Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 19

“Pigeons on the grass alas”

Collecting photos of Gertrude Stein was an intense, year-long treasure hunt. It led to Paris libraries and private collections, to University Archives and Rare Books Libraries, press agencies and personal friends of Gertrude and Alice who were still alive. I wanted the iconic images, of course, the classics I had seen as a schoolgirl when I fell — not yet in love with her — but in awe: the famous Man Ray and Cecil Beaton shots. But I also particularly wanted the unknown, never before published images as well as photos that showed unusual aspects of Stein’s personality –the seductive young student, giggling with her nephew; playing tennis with brother Leo; wrestling with her dog; the author who famously claimed, “Work is something I cannot do,” raking and harvesting her tomatoes at her country house. I even found the probably one and only photograph that shows Gertrude and Alice tenderly touching in public. It was a series of surprises and unexpected discoveries. Who would have thought that among the many genres of writing Stein played with, there would even be a ballet? “The Wedding Bouquet” was Stein’s corky version of “Giselle,” performed in 1937 with Margot Fonteyn, at Sadler’s Wells. Little by little I felt that a full-life portrait was emerging. But one aspect was missing. There had to be a reflection of the world around her — from her birthplace in Allegheny, Pennsylvania to Oakland and its “there there”, to Paris with its caf├ęs and Picasso’s atelier, with visits to Florence and New York (where a shop window played off the Broadway opening of her opera “Four Saints in Three Act” by displaying its fashion clothes as “4 Suits in 2 Acts”.)
While I was collecting the photos, trying to date them and get permission for their use (writing innumerable letters pleading for lower fees), I finally turned into a serious Stein reader…
Stay tuned.

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