Playing Favorites: Suzanne Slick & Henri Vergé-Sarrat

We’ve asked FWMoA staff the hardest question you can ask art museum people: so, what is your favorite artwork currently on display? As “art museum people”, we often get asked about our favorite artists, artworks, and the art we choose to hang on our own walls. Since not all of our staff are front-end, and not all of them write for the blog, this series gives everyone a chance to get to know them, too. Taking advantage of our rotating exhibitions of artworks, from painted portraits to sculpted bronzes, FWMoA staff from all departments are choosing artworks that enthrall and enchant them; or, in other words, playing favorites.

Suzanne Slick, FWMoA Collection Information Specialist. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Sue Slick, FWMoA Collection Information Specialist, has made FMWoA her place of work since July of 2015. Her current favorite? A work from the first iteration of a Century of Making Meaning: 100 Years of Collecting by Henri Vergé-Sarrat that graces the banner on the side of our building.

A watercolor beach-scape that shows the ocean and shore from an aerial perspective. The blue and green water kisses a golden, beachy shore flanked by green hills and trod paths. A couple, and others, walk along the beach trail amongst the hills. The sky is clear, with mountains dotting the background.
Henri Vergé-Sarrat, French, 1880-1966. Collioure, Pyrénées-Orientales. Watercolor, pen, and ink on paper. James M. Hamilton Collection, 1941.10. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Q: What is the first thing you noticed about this artwork? What drew you to this particular piece?

A: The airiness of this watercolor is breathtaking — it has a birds-eye-view feeling, as if the viewer is swooping above the cape of the little seaside village of Collioure, nestled in the deep southeast corner of France. Reading more about the town and the artist, it seems he painted this from a vantage point above the cape — somewhere amongst the terraced vineyards and olive groves near the Fort de Sante Elme, which sits high above the village. The village of Collioure has a literally colorful past as that is where Fauvism began when Henri Matisse and André Derain created their wildly exuberant and colorful paintings that outraged the art world. Vergé-Sarrat and his wife, painter Rolande Déchorain, visited the town decades later, and returned for many years following. We see that this watercolor is signed and dated by the artist in 1930. Its collector, James Montgomery Hamilton, would have been in his mid-50s if he purchased the piece around the time it was made. It was part of the generous bequest he made to the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum upon his untimely passing in 1940.

Q: Would you hang this artwork in your home? Why or why not?

A: Yes, I would. When it was hanging in our gallery I visited it several times, and each time I felt a thrill of joy looking at it. Who knows what causes art to please, excite, and stimulate us? I have a pretty eclectic collection of art objects and this would fit right in!

Q: What does this artwork mean to you?

A: I’ve been drawn to this watercolor since I first noticed it in our catalogue database. I was recently doing a survey of our landscapes — we have many — and this one leaped out at me, as it does every time I see it. And I’ve often wondered why. Certainly, the brilliant color and atmosphere are captivating. The composition of vertical arc from the lower left to upper right is visually compelling. But there is more to it than these elements. It may be that it evokes memories from the part of my childhood that was spent on a seaside peninsula. I find it fascinating that Collioure is located at nearly the southeast corner of France, and where I grew up was on nearly the southwest corner of the United States. There is a similarity in light and in the colors of the ocean between the two. I’m imagining that there is a similar airiness from this vantage point overlooking Collioure to that experienced when standing at the end of Point Loma, with San Diego Bay on the left and the Pacific Ocean on the right, the Laguna Mountains to the east and glimpses of Mexico to the south. Vergé-Sarrat painted small human figures in the scene, walking along the beach, perhaps fishing. In the far distance are ancient structures, farms and hills, and on the horizon a mountain range. It’s a similar high-level view from “my” peninsula: from the end of Point Loma you look down on fishing vessels, cars on the coastal road, hikers and tidepool visitors along the shore, and pelicans flying in formation along the cliffs. Vergé-Sarrat’s sweep of sky, fluffy clouds in haze with smudges of darker grey, to me, evoke a salt-infused coastal atmosphere like the “marine layer” coastal Californians know so well. I do believe I can smell that south of France sea breeze as I become immersed in this scene. And I keep going back to it; it’s so familiar, yet so foreign.

