Greeners, Galers & Fairfield Porter
By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 20x20, painted 2019
Original photograph taken - 1950
I am most enamored with the paintings of Fairfield Porter. He was a Kennedy-era American artist who painted my fantasy of ‘the good life’ – genteel people of a certain lineage enjoying summer moments at his family’s historic beach house in Maine. Awash in color, Porter captured images of generations reading together on the screened porch; friends gathered in conversation on sun-washed Adirondack chairs; morning tennis matches in preppy whites. As much as I idealize this world I know that ‘my people’ did not come from that ‘stock’ or live like that.
My mother-in-law once explained to me the ‘Jewish social hierarchy’ as she experienced it. There were ‘greeners’ and ‘galers’. She was a greener. I came from greeners. Galer is Yiddish for yellow and greener...well that’s obvious. These terms are used as immigration and lineage metaphors. She explained that a ‘galer’ is like a yellow vegetable that has had time to ripen on the vine while a ‘greener’, like a green vegetable, is new on the vine. If you’re a greener it means you are an immigrant from the old country and you have an accent. A galer is someone whose ancestors have been living in the new world for generations. Galers have ripened on the vine of America for a long time. Stereotypically, galers had time to build their fortunes in this country, become ‘genteel’ and take their place as part of the leisure class – they might sail or have beach homes; they play tennis.
I love this image of my husband’s grandparents. There they are, two ‘greeners’, as if planted into a Fairfield Porter painting but just on the other side of the fence. It was a moment captured only a few short years after escaping the ravages of war. I love that they figured out how to insert themselves, if not in, then beside the ‘leisure class’ of the galers. They cast off their heavy clothes and the baggage of the past and had their day in the sun.