Holiday Magazine excerpt

A Tale of Twin Cities
Jack Ludwig
Holiday    June 1962

[The writer, Jack Ludwig, wrote a feature article about Minneapolis and St. Paul in the June 1962 issue of Holiday.  In discussing the arts, he was directed to Cameron Booth.  Here is the relevant excerpt beginning with lead-in discussions of the Walker Art Center and then the Guthrie Theater–]

I asked about the Guthrie Repertory Theater, and what it was that made him choose to
locate in the Twins rather than in Milwaukee, or Ann Arbor, both eager to have the theater.

“Simple.” Guthrie said. “The people here wanted us badly enough and came up with a concrete plan.”

The Walker Art Center offered to provide land and put
up an initial $400,000 of the needed $2,000,000. The University
was excited, and so were the leading cultural people of
the two towns. Guthrie, with his assistant. Oliver Rea was
already casting for the plays to open his theater in 1963.
Olivier and Gielgud and Christopher Plummer were excited
about the new opportunity.

I asked the obvious question—why did Guthrie want to
get out of New York?

“New York is oversupplied, Minneapolis undersupplied
it’s as simple as that,” he began. “I’m under no illusions.
At sixty I’m not likely to join Mrs. Partington’s effort to
sweep out the tide—I no longer have strong revolutionary
convictions, you see. I can’t sweep out that New York theatrical
tide of expertise. False specialization. The designer
has his corner of the play, the lights man his; the director
bullies the playwright and the playwright assumes that’s the
way it must be. All because New York’s so overcentralized it
leads to bureaucratic divisions of labor. And too much competition.

Of course,” he said with special emphasis, “if we’re
successful we may start a counterrevolution. We’re hoping
to supply a Midwest demand for theater of the highest order.
Drama may return to life. New York’s bad for drama. It’s
not a city; it’s a Cosmopolis—it’s cement. Plays don’t grow
out of cement. Drama in New York is the product now of
flamboyant middlemen. We may reach out here in the Midwest.
Less sophisticated, don’t you know—less cynical. Perhaps
less hopeless.”

He had to rush off; I walked past the Walker jade collection
and found Martin Friedman again. His enthusiasm
for Guthrie was matched by his feeling for the art center itself.
“We can bring air from outside,” he told me. “Midwest
painters and, even more, sculptors, tend to be parochial and
isolated. We can be the catalyst here. We can’t wait till an
artist is established and then give him a big retrospective. We
can exhibit recent work from all over the world. And we can
be daring with our own Twin Cities people’s stuff.”

He suggested I visit Cameron Booth, whose recent paintings
I had seen in various places around the Twin Cities,
wonderful work, exploding color over canvas with vitality
and power. Cam Booth was near seventy.

He greeted me at the door of his studio, a handsome man
with alert eyes, heavy brows, a fine mustache, the stance and
bearing of a fighter. While his twin grandchildren peeked in
at the door, he busied himself throughout the afternoon pulling
out canvases—dozens of them, all done during 1959, 1960
and early 1961.

“1 painted New York style,” he laughed, “long before Pollock,
Baziotes, Stamos, Motherwell, de Kooning. It wasn’t
called abstract expressionism then, only painting. I could
never live in New York. Gives me the flu. I can paint anywhere
except where I get the flu painting—besides, I like
Minneapolis. Mississippi’s just outside my door. Good university.

I’ve got a gallery in New York. They don’t do much.
When I’m out of town I think they lend all my stuff to interior
decorators. But I work, galleries or no. I like the American
Indian attitude toward art. See this? Art has to be imperfect.
Indians drop a stitch, miss a weave. Makes it human. Those
boys hanging in the Guggenheim are too neat.”

It was a dazzling display, and Cam Booth was quite
obviously doing the best painting of his long distinguished
career. I kept seeing his canvases as I drove slowly back
to the university along the River Road. The St. Paul
side of the river is beautiful all year round—woolly green
in summer, in fall and early winter a Cézanne surface
of lines and rocks; then, on the banks below the Temple of
Aaron, a Klee abstraction of rock shelves and tree strokes.

My favorite spot in all the Twin Cities is the Washington
Bridge, above the Mississippi.  I parked the car and walked
to the bridge, still thinking about Cameron Booth and his painting.