In 1983, the American Poetry Center introduced the idea of Poetry Month. Every year, April is that month. This year, the American Poetry Center, which is committed to showing how poetry can exist off the written page, is featuring a multidimensional documentary on the controversy about visionary Philadelphia artist, Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952).
Most Philadelphians have not heard of Carles. The documentary, Arthur B. Carles: Philadelphia Artist, was directed by Margaret Barringer, founder and chairman of the American Poetry Center. She came across the idea after stumbling across Carles’ work in a New York art gallery a few years ago.
“A Cuban woman had put his work on display at the gallery and I really liked his paintings. When I found out that he was from Philadelphia, I realized that I had never heard of him. And that is a typical Philadelphia story,” Barringer said. “Philadelphia does not honor its own intelligentsia.”
That’s when she decided to bring out Arthur Carles life on film and tell people about his story.
With the help of a scholar from Washington and a collector in Philadelphia, Barringer started her tryst with the life of this underappreciated artist. The documentary took four years to complete.
“Over 200 people and institutions have been involved in bringing Carles’ story back to life,” Barringer said.
Barringer tracked down Carles’ former students for the documentary. One of these, artist Quinta Brodhead, was 101 years old when Barringer first interviewed her. During the time it took to complete the documentary, four of these former students, including Brodhead, died.
“There were moments of despair,” said Barringer, “but the moment I discovered the colors of his canvas on the computer screen, with the light behind them – it filled me with strength.”
Carles’ stimulating canvases sparked modernism in the American art world by bringing fresh designs from Paris to traditionalist Philadelphia. The keystone of Barringer’s documentary poetry readings by Carles’ contemporaries, including Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams, which are scattered throughout the film. Archival photographs, film clips and footage of locations important to Carles’ life also provide the backdrop from readings from Carles’ own letters. Philadelphia composer Eric Sesslerís’ original music augments this exploration of Arthur Carles’ brilliant canvases in all their Abstract Expressionist glory.
With its commitment to inform, stimulate, and exemplify how poetry can also exist off of the written page, the American Poetry Center endeavors to encourage Philadelphia’s extraordinary resources: its people, arts, architecture, literature and history. With this documentary, Barringer hopes to introduce people to Carles’ life and Philadelphia’s history.
“I want people to be talking about art and poetry,” she said.
Free screenings of the documentary run at major art centers and museums throughout the city this month. The American Poetry Center is the nation’s only non-profit institution devoted to creating television programs that showcase poetry, storytelling and the arts.
Jinal Shah can be reached at email@example.com.