Caresse Says Yes!


San Antonio, United States

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Artist's Description

Just reading about this woman exhausts me!

coloured pencil on 9″×11″ sketchbook paper inspired by
Caresse Crosby

“the word on her lips is always Yes!”

“Party at Kay de San Faustino’s and Yves Tanguy’s. Caresse Crosby enters with the bouyancy of a powder puff, a caressing voice (was this how she gained the nickname of Caresse from Harry Crosby?), her fur hat, her eyelashes, her smile all glittery with animation. The word on her lips is always yes, and all her being says yes yes yes to all that is happening and all that is offered her. She trails behind her, like a plume of a peacock, a fabulous legend. She ran the Black Sun Press in Paris, lived in a converted windmill, knew D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Andre Breton, painters, writers. At the Quartre Arts Ball she once rode a horse as Lady Godiva.

The life of certain women dresses them in anecdotes which become more visible than fur coats or silk dresses. Stories surround Caresse like a perfume, a necklace, a feather. She always seems fresher and younger than all the women there, because of her mobility, ease, flowingness. D. H. Lawrence would have called it her “livingness.” A pollen carrier, I thought, as she mixed, stirred, brewed, concocted her friendships by a constant flux and reflux of activity, by curiosity, avidity, amorousness.” quoted from Anais Nin’s diary..

While she spent most of her career engaged in the literary arts, Caresse Crosby helped change fashion and free women from confining corsets by getting the first patent for the modern brassiere—or as we call it now the bra.

Caresse Crosby (April 20, 1892 – January 26, 1970), born Mary Phelps Jacob, was a patron of the arts, poet, publisher, and peace activist. She took on the name Polly in childhood. Her parents William Hearns Jacob and Mary Phelps were both descended from American colonial families, William from the Van Renssalear family and Mary from William Phelps. At age 19, she invented the first modern brassiere to receive a patent and gain wide acceptance. Her life at first followed convention. In 1915, she married the well-to-do Richard R. Peabody, whose family had arrived in New Hampshire in 1635. They had two children, but following Richard’s service in World War I, Richard turned into a drunk who loved to watch buildings burn. Polly met Harry Crosby at a picnic in 1920 and they had sex within two weeks. Their public relationship scandalized proper blue blood Boston society.

Two years later Richard granted her a divorce and Harry and Polly were married. They immediately left for Europe, where they joined the lost generation of American expatriates. They embraced a bohemian and decadent lifestyle, living off of Harry’s trust fund of USD$12,000 a year (or about $153,871 in today’s dollars), had an open marriage with numerous ongoing affairs, a suicide pact, frequent drug use, wild parties, and long trips abroad.

At her husband’s urging, Polly took the name Caresse in 1924. In 1925 they began publishing their own poetry as Éditions Narcisse in exquisitely printed, limited-edition volumes. In 1927 they re-christened the business as the Black Sun Press. They became instrumental in publishing some of the early works of many emerging authors who were struggling to get published, including James Joyce, Kay Boyle, Ernest Hemingway, Hart Crane, D. H. Lawrence, Rene Crevel, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

In 1929 one of her husband’s affairs culminated in his death as part of a murder-suicide or double suicide at the studio of a friend. His death was marked by scandal as the newspapers speculated wildly about whether Harry shot his lover or not. Caresse returned to Paris where she continued to run the Black Sun Press. She was friends with many of the eminent authors of her time, including Robert Duncan, Anais Nin and Henry Miller. She left Europe in 1936 and bought Hampton Manor in Virginia outside Washington D.C. She married Selbert Young, an unemployed, drunk actor sixteen years her younger. She helped Henry Miller by taking over writing pornography for an anonymous Texas oil baron. Her guests at Hampton Manor included Buckminster Fuller, Salvador Dali, Ezra Pound and other friends from Paris. She began a long-term love affair with black actor-boxer Canada Lee despite the threat of miscegenation laws. She founded Women Against War. She continued after World War II to try to establish a Center for World Peace at Delphi, Greece. When rebuffed by Greek authorities, she purchased Castello di Rocca Siniblada, a 15th-century castle north of Rome, which she used to support an artists colony. She died of pneumonia related to heart disease in Rome in 1970.

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