One of my favorite thrift stores, Destined for Grace, on Hollister in Santa Barbara, received a painting by artist Jack Wolfe as a donation. This is a rich abstract oil on paper, mounted on board, signed “verso.” This medium suggests Wolfe was working on composition in this study, in these vibrant autumnal, somber colors. At auction, I see that this deep soulful palette brings $3,000 at auction for a small painting of this size.
Jack Wolfe (1924-2007) painted near my college in Boston, Tufts University. In fact, my alma mater has this artist’s works in their collection, as does Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Whitney of American Art, Harvard, Boston University and the Boston Public Library. Wolfe studied at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and the Boston Museum Fine Arts School, graduating in 1949. After a show at The Whitney, he left the commercial world of the career artist, and withdrew from a money-driven art scene. He returned for good to his Stoughton Studio and painted to please himself only. His studio today is open as he left it in 2007, full of unsold canvases. I predict his work will be very valuable one day.
A testimony to the power of art to find its eventual and proper home, this painting is today donated to Destined for Grace. The not-for-profit thrift stores began as private fund raising dreams of two young women, Rebecca Costa Smith and Lindsey Connolly, co-founders, who, back in 2008, planned to ‘somehow’ (says their website) help the country of Haiti. Back then, all they felt was compassion, having visited the country. They visited as schoolteachers with no experience in nonprofit administration and little capital. Today, thanks to their hard work, they will be opening a new school in Haiti, providing what they know best – a quality education.
Destined for Grace provides, with thrift store funds, an education by credentialed teachers, two meals a day, clean drinking water, uniforms and school supplies. They also provide prenatal vitamins, water filtration systems, and solar lights. Their school in Haiti won first place in the spelling bee contest against 11 other schools, the kids formed a winning soccer team, and the entire 6th grade class passed the Haitian State exam.
The school employs 25 Haitians as well as educating 210 children, all from a dream that materialized in two thrift stores in Carpinteria and Goleta; all profits from the stores go to Haiti. Monetary donations are 100% used in Haiti, not towards thrift store expenses.
Perhaps Jack Wolfe would have applauded the donation. Wolfe was a keen observer of the plight of the young in his portraiture and figural paintings. He painted complex portraits of mothers and children, with vulnerable and soulful faces, in an abstract expressionist style. The canvases collected in his Stoughton studio, seen on the Studio website, show many paintings exploring the relationship of the adult to the child. In his life and work, he renounced conflict for mercenary ends, and what it did to the creative psyche. He painted in emotive high contrast, employing unique color palettes. Even this abstract work shows depth.
As an artist, he separated himself from the world of creativity as commodity. Perhaps he would have appreciated the truth of Destined for Grace’s principle –that all children deserve quality education, as his canvases celebrate simple, deep human bonds.
In a Boston show of 2005 before the artist died in 2007, at the University of Massachusetts, works from the Vietnam War era, decades before, were first displayed. Kevin Bowen, Director of the Joiner Center for War & Social Consequences at that University, said “conflict, such as civil strife, takes its toll on civilians; Wolfe paints the children of causalities.” Basic human principles need to be mended, Wolfe suggests.
Sometimes art finds its way, ending up where it can convey its depth of spirit where it is needed the most. Think of how many wonderful works of art have survived unbelievable journeys, finally calling to us again. Art always comes home.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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