Dear Alice died 31 years ago today and I often wonder what she would think of me delving, prodding and slowly uncovering the story of Alice Antoinette DeLamar. Thirty one years ago today she was in Norwalk Hospital,largely alone except for a few visitors (chauffeur Charles being one of them) and then the waiting, dehydration and dizziness that prevailed. Did she wonder what would happen to her large collection of photo albums, clippings, journals and the manuscript? Did she wonder who would look after her beloved cats, roses, pools and Lucia? Did she wonder if anyone would have the nerve and sleuth-instinct to be able to piece together her story enough to publish a book and uncover the source who singlehandedly funded and supported famous painters, writers, choreographers, ballerinas, sculptors and fashion designers of the Midcentury? How directly would she approve or disapprove? It goes without saying what I would trade for a chance to have a sit-down alongside the Weston kitchen table, Diane preparing aspic and sardines in the background, pouring glasses of chilled Pinot Grigio, the Connecticut summer sun setting earlier than usual given the Labor Day weekend, and Alice looking me in the eye ever so briefly, then turning away as she nonchalantly declared, “Let’s move out to the terrace where we’ll have some privacy and I can tell you the real story…”
Why I keep getting lured back to old mining towns who knows – must either be Alice’s spirit coaxing me towards something or dear old Joseph with some unfinished business. The recent connections between me, Phelps Dodge, William A. Clark, Joseph R. DeLamar and mining keep a’comin’ round…
It’s doubtful Alice knew William’s daughter, the reclusive and mysterious Huguette Clark, despite their parallel uber wealthy upbringing and challenges with social interaction; but surely as I was traipsing around Clarkdale and Jerome this past weekend the questions arose once again. Onto some fresh research leads…
James Hunt Barker, a southern horseman and gentleman from Kentucky, owned three thriving art galleries in New York City (didn’t everyone who was anyone own a gallery there?), Nantucket, and at 155 Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, just down the street from Alice DeLamar’s Worth Avenue Gallery. Someone said it best when they described Jimmy’s Galleries…”he had a cocktail party every week where his friends in the room met his friends on the walls.”
I had lunch with Jimmy today – 86 years old, dapper donning a kelly-green jacket, emerald green button down, loafers, khakis and ensemble of rings and cologne. No teeth mind you, but that’s okay. He was charming as ever as he talked about his mantra of “wrapping people in God’s love” which he believes can turn anyone’s situation around, no matter how dire, in a span of 5 weeks. He was steadfast in his conviction that he’d live to 101 if not 103.. and that he was just going to go with the flow and live in the moment. And he swears by apple cider vinegar as a part of his skincare regime – must be something to that….he has less wrinkles than I do!
It’s unconfirmed whether he’s still residing in the same 5,600 square foot house as he was 6 years ago with partner (Ken); but we do know he still wants to drive (himself!) up north to the infamous Wedding Cake house in Maine before Palm Beach heats up too much to bear. Formidable, yet gentle, Jimmy Barker was the perfect lunch guest at The Brazilian Court today. Gracious, impeccably mannered, cultured and charming. And did I tell you we met one of his exhibited artists today as well? 97 year old Carl Brown. Splendid man, prolific artist….. completed yet another solo local show at the Norton. These people are simply amazing. Is there something in the water or in the paint?
Jimmy remembered Alice readily which was wonderful – he wondered if she was still alive (oh dear…) but said she was always “very nice” and was stylish and the host of many South Ocean Boulevard parties. He declared they were never competitors but rather peers trying to bring art to Worth Avenue and Palm Beach. He remembered Keith Ingermann more clearly, fondly recalled traveling to India with Keith to ride elephants in Jaidapur. Ouida George, 97 years old and a “gallery consultant” was also visiting with Jimmy just recently….imagine. A 97 year old painter still chatting it up with her 86 year old gallerist……” Whoa. Alice was instrumental in their lives – albeit in different ways and like many people I’ve met over this quest the description of dear Alice is consistent…a nice person, generous, shy, largely under the radar and private but undoubtedly wealthy. Am I any closer to finding the missing manuscript? Ah….I have yet more octogenarians to see on this trip!
