Muse and Mentor, Marianne Kehrli, Artist, Northampton MA

Muse and Mentor, Marianne Kehrli, Artist, Northampton MA

Marianne Kehrli by Holly Alderman

A former day student from South Hadley, Holly Alderman is an artist across the digital divide. In her Jaffrey, NH studio, she develops innovative decorative arts to be custom printed for designers from DC to Palm Beach to Bangkok. As an example, her new edition of antique Parisian scenic wallpaper, Views of Antiquity, was originally hand printed with thousands of wood blocks in 1815; now the panoramas are printed digitally in Philadelphia for installation this spring in a Hilton-affiliated hotel lobby in Istanbul, down a narrow cobbled street from the Topkapi Museum.

My main hero in high school was Mrs. Kehrli – in art.  She was a petite très chic Parisian artist with distinctive jeweled glasses, who taught us art history with University Prints just like the college classes, and practical art, painting, and some crafts.  The art studio was a long, long room in the basement of Hathaway, the corner house and residence for seniors.  The studio was accessible by a terrace door to the basement.  I still have a Freshman watercolor of the view framed, upstairs. My first painting in "practical art" --

Holly Alderman watercolor , view of Mount Tom from the art studio terrace in Northampton, 1967

Alderman, watercolor, art studio terrace view of Mt. Tom, Northampton, 1964

 

Mrs. Kehrli was from Bern, Switzerland, had studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and Moore College of Art, had designed costumes for the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. She KNEW everything about style and art from Paris. She was single but I believe not divorced, had married a Swiss aristocrat whose fleet of transatlantic freighters was sunk by the Germans, a distinguished gentleman whom I saw once, on a rare visit, in formal attire walking with a cane with a silver handle . . . handsome.  She pronounced pizza “piz-za” . . . not peetsa. Her feet were about size 4 and she had extreme high fashion French shoes.  One of her formal, elegant suits for celebratory events was trimmed with real leopard on collar, cuffs, and pockets.  She was, in a certain way, a Northampton version of Chanel. Her daughter was the subject of a beautiful painting in progress in the studio.  Her daughter’s husband was president of Rotary in France.  She was from an extremely wealthy family. My parents greatly enjoyed her wit on several day trips to Boston.

Holly Alderman artist on the art studio terrace at Northampton 1967
      Holly Alderman, drawing on art studio terrace, Northampton, 1967

Her hand painted hand-carved woodcuts impressed everyone as very beautiful.  She assigned us to carve woodcuts and we carved wooden bookends and other items with tiny scoops and chisels.  Several other students and I carved for her the drawer fronts of a 3-foot high 6-drawer chest which she painted in black lacquer with delicate gold Chinoiserie scenes and red accents.

Hand painted woodcut by Marianne Kehrli, bought c 1965

    Mother and Child, Marianne Kehrli, hand painted woodcut, Japonism c 1965

I wonder if without Mrs. Kehrli and her Parisian aesthetic and beau monde  background, and her fine art of printing with carved wood blocks, I would never have had the artist eye to imagine “preserving” and “capturing” deteriorating French woodcut wallpapers, at a friend’s estate, in digital scans for new editions.

In later years she moved to Abbot Academy, where I visited her a few times, and then went back to live near or with her daughter in France.  Student lore – very sweet, very popular.  She always kept a dime in her desk drawer in case there was an emergency; if a student needed help, she could make a call on the pay phone.  Once someone did cut herself with an X-Acto blade – not too seriously – and instantly used the dime.  She lectured slowly so we could write everything down.  Her tests were so specific that if one memorized the lecture, one had the perfect answer.  She loved and lived color theory, and annotations of art history prints. The studio was an inspired, creative place with art all over the walls.  Students drew with all the chiaroscuro pencils, and crow quill pens, and painted faux fur on fashion drawings.

She was a Parisian artist, an AMAZING artist whose mother had been a wonderful artist and fine china painter. Her work is in several museums including the Springfield Museum – so I have heard; I have not investigated. Mrs. Kehrli’s “Japonism” with cherry blossoms, one of her hand painted woodcuts 23″w x 32″h, which I bought for $10 at the NSFG Bazaar, probably in 1966.  

Mrs Kehrli appointed me an Assistant Art Teacher at 16, my senior year and I helped teach freshmen. She said, “Put it on your resume so you can get a job teaching art.”  First job after college, Assistant Art Teacher at Buckingham Lower School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A former day student from South Hadley, Holly Alderman is an artist across the digital divide. In her Jaffrey, NH studio, she develops innovative decorative arts to be custom printed for designers from DC to Palm Beach to Bangkok. As an example, her new edition of antique Parisian scenic wallpaper, Views of Antiquity, was originally hand printed with thousands of wood blocks in 1815; now the panoramas are printed digitally in Philadelphia for installation this spring in a Hilton-affiliated hotel lobby in Istanbul, down a narrow cobbled street from the Topkapi Museum.

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