NIGHTLINE visits Sabin Howard’s studio

NIGHTLINE visits Sabin Howard’s studio

NIGHTLINE visits Sabin Howard's studio
NIGHTLINE visits Sabin Howard’s studio
The thing about being married to an artist is, you never know who will show up for dinner. Successful artists like Sabin enjoy a kind of classlessness. They move freely among all circles. This is one the great qualities of art: it is an equal-opportunity-uplifter. It speaks to the essence of humanity, not only to wealth or status or education or privilege.
So we have broken bread with billionaires and underwear models, celebrities and professors, critics and pundits and astrologers and engineers and retauranteurs and musicians and struggling actors and dancers, along with a host of “regular” people, each of whom has a story that enriches my writing. It’s a gift to be exposed to this fascinating variety of folks.
Sabin’s model for the head of the APOLLO is a young man named Marc, a good-looking Greek/Italian mix with a killer body, a gifted poet and passionate liver-of-life. Marc had a run through some difficult times. He emerged thanks to his Christian faith, and he joined a Christian dating service, hoping to find a lady love who shared his values. NIGHTLINE examined these niche dating services and profiled Marc on a date. Marc took the young lady to Sabin’s studio. Sabin is simply called “a sculptor”–as if he wasn’t THE sculptor right now. But the studio looks pretty good, and there are some nice shots of the head of APOLLO.
To Bouguereau or not to Bouguereau?

To Bouguereau or not to Bouguereau?

I got my ass kicked by Jacob Collins and Jim Cooper last week in a debate about Bouguereau.

This pleasant drubbing occurred at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation’s annual award dinner. This year painter and teacher Martha Erlebacher was honored.

It was an amazing evening. I was seated at a table with Martha Erlebacher, painter Philip Pearlstein, sculptor Sabin Howard, painter Jacob Collins, author Ann Brashares, and critic Jim Cooper. I was in the company of my artistic betters and was glad to be included. It was a treat to just listen to the conversations going on around me, let alone participate.

Of course, being me, with plenty of brash and engaged opinions, I had to contribute. Before dinner, I walked into a discussion Jacob Collins, one of the pre-eminent realist painters, was having with Jim Cooper, an art critic who runs Newington-Cropsey foundation. They were talking about the French Academicians.

Now, what is it with the French Academicians? Candy-assed painters, all surface sweetness and no structure, the lot of them. Look at Bouguereau. It’s like fluffy pink cotton candy. You might go into a diabetic coma. If I see one more painting of a shepherdess, I might barf. Why settle for sugary trifle when, with, say, Raphael or Fra Angelico, you get lamb chops with a side of asparagus and a hunk of chewy bread?

But no, Jacob and Jim said. I have a problem of taste. Jacob pointed out that we in the 21st century view Bouguereau through the lens of the myriad second-rate copyists who come after him. We can’t judge Bouguereau on his own terms because a thousand imitators followed him, and they did not have his immense talent.

This was a point well-taken, and has given me much to contemplate. Collins is no idiot. He certainly knows his way around a figure on canvas.

Jim, whom I adore, took me to task rather mercilessly. No one does hands like Bouguereau, he pointed out. Then he lectured me about Corot, with whom I have a love-hate relationship. I find Corot lazy and self-indulgent. He lacks the spiritual might of, say, Turner, while playing with light in similar fashion. But I do love to look at Corot’s paintings, despite him being one of those second rate French Academicians. But no, Corot is not an academician. Jim contends that Corot is the first of the great modernists.

It’s true, I have been brainwashed into revering the Renaissance by my Michelangelo-esque husband Sabin Howard, who, I might add, has also scolded me for dismissing Bouguereau. Et tu, Brute! This when I have to sneak off in secret to the MOMA to see the Edvard Munch exhibit, feeling as much shame as if I’d been meeting an adulterous lover! Before I come back into our apartment, I have to check myself and make sure I have no MOMA tickets or brochures sticking to my person, lest I draw the wrath of Sabin.

So, Bouguereau? Or not?

Award for Excellence in the Arts: Martha Mayer Erlebacher
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Award for Excellence in the Arts: Martha Mayer Erlebacher

Award for Excellence in the Arts: Martha Mayer Erlebacher

Last night my husband Sabin Howard & I attended the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center event honoring Martha Erlebacher. Martha is a realist painter and teacher. She taught Sabin twenty-seven years ago at the Philadelphia College of Art, and Sabin credits Martha and her deceased husband Walter Erlebacher for giving him the tools with which to create beautiful classical art with a powerful modern sensibility.

