Lois Ruskai Melina


1. The Catalog of Unseen Paintings: B.C. Lundegren (1919-2016)

About the Artist

The work of B.C. Lundegren (1919-2016) was discovered after her death and is exhibited here for the first time. Born Bertha Caroline in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Lundegren met her lifelong companion Mary Butterworth when they worked wartime jobs at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron. In 1945, they moved to a ten-acre farm near Middlefield where both remained until their deaths—Butterworth in 2001 and Lundegren in 2016. Lundegren was estranged from her family, and her neighbors in the Amish community where she spent her adult life considered her a recluse. After her death, her great-great-niece Sylvia Schatko learned that Lundegren had made hundreds of drawings and paintings, which were found stored in the attic of her farmhouse. Lundegren is not believed to have had a formal art education, but her work displays an awareness of contemporary painters and evokes the German Expressionists in the distortion of form, use of color, and overriding sense that this artist felt alienated from the world. Lundegren left no journals or letters. Working with forensic art investigators at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Schatko has established an approximate chronology of her great-great-aunt’s work and categorized the oeuvre into four main periods. This exhibit is a sampling of those periods.

Exteriors (approximately 1945-1960)

Lundegren’s post-war years (1945-1960) are characterized by landscapes and exterior scenes, primarily paintings and drawings of her Middlefield farm. The work looks outward; the artist is establishing a sense of place in the world, characterized by careful attention to light and color. But this is not the domestic realism of her contemporary Andrew Wyeth; a closer look reveals a fracture in the bucolic setting, a feeling that something is amiss.

Untitled, n.d., pastel on linen paper

This painting of the artist’s Ohio farmhouse presages Lundegren’s later predilection for distortion of perspective. Notice that the simple white clapboard house appears at first to be the central image, the vanishing point where the tree-lined road and fencerow converge. But this triangulation serves to draw attention to the two goats in a pasture just beyond the house, animals that appear much too large, out of proportion to the house and road, suggesting something awry in this otherwise traditional pastoral.

Interiors (1960-1980)

In her midlife, Lundegren focused on interior scenes, some of them including Mary Butterworth. In these, Butterworth appears as part of a larger domestic scene—a small figure washing dishes in the kitchen or tending the fire in the living room. She is almost always depicted from the rear or on the periphery of the scene. The distortion present in the earlier paintings becomes more provocative in the tighter settings of the interiors—more primal, more jarring.

Untitled, n.d. pen and ink on paper

Lundegren’s continued perversion of domesticity is evident in this drawing of a farmhouse kitchen: broken jars of jam, dirty dishes stacked on the counter, a saucepot on the stove that has run over, some kind of thick soup running down the side of the pot, splattered on the stove. But this is no simple representation of inattention to housekeeping. The kitchen table is off-kilter, as though its legs are uneven. The stove buckles in its center, accounting for the spilled potage. Mary Butterworth, standing in the doorway, appears to be leaning into the doorframe as though trying to keep from falling down. The impression is of upheaval in process, a rift in the earth beneath this galley, the heart of any farmhouse. The most basic efforts at nurturance, of life itself, are turned on end with stark angles and deep shadows. Yet the most potent image in this sketch is that of the goats looking in through the cracked window, significant not only because they are once again depicted much larger than life, but because they are gazing at the chaos with a look of unfettered revulsion.

Woman (1980-2001)

In her later paintings, Lundegren centers Butterworth, emphasizing her over the setting: there is Butterworth in the porch swing, Butterworth peeling apples for a pie, Butterworth in a chair beside the fire, writing in a journal. But these are not portraits of a docile homemaker; nor do they suggest domestic tranquility. Juxtaposed with these soothing settings are images of the archetypal feminine—wild, powerful, lusty. There is boldness in the brush strokes as well as the colors and the subject.

Untitled, n.d. tempura on canvas

Here, Lundegren stations a naked Butterworth in a kitchen chair, a bowl of bread dough in her lap. Butterworth is resting her elbow on the table, her chin in her hand. Through the window behind Butterworth, far in the distance, are two goats, barely visible. There is a sense of fatigue in Butterworth’s posture, but the layers of paint, the presence of the woman on the canvas with her voluptuous breasts, and the ferocity in her eyes suggest that there is much life in this woman, much lust for life, and the tiredness is due to something outside the relationship between the artist and her subject.

