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Henrietta Shore. TWO WORLDS. Ca. 1921. Oil on canvas, 30" x 26". Courtesy Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University. Gift: The Marie Eccles Caine Foundation. Henrietta Shore (1880-1963) and Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999) shared many of Willa Cather’s interests. Both were classically trained painters who turned to modernist techniques to experiment with form and to reconceive space. Both displayed the influence of modernism in their departure from plein-air landscape painting and in their introspective exploration of the natural world. Shore, who helped found the Los Angeles Modem Art Society in 1916, painted large-scale natural details from the California landscape (which have led to comparisons with Georgia O’Keeffe), as well as reflections on space like Two Worlds. With her husband, Lorser Feitelson, Lundeberg wrote the manifesto, New Classicism, for the first Post-Surrealism exhibition in 1934 and created mystical, meditative paintings. She and other L.A. modernist painters like Agnes Pelton (featured in WAL 34.2) were influenced by new discoveries in astronomy in the 1920s and ’30s, as was Cather in McGiveron’s reading. For more information, see Ilene Susan Fort, “The Adventuresome, the Eccentrics, and the Dreamers: Women Modernists of Southern California” in Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, ed. Patricia Trenton. F ro m a “S t r e t c h o f g r e y s e a ” t o t h e “E x t e n t o f S p a c e ”: T h e G a z e a c r o s s V is t a s in C a t h e r ’s T h e P r o f e s s o r ’s H o u s e R a f e e q O. M c G iv e r o n In discussing the writing of her 1925 novel The Professor’s House, Willa Cather explained her intent to follow the example of seventeenth -century Dutch painter Jan Vermeer, whose work often showed a “square window” from the domestic world to a “stretch of grey sea” that gave a “remarkable” feeling (On Writing 31). Critics such as Cynthia K. Briggs, Judith Fryer, John B. Gleason, Tom Quirk, and James Seaton have already noted Cather’s attempt to create expanses, while Laura Winters observes that “Cather’s safely enclosed characters must always have a vista” (45). Often, of course, Cather’s chosen vista is the southwestern desert, but it is important to note that the vista may extend to the red-shifted edges of the very universe as well. Cather shows how gazing across such evocative vistas helps lead to an understanding of one’s place in nature and in society. Just as Professor St. Peter finds himself forced to investigate the necessity of family and society, so too— earlier in the novel— do both he and Tom Outland try to situate themselves within the great open spaces of nature that Cather describes so well. In addition, Professor Crane, St. Peter’s colleague at the university, tries to understand the size of the universe and hence, implicitly, our place in it. Even the intro­ spective St. Peter, despite his slow-building ennui, comes to realize that just as peace and even happiness lie in appreciating the world around us and perceiving that we are connected with nature both physically and spiritually, they also lie in our connectedness with our families and other fellow human beings. Because the relationships of St. Peter to his family and to his houses are so clearly central to the novel, critics have already discussed these inner spaces;1 here, instead, we will begin at the edges of the universe. Professor Crane, the sickly and “unworldly” physicist whose very name is evocative of graceful flights through wide open spaces, is one of those trying to find a place in the cosmos (118). In some respects 3 9 0 WAL 3 4 .4 WINTER 2 0 0 0 he is an unlikely character for Cather to use as an exemplar or as a friend of St. Peter: “Out in the world they would almost certainly have kept clear of...


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