It was a wonderful, heart-warming evening. Sabin and I picked Martha up at her hotel to take her to the Lotos Club. In the taxi, I asked about Sabin as a young art student. He had, at one point, sported a gigantic thatch of a beard that would have made ZZ Top proud. Martha laughed, told me that in all her decades of teaching, there were maybe 5 students who had serious, big talent as artists. Sabin was one of them.

She and Sabin fell into a conversation about the draughtsmanship of drapery. I shut up and listened. When two artists of the caliber of Martha Erlebacher and Sabin Howard are discussing drawing, Leonardo, and the play of light, I want to hear every word that comes out of their mouths.

Martha and Walter had to re-invent the Renaissance system of proportions and of how to structure the figure. Walter Erlebacher had been a darling of the art world when he was an abstract expressionist showing at the Whitney Biennial; when he turned to the figure, to the human body, they dropped him. Sad commentary on the lack of taste and vision in the art haute-monde.

No one was doing realism and the figure back in the 60’s, when Walter and Martha understood that the human body is the greatest expression of truth, beauty, and narrative that human beings have. Against a condescending environment in the art world and a disembodied academia that had forgotten the perceptual power of art in favor of heady conceptual babble, they reinvented the proportional system. Martha was the painter and Walter was the sculptor.

“The sculpture of human form is the metaphor for the human desire to live forever,” Martha told me, as we spoke later in the evening. She was telling me how her husband was a genius.

“Don’t underestimate yourself and your contributions,” I said, gently. She shrugged. But this evening was about her. Sabin introduced her, and it was an intense moment for him, because he got to publicly express his gratitude to someone who had, literally, changed his life. Who had set him on the path he lives. “Martha gave us the manual on how to make awesome, powerful, visceral classical art!” he said, with tears in his eyes.

Noah Buchanan, a painter with a big following in California, also spoke. Noah related some funny anecdotes about Martha’s classes, how her words had stayed in the heads of her students who went on to be teachers themselves.

It was a joy to behold the praise being given to a woman who has made such a quiet, fierce contribution to the world, to both the joy and the discipline of art. She’s also a beautiful painter. The painting shown above is her “Dream of Eden.”

TED.COM & The Young Michelangelo
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TED.COM & The Young Michelangelo

My husband Sabin Howard has become enthralled with the inspiring video lectures on I understand why. Sabin and I are seekers of enlightenment, and that spark is the intention behind the website. I usually don’t mind when Sabin brings his MacbookPro to the bedroom and insists that I watch. Although I wish he wouldn’t do it on Monday nights at 9:00, because I am really invested in Jack Bauer saving the world.

The latest two videos were Ben Zander on classical music and Sir Ken Robinson talking about how schools kill creativity.
I had reason to ruminate on Robinson’s words in light of a lecture I attended last week at the New York Academy of Art on The Young Michelangelo, given by a professor who has a forthcoming book of the same name.
Now, this professor meant well. He tried to enliven his speech by mentioning sodomy several times. Usually sodomy is a provocative subject. This time, the unfortunately pompous academician managed to make both sodomy and the young Michelangelo Buonarroti boring. It was an accomplishment that made my husband seethe with fury. Not because of the former subject but because Sabin, as the finest living figurative sculptor, considers himself a direct heir to Michelangelo, and the sculptor poised to rebirthe classical figurative statuary into the modern mind as a living, breathing, urgent topic of thought. For Sabin, the boringization of Michelangelo is a catastrophic evil.
He got so mad that I wiggled out of the dinner invitation with a group of NY Academy folk and the professor. I didn’t want to watch Sabin get into a fight. Sabin’s the pale German/British/Northern Italian genotype and there was an uncharacteristic red flush on his cheekbones. It didn’t bode well for a civilized dinner.
And I got an earful in the cab on the way home. Good thing I bowed us out of dinner.
But I sympathize with Sabin. I’ve seen this distressing academic syndrome before. Professor Zollner, whose books I revere, managed to make Leonardo Da Vinci boring, in a talk a few years ago at the NY Academy. How, you may ask, could anyone make Leonardo, one of the top 5 most fascinating human beings in human history, boring? Well, it takes talent.
And a sense of oneself as an entitled gate-keeper who is generously doling out information to the special few out of the largesse of one’s brilliant scholarly achievements.
George Bull, the translator of Vasari’s Lives Of the Artists, succeeded brilliantly in transforming Vasari’s commentary into something dry, dull, and off-putting. This is just an egregious violation of all things holy, good, and true. Vasari was one of the early PR legends and a genius of a gossip monger. Lives Of the Artists should be rendered in the juicy, salacious style of US Magazine. If it were, everyone would want to read it. Everyone would love and hate Benvenuto Cellini, that stormy and sociopathic artist who, it is rumored, threw his assistant into the furnace to get it hot enough to cast his sculpture.
I stand for the democratization of art and ideas. Great art belongs to everyone. It cuts across class, caste, and education levels. This is one reason why post modern art isn’t art. It’s merchandise. Worse, it’s a shame that the 20th/21st centuries will have to live down: that ridiculous crap (by which I mean Dung Madonna, Piss Christ, anything by Jeff Koons, etc.) doesn’t appeal to anyone who isn’t getting a PhD or doesn’t have a monetary interest in it. That is, art dealer$ and gallerie$ will swear to you it’s great, but that’s only because they want to $ell it to you.
When Sabin loads his heroic scale APHRODITE into a truck to transport it, everyone stops, awestruck, to admire. Everyone responds to beauty. Firemen, school teachers, garbagemen, the women running the florist shop, lawyers, bankers, the restaurateurs on the corner–they all comment. Random people in cars pull over, get out, and admire.
This is what great art must do: strike people like a lightning bolt and uplift them. It doesn’t require a PhD to behold and be uplifted by Michelangelo!
How would I have given a lecture on Michelangelo? I’m a storyteller, and I want everyone to love Michelangelo. I would have pushed the lectern out of the way, grinned, and said, “Michelangelo was one of the greatest artists ever. He was also a mean son-of-a-bitch and a liar, so cheap that he’d wear his leather pants until they cracked and fell off his stinking body.”
A visit to Sabin Howard’s studio, from Adam Matano’s blog
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A visit to Sabin Howard’s studio, from Adam Matano’s blog

