#52Ancestors – (30) The very colorful Harvey

Harvey Scott Williams
Harvey Scott Williams (1927-1987), Courtesy of Keith Williams

Harvey was an artist, and colorful. He loved to have a good time. “Party Hardy” could easily have been his personal motto. He was also my brother. We were half siblings. He was the younger of two sons of our father from his first marriage, I was the only child of our father’s second marriage. Thus, there was a twenty-year difference between Harvey and me.

L-R_ Robert Arthur Williams, Harvey Scott Williams (2)

Harvey was born in September 1927, in New Jersey, to Herbert Randell Williams and Emma (Scott) Williams. He was their second son. An older child, Robert Arthur Williams was born to them in 1925.[1] By the time he was ready to go to High School, his parents were divorced, and our father had remarried.[2] All lived in New York City.

Harvey showed early interest and talent in art.  Harvey’s talents were sufficient for him to be accepted at New York’s High School of Music and Art. Unfortunately, graduation did not see him launched into a career in art. By that time, the United States was involved in World War II. He and his brother both joined the military; Harvey joined the army.[3]

Towards the end of the war, Harvey married a young woman, Elizabeth “Betty” Butler, whose father ran a successful funeral home business in Harlem.[4] By 1946, they welcomed their only son together, Keith Van Williams.[5] However, the marriage didn’t last long.

Keith Williams, Renee Williams, Margo Williams
Keith Williams, the late Renee Williams (daughter of Robert), & Margo Williams

By 1951, Harvey began taking classes at the Art Students League in New York. Since he had to work a regular job and he was now a single parent, he took classes on Saturdays. It appears from his records that his formal classes focused on painting the human figure.  I remember him taking me (sometimes along with our father) to visit his classes. Both he and our brother loved to see if they could elicit some level of shock; they especially liked to upset my mother (she was an easy mark). In this case, he took a certain pleasure in taking us to see his classes devoted to the human figure by drawing and painting nudes. Of course, once you visited a classroom of nudes, it was done. I’m sure I was fascinated the first time, after all, there was an entire room of nude individuals, but after that, it was not new and no longer novel. It was just a room full of nude individuals who all had to sit still so that the students could create their paintings. I suspect my mother wasn’t thrilled that he took me there, but my father was there, which I’m sure ultimately was the key. Although I’m sure there were interesting discussions behind closed doors. What I do remember about visiting the classroom on several occasions is that some of the students weren’t very good.

Harvey felt that mastering the human figure, especially hands, was important to overall perfection of technique as an artist regardless of chosen artistic style of preference.  I remember from conversations we had when he visited that he made a point of learning about the anatomy of the human body, particularly the musculo-skeletal details. Although portrait painting was not his preference, he understood that it could bring income, and I note that his subjects always seemed to be painted with depth, color, and dimension that remind me of Renaissance painters, but they are not in true Renaissance style .

Keith Williams by Harvey 1957
Keith Williams by Harvey, 1957

Two portraits that would have special meaning for our family were painted in 1957 and 1958. In 1957, he painted a portrait of his son, dressed in Native American regalia (not authentic) designed from his imagination (and created by his then wife), on an imaginary background.

In 1958, he painted a portrait of me, seated on the piano bench in front of my piano, in our living room. It was intended as a birthday gift for our father and was arranged between Harvey and my mother. Since I got out of school at noon on Fridays, he came Friday afternoons for about seven or eight weeks to work on the painting. I have no recollection what he did with the wet canvas each week while it dried. It obviously couldn’t stay at our house lest our father see it. The portrait was unveiled at a family birthday celebration. I don’t think it was the same day, but shortly thereafter that he brought the portrait of his son, Keith, and gave it to our father. They  hung in our living room until I sold our home after my mother’s death. What I remember most about these and most of his paintings were the rich, vivid colors that he chose. However, it was not those paintings or that style of art that would bring him fame.

