Tuesday 30 May 2017

Nancy Kominsky

Art teacher who inspired hundreds of amateur artists through her popular television series in the Seventies

Nancy Kominsky, who died on March 11 aged 95, leaves a legacy of hundreds of aspiring artists who were enthusiastic followers of her television series Paint Along With Nancy in the Seventies.

The programmes went out once a week in the afternoons, and after the first, Harlech TV in Wales was receiving such a deluge of fan mail that they had to hire several secretaries to deal with it. Her oil painting lessons were followed with enthusiasm by housewives, shift workers, and also schoolchildren, many of whom would race home after school to switch on the television set to watch her demonstrate her unusual system of painting.

Nancy Kominsky's instruction was accompanied by an amusing, unscripted running commentary. To demystify painting with oils and the mixing of colours, she used her own kitchen-sink method: "For the background, mix a teaspoonful of orange, half a teaspoon of vermilion and a quarter of purple . . ."

Demonstrating as she went, she would slash on the colour with a palette knife, and would always finish with a picture that her viewers could copy. The series extended over four years, and was shown extensively abroad.

No one watching her exuberant showmanship could have guessed at the miserable poverty of her childhood in America during the Depression.

She was born Emanuella Agneta Circelli on September 24, 1915, the eldest of five children of Italian immigrant parents. Her father, originally a barber, became a property developer in Pennsylvania, but abandoned the family after the Wall Street crash; his wife and children were evicted from their house by the bailiffs during a snowstorm.

With a mentally unstable mother, Nancy, at the age of 15, took over the household, earning what she could by taking odd jobs.

She rarely attended school, but always had her sketch book to hand.

At 22 she married Michael Kominsky, who built equipment for submarines and aircraft; they divorced after their two children had reached adulthood.

At the age of 50, having only once left the shores of America, she packed her bags and sailed to Rome to open a studio and teach art.

On her arrival she saw a notice in an English-language newspaper for a meeting of what she assumed to be the "American Association" and she went along in the hope of finding some likely pupils.

It turned out to be a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous -- but she still managed to recruit a few pupils, the nucleus of her teaching studio in Rome. At a film festival in France, a friend introduced Nancy Kominsky to the well-known producer Peter Orton, who liked her idea of a television programme aimed at people who wanted to learn how to paint. She began to "commute" between Rome and Bristol, where she made Paint Along With Nancy.

She met her second husband, Patrick Wodehouse, nephew of PG Wodehouse, when he became one of her pupils in Rome. After leaving Italy the couple settled at Wimbledon.

Patrick Wodehouse died in January, and she is survived by the son and daughter of her first marriage, both of whom live in the United States.

Sunday Independent

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