Two new works have joined the Speed Art Museum after being voted in by the committee
By Melissa Chipman
Photos provided by Speed Art Museum
Despite the artists being generational peers, the two works are entirely different. Abram Tromka immigrated from Poland to New York City with his parents at age seven in 1903. He witnessed a woman painting on the boat to America, and he decided he wanted to become an artist. Upon arrival in America, his family took the surname “Phillips”—so some of his early works are signed with the name “A. Phillips.”
Tromka had a troubled childhood and left his family at age 15. He lived at the Henry Street Settlement, one of the first publicly funded immigrant housing projects in NYC. His artistic talents were quickly noticed there. He was given art lessons and studied at the Ferrer School from 1915-1922, where he became a protégé of renowned American painters Robert Henri and George Bellows.
In 1935 he was invited to participate in the WPA Federal Art Project at its inception. Rather than joining the program out of financial necessity, Tromka was asked to lend his artistic prestige.
The Syracuse University Library holds the artist’s papers, including a journal of Tromka’s trip through the South in 1940. In the journal, Tromka mentions an earlier trip to the South in 1938, writing that he had “spent some time with the mountain people of Harlan County in Kentucky.”
According to the description provided by the Speed Museum, “Old Kentucky presents that landscape. Painted in Tromka’s signature expressionistic style, featuring rolling hills, pathways and tilted houses and trees – all finished in a bright, vibrant color palette – the artwork documents both a specific time, place and feeling.”
Flora Crockett was born in Ohio and attended Oberlin College, where she studied art. She moved to Europe through marriage to an Italian man, Edmondo Quattrocchi. Once in Paris, she took over as director at Fernand Léger’s Académie Moderne art school for five years. During her decade in Paris, Crockett exhibited her work regularly, including a solo show at Galerie La Fenêtre Ouverte in 1937.
As news broke across Europe of an impending war, Crockett divorced her husband and made her way to New York City, where she remained for the rest of her life, working various engineering and design jobs to support herself.
Early in her career, Crockett produced somber work and, while abstract, not entirely non-objective. The Speed’s new untitled painting of 1941 shows geometric objects in red, gray, and black colors along with what are visibly two smokestacks, one emitting smoke or steam.
According to Speed, the painting “marks an important addition to its collection of early-to-mid twentieth-century art, representing a period when American artists were absorbing the lessons of European modernism. It’s a nod to the industrial and machine age of the 20th century, and an artist’s view of an evolving technological and urban landscape.”
Speed Art Museum
2035 S 3rd St.
Louisville, KY 40208