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finding Alice Neel

I KNEW there was a reason it’d be good to keep old address books! Diving into the mountains of dusty papers in my office, I found the box with my old travel notes and address books and began a search. As I’ve written, my parents’ dear friend Alice Neel the painter is having a huge moment in the limelight with a prestigious retrospective at the Met in NYC, and I’ve written an essay about my visit to her in 1980. It bothered me that I couldn’t remember her apartment number and wondered if I’d jotted it down somewhere. And now in my address book from that time, I’ve found both that and her phone number. Hooray!

I just made the mistake of opening two big boxes of my father’s papers and am swamped with admiration for this man. He was a scientist and professor, not a writer, but he never stopped writing – articles, letters to the editor, telegrams of protest, petitions. My mother even kept his City College essays from the early forties. Yet again, overwhelming.

I sent this shot to my kids, saying, Isn’t this what Eli will look like in 10 or 12 years? In some pictures, the resemblance between great-grandfather and one of his great-grandsons is startling. 

Boxes of papers – on top on the right, Dad’s article in Weekend magazine in 1958 about the dangers of nuclear fallout residue in food, with a picture of us eating Strontium 90-laced corn. 

Last week in an attempt to get a handle on all this, I ordered $140 worth of file folders from Staples, rode yesterday to pick them up, and spent the afternoon filling them with letters, which are now better organized. One file, for example, is marked “Mum’s others,” letters from men and one woman who adored her but with whom, I think, she did not have an affair except by mail, like a man named Gene who wrote passionate letters to her in March 1949, five months before she married my father. Interesting. 

At least I now have some idea where things are. Efficient writers must be good at organizing research material. I’m doing my best but feel like I’m floundering most of the time. But there’s so much paper. And that’s not to mention the many boxes of photographs! 

It’s been grey and chilly the last few days but today the sun is out and cheer returns. Must leave behind these dusty piles and refresh my lungs outside. But first, another lovely review to share: Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. I could relate as I worked at an intensive camp for autistic kids in the summer of 1979. Your story really was great and I did not want it to end.

Now that is what a writer with dusty hands is glad to hear. Thank you. 

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2 Responses to “finding Alice Neel”

  1. Theresa says:

    I love Alice Neel's work. Such interesting details in your investigations!

  2. beth says:

    Yes, Theresa, finding her info in my book was exciting. Apartment 3A! I wish I remembered more about our meeting. She was a fierce and powerful soul.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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