Portrait of a young girl.
For many children and teenagers growing up on Cape Ann, Art was not something that resided far away, in museums in Boston and New York. Great art was being made in studios down the street or across the cove. Many youths were asked to pose by the great artists that created their art in Rockport and Gloucester. Elana Brink, nee Pistenmaa, was such a teenager.
On a recent August afternoon, Elana generously shared her memories of when, at age 17, her portrait was drawn by Lilian Westcott Hale. Lilian Wescott Hale was thought to be one of the best portrait painters of her time. She met her husband Philip Leslie Hale while taking classes at the School of Fine Arts in Boston. He was her teacher and seventeen years her senior. While Philip studied under Monet at Giverny, Lilian was recognized as the better painter of the two. When viewers admired Philip’s paintings, as he peered over his glasses, his usual reply was, “Wait until you see Mrs. Hale’s paintings.” Lilian’s paintings can be seen at the Harvard University Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.
Elana’s portrait was executed in the stone studio at Howlets, the Hale family summer studio in Folly Cove. She posed four mornings a week for a two week time span during August of 1959. This pencil sketch was one of the last works that Lilian produced before passing away in 1963. Elana did not see her portrait in progress during the sittings and when she finally did see it upon its completion, she felt as if she had been portrayed in such a saddened state that she told both Lilian and her daughter Nancy that she looked like “she should have tears running down my face.” Upon hearing this, Nancy replied, “Oh no darling, you look dramatic ! “
Elana’s family was no stranger to great artists. Elana’s father, when he was a teen, was immortalized as “The Diver” by the sculptor Walker Hancock.
Elana visited the studio again this month and graciously brought the portrait for Heather, one of the current owners of the studio, and myself to see. Nancy Hale was correct in her assessment of the portrait of Elana: she does look dramatic in it, wonderfully so. It captures the beauty and slightly self-possessed air that only a 17 year old can carry off successfully. Elana had made the dress in which she posed. When sitting for the portrait, Elana recalled that Lilian, aged 78, kept asking Elana, aged 17, if she was tired and needed a rest from posing. Nancy Hale said of her mother during that time period, “In her early eighties, my mother produced some of her best portrait drawings, working as ever, with arms outstretched at full length without a tremor for hours, although by that time she could not hold a cup and saucer without rattling it.” Elana remembers both Lilian and her daughter Nancy as being “so elegant with their styled white hair.”
For Elana, growing up among artists was nothing remarkable. She remembers meeting “so many artists” and only later recognized that quite a few of them were famous. Elana and her father are part of a long legacy of artists drawing their inspiration from not only Cape Ann’s landscape, but from its people.