While attending Clover Park High School in the early 1960s, I was an avid reader of Playboy Magazine for the articles, the men’s fashion ads, the often featured art of LeRoy Neiman and, possibly, certain photographs that I found appealing.
“Best known for his brilliantly colored, stunningly energetic images of sporting events and leisure activities, LeRoy Neiman was probably the most popular living artist in the United States before his passing in June 2012.” – leroyneiman.com
In April 2009 I purchased a poster (actually a final proof) for my wife, Peg, as a Mother’s Day present. Peg loves the gracefulness of ballerinas and ballet. She loves to dance. Except for a Park District beginning, beginning class, she never took ballet, but she’s always had nice rhythm. We met at the last dance at the University of Puget Sound in May of 1966. I was a fine-arts major, and she was a German Literature major. I asked her to dance and a little over two months later I proposed to her.
In the early ‘50s, when Peg was a child living in an American dependents housing area outside a small French village, the only movies she saw were at the community center, a concrete stucco building smack dab in the center of the community. She went to every movie her mother thought appropriate. Peg was a color junkie even then.
She heard that one of the wives was beginning a dance class for girls and decided that she wanted to attend. The romance of dancing took over then and lasts to this day. However, the cost of classes brought that to a halt. That summer she whiled away many hours envisioning herself dancing in extravagant, romantic ballets. The costumes cut out for paper dolls fed that daydream.
When she was working in Metro Parks PR and Marketing office, she and a co-worker signed up for a beginning, beginning ballet class. Peg loved the bar exercises because the stretching was so good for her. But she drew the line when the class was asked to buy a costume/tutu for a stage recital.
I bought the poster on eBay. The heading of the auction item caught my eye, “LeRoy Neiman – Prima Ballerina – Hand-Signed by Artist.” No one else bid against me. I began worrying about the authenticity.
I emailed the seller and asked for any details he had about the art. The response was “It is hand signed. It was a gift from the artist to my ex-wife.” The poster turned out to be the final proof before printing. The seller was Hilary Miller, an attorney. He also remarked, “If your wife is a ballet nut, tell her it was a gift from Neiman to Cynthia Gregory, who was the model for the original sketch.” Cynthia Kathleen Gregory is a former American prima ballerina.
“Gregory was the recipient of the 1975 Dance Magazine Award, honoring her dedication to, and enrichment of, the art of dance. In 1978 she received the Harkness Ballet’s first annual Dance Award. She is the only two-time recipient annual awards from Dance Educators of America (1981 and 1988). In 1988, the now-defunct magazine New York Woman gave Gregory its first “Showstopper of the Year” award. The New York Public Library designated her a “Lion of the Performing Arts” in 1989. She received the lifetime-achievement Certificate of Merit from the National Arts Club in 1991. Hofstra University awarded Gregory an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1993, and she received an honorary doctorate from State University of New York–Purchase College in 1995.” – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynthia_Gregory
I sent the seller a photograph of the piece hanging on our living room wall. I received one more email, “Looks great in your house – far better than it ever did in mine. Congratulations and enjoy it.”
While studying fine arts (painting and drawing) at U.P.S., one of my favorite artists was Edgar Degas.
Degas was a French artist known for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is identified mostly with dance, specifically ballet. More than half of his art works are of dancers and he’s known as one of the founders of Impressionism. Like LeRoy Neiman he painted dancers and colorful competitions and sporting events like horse races and, of course, magnificent horses. He thought of himself as a realist in his painting. When I think of either LeRoy Neiman or Edgar Degas, I think of color. Sometimes the colors are subdued and sometimes bright, but they’re always captivating, always showing motion.
On September 28, 2019, Tacoma Art Museum will present Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Their Circle: French Impressionism and the Northwest. This exhibition examines works of French Impressionists. “The exhibition includes artwork from the following institutions: Frye Art Museum, Henry Art Gallery, Portland Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, and Seattle Art Museum. These works are complemented by selected loans from some of the major private collections in the Northwest.” The exhibition runs September 28, 2019 – January 5, 2020 – tacomaartmuseum.org/
I’m guessing that Peg and I will visit the museum several times . . . and most likely Peg will visit even more often.