May 16, 2016
May 13, 2016
The Undiscovered American Modernist
Exhibition of Paintings by William Sanger
The Tides Institute and Museum of Art, Eastport, Maine
May 13 - June 12, 2016
It is axiomatic in the art world that most painters are ignored during their lives and forgotten after their deaths. William Sanger (1873-1961) fared better than many artists during his life because of his innate talent and after his death because of the notoriety of his wife, Margaret. While living, Sanger had several solo exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s at such galleries as the Touchstone Gallery, the Brown-Robertson Studio, and the Delphic Studio, all in New York City, along with exhibiting in numerous group shows in the city and around the country. His last solo show was in 1931.
Now, 55 years after his death, and 85 years after his last solo exhibition, William Sanger is the subject of a solo exhibition at the Tides Institute and Museum of Art in Eastport, Maine, a town that Sanger visited in the 1920s and the site of some of his most vibrant watercolors, including South End Bridge, now in the Brooklyn Museum, and Unitarian Church, Eastport, Maine, exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1927, its location now unknown.
Several artists trekked to Eastport in the 1920s to paint. It is as far east as one can get in this country. When I was there last weekend dropping off a dozen paintings for the show, my IPhone automatically switched to Canada time. The steep rocky cliffs and swirling surf of the Maine coast downeast were the subject of most of Sanger’s paintings. Sanger also ventured into New Brunswick, Canada to Grand Manan Island, where he painted the Gannet Rock Lighthouse several times, as well as the island’s harbor.
Art historian Alexandra Anderson has contributed a critical essay for the exhibition catalogue, where she cites the influences of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Thomas Hart Benton, Marsden Hartley and John Marin on Sanger’s paintings.
Sanger’s palette consists of aquamarine, deep blue, grey, sharp white and russet earth tones. More than one critic commented that he was a master of leaving white spaces in his scenes. Sanger’s seas are stormy, the skies are dark and threatening, and the rocks unforgiving. There is, as Anderson says, a frenetic feeling and pulsating energy. There is turmoil, foreboding, a sinister feeling.
The influence of El Greco is palpable. Sanger had gone to Spain in 1917 in the middle of the Great War (a not undangerous voyage) to see El Greco’s works first hand. Sanger was a) German-born, b) too old for U.S. military service and c) would have refused to serve as a conscientious objector if drafted.
Sanger visited the 1913 Armory Show multiple times and decided to leave his architecture practice in New York and go to Paris to paint. He spent a year there, returning only when the outbreak of war, and his wife’s arrest in New York for her birth control work, compelled him to return.
It is the incident following Margaret Sanger’s arrest for publishing The Woman Rebel that William Sanger is best known for. Margaret went into exile rather than face trial. Anthony Comstock, the government’s obscenity enforcer (birth control was obscene under the law) entrapped William into handing one of his wife’s pamphlets to an undercover police officer. Comstock offered to drop the charges if he would reveal his wife’s whereabouts. He gallantly refused, even though they were estranged and headed for divorce, went on trial and was sentenced to 30 days in prison after a trial as tumultuous as one of his later paintings of the Maine coast. The trial made headlines, and William Sanger became a hero to all who opposed government censorship of medical information and who supported a woman’s right to choose when and whether to have children.
William Sanger was a radical and revolutionary at heart, a romantic, a fighter for his beliefs, and a political philosopher (he was working on an illustrated biography of Thomas Paine at his death). He fought against injustice and poverty his whole life. He was an angry, agitated man. He endured the worst tragedy a parent can when his and Margaret’s 5-year-old daughter Peggy died of pneumonia shortly after he was released from prison. He never forgave himself.
More than once he painted ships crashing onto rocks. The seas are menacing, reflecting, as his granddaughter Nora Hoppe says, his portentous view of the world. The sense of impending doom and tragedy envelope the viewer, as I think they enveloped William Sanger.
So why was William Sanger forgotten by the art world? Watercolors are undervalued in the art world. Even masters like John Marin are now largely ignored. Marin and Sanger’s styles were overtaken by Abstract Expressionism. But Sanger’s works are too powerful and visceral to be ignored.
As Alexandra Anderson says, he is an undiscovered American Modernist and overdue for rediscovery.
February 01, 2016
January 13, 2016
Same battles rage on 100 years after first U.S. birth control clinic
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Outside the crumbling Brooklyn building where the first U.S. birth control clinic opened 100 years ago, Alexander Sanger reflected on the move that landed his grandmother in jail and fueled a controversy over women's reproductive rights that has raged ever since.
"This is where it all started," said the grandson of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger in his first visit to the Brownsville, Brooklyn, site where she started her clinic in 1916.
"She threw down the gauntlet and said, 'Preventing women from contraception is inhumane,'" said Sanger, 68, chairman of the International Planned Parenthood Council and a former president of Planned Parenthood New York City.
