Thursday, February 03, 2005

She was the only woman to put a museum on Fifth Avenue."

Everyone knows the name Frank Lloyd Wright, probably the 20th century's most famous architect, but most are unfamiliar with the name Hilla Rebay. A non-objective painter of some note, her true legacy lies in her visionary spirit; she was co-founder of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, successor to the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. In Wright's words, "She was the only woman to put a museum on Fifth Avenue."

Born Hildegard Anna Augusta Elizabeth Rebay von Ehrenwiesen to a titled family in Strasbourg, Alsace on May 31, 1890, Rebay began drawing portraits at five, and went on to study in Dusseldorf, Munich, Paris and Rome. She immigrated to the United States in 1927.

"Hilla Rebay-A Baroness in Westport" is the evocative title of the Westport Historical Society's exhibition dedicated to this remarkable woman and is on view from Feb. 6 thru May 15.

Curated by Joyce Thompson and sponsored by David and Joyce Thompson and the Aspetuck Land Trust, it will feature Rebay's paintings and pochoirs (prints reproduced from collages in her Examplaire Portfolio by a special printmaking process), and the artists she fostered and promoted-Vasily Kandinsky, Rudolf Bauer, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Ralph Scarlett, Ilya Bolotowsky, Alexander Calder and Victor Vasarely.

An unusual addition to the exhibition, on loan from Westonite Pat Heifitz, are prints of Wright's plans for turning Rebay's New York City town house into a temporary museum. Wright's idea was to build an annex where the town house stood and later, when the museum was built, incorporate the annex into the final structure. He drew the plans, gave them to Rebay but Guggenheim died before he was able to grant permission for the annex, so it was never built and the plans remained with her.

After Rebay's death at an estate sale held at her Westport home, Heifitz's teen-age son, Peter, excited to own drawings by THE Frank Lloyd Wright, purchased them for 50 cents. The drawings were authenticated by Allen Gelbin, a Westport architect and former student at Taliesin West, Wright's winter home, school, archival center and architectural offices for former Wright students. Copies were given to Taliesin West too, as they were unaware of their existence. The originals are stored in their achives. This is the first time the reproductions of these prints have been exhibited in public.

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