Monday, May 30, 2016

Fechin, Bongart, Reese and The Link

There is a Link.....
.....that ties all these books (and more) together.  That joining began long ago in New Mexico when Mary Balcomb began volunteering to teach art to elementary students.  Mary's real job was as a very successful architect and designer who wanted to spend time giving back to the residents of Albuquerque.

In one of the classes a young student walked in to show Mary a portfolio of drawings done by her grandfather.  The drawings, which were kind of thrown into and sometimes falling out of a folder, took Mary's breath away.  A Chicago trained art student herself, she knew that what she was looking at represented genius.

I don't recall how long it took her to get to know the family of Nicholai Fechin, how much time was spent doing the research and gathering of materials or the extraordinary amount of time it took to find a publisher, put together a paste up demo, or how she got funding.  She was, after all, working and raising a family with her husband Robert 'Sam' Balcomb (a prominent photographer whom I have featured in another post).  Internet and email was still way in the future.  Everything had to be done with a stamp but the book was published and we all benefitted.

I first met Mary and Sam soon after she published her second book on another prominent artist, William F. Reese.  Years later, I would stop by their house where we would sit in their garden gazebo with a glass of wine and talk of the complexities of her book about Sergei Bongart.  These were enjoyable times with two remarkable people who, for some reason, accepted me as a friend.

The books above represent just a small portion of Mary's literary and artistic output.   She continued with her architectural design work, her oil and watercolor paintings, countless etchings and the creative talent it takes to raise two exceptional kids.

A wall of our home is full of etchings by Mary and Wm F. Reese.  At the center of them all is this exquisite piece about sunflowers shown as they approach Autumn.  Here are some others:

Mary taught me how to etch in one feverish weekend, but she remained the master.  Both she and Sam have always been generous to other artists.  Sam, an engineer, photographer and actor (although I should reverse that order) was always willing to model for Mary and her likeness of him is spot on.

As artists, I think we all owe Mary Balcomb a debt of gratitude for preserving the legacy of these other artists who would have been dusted over, their history, impact and imagery being lost to time and lack of attention.  Instead, they remain vibrant artists for all of us to study, enjoy and steal from like crazy.

Finally,  just so you know the power of her devotion to art, Mary did much of the work during the last decade of her life in constant pain.  The Bongart book, very lovingly done, was completed only through sheer grit and determination, somehow overcoming physical difficulties with the strength of her artistic spirit.   She continually did what she did to help others and for the love of her craft.

Thank you Mary.

PS.  Mary and Sam still had the original mockup of the Fechin book in their possession up until the time they sent it to the Cowboy Hall of Fame where there is a major installation of his work.  Before it got mailed off they allowed me to snap some photos of things that didn't get into the final book, including the small photos he used as sources for his drawings and paintings.  I have a few of those pics in a post HERE.

PPS.  Sam and I still go to lunch occasionally.  How lucky am I?


  1. Very nice article. Mary was my mother's cousin. I have several of her works.

  2. Very nice article. Mary was my mother's cousin. I have several of her works.


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