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Violette

Violette I

Genealogy Series 2019: Photograph and Mixed Media on canvas

16” x 12”



This is my great grandmother.


Her name was Violette Curtis, but that’s not even true. We found out much later that her birth name was Bessie Rychow and she was Polish Jew. She’d been adopted by a Philadelphia Mainline family and raised with a silver spoon in her mouth. But her birth parents had died in a fire in New York City in the garment industry where they were laborers, trapped to death in a smoldering brick loft. When Violette was 16, she left the Philadelphia mansion to run away from home and join the Vaudeville circus. She taught herself to sing and dance, and she was touted as “a cute little number” on playbills. A soubrette is one who plays lively, flirtatious characters.


Violette had one number called “You Can Find It In the Dark Without a Candle.” The song talked about how you could figure out the mystery item by its sweet smell, its warm touch, its delightful taste, and she’d sing these verses with coquettish musical aplomb, leading the audience to believe the naughtiest of possibilities. Come to find out by the end of the song, it’s an apple pie sitting on the window sill.


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