Today was my inaugural day at MD Anderson and my first disappointment came early. I purchased the most fabulous gold “chemo shoes” to cheer me up while poison drips into my veins, but was so strung out this morning that I forgot to wear them. Instead, I wore the black Vans-like pair I threw on to take Eliza to school. Comfortable, but not fabulous.
Walking into the Infusion Therapy department in my practical shoes, I ran into old friend Ashely Crain. She’s in from Arkansas and is on the tail end of my same journey. Hearing what to expect was good and bad. The meeting about the power port I’ll receive next Monday was mostly bad. When the nurse started talking about how the line will tap my jugular vein, I pretty much dissociated to a prettier place where I’m wearing my gold shoes. Everyone says the port will be my best friend, but until then we are frenemies. The idea freaks me out.
Next, I got my blood drawn by the most incredible Gloria who is anticipating the cold front this weekend by soaking her pinto beans beginning Friday night. Gloria loved my leggings and after we finished, she called over a tech who hiked up my tunic (this is NOT how these leggings are meant to be viewed) and wrangled the tag out of the back to tell Gloria that the fabric “that looks SO much like leather” is actually polyester, rayon and spandex. I would have directed her to Pomp & Circumstance for the $38 pair, but they might be too constricting for Gloria’s big personality.
My final stop was the Ambulatory Treatment Center for my first chemo. Not much else to say about this sobering event, other than the grossness was compounded by the fact that MD Anderson’s television service doesn’t have TLC and Tessie the Nurse was way too cheery. We ended up getting along in the end, despite the fact that she couldn’t find my veins and blamed me for not drinking enough water.
I am too young-ish looking and too healthy to be here, which means I got a lot of, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” looks. But, as Hampton reminded me, it’s great that we have good insurance, and I’m thankful that I live 15 minutes away. One woman in the elevator told her nurse that she and her husband are spending their retirement savings to fly down here (she’s on her 8th trip) for treatment. “But hey,” she said, “at least I’m alive!” Indeed. Plus, I had Janie’s Cakes tonight for dessert after dinner brought by a friend — complete with art socks — with roses from my mom and tea for tomorrow!
Selecting an image to accompany this post was a no brainer — Pablo Picasso’s 1943 First Steps. This oil on canvas hangs on the third floor Modern and Contemporary Wing in the Yale University Gallery of Art. My research turned up three possible inspirations for the painting:
- Picasso’s maid and her son
- Picasso’s mistress Françoise Gilot with their son, Claude, or
- Jean Charlot’s painting by the same name.
Picasso remained married throughout his life to Olga Khokhlova, with whom he fathered Paolo. Between Khokhlova and Gilot (with whom he also had daughter Paloma), he enjoyed the companionship of Marie-Thérèse Walter, who was 17 when she met 45-year-old Picasso and with whom he fathered their daughter, Maya — his only other child subject. Picasso moved this family into a flat across the street from his other family to shorten the commute. (The Wall Street Journal Magazine recently published a great article his relationship with Walter.)
Alfred H Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, wrote of First Steps: “The Cubist distortions serve to convey this drama from the child’s perspective with all the insecurity he must feel in trying to walk for the first time. The mother is painted very large as the child would see her. The reassuring closeness of the mother helps the child to overcome his apprehension (as evidenced in his puckered face). With determination he lifts his left foot and steps forward.” Today, I followed suit.
In looking at Picasso’s depiction of mother and child, I thought back to the topic of my first graduate school research paper (learning how to do footnotes all over again??) I wrote about Carlo Dolci’s 1635 Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist. Dolci means “sweet” in Italian and the artist’s work fell out of favor for centuries because people found it too saccharine. Personally, seeing a mother adoringly support her child as he breaks their physical bond to establish independence – that’s not sweet, that’s heart wrenching. Just listen to this reading of Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever if you don’t believe me.
According to an article in The Telegraph, Picasso was also involved with Dora Marr, who “went mad with grief” because of their relationship, as did his wife Khokhlova. Furthermore, Walter and his final wife, Jacqueline Roque, committed suicide. This morose information put an end to my curiosity about the woman in the painting and I pivoted to research more about the person who donated First Steps to Yale University.
Stephen C. Clark (Yale 1903) was the youngest of Alfred and Elizabeth Scriven Clark’s four sons. His relationship with younger brother Sterling is reminiscent of the Prodigal Son parable, with Stephen playing the role of elder brother. Despite differences which kept them estranged until Sterling’s death, the brothers shared a passion for art, with Sterling establishing The Clark in Williamstown, MA, as a rural safeguard for world-renowned American and European art during the Cold War. (This New York Times article about it is a great read.)
In addition to being his brother’s keeper, Stephen graduated from Yale, then Columbia University Law School, served as lieutenant-colonel in WWI and member of the New York State Assembly, directed his family’s Singer Sewing Company, led the MoMA and Metropolitan Museum of Art boards of trustees, purportedly purchased a Cezanne and Van Gogh requisitioned from their original owners by the Bolsheviks and – my favorite accomplishment – founded the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Ironically, as board chair of the MoMA, Stephen dismissed in 1943 the above quoted Albert Barr over a disagreement. (One source said Barr was a poor administrator and procrastinator).
In his book The Clarks of Cooperstown, Nicholas Fox Weber writes that Clark’s mother, Elizabeth, was responsible for his college nickname “Bathroom Clark.” She loved construction projects, which included a mansion on Riverside Drive in Manhattan and housing for New York City’s poor. This hobby extended to Yale, where she installed a modern tile bathroom for Stephen. A hovering mom similar to the mother in First Steps.
I believe that Elizabeth’s fortitude overshadows her architectural avocation and helicopter mom-ness. Weber writes that Elizabeth’s husband led a double life in Paris, conducting a nineteen-year romance with a male Norwegian tenor. When forced to return to the states after his father’s death, Alfred purchased for his lover a town house down the block from Elizabeth and their sons (a lá Picasso and Gilot). Alfred and Elizabeth’s marriage lasted 27 years until his death at 51. Seven years later, Elizabeth married Episcopal bishop of New York City Henry C. Potter. After the death of each husband, Elizabeth built churches in their honor, continuing her proclivity for construction projects. Today, the Scriven Foundation awards $1.5 million a year to housing and health initiatives.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see the Menil Collection’s Picasso The Line exhibit, running now until January 8, 2017. You can also see Dolci’s Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist in the Museum of Fine Art Houston’s permanent collection.