Another fine example of how this generous heiress and patron went unnoticed and unknown yet funded Isamu Noguchi’s first studio. No biggie…he only turned out to be one of the 20th Century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors with a career spanning six decades. I suppose it was nothing that they exchanged intimate (platonic of course) letters from 1954 until 1962 AND that Isamu kept their letters AND Alice kept the thank-you note Isamu sent Alice expressing gratitude of her loan. Alice kept it tucked into the pages of a book on her Weston shelves (I wonder what else was in those 7,000 books?) and I found it. There was the classic Alice’s red grease pencil underlining words on the page, perhaps to imprint the words in her mind or to remind her to send him yet more money when it became available.
Alice let Isamu know when she was going to be in NYC so they could visit, when her Rue Git apartment on the Left Bank was available for him to stay and her gentle scolding reminding Isamu to “wear a mask when you’re using any electric gadgets”. And my favorite:
“When I last saw you I mentioned that I would have some more cash to space in December and here enclosed is a thousand additional to add to my loan for the house.” (December 20th, 1960).
There was half-sister Consuelo Hatmaker to consider I suppose. Just look at these photos of her….precious!
The July 28th 1923 wedding to French ace Captain Charles Nungesser in Brittany for instance. Just look at those wedding party faces! Alice doesn’t look particularly thrilled to be there, although it could just be her constant shyness coming through which was typical once a camera surfaced. Nellie looks quite thrilled with the event – and with herself! Again, not uncharacteristic. And who are the others?
Then there is this gem. The aviators very much in love (?) sometime before their declared “marriage holiday” in 1926 and Charles’ disappearance in 1927. 12 years Charles’ junior, Consuelo, half-sister to Alice, was a Manhattan socialite, spoke fluent French, was dark, petite, adventurous and rich. Kind of a chip off the old Nellie block I’d say. Her Papa was James R. Hatmaker, onetime secretary of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Let’s just say the Hatmakers didn’t have a problem getting into New York society gatherings.
While experiencing somewhat of a blockage in my manuscript hunt, I considered it perhaps wise to peek into the lives of the wonderful people whose smiles, mugs and poses fill the albums and snapshots I’ve amassed ….maybe THEY could lead me to a clue or, god-willing, the document itself?
After trotting all over Europe this past summer for the manuscript hunt (well, just through the South of France and Switzerland), I carried this photo everywhere and asked all of my sources (French, Moroccan, Swiss, German, British, American) if they knew who this striking man was….but no takers. He looked strangely familiar to many but no one was able to come up with a name.
So what do we see in this photo? Alice all dolled up, hair carefully pinned, engaged in cocktail chatter in front of a painting….it could be at the Hammer Gallery, The Worth Avenue Gallery…but doesn’t that painting somewhat resemble a Keith Ingermann? I asked several of his friends and patrons but no one recognized it as his work. Mmm…..who could this man be?
Ouida George (nee Romanoff) was one of Alice’s artists who exhibited at The Worth Avenue Gallery in Palm Beach from the 1940s to 1960’s and I had the magnificent luck of meeting this great woman. At 97 years old, Ouida is STILL painting and while she had to recently leave her wonderful art and treasure-filled home of 65 years for a senior’s residence, she has been a wonderful source for our dear dear Alice DeLamar. My last visit with Ouida was special and never to be forgotten….still wearing eye shadow, lipstick, rings of bracelets Ouida is a force and I can’t wait to visit with her again – long live Ouida! (my husband has a secret crush on her and I can’t compete – she’s darling!).
Much of Ouida’s collection was part of an estate sale earlier this year. Her illustrious career spanned seven decades and she still shows the spunk, creative and insightful personality of a true artist. Ouida and her late husband Harold hosted magnificent annual New Year’s Day parties, they traveled extensively through the South Pacific and India collecting masks and native artifacts that until recently covered her West Palm Beach cottage’s walls telling a story all their own.