© Ruth Lopez
Sol Lewitt designed the grave marker for Eva Hesse.
I learn this from the long-awaited documentary yesterday. The camera shows the marker — clean (granite?) with names/dates in sans serif. The camera pulls back and we see the minimal tombstone amid a density of ornamented Jewish graves. I was feeling too antsy to stay for the conversation with the producer — the one question I had for her I was certain I could find with a simple online search: What cemetery is Eva Hesse buried in?
The answer hasn't popped up yet, and the search was posed in a variety of ways (I didn't win that award for news research for nothing). It's easy to find a list of all the Jewish cemeteries in and around Manhattan — there are nine minus one; nobody has been buried in First Shearith Israel Graveyard, since 1823. If I must find her, I will.
My niece picks out these rocks from our walk in the garden and offers them to me in a sweet gesture of reciprocity as earlier in my visit I gifted her with a delicate, bone china tea cup and saucer —a two-dollar Haviland Limoges found in the thrift shop in my neighborhood. "Thank you sweetie, I can really use these," I tell her, and I couldn't be more sincere. When I find Eva Hesse's grave, I will leave one for her.
Rose, I thought of Hermann Hesse this morning. How can it be that I can name his books but I can only be sure of having read one of them — Siddhartha. The photograph of my niece's outstretched hand above makes me think of that book, but an image search reveals no book covers with a design of just the buddha's hand. There are covers with different statues, some stone, some metal, some closeup, some of just one carved eye. The first U.S. edition, designed by Alvin Lustig in 1951 is divine — red, white, and pink waves around a black pool close to the shape of an eye. In that black field is the title of the book. It's exquisite. I find a first edition on a rare book dealers website; it is inscribed by Henry Miller to the famous June, "to read in moments of despair" and it is priced at more than seven grand. I think Eva would have loved the cover. This leads me to the work of Lustig and his book covers and furniture. So much to discover here — but let me just say, before I forget, that Hermann was raised a Swabian Pietist, so no tribal relationship to Eva. I became too sidetracked by the book cover and wanting to know about the designer, that I left Hermann, for the time being, in peace.
Here is Lustig's connection to Eva: Josef Albers. At Yale, Albers was one of Eva's professors — Eva was a favorite pupil of Albers but Hesse was frustrated by his limited views. He was firmly fixed in the Bauhaus and Eva was growing up in modernism. A little simple an explanation, but not wrong. Lustig was invited by Albers to teach at Black Mountain College in 1945 and at Yale in 1951. Eva and Alvin didn't cross paths; Lustig died in 1955 and Hesse didn't attend Yale until the late 1950s. He was only 40 when he died, she was only 34.
Here is a link to an informative piece by the prolific writer/designer Steven Heller. It's on a website devoted to Lustig, and I will be heading back there later. One of my favorite museums, the Cooper Hewitt has a wonderful collection of 155 objects including a segment of a 1947 textile design he called Incantation — small, fine black line drawings of his own kind of magic language in a repeating pattern. He used the fabric as floor-to-ceiling drapes in his Los Angeles office. Watch this video of graphic designer Elaine Lustig Cohen, talking about how she met Alvin and her love of ruling pens. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to play with one. Lustig's papers at the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian is another great resource. Thank you Eva for introducing me to Alvin.
P.S. In my electronic mail in box was Maria Popova's Brainpickings newsletter leading with Hermann Hesse on why we read. I have no quip or kicker on synchronicity to put here, but you know how I feel that this all is quite wonderful.