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Abstract and Representational Paintings - Wanda Ast, Polish-American Artist
Oil Paintings by Wanda Ast
A Polish Immigrant - A Polish American Artist
Wanda Maria Kowalska Ast and Professor Curtis Chapman met through a mutual friend and at his invitation she visited Reinhardt College several times in the late 1970’s to give demonstrations on painting and batik print making for Professor Chapman’s art students.
Unaware of this earlier history and acquaintance, I began teaching history in 1998 at a private liberal arts institution in North Georgia, Reinhardt College.
My office was on the bottom floor of the library and one day a distinguished and kindly-looking older man I did not know came tripping down the steps and casually glanced through my open office door and smiled.
Suddenly, he seemed terribly taken aback; he stopped, entered my office hand extended and solemnly intoned -
“You must know Wanda, Wanda Ast. I would recognize her artwork anywhere. I am so pleased to meet you. Please tell me how you came to have one of Wanda’s batiks?”
Professor Curtis Chapman, Reinhardt College's Professor of Art, had correctly identified a large abstract painting, in cool blues and greens, which hung on my office wall.
I explained that I was Wanda's granddaughter and he told me about her earlier forays to Reinhardt to work with his students.
We became dear friends as well as colleagues and for many, many years we regaled each other, and all who would listen, with what could only be described as the “Tales of Wanda.”
Wanda Maria Kowalska Ast was my paternal grandmother, my "Bobcia." She was an extraordinarily eccentric, vivacious, intense, articulate, and talented woman. She survived the Nazis and the Communists and immigrated to America with her husband and four children to begin a new life.
She learned to speak English (she already spoke Polish, French, and German) and she raised her children. Before long she began writing stories and poetry, often winning awards from the Georgia Writer's Association.
Then she began drawing in chalk and painting in oils and acrylics. In her sixties and seventies she began experimenting with, and mastered, the physically arduous process of "batiking" - which involved applying hot wax to fabric and then dipping it into tubs of hot dye, then pressing the wax out of the fabric with an iron.
Repeating the labor intensive process again and again would eventually produce breathtakingly beautiful and elaborate designs, some abstract and some representative. Her paintings and batiks were exhibited at numerous Georgia colleges, banks, and several fine art centers.
Wanda, as might be expected, was a voracious and eclectic reader - literature, history, philosophy, religious devotionals, and poetry. Her most beloved poet was Rainer Maria Rilke.
She remained an iconoclastic, yet devoted Catholic all her life. In examining the body of her artwork, one can find nature based paintings, still-lifes, nudes, modernist informed abstracts, as well as, religiously themed paintings.
She was a passionate woman, devoted to her art and to her family, but not at all the typical grandmother. We never baked cookies together, or sewed an apron, or decorated Easter eggs. But our time together was always enlightening, challenging, different, fascinating.
For my tenth birthday, just as I was about to board a plane whose destination was Athens, Greece (my father was in the Air Force and had been assigned to Athenai Air Base for a three year rotation) she handed me a large, heavy volume.
D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, full of beautifully colored illustrations. I had never heard of Greek Mythology, knew nothing of the Titans, Mount Olympus, Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Dionysius, Hephaestos, Demeter, Athena, Poseidon, or of Hades and the river Styx.
I consumed the book, its stories, its pictures during the long overseas flight and then stepped into the bright sunlight of Greece, into mythos, into the land of the gods and goddesses.
Shortly I would climb the steep stone steps carved into Mars Hill look down on the Athenian agora (agoraphobia), wander through the Parthenon, and explore many other ancient temples and ruins. History and fantasy became one, they were my reality.
I still cannot bear to read the Romanized version of the original Greek names. They are somehow so not right. Not Mercury, but Hermes, not Diana, but Artemis, not Venus for heaven's sake, but Aphrodite rising from the water. Could they have any other names?
We are infinitely interesting, diverse, and multi-faceted creatures;certainly, my Bobcia was. The Polish-American immigrant who never baked cookies, whose walls were covered with nudes, was also a deeply spiritual soul and wrote the following in her journal.
The will of God – nothing more, nothing less – must be the rule of our lives. Prayer is not insisting upon our way, it is discovering God’s will for our lives.
It is in our surrender of wills to God, that we are inviting God to do His work through us. Then we can say with Paul….I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
Sacredness is, in a sense, a feeling – but a feeling that goes to the very heart of life. It is a feeling of recognition directed toward what is great and high enough to give our small lives meaning, to put our personal journey in a greater perspective. It is a feeling of reverence for human life.
Throughout our life there will be dry times when we need to remember we were called to hope. For these times, the Spirit gives understanding and courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Instead, it is the gift to endure fear and failure – your own and others.
Let us always be open, surprised, continually blown away by the terrific possibilities of life, open to new directions, always to see open windows where others find closed doors. This is God’s gift, and we are truly God’s handiwork, created to live in the Spirit of the Lord. Amen.
Wanda Maria Kowalska Ast -- 1986
Oil Painting and Using Acrylics
Art, Painting, Batiks, Sculpture
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