Alone (2001-2016)

After Butterworth’s death in 2001, Lundegren stopped working in color, using only pencil, pen and ink, and charcoal. She revisits settings that previously featured Butterworth—the kitchen stove, a chair beside the fireplace, the dining room table. But the symbols of domesticity are gone—there is no fresh laundry, no bread rising, no blaze in the hearth. A few sketches are self-portraits, Lundegren positioning herself in scenes familiar from previous paintings of Butterworth. But the fire present in the paintings of Butterworth is missing in these drawings, along with her voluptuous breasts.

Untitled, n.d. charcoal on paper

This charcoal drawing depicts Lundegren seated on a porch swing that is cavernous in size compared to the figure seated there, hands folded in her lap. There is too much space around her. At her feet, lying on the wooden floor of the porch, asleep, is a single, diminutive goat.

2. Art Seen: A Podcast with Allison Mann-Godfrey

AM:    Hello, and welcome to “Art Seen.” My guest is Sylvia Schatko, whose new work, The Catalog of Unseen Paintings: B.C. Lundegren (1919-2016) opened last week at The Whorfield Gallery. Welcome, Sylvia.

SS:      It’s great to be here, Allison.

AM:    This exhibit is arranged like a traditional art show, except that the artwork itself—the paintings and drawings described—is not present. It has been called a visual essay, art criticism, a performance—and a joke. How do you characterize it?

SS:      That’s a question I don’t think I have an answer to. Sometimes I think of it as a kind of poem, but I don’t consider myself a poet, so I would likely offend actual poets with that idea.

AM:    A poem? Why a poem?

SS:      See, if you ask why I think it’s a poem, it’s probably not a poem.

AM:    There was a play on Broadway about twenty years ago in which one of the characters buys a large canvas that is entirely white, and he and the other characters discuss this purported piece of art that is white-on-white without any other shape, color, or other elements of a painting. Does your work, by claiming to be an exhibit of paintings, none of which are actually shown, make fun of art-goers in a kind of  “Emperor’s New Clothes” way?

SS: I certainly have more respect for the audience than to think anyone would go to this exhibit and pretend that they see art on the walls that clearly isn’t there.

AM:    But you do ask people to visualize the paintings.

SS:      I don’t ask them to do that because I don’t have to. It’s a very human reaction to create a visual image out of whatever we’re given—in this case, descriptive words and phrases. I learned that one of the art instructors at the community college, I think, had their students all draw one of Lundegren’s works based on the material at the exhibit, and as you might expect, they were all quite different.

AM:    As an exercise for an art class, I can see that would be interesting, but you aren’t simply saying that the mind creates images and that these differ based on our individual biases and projections, are you?

SS:      No. Not at all. I’m more interested in the feelings that come up when a work of art is absent or missing. What do you experience when you go to MOMA and find that Monet’s “Water Lilies” is on loan and all that’s there is a vacant wall with a description of the painting?

AM:    And aren’t you also pointing to the idea that there is a multitude of art that is created that we never know about because the photographer or the artist or the writer never released the work or never sold any work? Harper Lee, Vivien Maier, Emily Dickinson come to mind. Was there a particular incident or artist who inspired this exhibit?

SS:      I think when work like that is discovered, the attitude is often, “What a shame that the photographer didn’t live to see the response to their work,” or “Aren’t we lucky to have found this work.” That suggests an ethical obligation to an artist—to see and appreciate their work. In this exhibit, I also raise a question about the ethical responsibility we have to artists who made a conscious choice to not display or publish their work. How much do artists expose themselves through their art, and can anyone but the artist make the choice for their work to become public? I want the audience to stop for a moment and ask how Lundegren would feel, how her lover Mary Butterworth, who is the subject of some of the work, would feel, knowing that their relationship, which they kept hidden, is on display.

