The Ferus Years
October 29 —
December 17, 2011
Interview with Sonia Gechtoff
Friday June 2, 2006
Marshall N. Price: Okay, so this is June 2nd, Friday, and I’m here with Sonia Gechtoff, in her apartment, and we’re going to be talking about her time in San Francisco. So, this is a very sensitive microphone so it should pick up.
Sonia Gechtoff: Pick up, pick up. Alright.
MP: So, I mean, I figured we could just sort of improvise, but I have a few questions, and maybe we’ll answer some of them just in the course of talking and maybe, if not, then I’ll come back to them, but I wanted to start in Philadelphia.
SG: Okay, we’re really going back. Okay.
MP: Well, I’m interested I guess really to know about your first art school experience in Philadelphia at the Museum School. Who were your teachers there? What was that like?
SG: Well, when I was there it was still called the School of Industrial Art, which was its first name. By the time I graduated, which was, it should have been ’49, but I took a year off, and came back and finished my last year after that. So I graduated in January of ’50 instead of January of ’49. By the time I did they had changed it to the Philadelphia Museum School. They changed it several times. Now it’s the school, it’s part of that whole complex, it’s a big, you know, school of all the different arts. But then it was called the School of Industrial Art, which primarily was a commercial art school, and the only reason why I went there was that I was offered a scholarship from high school and pretty much guaranteed that I would get it if I didn’t pick Tyler, which is where I wanted to go, because the man who was the head of the art department at the high school where I went hated Boris Lye who ran Tyler at that time. So he said I’m not giving any scholarships to Tyler. So he said forget that, you can go any place else you want to and I’m pretty sure you’ll get a scholarship, you know, if you go. So after discussing it with my mother I said I want to go then to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She said, well fine, but my father had just died a few years before. He was an artist and all his life he’d made his living as an artist. Towards the end it was rough. For a while he did very well. Anyway, I guess she was feeling how tough it had been and she said to me, you can’t get a degree at the Academy, but you can get one at Industrial Art and I said what do I want a degree for? And she said to teach because how else are you going to make a living as an artist? And she said, I don’t want you to have to do something else. You want to be an artist. So she kind of talked me into it. Very unusual for my mother. She never really got in my way or anything like that, but she talked me into it and she regretted it later, as I did, because it was the wrong school for me. I mean, for me, it was a very unhappy experience until the last year. The last year was very good because I had two wonderful teachers. Unfortunately, I cannot remember their last names. One of them was very well known in the Philadelphia area. He was very old at that time. He was a printmaker and he taught printmaking. He was such a dear man and he said to me, don’t listen to what they’re telling you to do. You have a lot of talent, but not in the field that this school’s set up for, so he encouraged me to do – prints. He showed me how to do them. So he was a big help. Then the painting teacher, whose first name was Paul. I’ve been racking my brains for years to remember the last name. I really have to look it up. But he was known as a very fine painter, unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic so he wasn’t there all the time, but when he was there he was wonderful. He also encouraged me, and just pushed at what I was trying to do, which had nothing to do with what was going on in the school. The last year was a good year for me. In retrospect, in spite of the fact that I hated it while I was doing it, there was another course that I was forced to take in order to get this degree, that I got a lot out of, and that was a course in anatomy. Drawing from the skeleton, drawing from the muscular, you know, diagrams and so on. And the reason why that turned out to be so good for me, is it showed me how to use a fine point pencil, which I had not done before. I’d worked entirely differently, you know, sort of sketching with crayons and pencils and so on. More free kind of stroking, and so on. But because you had to draw all those muscles, you know all these things, which you know, I used to hate, but something happened to me. It took a while. It took at least four or five years, as a matter of fact, when I got in to go back to San Francisco and I started doing those drawings like that. I realized that the source of that, to a great extent, not totally, but to great extents, were those anatomy classes. So, I got more out of the school than I thought I was getting. So I had a fondness for it, in spite of the fact that when I got out of there I didn’t. So that was my main art training, aside from the fact that my father started me painting when I was a little kid. You know, he set me up next to him and gave me some paints and stuff to paint on and said go paint. So that really was the beginning of that. Age six. But the school, that was my formal training. When I went out to San Francisco I took one course in lithography with Budd Dixon at the school. I already had the degree, which I made absolutely no use of. It was to teach in the public schools. I taught for six months in the public schools in Philadelphia. I knew that was a horror and not anything I ever wanted to do and I wanted to get the hell out of there anyway, so I saved up some money and went to San Francisco.
See the digital catalog for the full interview...