Lauretta Sondag
Artist, Writer, Independent Spirit


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Girl Walking

My acquaintance with Lauretta Sondag began five years ago, when I first saw this painting up for auction on eBay. Perhaps at first sight (or even at second sight) the art connoisseur would not be impressed with this work, but if you've spent any time at all surfing the oceans of sunny, be-mountained landscapes and storm-tossed seas commonly up for sale on eBay, it might impress you a bit. Because let's face it: most of painters this world has produced are talented in technique, but they have little to say. There are millions of beautiful landscape paintings out there with impressive renderings of clouds and delicate treatments of grass and leaves and the reflection of sunlight on water, but they are empty of ideas, feelings or empathy. You look and you move on, and that is why that artist's painting is for sale on eBay for less than $100.

This painting of Lauretta's is another matter altogether. In contrast to other eBay artists, her technique is maybe a little sloppy. The stone wall appears to have been painted with a heavy, impatient hand, and there are expressionistic moments where you would hope to see detail and vice versa.

But still.

The overall effect of this painting makes an impression; it makes the view ask questions. I was struck by the crooked tree that cuts the painting almost in two, like a cleft in the fabric of the world. And the little girl walking away from us out of the picture, who at first seems like an afterthought, eventually came to be downright unsettling to me. I don't think I've ever seen a girl depicted this way before, so completely alone, dwarfed by her surroundings (which appear to be collapsing in upon themselves in chaotic tumult); yet her stride is confident, almost heroic, as if she's planned her exodus quite carefully, knows just where she's headed, and is quite able to get there all by herself.

So it goes without saying that I bought this painting. It joined my household at a time when I felt I was facing chaos all alone, and I came to see it as a partner in my struggle. I would come home at night and give that painting a little hello nod, and I always felt like it responded in kind. The little girl was too busy with her own campaign to give me her full attention, but she would wave me off as if to say, this too shall pass. We are strong; press on.

Soon I started wondering about the artist, Lauretta Sondag of 830 S. Michigan, Chicago, Illinois (she wrote her address on the back of the painting, which I later learned was not her usual habit). Bit by bit I began to piece her story together, at first with the hope that I could write to her and thank her if she was alive. Later, after I learned of her sudden death at the age of 32, a casualty of the Great Depression, I continued out of a strong feeling that her life, now lost, needed to be a life again. For me, if not for the rest of the world.

The story of my search for Lauretta is interesting in its own right (for me at least) and includes numerous instances of kismet, spooky coincidence, synchronicity, etc. Sometimes people have asked me if I thought that she was haunting me, and sometimes I ask myself that same question. And the answer is, of course she is. That is what artists do. Every piece of art is a curse that its creator puts on us; a demand for our attention and a claim on us long after the artist herself is gone. And every time I think I've done all I can to find Lauretta, I look at this painting, and that little girl tells me, “no, this is not finished. I still go on, and so do you.”


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