oil on canvas, 20" x 30"
Gloria Vanderbilt: Books, fashion and now fine art
By STACEY MORRIS, Special to the Times Union
First published: Saturday, June 30, 2007
Gloria Vanderbilt's one-woman show of recent paintings at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, Vt., is a dream come true.
Many of Vanderbilt's 25 oil paintings are the end result of dreams she recorded in her journal. The paintings are divided into three categories: Three Girls, Figures of Women and Landscapes.
"There were dreams I had about the three girls, and I started painting them in a kind of narrative way," Vanderbilt said in a recent interview.
"I've always paid attention to dreams. I have dream journals going back forever and ever," she said. "My paintings are a way of grounding my dreams into reality."
It's a way that is effective for Southern Vermont Arts Center Executive Director Christopher Madkour. "Her current paintings are a stunning example of her love of bold color and dynamic composition."
It might come as a surprise that one of America's most famous blue bloods spends hours on end in front of a canvas, clad in comfy drawstring pants and a smock, but for years that has been how Vanderbilt chooses to spend her days.
The only child of railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and Gloria Laura Mercedes Morgan, she became heir to the family fortune after her father's death, when she was just more than a year old.
At age 10, she found herself in the center of an acrimonious custody battle between her mother and aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The trial incited a media circus that later became a book and then a television miniseries. Her aunt was awarded custody.
Her young adult life was marked by tumultuous times, including three divorces, but Vanderbilt eventually found happiness when she married writer Wyatt Emery Cooper in 1963. Vanderbilt said the years during which they raised their two sons were some of the happiest of her life. Cooper died in 1978.
Throughout her life, she continued with her art. Her paintings and collages have been exhibited in galleries throughout the United States, including a one-woman show of paintings at Neiman-Marcus stores in Dallas and Houston.
Retrospectives of her work have been exhibited at The Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery in Reading, Pa.; the Fine Arts Museum at Cheekwood in Nashville, Tenn.; the Amarillo Art Center in Amarillo, Texas; and the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art in Monterey, Calif.
Along the way, she experimented in other vocations, including acting, writing (she wrote four memoirs and two novels published by Knopf) and fashion design.
Vanderbilt entered the fashion business in the early '70s when a collection of her paintings was used on scarves for Glentex. And who can forget how she made blue jeans (with her signature and swan logo embroidered on the back pocket) an elegant commodity during the '80s? Though Gloria Vanderbilt jeans are still sold, she long ago gave up creative control of the brand.
"I did commercials (for the jeans) and it was very successful," she said. "But fashion design is a business, not an art. It's not comparable to painting."
Whoever said the litmus test of a true calling is that it doesn't feel like work must have observed Vanderbilt in her studio, a floor below her Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan.
"I can work for six hours and it seems like 10 minutes," said Vanderbilt. "I lose all track of time."
(One thing she does make time for is Anderson Cooper's nightly current events show on CNN -- not just because she enjoys the content, but because Cooper is her son. "I'm glued every single night," she said. "I'm his greatest fan. If I'm going out, I tape it.")
All the time she has devoted to making art has allowed Vanderbilt to contemplate the nature of creativity. "Being creative is so important for one's self-image," she said. "It's the key to renewing and reinventing oneself."
She gave a talk about the creative spirit at the opening of her show and is now hoping to dip back into writing long enough to pen a book on the creative process -- but she's not making any promises.
"I might do it someday. But I'm so obsessed with painting, I just haven't gathered my thoughts."
Stacey Morris is a freelance writer living in Queensbury.
Where: Yester House Gallery, Southern Vermont Arts Center, West Road, Manchester, Vt.
When: Through July 17
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. The gardens and grounds are open to the public at no charge.
Admission (suggested donation): $8 adults, $3 students, free for children younger than 13
Info: (802) 362-2522; http://www.svac.org