American poet James Russell Lowell once asked, “What is so rare as a day in June?”
That thought flashed through my mind when I heard that Charles Movalli, a resident of West Gloucester and one of New England’s finest artists, had died March 19, after a 16-year battle with multiple myeloma.
I’d heard about Movalli from several local artists who had studied with him, read his articles and blogs, and attended his lectures and demonstrations. I met him just once, on the first day of summer two years ago. A rare day that was.
I had not appreciated how large a figure Movalli was in the New England art scene. A summary of his life and work can be found in a beautiful tribute by Gail McCarthy in the March 22 Gloucester Daily Times here. In short, Movalli held a bachelor’s degree from Clark University – always a Worcester connection! – and lived a life dedicated to art, literature, friends, travel and the joy of living.
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I took time that day to head to the North Shore for a day of art, first to Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum for an exhibition of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s, then on to Gloucester to hear Movalli lecture.
All writers and artists should occasionally view the world through other prisms than their own. I focus on words, but am blessed to live amid visual artists who can call into being works of startling beauty.
My trip that day was in the company of several of these, including my mother, one of my daughters, and Worcester artists Bob Aiello and the late Bob Duffy.
My journal takes up the tale here, first at the Peabody Essex Museum:
June 21, 2014
“J.M.W. Turner was a child prodigy, no question. Had exhibited his work and collected many a commission by age 20. Fame grew rapidly. Greatest painter of his day. Eccentric old age. Experimented in use of color in ways that anticipated modernism by 60 years … Staffa, Fingal’s Cave from 1832 is among my favorites, and notable for the fact that the cave entrance is basically invisible behind mist, spray and cloud …
… made our way through “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way,” enjoying the works of Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, promotional films for Lockheed, pottery, a huge mahogany bowl, Walt Disney’s all-too-cheery film about peaceful uses of atomic energy, and magazine and LP covers …
… exited California for the still more unusual exhibit on human/animal interactions, which posed the question of whether humans alone are capable of making art … allowing animals to roam through your house in front of cameras is not art. Putting a dog’s head amid a fuzzy blue electronic “wind” via computer-generated effects is not art. Nor is it art when a woman jumps about on all fours and bats a big bat back and forth to mimic the aggression of some species of crab …
We just laughed, and headed back to meet the others … and then had lunch, which was forgettable but for the Baxter’s Daughters of Poseidon dark draft beer made with oysters …”
Then on to Gloucester:
“At the North Shore Art Association … listened to a 90-minute slide show and lecture by Charles Movalli on the legendary artists who founded the NSAA, including Aldro Hibbard, Emile Gruppe, Lester Stephens, and Carl W. Peters …
Movalli showed early and late examples of each man’s work, and used his laser pointer to good effect, showing how the artists’ strong use of contrasting and opposing lines brought tension and balance to each work. He is a jovial, warm-hearted and talkative man, with great good [sic] human and outstanding talent, and obviously complete[ly] at home with his topic, life and career. He has apparently won every award one can win, belongs to every group one can belong to, has exhibited everywhere one can exhibit, and done most everything a regional artist can do.”
That June 21 was one of those days you savor in memory. It was, I daresay, a Charles Movalli kind of day. And even in the short time I observed him, I recognized a man at the height of his powers, sharing what he loved best with his corner of the world.
I will always remember Movalli’s joy that day, and admire the spirit that burned so brightly and, as it turned out, so defiantly in the face of death.
Perhaps 70 years are too few for such a soul. Perhaps. But let us not forget that life itself is a blessing.
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