, textiles, samplers, scrimshaw, and furniture from the 18th and 19 centuries to the museum and these 30 postcards are a small sample.

Oooh, all the good stuff. I love books on craft history and museums. I had this on my wish list for well over a year and finally bought it. These little $13 treats add up, so I have to pull back but they are SO interesting.

Emma Jane Cady (1854-1933)
East Chatham, Columbia County, New York, c.1895
Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and mica flakes on paper, 14 3/4 x 18 3/4 in.

I suppose my head has been in the clouds, lo these many years, but I was not aware of the prevalence of mica in artwork. Being a natural mineral, it is archival, so is safe to use on paper and canvas. For centuries, people have used mica powders and flakes to enhance pottery and paintings. I have some Iridescent Medium by Winsor and Newton which looks to have mica particles suspended in a base solution. I bought it to paint a picture of birds and became disheartened because it was to go in a sample of my work for a Tarot person who seemed to be more interested in writing a book for teenagers than doing up a deck she kept talking about. My loss is that I thought she was taking me seriously, and I wasted 15 hours doing samples and digital prep work. My real regret is also that I didn’t use this goop which looks so beautiful.

Fruit compote is an old dessert of fruit in sugar syrup and various special containers were made for it. It may have been derived from a Byzantine dessert, so is a very old way of enjoying fruit. Compote is French for “mixture.” Emma Jane has put mica flakes on her glass compote rendering to suggest the sparkle of glass. The entire picture was done with stencils in an old technique called “theorem painting,” which was often done on white velvet rather than paper. There is some biographical information for her at the Museum’s web site.

Here is some more information on theorem painting by the author of a comprehensive book on the history of the technique.

Unfortunately, Ralph Esmerian has since had a few problems and is now in jail for fraud and embezzlement. He had some stunning jewellery in his personal collection, but I am disheartened to learn of his lack of ethics.

The American Folk Art Museum is in trouble too but has such wonderful items from history, that I hope they can keep it going.

So the lesson is: never let other people dishearten you, never give your time away to flakes, make your art anyway, using whatever materials you want, and enjoy the sparkle of creativity.

I must try this iridescent medium on something. I’m knitting a snake right now and don’t want to fragment my already fragmented mind, but I must get to this, if only in memory of Emma Jane Cady who made me glad to be alive today.



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