Photos courtesy Joyce and Peter Blue
She was a dancer, a painter, a poet and an author; he was a well-known, highly-respected sculptor, jewelry maker, and painter. They were cultured, well-traveled and numbered as friends and colleagues the famed photographer Edward Weston and talented dancer Martha Graham. They could have lived in any city, in any country, due to their connections and talents, but they settled and spent much of their married lives in tiny Eaton/Snowville, NH.
The story of Leslie (Snow) and Louis Feron is almost unbelievable, peppered with such names as Rockefeller and Jackie Kennedy and Tiffany and Marcel Duchamp and other famous artists, writers and public figures. But their story is decidedly true and very interesting.
When the couple settled in Snowville, NH in 1967, it was a homecoming of sorts for Leslie, who had deep ties to the area. Her ancestors, Joseph and Sally Snow, were the first to settle the Snowville/Eaton area, and she had relatives in the town. Among those closest to the Ferons was Leslie’s nephew, Peter Blue, and his wife, Joyce. (The couple lived next door to the Ferons since 1983, and Peter greatly admired Leslie and Louis as “for real” artists, as he thought of them.)
The Ferons lived in Leslie’s great-grandfather Edwin Snow’s large barn that they converted some years ago into a house and studio; Louis passed away in 1998 at age 97 and Leslie died last February. Although active in the town, they were certainly not flashy or showy people, and did not flaunt their status as artists.
Perhaps that is why, other than in the Eaton area, many people are unaware that the famous couple resided in NH.
Now the public will get a look at the Ferons artwork and collectibles up-close at a major estate auction on Saturday, February 17 held by Gary Wallace Auctioneers in Ossipee.
The excitement is plain in Gary’s voice as he describes just a few of the items that will be presented for auction. “Some of the work is museum quality, and there are amazing items. There are sculptures, jewelry, metal work, Tiffany jewelry, among other items.”
In order to understand the scope of the Feron’s artwork, it is helpful to know more about them as people and artists who brought their skills to Eaton.
Louis was born in Rouen, France in 1901 and educated in Paris. He studied drawing, sculpture and anatomy at the Ecole d’Art Municipale and other schools. His talent must have immediately been obvious: by age 15 he was apprenticed as a figure and ornament “ciseleur” at the Volk Bronze Figure Workshop. By age 25 he was earning the salary of a master in his field and became known as the best ciseleur goldsmith in all of France. He served in the military as well, but eventually left France for Costa Rica where he got commissions for gold work from individuals, government and church. He was a cultural attaché of the French Legation of Cosa Rica until 1941. By 1946, he was living in New York City and maintaining a busy studio.
Louis designed and executed sculptures, goldsmith pieces and took jewelry commissions for private customers and worked also for Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Steuben Glass, to name but a few. His work is in the Museum of Modern Art, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH; The Cathedral of Detroit and in private collections.
To look upon the lovely face of Leslie Snow Feron is to see the sophisticated and talented woman Louis wanted to get to know after seeing her dance with Martha Graham’s company. (The story goes that he managed to get backstage access to meet Leslie, and their relationship grew from there.)
Leslie grew up in New Jersey and attended Skidmore College, where she studied painting. She won a scholarship from Skidmore to study dance with The Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York City. She also studied life drawing at the Art Student’s League and painting at Columbia University.
After college, she became a dancer with Graham’s troupe and worked extremely hard. She describes the physically-demanding work, and the creative energy required to dance for the exacting Graham. There was no corner-cutting, no second-best when it came to dancing for Graham. (Leslie later wrote that she asked Louis if he thought she could cut a few corners to simplify her work in a painting. He replied, “Yes you can certainly do that and the corners will be missing.” In other words, take your time and do it right if it is work you care about, whether dancing or painting.
Although Louis was 25 years older than Leslie, they seem to have been made for each other. Due to her talent and work as a dancer, Leslie traveled in cultured circles, as did Louis. She understood what it meant to be a professional, hard-working and committed artist, and it can be sure Louis appreciated her talents and her awareness of what it took to produce artwork.
The couple were married in Connecticut in 1962 and after visiting Snowville/Eaton, NH, they renovated her great-grandfather’s large old barn. Joyce and Peter Blue moved to Eaton in 1983 and had the unique opportunity to live next door to “for real” artists, as Peter calls his Aunt Leslie and Uncle Louis.
Recalls Joyce, “Louis and Leslie came to Eaton to visit her mother and Louis became interested in the barn. They bought it and converted it into a house and studio. Leslie’s painting studio was on the top floor, and Louis had a studio downstairs.”
Although humble about their fame, the Ferons were active in the life of the town: Leslie spent many months working on with the Eaton Planning Board on the town’s first master plan, which involved interviewing everyone in town, a very time-consuming task. (Joyce explains that Leslie liked precision and attention to detail, which were needed for a task like the master plan.) In 1987 the town of Eaton awarded her a citation for her four-year serving on the planning board.
“One of Leslie’s paintings that will be at the auction is of the Eaton planning board,” says Joyce. “She did it in 1986.” Many of Leslie’s painting subjects/models were Eaton townspeople.
After Louis died, Leslie continued to live in their home in Eaton. She became close to Peter and Joyce over the years and they were happy to offer their assistance.
“They were fascinating people,” Joyce recalls. “Louis was old-world, staunch in his beliefs. They are certainly missed, and as long-time residents, they had a quiet, enduring presence here.”
When asked why the Ferons chose to live in a tiny town in rural NH when they could have settled in any town or city in the world, Joyce says the answer is a simple one: “This was Leslie’s home. She had deep ties to the Eaton areas: sisters and nieces and nephews here. She was comfortable in Eaton.”
As for Louis, he may have loved the quiet that allowed him to get on with his many commissions and the fact that the townspeople were not so easily dazzled by his fame. In Eaton, the Feron’s were valued members of the community, but not treated with kid gloves.
In later life, Leslie wrote a book about her life with Louis and her work as a dancer, A Voyage Remembered, with the memoirs of Louis Feron, publisher Peter E. Randall (www.PERpublisher.com). She also wrote poetry, giving well received readings of her compositions throughout NH.
No matter what auction-goers find interesting: the sculptures, the jewelry or metal work of Louis or the paintings and drawings done by Leslie, or the personal possessions of a cultured couple, there is something for everyone at the upcoming Gary Wallace Auction.
There is one little story Joyce relates that speaks volumes to the fact that when one is an artist, that passion never goes away. When Joyce and Peter’s son was married, Leslie attended the wedding. She had not danced since she married Louis, but for some reason, she got up and danced at the wedding and dazzled everyone. The morning after the wedding, it was raining and Joyce was in her yard. She saw Leslie, sheltered by her umbrella, making her way to her mailbox to check the mail. Leslie waved to Joyce and did a little dance with her umbrella in the rain, right there in the road, as if to recall her joy at dancing on the previous evening.
It was that small moment of a dancer’s joy, that defines Leslie as a “for real” artist. And it was the artwork Louis created over a lifetime, that also made him a “for real” artist, as Peter Blue would say. That dazzling, “for real” talent will be in full view at the upcoming Gary Wallace Auctioneers event on February 17.
(Those who wish to view some of the offerings at the auction can find an online photo gallery at www.wallaceauctions.com. Call 539-5276. The auction will take place at the Gary Wallace Auction House on Route 16 in Ossipee.)