‘Dahlov Ipcar: Blue Moons
and Menageries’ includes
works never show in Maine

LEWISTON — Once in a blue moon you see an exhibit that is spectacular; “Dahlov Ipcar: Blue Moons and Menageries” is that exhibit.

New works that have not been seen in Maine along with old favorites are on view in this exciting show at the Bates College Museum of Art, through Oct. 6.  The exhibit was organized by Bates alumna Rachel Walls of Rachel Walls Art of Cape Elizabeth, and the Bates College Museum of Art which is located in the Olin Arts Center on the campus.

The title of the exhibit comes from a series of paintings titled “Blue Moon” which Ipcar painted from 1990 to 2014. The color blue permeates this series of seven paintings which feature the intricate and fascinating shapes and forms characteristic of her style.

The colloquial  use of “blue moon”  refers to a lunar event when there is a fourth full moon in a three-month period, an event which, according to Wikipedia,  occurs about every 2.7 years. Over the years, the phrase “once in a blue moon,” came to refer to something that was a rare event.

This “Blue Moon” exhibit at Bates is rare. It includes 113 works by Ipcar and is hung beautifully. Located on two floors of the gallery, each work has a place to breathe and the public gets a chance to reflect on its beauty.

“Blue Moon Dance,” an oil on linen created in 2014 shows a stark blue moon with subtle yellow beams emerging from its edges. Zebras, giraffes, leopards and imaginary animals dance in space. This work was the seventh in a series with the theme of blue moon hung in the exhibit. It is the last work Ipcar did on this theme before her eyesight began to fail. She had macular degeneration, yet she could still see color, broad lines and shadows.

Ipcar’s failing eyesight did not keep the artist from engaging in one of her favorite pursuits, playing chess. Considered a master chess player, she played chess the month before she passed away in February of 2017. “My mother played chess with two young neighborhood boys for many years, from the summer of 2009 to the winter of 2017,” her son Charlie Ipcar said in an interview.  “Her eyesight was failing but they helped her place images on the chess board. She had a photographic memory and was able to remember where certain chess pieces were,” Charlie Ipcar said.

Many works in the exhibit at Bates were painted around the theme of “chess.” One outstanding work in the show is titled “Chess-Scape,” an oil on linen created in 1969 which became a cover for the Ipcar’s young-adult novel, “Warlock of Night.” The artist wrote and illustrated over 40 children’s books and a wonderful display of some of her children’s books is included in the exhibit.

A unique work on the first floor, an oil painting of a white dog titled “The Guardian,” created in 1937, was part of the first youth exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York  in 1939. That exhibit, featuring Ipcar’s work from ages 4 to 21, was the first MOMA exhibit of artwork by a child.

“It changed the way art education was handled in museums,” curator Walls explained. “Children were encouraged to create and participate in museum life in an interactive manner rather than stand aside and look-but-do-not-touch, a previous museum philosophy,” the expert on Ipcar’s work, explained in a lecture at the museum.

“Dahlov painted her life in her paintings. The public can see that in many of her paintings of farm life — horses, cows, farm animals, cats dogs, and birds. She loved all animals including exotic animals which she studied in “National Geographic” periodicals …”  Zebras, giraffes, lions, kudus and leopards, are found in her major works, Walls said.

Two outstanding major works in the second floor gallery which have not been seen by the public are on loan from members of the Ipcar family. One work is a two- panel piece titled “The Walloping Window Blind,” an oil on board, created in 1938. It was based on a poem and later found in a folk song “Ten Thousand Miles Away.” Another unusual work which has not been seen in Maine is titled “Froggy Went a Courting,” a three-panel piece created in 1939. Ipcar loved folksongs and actually collected them.

A small, but unique work in the second floor gallery is a woodcut on Japanese paper titled, “Zebra and her Foal.” It is a tight design of a Zebra and baby. While the motif was done in 1969 and print in 1970, it could be an example of today’s contemporary art. It is a significant work because of its strong, intricate design, and the foreground later became her logo on her stationary, on her mailed packages, as well as on the back of her paintings with a tag identifying each work. Displayed beneath this work is the original carved block from which the woodcut design was created — something that is not usually shown in a museum exhibit. Many times the actual woodblock of a print is destroyed. The print from which it comes is considered the art, signed and numbered.

Old favorites can be seen in the exhibit such as: “Golden Jungle,” a needlepoint tapestry (1982),”Garden of Eden” a cloth collage (1961), “Embarkation” an oil on linen (1971), and “Harlequin Jungle” an oil on linen (1972). These works are her masterpieces.

This exhibit unites all the major works that Dahlov Ipcar created and includes many surprises of her early work. It includes all the mediums she worked in, oil, watercolor, woodcuts, pencil drawings, cloth sculptures, needlepoint tapestry and children’s books.

Dahlov Ipcar was born in 1917 in Vermont and lived in New York as a child with her parents William Zorach, a famous sculptor and Marguerite Thompson Zorach, who was known for her tapestries. She came to Maine during summers throughout her childhood. She decided to make her home in Maine with her husband, Adolph, in the late 1930s, remaining here during her lifetime of 99 years. She brought up her sons, Charlie and Bob, in Maine in her white farmhouse on the top of a hill on beautiful Georgetown Island. She called her home “Robinhood Farm,” it was there that she passed away, on Feb. 10, 2017, at the age of 99.

Maine will always miss her, but Dahlov Ipcar remains alive in her works in this magnificent exhibit. It is worth many visits during the summer to be able to absorb it all. Enjoy, enjoy and bring the whole family.

Put Friday, Sept. 7 on your calendar for a panel discussion in the museum on Ipcar from dignitaries in the art world.

Visitors peruse “Dahlov Ipcar: Blue Moons and Menageries” exhibit on display at Bates College Museum of Art through Oct. 6. 

The Bates College Museum of Art summer hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the academic year, Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. There is no admission charge.