Reader Response: A Red Venetian Bottle and Henry Niese

We love getting your reactions to the material we post. If your message contains new information or images relevant to the one of our posts, we’ll even publish it as a separate piece. Here’s what one reader had to say about “Concerning Craft: Henry Niese (and William Carlos Williams).”


Just read your article. I quite enjoyed seeing how you unfolded the continuity between Henry Niese’s “Jersey Lyric” I and II with William Carlos Williams’ poem. Your word “evolved” descriptively connects us from painting to poem.

Henry Niese's watercolor

Henry Niese’s watercolor with the red Venetian bottle

May I tell a story?

Two years ago my wife and I came across a painting while visiting a relative in the Florida Keys. A large framed watercolor hung on a crowded wall in a small room of an old used furniture store. Our find evolved into a delightful adventure. It led to Henry Niese, William Carlos Williams, a sketch from Ben Shahn, letters to Denise Levertov, an original Pulitzer Prize photo and a red Venetian bottle.

The watercolor was painted by Henry Niese around 1957 in his old farmhouse west of Hackettstown, NJ. It appeared in his 1st or 2nd New York one-man show. The red Venetian bottle in our painting has been interpreted by him in many of his works throughout the years and is shown brightly in his 2010 “Midnight Snow Blues,” as seen on Gold Leaf Studios’ recent press release and invitations.

Henry has been gracious in his correspondence with us. Our initial exchange of digital photos evolved into a number of timely and pleasant discoveries. These included what may be Williams Carlos Williams’ first written statement regarding Henry Niese, made in a letter written to Denise Levertov on June 13, 1956:

Saw some paintings of a young New Jersey painter who lives about 40 miles from us in country district about Lake Hopatcong that are quite marvellous today; thrilling work, actual records of life but NOT abstracted for a patterned to appeal to a geometric unity. Watch him, his name is Henry Niese.

We came across the letter on a website, which led to our reading The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams, edited by Christopher MacGowan. Evidently, this early description of the young painter from New Jersey was unknown to the painter himself. They rested quietly through the years from the subject of the pen. We passed them on to Henry, unaware he had not seen them. And were thrilled to hear his response.

1954 AP photo of Henry with Pulitzer notice, blinds in the background

Months later, during one of our interchanges, Henry noted that he had just seen a picture on the Web of him receiving notice of a 1954 Pulitzer Prize. The article appeared in the Newark Evening News on May 4, 1954. We asked him if he had a copy of the photo. He only had the newspaper clipping.

This original photo was one of two that were taken from different angles. The blinds in the background appear to be the same ones featured in a the 1955 painting “Window Still Life.” We were able to give him this original AP photo as we were fortunate enough to have seen it a few months earlier and had immediately purchased it.

Back to the watercolor.

Ben Shan

Photo of Ben Shahn with self-portrait

The mystery for us regarding the man in the watercolor led to a slow evolving story that included a Life magazine photo of Ben Shahn holding a self-portrait and the memory of a sketch given to Henry by Ben Shahn.

Henry Niese represents such a breadth of time and experiences! I remind myself he is actually a member of a generation that students of art, literature and history read about. I hope his memoir, which I think is in a small box in the corner of a room in his old farmhouse, will not also remain quietly unread and unpublished! I’ve read an excerpt. A remarkable flight in 1950 taking Jewish refugees from Tehran to Israel in a worn-out C-54 flown by two ex-RAF pilots.

We look forward to making the trip to Gold Leaf Studios to see the “…Painter’s Palette…” firsthand and–who knows–maybe see the painter himself.

Over the years we have found many bottles in remote areas on the islands of Marathon. It has been our privilege and delight to have our journey evolve from a crowed wall in a small room of an old used furniture store in the Florida Keys, where we found a red Venetian bottle and the artist Henry Niese.

PS: We live in North Carolina. We were having dinner with a 62-year-old friend of ours. She is from New Jersey and enjoys the arts, so I asked her if she knew of the writer William Carlos Williams. She said, “Oh yes, he delivered me and came out of retirement when I was twelve to remove my appendix. I kicked him in the stomach. My brother was the last child he delivered. There’s a picture of him holding my brother in Life magazine.”

Wouldn’t you know!

Ilse, if you made it this far, thanks for listening.

Doug Petty
Mills River, NC

10 thoughts on “Reader Response: A Red Venetian Bottle and Henry Niese

  1. henry niese

    Dear Doug, Michelle, Ilse,
    Thanks for your contribution to the Henry Niese Legend.
    (That’s all it is, a legend. Or maybe another 15 minutes of
    Andy W. fame)


  2. Doug and Michelle Petty

    Life has some amazing turns. Ours went due north from an obscure shop in the Florida Keys to Gold Leaf Studios in Washington DC.
    Thank you Henry, your family and Gold Leaf Studios for a remarkable evening.
    Doug and Michelle Petty


  3. Henry Niese

    Dear folks,
    The show at Gold Leaf Studios has been extended to Christmas, maybe beyond, I’m not sure.
    Things are going well. Just talked to Bill Adair, the owner. He’s in Italy. Last time I talked to him he was on a 165 foot crane, gilding a church dome in LA, or San Jose, or another CA town. He’s probably in DC now.


  4. Pingback: Concerning Craft: Henry Niese (and William Carlos Williams) | Little Patuxent Review

  5. Caroline g whitcomb

    Hi there Doug and Michelle. My name is Caroline (Green) Whitcomb. I knew your daughter as a child and you all played a wonderful part in my childhood. I googled your daughter and ended up here. Thanks for loving on kids and for the time your family invested in the Cove Camp!


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