Artists: Lorser Feitelson (1898 – 1978), Helen Lundeberg (1908 – 1999)
Scope: The catalogues raisonnés will cover each artists’ oeuvre of paintings. The earliest known painting by Feitelson is a self portrait from 1915. He painted until his death in 1978. Lundeberg’s earliest painting was Apple Harvesters from 1930, which she painted as Feitelson’s student. Lundeberg’s last painting, Two Mountains, was painted in 1990.
Objects: Each artist has about 500 objects that will be included in their respective catalogue raisonné. Feitelson produced more work than Lundeberg, but a great deal was lost in a fire in the 1950s.
Organized and Supported by: The Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation and Louis Stern Fine Arts, which represents the Foundation.
Planned format and launch date: Print, 2020. We are still discussing the possibility of an online component.
Key Staff: The visual components of our catalogues raisonnés are due to the work of our designer, Lilla Hangay, and photographer, Gerard Vuilleumier. The project is overseen by Wendy Van Haerlem, the president of the Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation and a former student of Feitelson. Lauren A. Ross is the project manager. Wendy and Lauren’s work is complimented by Tim L. Campbell, database manager and researcher. Jean Patterson will be the copy editor.
Interview with Lauren A. Ross on behalf of the Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation
What are the chronologies of the catalogue raisonné projects for Feitelson and Lundeberg?
The Foundation placed a call for collectors in 2012. At that time we also began amassing data, photographing all work still in the Foundation’s collection, and visiting museums and private collections. I visited the Archives of American Art to view the Feitelson/Lundeberg Papers in 2012 and 2018, and visited the UCLA archives to view the Tobey C. Moss Gallery Records on Feitelson and Lundeberg. These archives have all been instrumental in filling gaps in provenance and locating information on untraced works.
Although the project officially began in 2012, there were many steps taken beforehand that has made our progress possible. An inventory was created by Helen Lundeberg and Wendy Van Haerlem in July 1978 in order to establish fair market value of the artists’ assets at Feitelson’s date of death for IRS purposes. The result of the inventory was organizing the artists’ finances into two trusts and paving the way to legally and financially establish the foundation. While it was never intended as an art-oriented inventory, it has been an irreplaceable resource because it is the only inventory created by one of our artists. It has allowed us to distinguish between titles and nicknames of works, which has been important because some works were exhibited repeatedly under a variety of titles. Also of great value to our project is a dissertation written by Diane Moran in 1979 entitled The Painting of Lorser Feitelson. Moran recorded extensive interviews with Feitelson and took a great deal of notes which have been excellent primary sources for our purposes.
How will the catalogues raisonnés tell the story of how Feitelson and Lundeberg evolved as artists? Absent drawings, will there be anything like juvenilia?
We decided not to include drawings in these volumes because Feitelson was an avid draftsman and felt that including them would prevent us from getting the thing published in a timely fashion. Lundeberg, on the other hand, did fewer drawings, but she did paint some studies for paintings that will be included. We will also include drawings in cases where the final painting has been destroyed, lost, or was not completed. Both artists began painting at fairly young ages, but we don’t have anything from their respective childhoods, unfortunately.
The Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation recognizes the catalogues raisonnés as its “most ambitious project to date.” How does this ring true? Are these defining projects for the Foundation?
The Foundation has offered a variety of programming, scholarships, grants, and publications to promote art in California. However, never before has the Foundation undertaken such a long-range venture, nor employed so many people to complete a project. The initial board of the Foundation is mostly intact and is made up of people who knew Lundeberg and Feitelson. Thus it is a personal goal fo a few members of the board to see this endeavor through. That said, it seems too early to judge if the catalogues raisonnés are the Foundation’s "defining" project. The Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation is established in perpetuity and the best may be yet to come!
What is it like to work on two catalogues raisonnés simultaneously? Do they have parallel timelines to completion?
The catalogues will be published at the same time, but we are a bit further along on Lundeberg’s catalogue raisonné. In the early process of gathering data we were often able to collect information for both artists simultaneously, but we started writing the entries for the Lundeberg catalogue raisonné first. Partially this is due to the simple fact that Lundeberg’s works have distinct titles and she produced fewer paintings. Starting with Lundeberg has helped us iron out some of the issues with our system before diving into the massive number of untitled works by Feitelson.
If everything was going to press tomorrow and the “methods” sections were all that remained, what kind of work would that take?
We wrote a first draft of the methodology section after a CRSA panel at CAA a few years ago, although we are certainly still tweaking it! After hearing about other catalogue raisonné projects it seemed clear that it was important to define our terms early on.