Margo Williams painted by Harvey 1958.JPG
Margo Williams by Harvey, 1958

Although his student records show that Harvey focused on the human figure,  His principal instructor was an artist who had other interests and undoubtedly had a strong influence on Harvey’s favorite style of painting, surrealism. His instructor was the internationally known Ernest Feine (1894-1965). Feine was considered a graphic artist primarily, producing prints and lithographs. As far as I know, Harvey produced exclusively oil paintings. Feine’s style of art was decidedly modern and at least one biography states that “Ernest Feine’s artwork often focused on bringing out the humanity of a space while simultaneously deconstructing it into abstract shapes.”[6] Harvey relied more on the symbolism of shapes. It seems to me that he pointed his viewer in a direction, but the sparseness of his symbols invited the viewer to ultimately make the journey his/her own. Thus, I see Feine’s influence, but ultimately, they were very different artists.

Harvey student records Art Students League
Harvey’s student records at Art Students League, 1951-1963, courtesy of Robert Rogers, Baylor University

Around 1961, Harvey began a relationship with someone who would help bring him fame. Although the economy was different then, it cannot be said that Harvey received any truly significant remuneration for his work. He would receive $25 per painting to create works that could be produced as record album covers, specifically, gospel record album covers. The company that contracted with him was Savoy Records (and affiliates), headed by Herman Lubinsky, whose grandson, T. J. Lubinsky, is well known for his “My Music” shows on public television, featuring virtually every era of music.

Elete Jubilee Singers - Regent 6107 - eBay
Gospel Album Cover by Harvey, as seen on Ebay. Courtesy of John Glassburner.

Harvey’s cover art was so successful and, I know now, so different from anything that had been seen on gospel album covers previously that his covers became important components of the albums.[7] Notably, these covers in his surrealist style, used vivid colors and sparse but strong religious symbolism. I once asked his son whether Harvey was a gospel music fan, because I did not remember him being particularly religious. Keith said, no, he was a classical music fan, and no, he was not religious. I find it interesting that someone who never discussed religion and wasn’t a fan of gospel music could produce such spiritually evocative artwork. Clearly, there was a side of Harvey we saw but didn’t recognize.

Harvey would occasionally drop by on a Friday or Saturday afternoon to show us the latest cover. What I don’t think any of us realized was that Harvey had produced over two hundred covers, including some for jazz artists such as Coltrane. Harvey would produce album covers for Savoy until about 1969.[8] I don’t know what ended the relationship. What I do know is that the original canvases were not kept.

Icarus by Harvey.JPG
Icarus by Harvey, owned by Margo Williams

Harvey had other art success during those years. He was a regular exhibitor at the Greenwich Village Art Festival. My family and I would usually try to go to see his work. Most of his canvases were surrealist, but he also had some landscapes. I don’t remember any nudes.  He always sold out. I also remember that he had a one man show at a Madison Avenue art gallery. It was upstairs over another shop. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of that gallery. However, in 1959, he received a Ceceile Award and his works were on exhibit at the Ceceile Gallery on West 56th St., in New York. [9]

 

Harvey & father with painting - George Korval (2)
As seen in Pittsburgh Courier, July 1959, courtesy of George Korval and John Glassburner. Proper name of painting is Gift of the Magi.

Harvey would also begin teaching classes on Saturdays at the Art Students League. Once again, I would visit the school and meet some of his students. By this time, I was in high school and Harvey was willing to take me along on some informal social gatherings at a popular restaurant called The West End on occasion. He would also pick me up sometimes to go see his son Keith in school football games. Unfortunately, a disagreement with my mother put an end to those activities. I learned later that Harvey was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis and would be forced to give up his art. He could no longer hold his brushes.

By 1964, I was off to college in the Midwest. I did not have any ongoing interactions again until the late 1970s when our father was ill. I know my father saw him regularly, usually meeting up with him for lunch where he worked, and he may have dropped by the house briefly to say hello, but I didn’t see him.

