Allen Abramson explained how he met Girard every single time I visited with him. It’s the same story you could read in his self-published memoir, Allen Abramson: The Odyssey (or the Idiocy), compiled and written with the help of Nancy Malitz.
“Shortly after the (his) gallery opened, a young man by the name of William Girard walked in. He was carrying a little baby in one arm and a painting in the other. He needed money and wanted to sell the painting, so I took a look, and I was shocked to find out that was painted in this century. It was a beautiful thing… I bought it on the spot.”
The painting in question, Amron, hung in Abramson’s home until he died.
Shortly after his purchase, Abramson left on a two-year round-the-world jaunt.
"I told him that when I returned, " Abramson wrote, "I wanted to sponsor him (if I had any money left) and that I believed him to be a tremendously talented artist ..."
"When I got back ... Girard would spend five days a week with me, Monday through Friday from 9 to 5, a time dedicated to his painting and artwork. Meanwhile, I tried to sell his work. He was married at the time, with two small children at home, and money was tight for him as well."
Abramson’s direct sponsorship (patronage) lasted about 15 years!
Who does that? The Medici family did that. Maybe folks like the Rockefellers did it. But for mid-century Detroit, it strikes me as audacious, to say the least.
It’s easy to recognize a masterpiece after the rest of the world has stamped the thing with honors. It takes someone very, very special to recognize a potential masterpiece in something - or someone - that no one else has noticed.
Abramson’s art education, he claimed, began when he met Girard. Maybe. The fact is that Allen Abramson - and only Allen Abramson - in all greater Detroit, had the smarts, the luck or the wisdom to pluck a nascent artistic genius off the street and give him the freedom to create dazzling pieces of art.
Sure, Girard remains a complete nonentity in the art world. His life’s work is largely unknown. The range and extent of this marvelous autodidact’s accomplishments may remain a mystery to art aficionados for decades.
Have you seen the Girard pieces featured on this website? Collectors have.
Just days ago, I was contacted by a collector anxious to obtain certain Girard paintings. Yesterday, another collector – one who obtained a substantial Girard portfolio directly from Abramson’s estate – enthused over the phone at length over the quality of the work and the joy it brought him.
Abramson’s estate included hundreds of Girard works. Drawings, paintings, watercolors, sketches, sculpture, ceramics, etc. It was nearly impossible to enjoy the work Abramson had gathered because there was just so much of it! It overwhelmed the senses.
His sales records indicate that he sold many of the Girards in his collection to others. One way or another, they seem to have returned to him.
He wouldn’t let me buy even the one small masterpiece I longed for when I inquired, a few years before his passing. He suggested that I wait for the auction that would follow his death. I did.
In 1967, he co-sponsored a solo exhibit for Girard at Silver’s Company, in Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit. The catalog lists 46 items. I am reasonably confident that Abramson kept at least 20 of them for himself.
A few months before Girard died, in November 2010, I returned to Detroit to visit knowing that it would most likely be my last opportunity to spend time with him. As it happened, Abramson knew that Girard was very ill and asked to see him. Apparently, he wanted to give Girard some money he felt he owed him. Since neither could drive, I chauffeured Girard to Abramson’s home.
Abramson was having a very hard time walking that day and used a cane. We sat in his living room, surrounded by art and most especially Girard’s art. I fetched water for them from the kitchen.
They hadn’t seen each other in quite a while. Girard had been very angry with Abramson over the years, for some of the various and predictable reasons that artists and their patrons quarrel.
This time, the mood was different. Girard told Abramson, face to face, how very grateful he was to him for giving a life as an artist. For giving him the chance to create so many marvelous things. For the opportunity to bring his own art into the world and share it with others who appreciated it, not least Abramson himself.
He told Abramson that he loved him.
After we left, Girard told me that Abramson had given him much more money than he expected. He also reiterated his profound gratitude for the incredible gift that he had received from Abramson. He wasn't referring to the money.
The gift wasn’t merely that Abramson bought, sold and kept Girard's artwork. When the direct patronage ended, Abramson was apparently instrumental in helping Girard find full-time employment with the Society of Arts and Crafts (today, the College for Creative Studies) as a professor of art.
To put this in some perspective, keep in mind that Girard had a total of one full semester of formal post-secondary education at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.
Girard once told me that early on, Abramson had arranged a gallery exhibit for him in NYC through the auspices of a well-connected friend (undoubtedly, Mrs. Betty Kleinbaum).
At the opening, Girard found the company of the wealthy, hoity-toity collectors in attendance difficult to cope with. So, he befriended the refreshment table. Refreshment tables, by the way, rarely buy art.
There he ran into an older couple helping themselves to copious servings of tasty things.
The couple told Girard that they really didn’t come to galleries to look at art. They came for the free food and drink.
Girard decided that the gallery game wasn’t about art at all, and just refused to play for years. His ego was bruised. But Abramson paid for it. Literally.
Now, that’s what Girard told me. His C.V. suggests that it didn’t quite happen that way. But that is how he told it.
Abramson could give as good as he got.
At some point, post new millennium I think, Abramson was hospitalized. I don’t recall why. Girard visited him in the hospital. They hadn’t seen each other in a few years. “Hi, Allen, how are you doing,” Girard asked.
“You’ve gotten fat,” said Abramson.
At some point in Girard’s last months, Abramson loaned him a piece of terra cotta sculpture, a kneeling David that Girard had made. Girard loved the piece and wanted it beside him as he waited to be taken.
After Girard’s passing, like any addict deprived of his drug of choice, Abramson seethed with irritation and frustration until the piece was returned to him. And that’s an understatement.
Someday, I think / hope, history will recognize Allen Abramson for his singular contribution to Girard, to metropolitan Detroit, where Girard lived and died, and to the glory of art.
In 2010, writing for Detroit Home magazine, George Bulanda, introduced Detroit to Allen Abramson. That story can be found below.