In Virginia Fontaine’s effort to work while her husband, Paul, was at war in Italy (building and destroying bridges with the Army Corp of Engineers), she assisted the director of the Milwaukee Art Institute (now Milwaukee Art Museum), Polly Coan (1919-2015) (later Frances Nemtin).
Polly, a Bryn Mawr graduate, had the most extraordinary upbringing in India, where her father was the YMCA director in Lahore, Punjab (now Pakistan). Her memoirs detail spending summers camping in tents in the Kashmire mountains to get out of the heat, reached only by horseback through dangerous trails; and running from pythons slithering upstairs in their home. She and Virginia worked hard to exhibit the most innovative Wisconsin artists, such as the mobile creations of Lucia Stern #LuciaStern and surrealist works of Dudley Huppler #dudleyhuppler. Polly created the first Frank Lloyd Wright major exhibition in Milwaukee in 1945, after which she left her post to work for Wright in Taliesin and Taliesin West in any capacity he needed. Her forte became landscape architecture, informed heavily by her childhood visits to lavish palatial gardens in India. She remained with the Wright architecture school her entire life. She traveled widely with the Taliesin architects, commissioned as far as Iran for the Shah of Iran’s sister’s Pearl Palace. They barely finished before the revolution in 1979.
Polly and Virginia corresponded their entire lives, each telling the other of their expatriate adventures. See the chapter “Artists Whom I Believe in” in the upcoming publication “Trusted Eye: Post-World War II Adventures of a Fearless Art Advocate” to learn more about Virginia’s experience with Polly and the Wisconsin artists.