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Old 10-03-2002, 02:23 PM   #1
Michael Fournier Michael Fournier is offline
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Studio of HR Ballinger and the north facing window

Well, this is not a post of a photo, since I do not have one, but it is a story about how I met an artist when I was 16 (he was 89), who invited me into his studio. His name was Harry Russell Ballinger.

He invited me in - that is after I was bold enough to walk up to his door and knock and introduce myself. You see, he had home and studio in the a small town of Bakerville Connecticut (small part of New Hartford CT.), just down the road from where I grew up.

Often I would pass by this house with a strangely large window on the front north side. This window was out of place amongst the other old Greek revival and colonial homes. The window was obviously two stories high and it had a shade that pulled up from the bottom and what looked like a light like you see in schools with the 8ft tubes attached to it. I had heard that artists preferred north light, and in New England normal people don't put a large window of single pane glass on the cold north side of a house. So I started to think an artist must live there.

One day I got the nerve to go and knock on the door. An elderly man answered the door looking a little puzzled as to what this young teen at his door wanted. I introduced myself and told him that I wanted to be an artist and asked him about the window. He laughed and said "Yes, you should have seen the face of the carpenter when I asked them to put that in." He then asked if I would like to come in. I spent 4 hours there that day looking at his paintings and asking him questions about setting up a studio and how he became an artist.

I visited with him a few more times that year and I learned a little about art, but more about life, I think. His wife, Katharine, had passed on a few years before so he lived alone and I think he was happy to have the company. At that time I did not know much about artists except the ones everyone knows. But I knew who Norman Rockwell was and when he said he knew him - wow - I was just awestruck. He told me about the Art Students League and how he studied with Harvey Dunn but I did not know who he was then. And he told me about Paris and that I should make a trip there if I could. He told me what it was like in California and what brought him to New England.

But I was a typical teen and hanging with my young friends, and girls took over, so after a while I stopped visiting the old man down the road. And later I left home and then went off to the Army, then to art school.

But in 1993 I heard some very sad news. I was reading the local newspaper and I read something like,"New Hartford Artist H.R. Ballinger died at 100." The article went on about how he lived to 100. And had lived the life of an illustrator during the Golden age of Illustration and his paintings are in the collections of the New Britain Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum, Springfield Art Museum, Mattatuck Museum, Central Connecticut State College as well as many private collections.

But at that moment I remembered that old man laughing at the boy who wanted to be an artist who came knocking on his door. I could not help but think of how I should have stayed in touch and how he never knew I had gone to art school. I could not help but think if he would have even remembered me if I had gone back to see him when I returned from college. But then I thought, at least I had the nerve to knock on his door that day and the few hours we spent in his studio will stay with me forever. He never actually taught me how to paint, and I never showed him any of my own work. But just to be able to see his work and his studio had a huge impression on me. And to this day I guess, until I have a studio like that, I just won't feel I am truly a successful artist.

Why did I post this here? I am not sure, maybe the discussion about the lights on the north facing window since it was in this studio I first saw that. At the time I just thought that is what all artists did.

Later I saw pictures of other studios with the same setup, so I just took it for granted that all artists did that. Well, anyway, I wish I had a picture of this studio; maybe I can get one. The house has been sold and I have not driven past it in a while so I do not know if the window and the light was left as it was by the new owner. But this topic has made me want to take a drive down, maybe this weekend. If I can I will post a photo.

Until then here is one of his paintings

Update Added Photo sent to me by new owner
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Old 10-03-2002, 09:58 PM   #2
Alicia Kornick Alicia Kornick is offline
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What a nice story, thanks for sharing it with us. I can't help but think that something led you to knock on his door that day. Funny how unseemenly minor events in our lives stay with us years after the event. He was probably very happy to have you visit him and to share his knowledge however briefly with you.
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Old 10-03-2002, 11:23 PM   #3
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Michael, thank so you so much for sharing this lovely and intimate tale.
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Old 10-04-2002, 12:01 AM   #4
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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Nice story Michael, I too feel a strong connection to the old folks. I watched my grandmother paint for all my young boy years and felt a great loss when she passed on.
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Old 10-04-2002, 06:57 PM   #5
Carolyn Ortiz Carolyn Ortiz is offline
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What a beautiful story. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and share it!
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Old 10-04-2002, 07:57 PM   #6
Susan Ballinger Susan Ballinger is offline
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I don't suppose I'm related to him, but my maiden name is Ballinger. My Mom always says I must have gotten my artistic side from my Dad's side of the family because she doesn't have an artistic bone in her body! LOL So maybe it's a Ballinger trait.

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Old 01-26-2003, 08:29 AM   #7
Jeanine Jackson Jeanine Jackson is offline
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Dear Michael:

I actually got a little teary-eyed reading your beautiful story.

When I was sixteen, I modeled for a local artist (Fort Lee, NJ) named Elizabeth Case. She lived nearby my aunt who had commissioned several portraits from her, and who eventually purchased the pastel study which I now own (below).

Her cluttered studio had a small north window. I can remember having to climb around things to reach the chair and resume the pose each day during specific hours.

She spoke in poetic phrases with a voice made husky from cigarettes and wine. Her joy was greater than her uncertain income. She taught me how to pose a model by allowing me to speak and share my dreams with her. She was confident that within that small space I would fall back into the pose she decided on often enough to capture a likeness, while finding something far more important: my spirit.

Happily, Ms. Case found job security as a U.S. Naval Artist and lives happily in South Jersey now, I am told.
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