AM:    We should explain, again for those who are unfamiliar with the exhibit, that the premise is that someone finds her relative’s artwork after her death. The artist, B.C. Lundegren, is a recluse, she’s . . . 

SS:      She’s gay and closeted. Estranged from her family.

AM:    There is such authenticity in the exhibit that people stand in the gallery and search with their phones, trying to find “B.C. Lundegren.” But this is your creation—your exhibit, your work of art, and I’m curious—why then did you invent an artist and an entire life for her, but choose to use your name as the name of the great-great-niece—why not make her fictional as well?

SS:      I’m interested in viewers asking themselves what they would have done, so I needed to identify with the choice to expose her.

AM:    Wouldn’t the ethics of exposure have been more evident if you’d included actual paintings in the exhibit?

SS:      I’m not a painter, so there’s that. But I expose Lundegren in the worst possible way, not through her actual work, but through the interpretation of her work without any way to evaluate that interpretation. Lundegren is truly a blank canvas. Her only legacy is her art. The absence of the art heightens the point that the interpretation is just that—an interpretation infused with the projections and biases of the curator. And the audience goes along with it, creating a painting or a drawing in their mind’s eye that they believe is what Lundegren painted or drew based on the interpretation provided. And from that, they believe they know her intimately. How often do we do this, not just with artists or celebrities, but with anyone? We all long to be seen. But we’re all afraid to be seen because we know that the more we expose ourselves, the more we risk being misinterpreted.

AM:    You speak of her as though she’s real.

SS:      She’s real to me.

AM:    Did you consider using an actual unknown artist?

SS:      That would have required getting permission, which would not have raised the ethical dilemma.

AM:    We’ve all heard the classic philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It seems like you’re asking: If an artist creates a work and no one sees it, does it exist in the world?

SS:      No! I’m asking: “Does it make a sound?”

3. Goat Imagery in The Catalog of Unseen Paintings: B.C. Lundegren (1919-2016)

Trina Jepson-Finch, Inland Northwest College of the Arts

International Colloquium of the Humanities

Plenary Session 34: Animal Symbolism in Contemporary Art

Goats were among the first animals to be domesticated, some 10,000 years ago[1]. They appeared in the cave paintings of the Mediterranean region of 4000 B.C. and in Egyptian paintings dating from the 12th century B.C. Many classical works of art, such as Louis Gauffier’s 1787 painting, Jacob with the Daughters of Laban, include goats as key elements of pastoral settings[2]. Paul Gaughin also included goats in tranquil scenes, such as Comings and Goings, Martinique.

However, the goat also is associated with wildness and sexual excess[3]. In Greek mythology, the lascivious god Pan has the horns, hindquarters, and legs of a goat. Picasso used the goat to represent sex and lust in his paintings Girl with a Goat and La Joie de Vivris[4].

But goats have also been used for sacrifice in a variety of religious traditions. Picasso drew on that practice in his pencil drawing Femme Sacrifiant une Chèvre, which depicts a violent scene of goat slaughter by a woman. Macías Villalobos and Macías Fuentes (2017) put this drawing into the context of Picasso’s life at the time he created it, noting that his marriage and his relationship with one mistress were faltering due to his pursuit of another lover and muse. They conclude: “If the goat is a representation of an overwhelming eroticism and sexuality, it has been apparently slaughtered by the female”[5].

The term scapegoat, which means blaming an innocent person for the wrongdoings of others, is derived from the ancient practice of burdening a goat with the sins of the community and driving it away as a means of expunging guilt.

In Edward Albee’s play The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?[6], 50-year-old Martin reveals to his wife and his best friend that he is in love with Sylvia, a goat, and is having a sexual relationship with her. Martin’s teenage son has recently come out as gay. At the end, Martin’s wife kills Sylvia, recreating the slaughter of desire depicted in Picasso’s Femme Sacrifiant une Chèvre.

Albee wants to ask the audience to explore circumstances out of their comfort zone[7]; circumstances that they find “intolerable and insufferable . . .  and to think freshly and newly” about them[8]. Against the taboo of bestiality—and a brief suggestion of incest—the homosexuality of Martin’s son becomes acceptable, normal[9].

