"Hollis and Me" by Steven Scott, April 2009
"My God! I'm so flattered. How can I help you?" I remember so clearly these first words voiced to me by Hollis Sigler on a bright, sunny day in early May 1987 in New York City. It was at the opening reception for honorees of the Awards in the Visual Arts exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU where Hollis was exhibiting recent work in a gallery devoted to her paintings and drawings. Hollis had no idea who I was, and as she entered the crowded gallery space, before she even had a chance to take off her coat and greet her many friends and well-wishers in attendance, I recognized her from published photos and ran up to her and exclaimed, "Hi Hollis! I'm Steven Scott and I'm writing my Master's Thesis on you!" She greeted this stunning news with the warmest of smiles and that was when she immediately offered her kind declaration of assistance to me.
Though we had just met, Hollis was no stranger to me. I had been following her work since 1981 when I first saw and was enthralled by her paintings in the 1981 Whitney Biennial Exhibition when I was still an undergraduate student in Baltimore. I followed her career in the art press and was especially enamored by her mesmerizing contributions to the 1985 Corcoran Biennial in DC which I attended when I was a graduate student at University of Maryland in College Park. Although I had been studying 19th and 20th century American art in graduate school, when it came time to find a thesis topic, I was so taken with Hollis' exuberant, faux-naive style that in 1986 I proposed and received approval to write my thesis on her work by the graduate faculty committee. I had begun collecting Hollis' work from Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York and Dart Gallery in Chicago, and in August 1987 Hollis graciously offered for me to stay with her and Patty at their art-filled home in Prairie View, IL, for two days to interview her in depth and discuss themes and the impetus behind many of her key works. She generously allowed me to interview her by phone on numerous occasions that summer and fall while I wrote and rewrote the thesis.
Just days after I defended my M.A. thesis (The Visual Confessions of Hollis Sigler, University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Art History, May 1988), I opened Steven Scott Gallery in my hometown of Baltimore, MD. The gallery has mounted five large, highly successful exhibitions of Hollis' work (1989-90, 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1998) and I have included her work in over 100 thematic group shows over the past twenty one years. It never ceases to bring me such joy to witness my clients and gallery visitors responding so favorably to her extraordinary work. It was especially gratifying to see Hollis' "Breast Cancer Journal" series shown in 1993 at the Women's Museum in DC (where I am a National Advisory Board Member) during the time of the National Breast Cancer Coalition's national petition to President Clinton. Hollis was invited to the White House and it meant so much to her.
I still feel Hollis' presence around me everyday, especially since I live with over thirty of her pieces displayed on all three floors of my crowded home. I always relished my annual visits to Chicago to see Hollis and attend the Art Chicago fairs, as well as Hollis' biennial visits to Baltimore to attend her opening receptions at my gallery and to visit the museums in DC. I fondly remember her first visit in December 1989 which culminated with a visit to the National Gallery to see the Frederick Edwin Church landscape show during an unusual early blizzard (she was so determined to see the work of this much beloved painter!). We found such pleasure in wandering around the galleries and our lengthy discussions on the state of the art world. And I remember with such poignance her last visit to DC in 2000 when she was quite ill and confined to a wheelchair, yet she insisted on spending all day at the Holocaust Museum and the FDR Memorial. I felt so honored to represent her work from 1988 until her passing in 2001.
Despite her illness and great struggle with the disease and drug side-effects, it was her commitment to her work, her great generosity of spirit and her keenly positive outlook that kept her going for so many years past her doctors' statistical expectations. We can all learn from the words she wrote across the top of one of her classic drawings: "In Spite Of All She Rises In The Morning With Joy In Her Heart."