I would see Harvey for the last time at our father’s funeral in 1982. Although he sat with the rest of the family in the church, he did not go with us to the cemetery. I never spoke with him that day. My mother and I arrived at the church and we were immediately gathered for the procession into the church. Upon leaving, my mother and I went straight to the limousine, but Harvey, Keith, and Keith’s wife, Lucille left. I never spoke to him again, although I believe my mother did hear from him occasionally. One afternoon in 1987, my mother called me in Maryland where I was living to tell me that Harvey had died. I wish we had had another opportunity to interact, to find a new, more forgiving relationship. Such is life. Harvey is buried at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island (New York).[10]

Fortunately, after several years, Keith, his family, and I rekindled our relationship. We noted that we did not know what had become of Harvey’s canvases, meaning his oil paintings. We each searched on-line for any hints, but nothing seemed to show up. Then one evening, Keith called to say his daughter, Kahlil, had found something about Harvey. He said he would send me the link right then. It was the link to Harvey, at harveyalbums.com.[11] What a shock! Harvey was a cult figure! It said his album covers were coveted around the world.  It also said no one knew who Harvey was. It was even speculated that Harvey was a pseudonym, possibly even for Lubinsky himself! Both Keith and I quickly wrote corrections in the comments. He commented that Harvey was his father; I commented that I was Harvey’s sister. With that, we began an email relationship with the website’s owner, John Glassburner, leading to others who have expressed new, renewed, or increased interest in his album covers, as well as his canvases. In fact, we’ve been able to be in contact with several individuals who had purchased his oil paintings in the past. I’m thrilled to know that his work will not end in oblivion.

Endnotes

[1] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, New York, New York; Emma Williams, head; Robert Williams, son, age 14; Harvey Williams, son, age 12. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02671; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 31-1947B. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, Bronx, New York; Herbert Williams, head; Margaret Williams, wife. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02467; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 3-272B. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] National Cemetery Administration. (2006). Harvey Williams, death: 24 Jan 1987. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, New York, New York; Leroy Butler, head, funeral home owner; Betty, daughter, age 11. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02664; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 31-1701. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] New York, New York, Birth Index, 1910-1965 [database on-line]. Keith Williams, 15 Oct 1946. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Brand-Fisher, S. (n.d.). Ernest Feine (1894-1965): Biography. The Caldwell Gallery. Retrieved from: http:// www.caldwellgallery.com.

[7] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from: www.harveyalbums.com

[8] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from: www.harveyalbums.com

[9] Prize Winner. (July [illegible] 1959). Pittsburgh Courier. Retrieved from: http://fultonhistory.com

[10] National Cemetery Administration. (2006). Harvey Williams, death: 24 Jan 1987. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from: www.harveyalbums.com

 

17 thoughts on “#52Ancestors – (30) The very colorful Harvey”

  1. Very interesting story. I’m glad you found that his work has been so appreciated. I really like that “Indian” portrait of Keith. It’s a shame how siblings do drift apart. I didn’t see my older brother for a 17-year stretch at one point, but we did spend some time together before he died.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, the painting of Keith is a favorite of mine. Unfortunately we as siblings had rocky relationships, but I am blessed to have pretty good relationships with my nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews, and now there are great grands!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! I’m not sure what you mean about the ending. I agree. I do find his work/vision unique. Unfortunately I have not secured the necessary permissions to show some of the oils owned by various individuals. The painting in the news article was stunning. I wish I had a color photo of it or even knew where it is. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting piece. It’s too bad you and your brother didn’t have a chance to see each other again and what a surprise to find the website! I was an art student and i agree completely about what happens when you see nude bodies over and over, after awhile they’re just nude bodies. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s always sad when an opportunity has been missed to communicate with someone. It always seems like there will be more time than there ever is. I’m so glad that you’ve found that the artwork is appreciated – and hopefully this post will help fans of his understand a bit more about Harvey.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am always in awe of people who have the talent for drawing, painting and design. Harvey was incredibly talented! The portrait of you at the piano is beautiful. You’re right, that rich red he used just pops. I’m so glad you were able to see that Harvey’s art was and is still appreciated today. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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