With this artistic and historic backdrop, Sylvia Schatko imagined paintings and drawings of a fictional artist, B.C. Lundegren, whom we know only through the descriptions of her unseen art. She is said to have painted exteriors and interiors of the farm she shared with her long-time lover, Mary Butterworth, in the second half of the twentieth century. Butterworth appears in some of the artwork. Lundegren’s works following Butterworth’s death are entirely self-portraits. All of the descriptions of the art mention the presence of goats. The “unseen paintings” in this exhibit are scenes of disrupted domesticity and forbidden sexuality. The goats, however, are symbols of neither.

If Albee used the goat to represent the most unimaginable object of love, Lundegren flips this and other symbolic meanings of the goat. Rather than represent the forbidden and hidden sexuality of Lundegren and Butterworth, the goats appear to be stand-ins for society. Rather than being scapegoats, they stand in judgment. In this way, they function as a kind of Greek chorus. Indeed, our word tragedy comes from the Greek for “goat-song,” i.e., the cry of the goat, because the scream of a goat is haunting and intense,[10] as though it is being tortured. Many think these vocalizations sound remarkably human.

Initially, the goats in Lundegren’s work loom large, even though they observe from afar. They become intrusive before retreating and, ultimately, become—after the death of Butterworth—a small, peaceful element in the scene. We are left to wonder whether this is how Lundegren experienced the world or whether she internalized these judgments; whether spilled soup and off-kilter tables are how she imagined others would see the relationship between Butterworth and her if it were exposed, or whether she was unable to wall off society’s intolerance no matter how reclusive she became. If so, it is this external judgment—not the two women’s sexuality—that is “amiss” and causes the destabilization of the domesticity depicted in Lundegren’s work.

Of course, as there is no Lundegren, we must also consider what Schatko’s purpose is. Robinson said that in The Goat, Albee is not simply making a case for tolerance[11]. Martin and his wife are an affluent couple, and Martin has just won a prestigious award in his field. His affair with Sylvia the goat is not simply a “domestic crisis that can be cordoned off and concealed from the world.”[12] Robinson maintains that Albee is saying “what is private about our lives only comes to have meaning as we enter the public sphere and this public sphere enters us.”[13] Schatko not only creates an unknown artist whose work is discovered after her death, she cordons off and conceals Lundegren’s paintings from the audience, thereby emphasizing that the private becomes political only when we reveal our vulnerabilities.

4. Suit against artist Sylvia Schatko alleges invasion of privacy

(AP)—The estate of Mary Butterworth has filed suit against the artist Sylvia Schatko, alleging her exhibit The Catalog of Unseen Paintings: B.C. Lundegren (1919-2016) is based on artwork that Schatko was not authorized to use. Schatko’s critically acclaimed exhibit opened a year ago in the Northwest and has since been displayed in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. In each of these cities, lines of people waiting to see the exhibit have stretched around city blocks.

The suit alleges that Schatko sought permission from Butterworth’s estate to display the art of Schatko’s great-great-aunt, Bertha Greenland. Greenland died in 2016 and left her farm and her artwork to the estate of Mary Butterworth, her longtime partner who died in 2001. The suit maintains that Greenland stipulated that her work was not to be displayed in public, even after her death.

Ellen Edwards, Butterworth’s distant cousin and a spokesperson for the estate, said she was approached by Schatko after Greenland’s death, asking to see paintings and drawings that Schatko said had been the subject of rumors among family members for years. Edwards said she complied with the request out of respect, but that when Schatko later wanted to exhibit the artwork, Edwards refused, citing Greenland’s explicit directive that the work remain private.

“The drawings and paintings are quite good,” Edwards said, “but Bertha Greenland suffered, as many artists do, from the notion that her work was mediocre. She thought it would be ridiculed for its emotional intensity as well as for its focus on their home life.” In addition, the suit alleges, both Greenland and Butterworth feared having their personal relationship exposed.

