Vintage Portraits

DSC_1484

I have a fabulous oil portrait in my dining room.  If you’ve ever been in my home, you’ve seen her.  If you’ve looked through my blog much, you’ve probably spied her in the corner of many of my pictures.   No, she’s not my grandmother or favorite aunt.  I found her on the side of the road propped up next to someone’s garbage – she was too large to fit in the can, and way too lovely to end up there. 

Anyway, it was starting to rain and I had to make a quick decision.  Do I let this beautiful painting of a dejected mother-in-law go to the city dump?  Or do I risk embarrassing my own mother by picking through her neighbor’s garbage before our lunchdate?  Yes, my mother was humiliated and shocked that I would do such a thing.  But it was worth it.

After finding my beauty, I decided I might like to collect these kind of oil portraits.  But, guess what?  They are often poorly-done (the quality of the hands is the mark of true talent) and/or just plain spooky.  You know, the eyes-are-watching-you, Scooby Doo kind of thing.   I hung an oil portrait of my husband’s grandmother for a little while, but it creeped out my children.   Maybe it’s best if you don’t know the person.  Portraits that are really well-done are difficult to find and very expensive.  Portrait painting is becoming a lost art.  There’s this guy I went to college with in Nashville who does amazing ones – but they cost thousands of dollars to have commissioned. 

Earlier this summer, I was at a yard sale scooping up some rejected but stylish shirts for $1 a piece from a 14-year-oldOil Portrait #2 fashion diva.  And then I spied something interesting.  It was a rolled-up canvas with a $2 price tag.  I unrolled it and gasped.  It was a blond lady in a light blue dress, and she could have been a younger version of my own lovely lady!  I quickly paid the teenager, so afraid that someone else would see my amazing find and snatch it up for themselves.  But that’s the good thing about the way I think – others rarely see the potential in the crap, I mean stuff , that I fall in love with.

Oil Portrait Close-Up

I got home, unrolled my treasure, and notice something distracting and disturbing.  My lovely lady is wearing a beautiful evening gown, but with a diamond-shaped cutout on the belly area.  The thing that makes it even more disturbing is that the artist used plenty of shading that makes the lady appear to be showing off a hint of her under-bosom.  UGH!  

I thought about hanging it as-is, knowing it would be a humorous conversation piece.  Then I showed it to my friend Michelle, who said “why don’t you just take some paint and cover that up?”  Could I do that?  I’m no artist, and I certainly don’t have any oil paints.  I reminded myself that my initial investment was only $2, so what did it really matter if I screwed it up?  I pulled out 3 shades of blue craft paint from Michaels and got to work.  Tah-Dah!!!!

Oil Painting Improved

Now it just looks like my lovely lady is wearing a gown with some interesting detailing.  So much more couth than the bare belly and hint of under-bosom.

My husband made a very simple wooden frame that I stapled my portrait to, no exterior frame required.  He did it under duress, as he doesn’t understand why on earth I would want to hang this in our home.  But I guarantee you, it will grow on him.  Thankfully, he has learned to trust my vision :).

There are several points I want you to get from this post.  Embrace what you find beauty in, no matter if anyone else sees what you see.  Don’t be afraid to alter things you have to make them more interesting or more beautiful.  Separate the object from the context – something can look old-fashioned or tired in someone else’s home (or in someone else’s garbage), but look fresh and fun somewhere else with a different design aesthetic.  Don’t take yourself or your decor so seriously.  And most importantly, call me if you find an old oil painting for cheap!

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Michelle
Michelle
11 years ago

Wow! The paint really worked. Much better. I’ll be interested to hear where you hang her.

Dianne Tant
Dianne Tant
10 years ago

what a wonderful, creative idea…you are so good…

Laurie
Laurie
8 years ago

I fell in love at the Salvation Army with a 1950’s era portrait of a beautiful little blonde girl. I just couldn’t bear to leave her there. Come to find out, the artist, Helen Holt Hawley, also painted the children of the Rockerfeller’s and many famous people. Wouldn’t you love to know who they are?

Michael Thompson
Michael Thompson
7 years ago
Reply to  Laurie

Hi Laurie- Do you know anything else about Helen Holt Hawley? Any idea where I could get more information on her? My grandfather has a self-portrait that was drawn or painted when he was four in 1933. I can clearly see Helen Holt on the lower right hand corner and it seems there is a third name but it is mostly covered by the frame. I would love to find out for him who created the piece of art. If you can give me any more information, please do! My email address is [email protected]. Thanks!

Mike RONNICK
Mike RONNICK
6 years ago

Helen Holt Hawley died in Sarasota Fla and lived on Siesta Key She died in the 1980s I went to the sale of her belongings in Sandy Hook Siesta Key and bought some paintings and other things She had moved from Connecticut or New York and had a son Arthur as I have a book given to her from him

Kipp Hawley
Kipp Hawley
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike RONNICK

Arthur Hawley was Helen’s husband, and my grandfather through his previous marriage to Edith Palmer. In my memories of her from when I was young, Aunt Helen was elegant and stylish, and always fun to be around. She had a wonderful studio, full of light from many windows, set apart from their house in Hartsdale, NY.

Gerre
Gerre
6 years ago

I inherited two portrait paintings by Helen Holt Hawley. Are they valuable? Any info and help would be appreciated. Thanks.

Tam Gray
5 years ago
Reply to  Gerre

We went to that sale as we had a condo next door at the time (Sandy Cove). We, too, bought a portrait from that sale as well as some other things and would love to hear if you learn anything else about her or the value of her portraits.

Tam Gray
5 years ago

It was presumably at her own home on Siesta Key, which was a street next to ours. It was holding an estate sale. Ours is of a young woman with blond hair, signed by Helen Holt Hawley. The sale was from a 1990s or 1980s estate sale.

Tam Gray
5 years ago

Kristie, forgot to add that on Wikipedia is a listing for Grand Central Art Galleries. In the section Members’ Art Drawings is a picture of Helen Holt Hawley with two other men at the 1933 members’ drawing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Central_Art_Galleries

Cheers, Tam

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