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    Local Columns
    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Battery and aviation pioneering, lots of history in one free exhibit

    Philip R. Mallory sits for Robert Brackman, for a portrait that hangs in the current show at Mystic Museum of Art. (Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian Art Museum)

    Admission to the Mystic Museum of Art (MMoA) is free.

    I like to start with that, because, really, how great is it that there is an art museum in downtown Mystic, set on gracious grounds along the Mystic River, which welcomes all, tourists and locals alike, all year-round, with scholarly, curated exhibits, for free.

    The museum is evolving, and an exhibit this summer, "Robert Brackman: Thinking in Color," is a good example of that, as the organization assumes the mantle of its new name, an art museum, no longer simply an art association dedicated primarily to its member artists and teaching mission.

    The Brackman exhibit features the work of a former president of the Mystic Art Association and maybe one of its most famous members. Many of the paintings are on loan from other collections, a flexing of new museum practices.

    Included, for instance, are the 1938 portraits of Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, (Mead Art Museum at Amherst College) that set Brackman on a career of painting famous people, including John D. Rockefeller and John Foster Dulles.

    Notes on the exhibit suggest Brackman tried not to fall into an exclusive portraiture rut and enjoyed expressing his nimble use of color on a range of subjects.

    It is the portraits in this small exhibit, though, including one of his wife and another of his two daughters, that seem especially captivating.

    I like the 1959 portrait of Philip Rogers Mallory, a former chairman of Mystic Seaport, in part because of the interesting Mystic history it tells. Mallory, who died in 1975 at the age of 90, was the founder of a company that became Duracell, the battery company that Berkshire Hathaway bought in 2014 for $4.7 billion.

    Put Mallory in the pantheon of the region's great industrialists.

    Eschewing the family business in shipping, Philip Mallory founded a small manufacturing company in Port Chester, N.Y., in 1916. He and a colleague invented the mercury cell in 1942, a breakthrough in battery development that was used for portable electronic equipment in World War II.

    In the 1950s, the company developed the AAA cell for use in Kodak camera flashes. The Duracell trademark was registered in 1964.

    I found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum archives a photograph of Mallory posing for the Brackman portrait, presumably in the artist's Noank studio.

    It's a lot of history in one image, blending the story of the art colony here, a family history of shipbuilding and the early years of what is now the sprawling Mystic Seaport, where the Mallory family once built ships.

    Attending an opening ceremony last week for the Brackman show was his granddaughter, Lisa Szaro, also an artist as well as a realtor with Randall Realtors in Watch Hill.

    Szaro volunteered a great story of when she lived with her grandfather and grandmother in Noank for a few years, while her parents were overseas.

    She was a student at Saint Bernard School at the time and her grandfather agreed to help her with a school art project.

    Working with him in his studio, she recalled, he took a lot of liberty with the still life she was going to submit, changing the colors, the borders, making improvements.

    In the end, she indicated, he was a bit chagrined when she got a B-plus.

    When it later sold in a show of school works, for $10, she was asked if her grandfather would sign it.

    No, she shot back, it was hers.

    But she began the story by telling about the time her grandfather, the acclaimed portrait painter and art teacher, got a B-plus for a local high school assignment.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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