The suit uses entries from Butterworth’s journals to document these fears as well as Greenland’s desire that the work not be made public. In one entry, Butterworth describes her partner’s lack of confidence as an artist:

Bertie finished the painting of me with the bread dough. She thinks it’s no good. I think it’s wonderful and told her so. She said I was just being nice. She said she makes a lot of mistakes with the sizes of things and that if it hadn’t been for the war, she could’ve studied art like she planned. I told her I liked the way she painted—the way things seemed to be chaotic, the way the goats sometimes look too big.

Another entry illustrates the couple’s anxiety that their relationship might be uncovered:

Yesterday Bertie was giving me a hug in the kitchen. We heard a noise and when I opened the back door, I saw that the boy from the General Store had left the groceries on the stoop. This morning, when I went to the barn to gather eggs, I found one of the chickens dead and eggs smashed all over the pens. Bertie said she heard me screaming way up at the house—said I sounded just like one of the goats. I told Bertie we have to be more careful. She said it was probably a coyote and she’ll do whatever she goddamn pleases in her own house. But when I went to the road to get the mail, she said she wanted to come with me. I know it wasn’t a coyote. She never gets the mail.

The suit alleges that while Butterworth intended to honor Greenland’s request that her work not be displayed:

I told Bertie that the paintings show what it’s like to be us—to love each other and to be afraid to show that to others. I told her she could be like Emily Dickinson—nobody knew about her poems until after she died and now people think she’s a great poet. She made me promise to never show her work to anybody. I thought that was silly—I mean, once we’re dead, nobody can hurt us anymore. But I promised.

Reached for comment, Schatko said she took care to protect Greenland and Butterworth, and that it is Edwards who is responsible for revealing Greenland’s existence as well as her relationship with Butterworth. “No one would have known that I had an aunt who made art or lived with a woman if Edwards had not brought this suit,” she said. She added that she fears Edwards wants to capitalize on the success of the Catalog of Unseen Paintings exhibit to create a market for Greenland’s works. “I worry that she plans to profit from the paintings in defiance of my aunt’s explicit instructions,” Schatko said.

“I don’t deny that I was inspired by my aunt’s work, but my exhibit, when taken as a whole, is a piece of art that emerged entirely from my own creative process,” Schatko said, arguing that she has done nothing different than writers who fictionalize events and people in their lives. Schatko added: “My great-great-aunt lived at a time when she was not allowed to be who she was, and as much as I would like the world to see her remarkable art, I would never add to the harm that that society and her family did to her by violating her request to keep her art private. But to censor me—to deny me the opportunity to display my own art—that’s also a form of silencing.”

[1] Zeder, Melinda A., and Brian Hesse. “The initial domestication of goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros Mountains 10,000 years ago.” Science 287.5461 (2000): 2254-2257.

[2] Jones, Jonathan. “Bleating innocents or matted satans: The goat in art. The Guardian Weekly. London, 4 November 2009.

[3] Jones, 2009 

[4] Macías Villalobos, Cristóbal, and Delia Macías Fuentes. “Symbolism of the Goat and Its Presence in Picasso’s Work.” Arts. Vol. 6. No. 2. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 2017.

[5] Macías Villalobos and Macías Fuentes, 2017, p. 15.

[6] Albee, Edward. The Goat or Who is Sylvia? New York: Overlook, 2000.

[7] Albee, Edward. Stretching My Mind. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005.

[8] Albee, Edward, Bill Pullman, and Mercedes Ruehl. “Episode 20.” Interview by Charlie Rose. Dir. Mike Jay. Thirteen WNET. New York: 31 May 2002.

[9] Gainor, J. Ellen. “Albee’s The Goat: Rethinking tragedy for the 21st century.” Ed. Stephen Bottoms. The Cambridge Companion to Edward Albee. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2006.

[10] Kessler, Brad. Goat Song: A seasonal life, a short history of herding, and the art of making cheese. Simon and Schuster, 2009.

[11] Robinson, Michelle. “Impossible Representation: Edward Albee and the End of Liberal Tragedy.” Modern Drama 54.1 (Spring 2011): 62-77.

[12] Robinson, 2011, p. 65.

[13] Robinson, 2011, p. 65.

This story previously appeared in The Chattahoochee Review.