Monday, April 5, 2010

Alice on Ivory

When you visit our museum website ( the first image you see is a lovely painted portrait of Alice T. Miner welcoming you to the site. The original, on loan from Miner Institute, sits on a table in the Parlor here at the museum, and it is truly a lovely image. The portrait was done on ivory by Mira Edgerly Korzybski, a well-known woman artist in her day. Miniature painted portraiture had fallen off in popularity with the rise of photography, but the genre was making a come-back with artists who appreciated the works they were still seeing in Europe.

Alice T. Miner painted portrait by Mira Edgerly, ca. 1915

A largely self-taught artist, Mira Edgerly was born in Illinois in 1879, but grew up in Michigan where her father was an inventor and the director of the Michigan Central Railroad. Her fascination with drawing started when she was quite young, and as a teen she was sent to Europe to study art in England and Paris. Mira later studied at the Art Institute in San Francisco where she met and posed for her friend, photographer Arnold Genthe. John Singer Sargent urged her to pursue her love of portraiture by painting on ivory.

Mira Edgerly Burt (Mr. Burt was her first husband) portrait by Arnold Genthe

Mira Edgerly eventually took the medium one step further by painting on larger pieces of ivory, such as the 4.5"x 10" portrait of our founder, Alice T. Miner. Mira chose more translucent pieces of ivory to give greater luminescence to her colors, ordering the large pieces from London. Her skills were in demand around the world and she painted portraits of socialites, statesman and the upper echelons of American and European society in New York, London, Paris, San Francisco, Chicago, and Latin America.

In 1919 Mira Edgerly married her second husband Alfred Korzybski, a Polish-American philosopher and scientist best known for developing the theory of General Semantics. She led an extremely interesting life! She worked to forward the career of Gertrude Stein, and painted a portrait of Princess Patricia, a grand daughter of Queen Victoria, while in Ottawa. Mira Edgerly is mentioned in the autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933, "Mildred Aldrich once brought a very extraordinary person Myra Edgerly. I remembered very well that when I was quite young and went to a fancy-dress ball, a Mardi Gras ball in San Francisco, I saw a very tall and very beautiful and very brilliant woman there. This was Myra Edgerly young. Genthe, the well known photographer did endless photographs of her, mostly with a cat. She had come to London as a miniaturist and she had one of those phenomenal successes that Americans do have in Europe. She had miniatured everybody, and the royal family, and she had maintained her earnest gay careless outspoken San Francisco way through it all."

An independent and strong character seemed to sustain her and help further her career as well as those of her friends. Today, however, there is not much known about Ms. Korzybski. Her work can be found at The Art Institute in Chicago, and there is a large collection of her personal papers, letters, journals and photographs, along with forty of her ivory portraits at Columbia University in New York City. But if you are in northern New York, you need only travel to The Alice to see an amazing example of her work!

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post, but be careful, Alice B. Toklas did not write THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS, Gertrude Stein did.