My husband Sabin Howard is an excellent cook. Caroline Myss might say it arises out of the artist archetype he inhabits. Regardless, I am the happy recipient of his delicious Italian edibles (most of which come with rosemary, now my favorite spice).
There is only one problem, and no, it’s not the extra 5 pounds I carry on my small frame since we got together. Okay, 10 pounds, but I’ve decided to pretend that it’s only 5.
The problem is that he is the messiest cook imaginable. Yes, his shrimp scampi is delectable, to die for… He buys the fresh shrimp, when he can get them, and shells them himself. He heats the butter and garlic together in a small pan with a few onion bits for added zing and bakes them together with the shrimp until the salt-and-peppered white and pink crustaceans are the perfect hot succulence….
But the kitchen looks like a cyclone hit it. Slicks of olive oil glisten on every surface: refrigerator, cabinets, counters… How does a man with singularly excellent eye-hand co-ordination get McCormick’s steak seasoning on the ceiling?
“Sweetie,” I say, “I’ve invented this new and wondrous process. When I cook, I clean up as I go along.”
Sabin gives me that blank stare as if I’ve grown a second head and am speaking Martian. Now, I contend that I do have 1/3 alien DNA, but my English is at least as good as my Martian, and I take care to enunciate clearly when I speak with him.
I try another tack. “Honey bunch, there’s no cleaning fairy. When you do this,” I gesture at the piles of dirty dishes everywhere, “I HAVE TO CLEAN IT!”
Again the blank stare. Maybe I will try Martian, he might be more receptive to that tongue.
But in the midst of our on-going domestic skirmishes, and my sense of him as the man who lies diagonally across the bed so I have to sleep all squinched up on a tiny triangle, something else comes in. A reminder that he’s more than my sweet, sexy, maddening husband.
Sabin Howard is the greatest living sculptor of male nudes.
It’s pretty intense when that realization strikes. Few of us can say we’re the greatest living anything. I try to be the greatest living Traci L. Slatton I can be, and most of the time I don’t live up to that.
A talented young artist went to visit Sabin in his studio. His name is Adam Matano and he’s entering his senior year at the Lyme Academy. He left uplifted and inspired, as does anyone who visits Sabin’s studio. I don’t think there’s been anything like Sabin’s studio for a few centuries. Matano took with him his friend Kristi Kinsella, who took the photos, and who wrote, “To be a guest in Sabin Howard’s sculpture studio was to be influenced by the magical art of living.”
Sabin’s heroic scale APOLLO, which is nearing completion, is the ultimate expression of this magical art. In my opinion, and that of a well-known art critic, it’s the finest standing male nude since the David.
The question, then, is: should I stop hassling him to clean up after himself in the kitchen?