At 100, arts patron Selma Hollander gets her own show
With the fuss of turning 100 finally behind her, longtime Lansing arts patron Selma Hollander is getting down to some real business.
“See how I clear stuff? I take it and I throw it on the floor. That’s how I work.”
She sent a knot of plastic hangers, two or three sweaters and stack of newspapers crashing to the floor of her Okemos condo and sat on the newly cleared seat to talk about something she would much rather do than keep a neat house: make art.
“I’m excited about still creating,” she said.
“I’m 100 but my mind hasn’t changed.”
The living room is piled with books, art, award plaques and mementoes of her life with her husband, Stanley Hollander, who died in 2002. Her fabric collages fill the walls.
“I’ve had a charmed life,” she said. The Hollanders were, and Selma still is, among the most visible and tireless arts patrons at MSU and around Lansing. Their names are on endowed chairs, scholarships, galleries and arts programs across MSU and greater Lansing. Hollander still shows up, in her sharp red beret, to almost every concert, play and art exhibit in town.
Last week, however, something else was on her docket.
“An exhibit of my work! It never crossed my mind,” she said. “But I never say no to anything.”
That was her message in her 2012 commencement address at MSU, another first for her, at 95.
“You just don’t close doors. They may open again, but not likely, and that’s the end of it.”
Friends and fellow art patrons Joan and Jerry Mattson got the ball rolling after seeing some of Hollander’s art.
Joan Mattson talked with Barb Whitney, director of the Lansing Art Gallery, about doing an exhibit, and Whitney enthusiastically agreed.
Last week, Hollander’s living room table, sofa and chair were stacked with prints to go through.
Hollander was an art student and instructor at MSU in the 1960s and 1970s and hasn’t stopped making art.
She has settled on about 20 serigraphs, or silk screen prints, to include in the show, most of which date from her student days.
The prints are abstract and don’t have names.
“I could sit and put names on them, but no,” she said. “‘Untitled whatever.’” The prints are as rich as oil paintings, with up to 32 colors in one image. Despite their density, a clear and confident feeling for form keeps them from looking murky.
Each color demands a separate set of steps: masking off the area to be painted, spreading the paint on the screen with a squeegee and cleaning the frame for the next color.
Some prints have the rainbow intensity of stained glass while others are limited to one or two primary colors. One print is gloriously awash in textured bands of bright yellow that sing out like trumpets. Some have contrasting armatures of black ink.
As she rummaged through them, Hollander spotted a yellow splatter of texture on one print. Was she thinking about Jackson Pollock?
“I don’t know what I was thinking of,” she waved off the question.
She is reluctant to sign the prints, but not out of modesty. A signature would commit the art to being hung a certain way. She loves to turn them in every direction.
“Look at it this way,” she said, turning a print 90 degrees. “It looks wider, bigger. It’s got more breath to it.” She laughed at the lapse into art critic talk. “What am I saying, ‘breath?’ I don’t know.”
She pulled out two versions of the same print and laid them out differently.
“Look how much smaller this looks!” she cried in amazement. “I am curious as to how they are going to hang it.”
Hollander’s visual sense came from the word of fabric and fashion, and it still shows in the bold color fields of her prints.
“Since an early age, as soon as I could look at fabric and could feel fabric, that’s where my art started,” she said.
She grew up in Brooklyn and her mother worked uptown, in a small but chic hat store on Fifth Avenue, making Selma’s clothes as well as hats for the shop.
She never doodled or colored as a child and never cared much for copying objects. An MSU teacher gave her a “B” in figure drawing, “but only for effort.”
“You’re a colorist,” the teacher told her. The zone of fashion, where art and life overlap, is still her sweet spot.
“People tell me, ‘Talk about your art,’” she said with a shrug. “Your body is a canvas. Trimming a hat is art. Entertaining, putting food on the plate, everything I’ve done in my life — I can’t say what is art.”
She first studied art at MSU when she and her husband, Stanley, moved here in 1958.
“My inspiration was, I had to do something,” she said.
Her first class was full of “junk little craft projects” that didn’t interest her. She got such a low grade, Stanley told her to be careful or she’d end up “on probation.”
Undaunted, she took a series of studio art classes and started getting 4.0 grades. She ended up with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts, became an art instructor and branched into jewelry, textile art, painting and her most recent passion, collages.
Her latest work, a small and finely wrought black and white collage, is a striking departure from the bold colors and textures of the serigraphs.
The task of gluing it together has her in complete thrall. As soon as she wakes up, before going to the kitchen to make coffee, she starts working at a table near her bed.
(She got tired of visitors picking up unglued collages and scattering the pieces, so she put a worktable in her bedroom.)
“The bedroom is a mess, but I have to show you this,” she said.
Her latest collage is an intricate, industrial-age fantasia of spheres, gears, watch faces, a battleship, a camera lens and dozens of other elements. Its density suggests a cosmic and a miniature scale, all at once.
“I could never do this again,” she said.
“Snips and snips of paper and I’m still gluing it down.”
She’s obviously proud of it, but still can’t bring herself to take any of this too seriously.
“You know what? I’ve convinced myself I’m an artist,” she said, and laughed.