I looked up Henri Vergé-Sarrat (Belgian, 1880-1966) online, and found many lovely images of his work. He worked in ink and watercolor, oil on canvas, lithography, and etching. He seemed to have a fascination with and an affinity for the built environment surrounded by nature, and also for architectural elements in urban settings. Many of his prints are very tightly drawn, precise, and structural. Our watercolor is much looser than some of his other work, maybe it was a quick study or maybe this little coastal village had a relaxing effect on him and loosened his hand and eye. I’d like to think, but can’t confirm, that James Hamilton (American, 1876-1940) met and visited with Vergé-Sarrat in Collioure, and purchased the two works we now own while on a happy seaside vacation. Hamilton, an accomplished architect and talented artist, also portrayed the built environment in watercolor and graphite while travelling the world. He and Vergé-Sarrat would have had much in common. It is easy to see how Vergé-Sarrat’s work would have appealed to Hamilton.

A serene and happy scene, don’t you think? There’s something exhilarating about the point of view, much like Wayne Thiebaud’s prints and paintings of steep hills and streets.

Q: Why did you choose to work in an art museum?

A: Well, that’s a long story. I graduated from the Art School (Indiana University FW) in 1981 and had friends who worked here at the FWMoA. Of course, back then the museum was a much smaller organization with fewer employees, so a job at the museum was not a possibility for me. In fact, jobs for those with BFAs were not plentiful in Fort Wayne in the early 1980s at all. But, I was fortunate, and was hired by a local defense company to work in corporate-industrial photography and videography. I worked there for a couple of decades but then mergers and threats of “downsizing” inspired me to make a career change to Library Science. I was one of hundreds who were “downsized”, and I was fortunate to be able to make grad school my job for the next year or so. My MLS took me to another great local corporation where I stayed for most of another decade until that company left town — great timing, actually! The middle of the last recession! Fulltime jobs were scarce then and I needed another part-time job to supplement a librarian job and a “side-hustle” gig. My friend, Scott Tarr, had made a post about needing new security staff here and I applied! I was a guard at the FWMoA for about a year, when this wonderful job opened up and I threw my hat in the ring, knowing this was a great place with a fantastic staff. The competition was tough, but Charles and Amanda offered me the job. And here I am, very grateful. I came full circle from immersion in art in undergraduate school to a tour of the corporate world and back to immersion in art. It was a convoluted path, but each segment of that path connected to the next. I find that I draw on all of those past experiences to do what I do every day at the FWMoA. Museum work is a challenging, stimulating, exciting, and fun adventure! It’s been an extra gift to be able to help document our 100th birthday!

Q: What has been your favorite exhibition at FWMoA during your employment? What exhibition are you most looking forward to in the next year or two?

A: One favorite? That’s hard, there have been so many wonderful exhibits and such an array of art! The Peter Bremers exhibits; The Lure of Mexico; Generations: A View of Who Was Who; Robert Williams: Slang Aesthetics — they were all fascinating and satisfying. I also love our annual Year of Making Meaning exhibits where we showcase our newest acquisitions because, as a staff member, it’s so gratifying to see all of our hard work of collecting, curating, accessioning, researching, storing, and caring for our new work come to fruition in an exhibit for all to enjoy. I’ve looked forward to each new iteration of our Century of Making Meaning!

Q: What kind of art (if any) do you have in your home?

A: We have an eclectic collection — my work from art school is still around, but mostly in storage. Art students do a lot of trading of work, so I have pieces made by former classmates and by artist friends who were not my classmates. I’ve been able to collect a few pieces by my former instructors — an honor to have them. My grandmother, Myrtle Slick, was an avid, but untrained, painter, so we have a few “Grammy” paintings. And my mother avidly collected beautiful things her entire life, so we have many of those things to remember her by. And I can’t leave out a little painting by my notorious brother, EP Slick!

Come visit FWMoA to see Sue Slick’s favorite exhibit, A Century of Making Meaning: 100 Years of Collecting, before it closes on March 13th.

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