… about Wojciech Fangor, the Polish painter, who has died at age 92. UD knew him in the 1990’s, when he lived in upstate New York.

The interviewer turned out to be more interested in my describing our collection of Fangor paintings than in my memories of him; but in preparation for the interviewer, UD made some notes about Fangor, which she offers here.

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FANGOR ON THE FARM

Back in the 1970’s, Wojtek Fangor and his wife Magdalena Shummer-Fangor bought an 1887 farmhouse with 105 acres of land in upstate New York, about an hour from Albany. It was a big white rambling house with a very large porch overlooking a pond.

Wojtek, who had been living in New York City, bought the farm and moved there not long after his one man show at the Guggenheim Museum.

My father in law, the architect Jerzy Soltan, was an old friend and artistic collaborator of Fangor’s, and when some acres and a house adjacent to Fangor’s property became available, nothing could be more natural than for Soltan to buy it. So our family now had a house down the lane from Fangor.

This is an area so remote – by American standards – that only in the last ten years or so did our houses have addresses. It’s a very beautiful place, with dairy farms, lakes, and rolling hills. Wild turkeys, eagles, deer, coyote, and bears live in the hills. There are not many people up there. The Catskill mountain range can be seen in the distance.

Fangor was a very big, very masculine man with a low gruff voice – though this gruffness had nothing to do with his personality, which was extremely warm. He was always adopting stray cats, giving them ridiculous names, and treating them like royalty. He called one of them – a black cat – Stalin.

Fangor loved working with his enormous hands. The house had originally been a summer camp, and Fangor first tore down all the little cabins, and then got to work gutting and re-doing all of the rooms in the house. One of the biggest rooms became a studio for his artwork.

In the studio hung enormous paintings in progress – I remember heavily dotted images inspired by the television screen. I remember he also had gymnastic equipment in there – swings you could climb onto, and hang upside down from.

Fangor liked to sculpt the land as much he liked to design artistic canvases. He enlarged the pond in front of the farmhouse and shaped the hills around it.

One warm sunny day he took a bunch of paper towels out to the banks of the pond and twisted them into the form of an enormous rabbit. He had a wonderful sense of the absurd, a wonderful sense of humor. I remember one evening going to Wojtek and Magda’s room to say goodnight, and they were lying together on their bed laughing their heads off at some stupid American beauty contest.

Fangor’s most amazing building achievement was his observatory. This area of New York has true dark skies, with incredible views of planets and stars, and Fangor was fascinated by astronomy. So he simply built himself an observatory and got a telescope and spent many evenings gazing at the galaxies.

Magda, a superb cook, would prepare delicious meals for all of us in her kitchen overlooking their back acres, and after dinner Fangor and other guests at the table (Jerzy Soltan, my husband Karol Soltan, and visiting artists – I remember Jan Lenica, and various American artists who had houses in that area) would walk and talk together along the beautiful lanes around his property.

Fangor’s generosity was immense. I spent ten days alone at our neighboring house one year, reading and writing, and it was an excellent break from my routine. I had no car, however, and was quite isolated. I expected occasional visits from the Fangors and nothing more. But from the moment I arrived they took me into their lives. They brought me along with them on their many trips to country auctions in that area (this is where they found the fantastic old American furniture in the farmhouse), they fed me dinner every night, and they visited constantly to make sure I was okay.

From that time I got a very strong sense that Wojtek and Magda were at that point in their lives living an extremely happy, balanced, and enviable life. They loved each other deeply. Fangor owned so many acres that he was able to think of this portion of the earth as truly his, and he used his skill as an artist and a builder to make the place exactly what he wanted. Magda at this time was working on her own remarkable art, and it was delightful to watch them both, in that beautiful setting, engrossed in their craft and their visions.

Fangor knew what it was like to live in a politically unfree environment; here, he was radically free.

The main problem with life in the hills was the winter. Winters are long and harsh up there, and Fangor had to spend a lot of time chopping wood in order to have enough heat during the very cold days and nights. He shoveled the snow himself. He got too old for these tasks, and I think in general life became too difficult up there for him. He was such a strong man – he planted a long row of evergreens for us, for instance, on the road leading to our house there – but his strength was not as great as it used to be, and the rigors of country life were beginning to get to him.

After the Fangors left, we kept our neighboring house – we still love to go up there – but the feel of this beautiful corner of the world was very different. Less laughter and love.

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4 Responses to “Polish Radio Interviewed UD This Morning…”

  1. dmf Says:

    this is lovely thanks and quite a range of paintings he’d done

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    dmf: You’re welcome.

  3. Van L. Hayhow Says:

    Very nice.

  4. Bill R Says:

    I hope someone writes so well of me someday. It’s a lot to hope for, I know.

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