The Small Bright World Of Anna Lindner

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She was eighteen—pretty and sensitive, to judge by her photograph, taken in 1863. For many another girl, that age would have represented a new chapter in life in the form of a husband, children, a home of her own. But not so for Anna Lindner, for she had been crippled by polio when an infant in Germany, before her parents came to America; she could get about only on crutches, and was otherwise confined to a wheelchair. Instead 1863 marked the year of her first known dated painting. For a half century Anna painted hundreds of water colors, all of them imbued with warmth and affection for her immediate surroundings. Her works encompass a span from the Civil War to World War I . Yet though she was not oblivious to the world outside, Anna depicted only what she could see from her window or the porch—a limited view, to be sure, but sunny, filled with family pleasures. Self-taught, Anna spent her days meticulously rendering the most commonplace—and happy—scenes of her own small world. In 1892 her brother Frank, a successful lithographer, and his wife moved into a spacious Victorian house in Bayonne, New Jersey, whose back porch overlooked Newark Bay. Anna lived with them and came to center her attentions on their child Emilie, a frail girl who was born in 1895. Anna catalogued her niece’s progress year by year in touching, and sometimes amusing, vignettes, and together they enjoyed a rich relationship. Anna made and painted the paper dolls Emilie and she played house with; she designed the birthday greetings Emilie sent to her parents; she decorated the notebook Emilie did her homework in; she recorded Emilie’s joys at Christmas. In 1908 the Lindners moved inland, to get away from the sea air that a doctor said was undermining Emilie’s health. Frank found a suitable place on Willard Avenue in Bloomfield; it had a porch large enough for Anna to work on, and space enough inside to install an elevator for her. But although she lived out her life there, Anna left few paintings of the grounds and not one of the house. About 1914 her eyes began to fail and she gave up painting, dying eight years later, when she was in her mid-seventies. For more than fifty years thereafter her works were stored in an attic in Bloomfield, until last year, when Emilie—Mrs. Axel Westerdahl now—donated them to the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark. We are indebted to the society for permission to reproduce a sampling of Anna Lindner’s small but cheerful world.