Studio Show Recollections – page 1

Studio Show Recollections — page 1

Provincetown Arts Magazine
Vol. 23, annual issue, 2008/2009

Robert Motherwell

by Jeannie Motherwell

Studio Show Recollections 1

My earliest recollections of Dad in his studio date back to when he was married to my mother, Betty Little. When I was born in 1953, he purchased a five-story brownstone townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Dad designated the basement as his studio and worked mostly at night. I remember a sliding glass door leading to a patio outside where my sisters and I liked to play. I learned by the early age of four, Dad's studio space was sacred territory and off limits to us without adult supervision. We were never allowed to run outside to the patio by ourselves. It may have been the first recollection I have of the importance of this space to him.

In 1957, my parents divorced and Dad married Helen Frankenthaler the following year. My sister and I now summered with my father and Helen in a hundred-year-old captain's house on the corner of Allerton and Commercial Streets in Provincetown (currently owned by the artist Cynthia Packard). One summer, an old cottage across the street on the water side went on the market because the longtime owner died. I remember Dad spending days sitting on its vacant deck hoping one day he would be able to buy it. However, now that he had this opportunity, the deal almost went sour because the owner's family didn't want to part with it. Eventually he was able to purchase the house by the end of the following summer. He tore the whole structure down except for the stairs and chimney as per code and rebuilt it calling it the "Sea Barn." The house was built to look and feel like a ship. In fact, he often referred to himself as the "Captain of his ship." Originally the Sea Barn was supposed to be our "beach house"—the bottom floor for my sister Lise and me to play in, and the top two floors designated studios for Helen and Dad.

Dad fell in love with living on the water almost immediately, perhaps reminding him of his roots in California. Soon after, he sold our house on Allerton Street to the renowned chef Michael Field and restructured the Sea Barn so we could all sleep on the second floor where Helen's studio was located. Helen subsequently rented a studio at Days Lumberyard (now the Fine Arts Work Center), while Dad used the top floor of the Sea Barn as his studio. I remember the barn doors opening from his third-floor studio to hoist large paintings up and down, using a pulley system, because the original stairs were too narrow to accommodate moving larger objects.

Dad moved to his Greenwich, Connecticut, studio (from New York City) shortly after divorcing Helen in 1970. I was just entering Bard College in upstate New York at the time, so I often visited him on weekends. My friends and I would drive down to Greenwich, conveniently park my car at Dad's house, and then head via train to NYC for art openings and to visit museums.

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