I've spent many hours of wonderment touring the Art Institute of Chicago. It started when I was given a Saturday morning semester course there for being the most promising art student of my eighth-grade graduating class. However, my sharpest memory of the experience was not the class, but traveling on the bus along the outer drive watching the water on Lake Michigan. Sometimes high winds shot waves against the rocks and into the air to what looked like twenty feet high, and in really cold weather, ice formations became fantastic. It's understandable that in 1963 my husband and I decided to spend our one-day honeymoon at this fine museum built so close to the wild lake.
Years later, in the spring of 1986, something interesting began to develop while visiting the museum gift shop. I found a card that was blank inside with a painting I liked on the cover; one in the white girl series by James McNeill Whistler.* I remember that Kentucky artist and writer Harlan Hubbard also admired Whistler's work, so even though correspondence between us had been brief and limited, I decided to send the card to Harlan and Anna to tell them how much I was enjoying his books.
In a short time I received an unexpected note from Harlan telling me he was 'intrigued' with the painting on the card. Then I tucked the note away with the satisfaction of knowing that a random act of kindness brought some small happiness. I didn't notice until later the significance in the note being signed Harlan Hubbard, and not H and A Hubbard, like my other correspondence from him.
I don't remember when or how I learned that Anna was gone. She had passed away on May 4, 1986. Harlan's note to me is dated June 29, l986. The card I sent reached him somewhere between these dates, but I didn't know that then. The Little White Girl had become something of an accidental sympathy card.
What more may have happened finally dawned on me after Harlan and Anna were both gone. Harlan's last note had let me know the Whistler painting stirred him. Now I am the one who is intrigued, because when I saw the the painting again-its quiet, mysterious quality, the girl so unassuming with an almost angelic look...suddenly I envisioned a young Anna. You can easily say I imagine too much, but I think Whistler's painting does look like her. It certainly captures the essence of her for me. What was Harlan thinking? I guess we will never know.
*Symphony in White No. 2: the Little White Girl Series 1864, James McNeill Whistler