“Look Homeward, Angel,” is the title of a stunning, classic first novel written in 1929 by foremost American writer Thomas Wolfe, about a young person’s burning desire to leave their small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life. In 1971, Violet Vallery, a housewife turned artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey took that title literally and expressed it through the quiet green pastures and reconstructed history she created in her paintings.
Violet’s art career began late in life, in 1971 at the age of fifty-three with a Christmas gift from one of her daughters – a sketch pad and a piece of charcoal.
“I thought it was a strange gift at first,” Violet said in an August 9, 1976 interview with Rob Bertsche, Staff Writer for the Herald-News. But it evoked a lot of memories – and created a lot more. The gift prompted Violet to renew the practice of her artistic talent, a talent she had ignored since the age of 14.
“As a girl, my Grandma drew lots of pictures of actors and actresses, much like my own career began, portraying their faces with differing shades of charcoal,” says her now famous Grandson Michael Bell, a renowned American Artist who attributes his artistic gifts directly to his Grandmother. “She poured a lot of her soul into her sketchbook and was visual journaling long before I pioneered the movement. Her Junior High art teacher recognized her talent and helped her earn admittance to Cooper Union in New York City to study art, contingent upon her graduation from High School. Unfortunately, when the depression hit, she was forced to quit high school in her third year and her dream of a career in Art was forgotten.”
Violet, the youngest of three daughters, married William (Bill) Vallery in 1939 at the age of 21. Bill was a former boxer raised in Lyndhurst who ran his own milk business. Bill was originally born in Florida in 1910 to Julia Zebora and Andrew Vallery (Fr. Arcangelo Dalla Valeria) who immigrated to America from Roncà, a province of Verona in the Veneto region of Italy. Bill and Violet made their home in Lyndhurst where they raised two daughters, Ginger and Alma.
Thirty years go by, and before she knew it, it’s that magical year of 1971. With the gift of her new Grandson Michael, born April 10th on her daughter Alma’s birthday and that great Christmas gift of a new sketch pad, a third special gift entered the picture for Violet – in the form of Lyndhurst’s first Outdoor Juried Art Show in the Town Hall Park. 80 local artists entered their work and 1st place in the category of water color and other media went to Violet Vallery.
This led to Violet being invited to exhibit at the Town Library on June 16th. In 1973, Violet took 2nd place in the category of oils in the third annual outdoor art show in Town Hall Park and later that fall, the Art Association of Rutherford awarded Violet honorable mention for a show in Lincoln Park. In 1974 Violet’s works were on exhibit at the West Hudson Hospital and then at the First National Bank in Kearny, NJ. Then, in 1976, the same year her Grandson Michael Bell would win 1st place in the first outdoor juried art exhibition he ever entered at the age of 5, Violet would go on to win 1st place in the Rutherford Museum BiCentennial Art Show.
When asked about her work Violet explained, “An artist should try to capture happenings, expressions and sentiments in their own individual way.”
The media began to take notice too, and Violet received features in the Bergen Record, The Leader, the Bergenite and the Herald News as stories spread about her special interest in historical villages and buildings.
“The predominance among her paintings of nature or turn-of-the-century scenes of everyday life is a sense of calm, sensitivity and order. With pen and ink – Violet’s favorite medium – she creates a world where barefoot boys walk to school along stony paths. She avoids painting people and urban scenes. Instead she paints out-of-the-way scenes, with people as the background. Her work is now also in private collections throughout the Eastern United States.” – The Herald News.
“I felt that I was never going to fulfill the dream I had,” Violet said in a 1976 interview. “I stopped drawing and got married, had kids. I always appreciated art. I suppose I was never really far from it as far as my mind was concerned.”
Wondering about the public’s artistic tastes Violet had this to say, “It’s a funny business. If you have really good art, they don’t understand it. They’ll go for loud, splashy things.”
Violet preferred painting the quiet life, making pen-and-ink sketches of nature in her own backyard, and reconstructing history with a sentimental flair.
“I see things. Nature’s work is always there, but most people just don’t look,” Violet explained.
Violet’s art career would be short-lived though. Due to financial hardships she had to go back to work at the age of 56. Her husband Bill passed away five years later in 1981 at the age of 71. But, her work lives on through the paintings of her Grandson, Michael Bell, who had this to say about her legacy:
“I was taught the most important thing an artist can do is to draw a line from their life to their art that is straight and clear, and the thing that shapes this line the most is the thing we have no control over – where we come from. Who brings us here. How much bleakness or how much hope surrounds us. These are the origins that forever define us. These are the images that have shadowed every artistic choice I have ever made. I entered the world in 1971, strangely enough – the same year my Grandma decided to renew her artistic interests.
Last week, on Friday, May 10th, 2013, just two days before Mother’s Day, my Grandmother passed away at the age of 95 and my heart is completely broken. But the gifts she’s passed down to me will stay with me for all of eternity.” When speaking with Martin Cid, publisher of Yareah Art Magazine, about this month’s theme “Green” Michael reminisced on his Grandmother’s beautifully quiet paintings, which reminded him of Robert Frost’s famous eight-line poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”:
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
Violet Golis Vallery (January 4, 1918 – May 10, 2013) was an artist; a wife of the late William Vallery; a daughter of the late Adam and Mary Golis; a sister to Anna Oakes and Helen Kearney and brother Frank; a mother to Virginia Vallery Lenihan and Alma Vallery Bell; a grandmother to grandsons Erik Molvar, Michael and William Bell; and a great grandmother to four great grandchildren.