City records show the desolate building with bricked up windows is not abandoned, although it appears unoccupied, a far cry from the busy clinic shown in historic photographs with baby carriages parked out front.
Some of the reproductive rights battles that Margaret Sanger fought a century ago were remarkably similar to the challenges facing Planned Parenthood today, particularly organized religion's objection to sex education, her grandson said.
"There is a direct correlation," he said. "If the hormones are raging among young people and you don't get them preventive information and preventive methods, they are going to get pregnant."
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said the Roman Catholic Church's opposition was rooted in a far deeper philosophical divide.
"It's not just a question of 'Let's teach them sex education so they'll know how to prevent the pregnancy,'" Pavone said. "The fundamental disagreement comes on that basic question of 'What's human sexuality all about?'"
The religious-liberty fight over contraception is back in the U.S. Supreme Court, which will rule by July on whether religious groups deserve a blanket exemption so that they do not have to pay for their employees' contraceptive coverage as mandated under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Abortion is the flashpoint in other conflicts that are vastly and violently different from those Sanger faced before her death in 1966.
Opponents have waged a decades-long string of attacks on abortion providers, the most recent in November when a gunman killed three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. Since 1993, there have been 11 murders and 26 attempted murders due to anti-abortion violence, according to the National Abortion Federation, a group of healthcare providers.
Lawmakers continue to tighten restrictions on abortion, with 288 such limits passed by states since 2011, according to Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that focuses on reproductive health.
The Supreme Court also plans to rule on a Texas law that mandates costly hospital-grade facilities for abortion providers, who say it actually aims to shut clinics and chip away at a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood itself is in the crosshairs, with the Republican-led Congress voting as recently as this week to cut all of its federal funding, although Obama, a Democrat, has vowed to veto the measure when it reaches his desk.
A USA Today poll in December found Americans overwhelmingly oppose cutting off federal funds for Planned Parenthood. Some 59 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats are against the idea.
The controversy was well under way 100 years ago when Sanger and her sister, both trained nurses whose mother died young after giving birth to 11 children, opened the clinic. They fitted women for diaphragms, which were the most effective birth control available at the time but were illegal under the federal Comstock Law against distributing materials that could be used for contraception.
"The women were lined up and demanding access to birth control," her grandson said. "That said it all."
One patient turned out to be an undercover police officer, and nine days after the clinic opened in the low-income Jewish and Italian neighborhood, it was shut down, and Sanger was under arrest.
Margaret Sanger's holy grail was universal access to birth control for women, whose unplanned pregnancies forced them into what she viewed as sexual servitude.
Sanger, who founded organizations that evolved into Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was a driving force in the early 1950s behind the development of the birth control pill, which today is largely credited with allowing women to shape their lives and compete in the workplace with men.
"Birth control has been central not just to women's political, workplace and education opportunities but also to their ability to live," said Carrie Baker, who teaches women's studies at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. "What motivated Margaret Sanger was that women were dying after having so many pregnancies."
Today about half of the 6.6 million pregnancies annually in the United States are unintended, a higher proportion than in Europe, reproductive health experts say.
Teen birth rates in Brownsville, now a mostly black neighborhood that is one of the city's poorest, are among the highest in New York City, and the abortion rate is double the rest of the city, according to the city health department.
"It's still the poorest of the poor who are having more children than they want, who are having children earlier than other women, who are not getting access to preventive methods when they need them - whether it's in Brownsville or Rio de Janeiro," Sanger said. "That same struggle was my grandmother's struggle, and it is mine."
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
Alexander C. Sanger, the grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council.
Mr. Sanger speaks around the country and the world and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.
The new book by Alexander Sanger published by PublicAffairs
Purchase from Amazon.com
Click here for full book information
With reproductive freedom in jeopardy, Alexander Sanger, grandson of renowned family planning advocate Margaret Sanger and a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement, has taken an urgent, fresh look at the pro-choice position—and even the pro-life position—and finds them necessary, but insufficient. In Beyond Choice he offers the first major re-thinking of these positions in thirty years.
“Well researched and readable, Beyond Choice should be required reading for both pro-choice and pro-life supporters.”
—Governor Christine Todd Whitman
» Much more on Beyond Choice, including an excerpt, discussion guides, reviews
Hypatia, Indiana University Press
Tina Morlock, Oklahoma City Pioneer
» Advocate: Abortion does involve morality
Paul Swiech, The Pantagraph
» Planned Parenthood founder: Republican Party is pro-choice
Elaine Hopkins, The Journal Star
» Women's Studies seminar covers controversial topic
Jamie Smith, The Daily Vidette
» Luncheon promotes teen responsibility
Dahlia Weinstein, Rocky Mountain News
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