The editors of the Jackson Pollock catalogue raisonné argued that “analysis should precede synthesis.” From the raw data of object entries to interpretative essays, what is your view of the analytical function of catalogues raisonnés?
The Feitelson Lundeberg’s Foundation’s aim is to make the data in the catalogues raisonnés as correct as possible, to the best of our ability. The Foundation intends to be transparent about any uncertainty regarding a work and to discuss our rational for inclusion of such works in the volume. We will not be including essays about the artists in the catalogue raisonné; these were published in 2012 as monographs on the artists. The Foundation feels the catalogues raisonnés will provide raw data from which scholars will be able to form their own conclusions.
Speaking as an independent contractor from a philosophical point of view, it seems to me that the process of choosing what data belongs in the catalogue raisonné inevitably creates synthesis, regardless of best intentions! The work of determining which paintings will be included or where undated paintings will be located within the volume and all sorts of other decisions that go into the catalogue raisonné create a document that is not objective. We are humans, after all. It seems foolish to think that organizing a bunch of data into a giant compendium could possibly result in a document free of bias.
What went into the decision to have the project support collectors in obtaining new photography of their artwork? Has it yielded the desired results?
We have tried our best to have our photographer capture each painting for the catalogue raisonné to maintain consistency between images. For the large part, we’ve been successful. Due to budgetary constraints, we have only been able to photograph works located in California, but lucky for us, the majority of paintings are still in California. We’ve also supported new photography for collectors out of state in the hope that we’ll get better images than the old slides or images we have and that they will update their records.
How does it feel when a missing work reappears?
It’s so satisfying! We just had a painting that was on our “untraced” list reappear last year. We also had a black and white photograph of a very similar work, on which we had no information. Having all the pieces fall into place to create a match is wonderful! Marian Kovinick, the Foundation secretary, keeps tabs on upcoming auctions, which has helped us find some works that were buried in private collections or large corporations. Old sales records have proved to be helpful in some cases, but often following a lead ends by placing the search in the hands of a collection manager. The collections manager at a large corporation corresponded with me for multiple years in an attempt to locate a Feitelson painting. He scoured their archives and warehouses and wrote to executives across their offices on our behalf. Unfortunately, nothing had been found when he retired earlier this year. On the flip side, I was told by a disgruntled employee at a large regional bank to stop writing to her with new information about the painting that is or was supposedly in the collection!
As an artist, what is it like being so involved in the life’s work of these painters while creating your own works of art? Can you trace any sources of inspiration back to your research work?
The main influence of this “day job” on my studio practice is that I often think to myself, “I really should keep an inventory of my work and use archival storage materials.” I know these are good practices, but so many artists, including myself, don’t work in an organized fashion.
In a more personal way, I think working on the catalogues raisonnés has made me consider the way art institutions and movements christen some artists meanwhile so many other artists go unrecognized. I’ve recently made a lot of work about my grandmother, who was a painter. She showed in a few exhibitions, but never became well known. Looking through her oeuvre after she passed away while simultaneously working on Lundeberg and Feitelson’s catalogues has definitely influenced the way I think about the life of an artist, and my own practice. On a formal level, I love the architectural spaces and palette of Lundeberg’s paintings, but I’m not sure where or how that has influenced me (yet).
What place do Feitelson and Lundeberg have in art history? What will it mean for them to have catalogues raisonnés?
I think everyone who has worked on the catalogues raisonnés for Lundeberg and Feitelson believe they are under-recognized artists. A catalogue raisonné is in some respects the ultimate legitimizing publication on an artist, but more importantly, we hope these publications will offer scholars a more comprehensive understanding of our artists’ careers.
What are your recommendations for resources on Feitelson and Lundeberg?
Not to toot our own horn, but the Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation and Louis Stern Fine Arts published monographs on the artists a few years ago which are outstanding resources on the artists and include lots of fun photos. The book on Feitelson is entitled Eternal Recurrence by Diane Moran. Lundeberg’s monograph is written by Suzanne Muchnic and is entitled Poetry Space Silence.
The Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg Papers Collection at the Archives of American Art is largely digitized and accessible to the public via their website: https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/lorser-feitelson-and-helen-lundeberg-papers-7341
The UCLA archives also have a good collection of materials on Feitelson and Lundeberg within the Tobey C. Moss Gallery Papers.
The Foundation’s website provides further resources on the artists. The Foundation is currently in the process of building our own archive of research materials which will include Lundeberg’s sister’s papers and letters from the artists donated by recipients.
To learn more, visit https://www.thefeitelsonlundebergartfoundation.org or contact the Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview conducted by Carl Schmitz, Director of Communications and Publications