Still life – in her!
Upper West Sider Henrietta Mantooth is still painting – and exhibiting – at the tender age of 97.
Mantooth, whose pieces have been featured at the Ford Foundation Gallery and MOMA in Brazil, had her work on display at the Feb. 16 kick-off party on Columbus Avenue for the Gold Standard Arts Festival — which celebrates older artists.
The festival runs from April 25 – May 1.
“I actually love being old,” the feisty artist, theatrical set designer and performer told The Post. “There is an excitement and a freedom in many ways. And I feel I am a history book and all of that experience offers me a knowledge that presents itself without conscious effort.”
It was Mantooth’s love of news — she graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism — that initially brought the Kansas City native to the Big Apple.
“I graduated in 1945 just as World War II ended and I headed for New York. I thought that was the place to be. I was excited to go to the big city. But since with the end of the war, the male reporters were returning from Europe and Asia, it was hard for a woman to get a journalistic job. I worked at odd jobs and finally got research work at Publishers Weekly.”
In 1947 — through Latin American journalists she had met in college — she got a job in Caracas, Venezuela (Spanish had been her minor in college). She worked at the English newspaper there — The Caracas Journal — and soon got a gig with the American International Association “traveling to rural villages in outlying areas, talking to farmers and their families and writing their stories.”
She did that job for five years, before being transferred to Brazil, where she learned Portuguese. “Inspired by my visions of the simple farm people I was writing about, I began to draw and paint their forms and connected again with my talent as a kid, when I was often the class artist in school.”
In 1952 she married an American journalist in Brazil, and in her spare time from her writing job, she began to study art and eventually did so in Paris, Italy and Greece.
“I became a full-time artist and began to exhibit my work in Brazilian museum shows and in the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1961. My two sons were born in 1958 and 1960 and we moved to New York in 1962, where I began showing my paintings,” she explained, adding, “Abstract Expressionism was the exciting art happening here, and I loved the work of those artists: Pollock, DeKooning …”
She also got involved in theater and created original stage sets for Off-Off Broadway theaters and university theaters where she also taught as artist in residence.
Mantooth has lived in the same West 81st Street brownstone — perched between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive — for 60 years.
The charming nonagenarian describes her work as “witnessing” since it concentrates on those “who are usually nameless — refugees, rebels, farmers, men and women who tend and defend their land, homes, children, animals, and ideas.”
The historical figures she would have loved to paint are Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pablo Picasso, whom she adores “because he was an improviser.”
One thing hasn’t changed for Mantooth: “Everytime you pick up a paintbrush to do something new, it’s a risk. …it’s addicting.”