The Haunting World of Hannah Frank (1908-2008)
UK website: www.hannahfrank.org.uk
e-mail:
jfrank824@gmail.com

Over the past century Glasgow has been the home of significant women artists producing very personal and individual work in a variety of different media. Among this group is Hannah Frank, whose artistic career spans seventy years. This website has been produced as an illustrated record of those years.

At the end of the 19th Century many refugees from persecution in Russia came to Britain. Hannah Frank’s father was one of these, and settled in Glasgow in the early years of this century. Glasgow at the time was one of the world’s most prosperous cities whose products were universally admired. It was also an international port, and thus it is not surprising that such a place should attract artists and craftsmen from all over Europe. Charles Frank settled in the Lauriston district of the Gorbals, where he began business as a master mechanic. After a few years he married another immigrant, Mary Lipetz, and eventually opened a shop at 67, Saltmarket for the design, sale and repair of photographic and scientific apparatus. Over the following half century it was to become one of the best-known photographic centers in the city.

Hannah, one of four children, was educated at Strathbungo School, Albert Road Academy, and the University of Glasgow, where she graduated in Arts in 1930. She had a number of poems, and later a series of drawings, published in the University magazine, all of which appeared under the name AL AARAAF. This is the title of a long poem by Edgar Allan Poe which had special significance for her. It was the name given by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe to a mysterious star which suddenly appeared in the heavens, and after growing brighter and brighter for a few days, suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again.

After attending Jordanhill Training College where she contributed drawings to the New Dominie, she taught for a number of years, principally at Campbellfield School in the east end of the city. During all this time she attended evening classes at Glasgow School of Art, widening her interests to include web engraving for which she was awarded the James McBey Prize. From 1930 to 1950 her drawings appeared regularly at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts exhibitions.

In 1939 Hannah married Lionel Levy, a mathematics and science teacher whose expertise was to prove invaluable when she came to take up sculpture. This she did at the School of Art where she took up clay modeling under Paul Zunterstein and met the genial Benno Schotz who encouraged her to concentrate on that form of art. Since the early 1950’s she has worked solely in this medium, exhibiting at the Royal Glasgow Institute and the Royal Scottish Academy. There were early exhibitions at Stirling University, the Portico Gallery, Manchester, and as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In Edinburgh, where a selection of her work was shown at her brother Arthur’s premises in Forrest Road in 1969, the drawings attracted a great deal of interest, and from that day prints had to be made to satisfy the demand from visitors from all over the world. Her later exhibitions are noted here. Her most recent exhibition, and first for a US audience is at Brandeis University through April. For more details about this exhibition, click here.

Hannah Frank’s drawings have a strange indefinable quality all of their own. Considering their poetic inspiration, it is not surprising that many express a pensive melancholy. Others however are filled with sunshine and youthful exuberance, set in that garden of the world’s innocence already echoed in the mediaeval romanticism of Burne Jones. But there are also menacing night scenes fraught with fear and sinister foreboding. In such an atmosphere death seems to be never far away.

The elongated figures with their long flowing tresses belong to the world of the Macdonald sisters and Jessie King. There are inevitably echoes of Aubrey Beardsley who has influenced every artist working in black-and-white since the beginning of the century. The cloaks, richly embroidered with flower motifs may also owe something to the sinister creations of the Irishman, Harry Clarke. They are a special feature of the series of illustrations of the Rubaiyat. Other drawings such as Garden seem to belong to the world of the Scottish artist, John Duncan. But Hannah Frank’s world is very much her own, and quite unmistakable. The drawings have an austerity and stylization not to be found in the works of other artists, particularly effective where there is a dramatic contrast with white bodies against a dense black background.

The latest drawings are dated 1952, and it is at that time that the earliest sculptures appear. They are mostly figure studies, in plaster, terra cotta, or bronze, and all on a fairly small scale. The influence of Henry Moore as well as Benno Schotz and Paul Zunterstein can be seen in some of them but, as in her drawings, she has evolved her own personal style. Portraiture has formed only a small part of her , a fact to be regretted when one sees the quality of the heads she has done, particularly that of her father.

The sculpture has been exhibited at the Royal Scottish Institute since 1954, and also at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy. It has found many admirers, notably in Sydney Goodsir Smith, who wrote when reviewing an R.S.A. Exhibition in 1965 -- “Sculpture in Scotland, for long the Cinderella of the arts, due largely to historical and religious causes, seems to be slowly rising up out of the slough of despond and getting better and stronger, more imaginative and creative. The great difficulty facing this profession is dearth of opportunity ... Hannah Frank’s voluptuous ‘Reclining Woman’ is classical in her ease of pose and perfect calm, a lovely wee thing”. On another occasion he had drawn attention to -- “...one of the most covetable small pieces is a tiny green bronze, ‘Woman Resting’, by Hannah Frank”.

Sculpture is a sadly neglected art, and considerable courage is required of anyone who wants to practice it. That courage, coupled with an equally strong belief in the validity of her art, Hannah Frank has in generous measure.

Ad multos annos.