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Juliet Kepes, Artist

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Juliet's Shadow Caged" by Gyorgy Kepes (1939)

Next to Spectacle Pond at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, there is a pair of modern headstones that I have come to love.

They're separate but equal, Kris likes to say. Together, but distinct. So lovely.

One is stone and one is cedar. Stone is Juliet, cedar is Gyorgy.

Beneath that modest wood post lies what's left of Hungarian born Gyorgy Kepes (1906-2001) founder of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. A prime mover in the Bauhaus movement in Germany, photographer, artist, designer and writer  Gyorgy went on to teach visual design at MIT starting in 1946. He's credited with "erasing the lines between fine art and science." 

A coucal, perhaps, etched on Juliet's stone.

Being a bird artist, I was instantly intrigued by Juliet's stone, and set about finding out more about her. British-born Juliet Appleby (1919-1999) met Gyorgy in London when she was 17 and already working as an artist and illustrator. Gyorgy spotted her on the street, told her he had decided he was going to marry her and asked her out. By the next year, she had joined him in Chicago, where Gyorgy followed his colleague Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to head a curriculum in Light and Color at Moholy's "New Bauhaus" art school in Chicago. Juliet went on to study there while Gyorgy taught. From there, they moved to Cambridge.

Juliet began writing and illustrating children's books, starting with Five Little Monkeys in 1952. Her gorgeous work is reminiscent of Eric Carle's (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Her subject matter was mostly natural history, and she drew a heck of a nice stylized bird. I first noticed the resemblance of her work to Leonard Baskin's. She received a citation from the Society of Illustrators for Frogs Merry in 1961, and three of her other works, including Beasts from a Brush (1955) were nominated for The New York Times' Ten Best Children's Books of the Year.

But enough of my yakkin'. I can only assume that the birds gracing Juliet's beautiful headstone were among her favorite drawings. 

To me, they have the quality of cave drawings--utterly simple but knowing and nonetheless full of information and movement.

An especially sweet reductionist ring-necked pheasant heads up her stone.

I'm moved by beautiful things, by thoughtful monuments, and delving into the lives of one couple interred here at Mt. Auburn helps me realize that this is a vast city of singular people; that beneath every stone is a person and a story, likely to be a gripping one.

My father-in-law's grave in our orchard as yet has nothing on it but young, deer-bitten coneflowers, and a lovely iron bench for sitting and reflecting. Maybe that's enough, right there. And maybe it isn't. If I could put anything there I'd put a stone piano, because jazz was his voice. We'll see.  I think about it a lot, especially when I walk Mt. Auburn's citadel of the beloved and well- remembered.

Weeping angel.

Callas, and a forever arrangement of stone, complete with basket (whaa?) What a weird thing to have to sculpt. It's like finding a bouquet of carnations from Oopsa Daisy in your perennial garden.

Another of Hodge's finds: Cymbal maker Puzant Zildjian! Wow!

And another Armenian, this one with a decidedly bizarre monument. I hear Hodge singing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."


Love, love, love this post. Love how you bring people alive again. And they live twice more - through you and through their rediscovered art.

The Mount Auburn monument that grabs my heart is one for a young boy. A stone dog lies curled atop the grave, forever waiting to hear his young master's voice again.

Stone may be hard, but it's certainly not cold!

My husband and I use this quote from "Broadcast News" often: "I say it here, it comes out there!" Or, in the case of you and your blog, dear JZ, I mention something, just a little nugget, and you, bless your heart, research the bejezus out of it and teach me things I didn't know about the things I told you about. Which is a gift of the highest order. Thank you so very much for making me a better expert on my favorite local haunts.

Next time you're in town, I'll take you on a pilgrimage to the North Cambridge playground that has some more of Juliet Kepes' delightful bird art. I love that it's where my kids spent their day care days, and that I found her years later in the Mt. Auburn cemetery.


Posted by KHMacomber November 20, 2011 at 10:04 AM

Ah, Hodge, you know how much I appreciate your relentless curiosity and prodigious ability to remember what it is you found out about. And we both know how easy it is to research something in this whiz-bang Information Age. Not to do that seems a crime. When I found the photo of Juliet as seen by Gyorgy I knew I had an evening of discovery ahead of me, a happy eddy in life's swift flow. I note upon rereading the post that I failed to properly credit your weeping angel and Zildjian photos.

TR, your profile photo craaacks me up.

Marilyn, the stone dogs get me, too.

I also love to research the heck out of stuff. Drives hubby nuts because I have to report it all to him (nobody else around 'cept the cats and they don't seem very interested.)

I remember seeing Juliet's illustrations, and I thank you so much, Julie, for telling me something about her! I also adore seeing the wonderful tombstones--not only hers and Gyorgy's but all the others photographed and presented here. What an awesome cemetery!!!

I have a copy of Frogs Merry, and I love it. So cheerful, and very froggy. Now every time I read it I will remember her face.

Maybe, for your orchard, a short keyboard made of low bedding plants?

That would be an interesting way to spend a pretty sunny day. While setting up a wedding at a country church we wandered thru the cemetery looking at headstones. None of them as exotic as those but one caught my eye. It said MURDERED. Thats quite enough to get your attention. Seems the death date was around the civil war era and we wondered if that had was the cause.Very shocking tho.


That first photo reminded me of the photos of Georgia O'Keeffe taken by Alfred Stieglitz, or of Frida Khalo. Would have loved to have been around the art "scene" of the 20s and 30s.

You've echoed such a wonderful sentiment in my heart. I love cemeteries and often explore, looking for art and forgotten lives. I decided I wanted an artsy headstone and why not have it made now and place in the yard so I can enjoy it until it's needed? I have yet to convince my beloved who would have to mow around it that it's a great idea.

Posted by Anonymous November 22, 2011 at 1:15 AM
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