Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Unexpected Gifts


As I embark on my second book for Angel City Press, I am appreciating some of the unexpected rewards of having put my story out there the first time. Writing involves such gasps of courage and vaults of faith. My husband tells me sometimes he hears me take a little gasping breath when I am writing. Funny, I wasn't aware. Those sounds must punctuate a satisfying idea... or a worry... or an aha! moment. I like to think it's the aha! As for a faith-vault, we've just come off of the Olympic Games, and I'll bet others marveled, as I did, when U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney catapulted herself impossibly high in a close-to-perfect vault during the team finals. Imagine her thoughts as she twisted in the air, knowing she could stick the landing, but not knowing if she would. In fact, Maroney missed badly, later in the competition.

But we take the leaps. My next book, like Exhibitionist: Earl Stendahl, Art Dealer as Impresario, will be a biographical art history. Is this the right direction for author April? Will my audience for the Stendahl story be equally interested in the life and works of artist/activist Corita Kent? And - of great interest to my publisher and to me - will readership grow and expand beyond my first effort?

These questions are important, but they are not uppermost in my mind. I'm still enjoying the Exhibitionist ride. I have PowerPointed my way across the country, selling and signing, talking to readers - my favorite people. (You who read this blog are in the club, and I thank you!) Husband Ron (Stendahl's grandson) and I have hosted many groups at the Stendahl Galleries of Art in Hollywood, where much of my book's history unfolded. I presumed, rightly, that once people had an idea of Stendahl's remarkable impact on Southern California's art scene, there would be a revival of interest in early Modernism and in Pre-Columbian art. The Getty's Pacific Standard Time program of exhibitions was timed perfectly to shine more light on the story I was sharing. It was all falling into place. What I didn't expect was the feedback which so enlivened the conversation.

One day a package arrived in my mail from Menomonie, Wisconsin: the birthplace of Earl Stendahl. I had had brief correspondence with an elderly journalist there, who writes columns under "Wisconsin Lore & Legends." He was enthusiastic about my relationship to the Stendahls and about Earl's origins in his hometown. In the package: Swiss Miss Cocoa Powder (who knew this is a Menomonie company?), magazines, newspapers, photographs, postcards and monographs about the town's history, including ephemera that related directly to the Stendahls. A gift, truly. On another occasion, a cousin brought over something I had no idea still existed.  While clearing out his mother-in-law's garage, he came across an original Stendahl fine art puzzle from 1931. These puzzles were a crucial part of Stendahl's survival during The Depression; here was a lovely little example in good condition, the colors still vibrant. Thank you, thank you.

Others have been in touch to tell me their own experiences, relating to my book's revelations. "Your grandfather-in-law gave my father his first show when he was a starving artist." "Stendahl was a son-of-a-bitch. But I say that in the most positive way. There was no dealer more respected."

I am already looking forward to the response from my book about Sister Mary Corita. Of course, the real trick is to collect great tidbits before publication. I will make every effort to do so.

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