Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Memories of Irma Stern

Memories Of Irma Stern
                                                   1894 - 1966                                         

This is a story of a time long past, when my world was younger and I had the incredible good luck to meet  the fantastic Irma Stern.  These are some of my memories of that amazing lady.   I do hope that you will travel back in time with me and enjoy the memoir.

For years I have kept the notes which Irma Stern wrote to my mother.   These bits of life from the mid fifties have been sleeping quietly in a drawer waiting for someone to breathe life into them.    A card from Athens describing her love of the city, a note from Munich and a card on which is written ‘in greatfulness (sic) of meeting you, from Irma Stern’.    It is so strange to see that famous signature scrawled at the bottom of a greeting card. 

She and my parents were friends.  As a very young girl, I remember Irma coming to take tea at our home.   My mother always prepared a sumptuous amount of food, including Irma’s favourite pineapple fritters.  My brother and I were banished, but not before we saw Irma take her place at the head of the table.   We watched, fascinated, as she heaved her massive bosom onto the table and set about eating the fritters.

I have a memory of her ensconced in a large chair in our living room.  Somehow whichever chair she occupied would become throne-like.    She had brought a present for my parents, a beautiful vase that she had potted and painted for them.   Now, where to place it to its best advantage ?   She directed operations from her throne, rejecting place after place until she was satisfied.   This was no ordinary vase.  No flowers would ever sully its innards.  It was and still is a perfect piece of her remarkable art.

We visited her at her home.
   I remember sitting at the long refectory table in the dining-room and being absolutely terrified by the African masks arranged on the wall opposite.   On a cold dark day in March this year, I made a pilgrimage back to ‘The Firs’, now the Irma Stern Museum.  I was transported.  The inclement weather contributed to the ‘out of time’ feel of the whole experience.   So much that I remembered and yet so much that was different.  Other souls have dwelt there since those days long ago.  The scary masks no longer adorn the wall in the dining room, but the table remains and so too the ‘thrones’ at either end that she and her friend Dudley occupied. 
She and Dudley adored food and travelled the world in search of art, artefacts and fine food. At home in South Africa they thought nothing of motoring vast distances for a special meal.  On Sundays it was their pleasure to eat at the Lobster Pot, a restaurant many miles from her home.  In stately manner they would make the journey, enjoy a magnificent repast and then drive home to rest and recover from the excesses.    That evening, rested and recovered, they would make the journey again and consume another mammoth meal.   I would hear tell of these gastronomic odysseys followed by expressions of utter amazement at the sheer magnitude of the capacity required for their accomplishment.

She had grand dinner parties. 
Her faithful butler, cook and general factotum, Charlie, would be in attendance.  Charlie, a little gnome of a man, was either from the Congo or Zanzibar.  One memorable evening when my parents were guests at her table, whole pigeon was served.  My mother gazed in horror at the little bird that had been placed in front of her.  Without a word, she turned her chair around and with arms folded in defiance, refused to contemplate eating the pigeon.   Thoroughly irritated by this byplay which momentarily deflected the attention away from her, Irma yelled, ‘Charlie, bring the little doctor an egg.’  And that is what my mother, ‘the little doctor’ ate, an egg.

The Irma Stern
Museum is open from
Tuesday to Saturday from
10am - 5pm
Telephone:  021 685 5686

A Still Life of Dahlias and Fruit (Signed & Dated 1960

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