A Profound Effect
Over the past five years, the Anthony Quinn Foundation has helped dozens of high school students across the country take advantage of art programs they wouldn't be able to experience without a scholarship. Katherine Quinn, who established the foundation after her husband's death in 2001, talks about why maintaining art programs is crucial to so many teenagers' development, and explains why she has opened up her husband's vast - and varied - art works to hundreds of Rhode Island high school students for hands-on tours.
Click here for additional excerpts of Jim Hummel's interview with Katherine Quinn.
Click here for more information about the Anthony Quinn Foundation.
Willie Grear has performed many times – before many different audiences – playing both trumpet and piano, instruments he picked up at an early age.
But this performance, on a beautiful summer evening under a sprawling tent in Bristol, took on special meaning for him and for those who got to hear him play.
Willie: ``I absolutely would not have been able to do it if it were not for the foundation.’’
The foundation is the Anthony Quinn Foundation, established by Quinn’s wife Katherine after the legendary actor died in 2001. The `it’ Willie alluded to was a three-week summer Jazz Improv Workshop program in New York City, where he studied with jazz masters during the day, performed at public concerts at night, and got the opportunity to record in a multi-million dollar studio.
Willie: ``And I ended up with beautiful recordings that I actually used for my college applications for art supplements. So with the help of the foundation I was able to go to this workshop, which got me these amazing recordings, which I was then able to use to get into college.’’
Willie graduated from South Kingstown High School last spring and was accepted to Princeton University, where he plans to study international affairs and jazz. The foundation last year provided scholarships for Willie and more than a dozen others who wanted to study more about Visual Arts & Design, Dance, Theatre, Singing, Instrumental, Media Arts, or Literary Arts.
The foundation has awarded more than 50 scholarships since 2011. The first year, all but one of the recipients was a Rhode Islander; now they come from as far as Seattle.
This was the first year the foundation had two of its recipients – Willie and Joe Broom of McClean, Virginia - perform at an annual summer fundraiser at Katherine Quinn’s home in Bristol, which also houses a lifetime of Anthony’s Quinn’s art.
Willie: ``The Quinn Foundations is definitely developing a culture where the students are encouraged to explore something creative on top of what they’re doing academically.’’
Katherine: ``I think art helps everybody find their center, find who they really are.’’
We first met Katherine Quinn last spring, when she hosted a series of field trips for area high school students who came to see - and experience - firsthand Anthony Quinn’s art, spread across several buildings and eight acres of land on Poppasquash Point - where the couple lived before Quinn died at the age of 86.
During the month of May she hosted five separate high school groups - from Portsmouth to Providence - telling her late husband’s story, and letting them see up close his varied works of art.
Katherine: `` I watch when they look and I know they want to touch. So often you go on a tour of a museum and you’re told don’t touch, or you’re standing behind the ropes. Some want to touch the trees, or just climb the trees. Others want to pick up the stones that are in the studio, or the pieces of wood that are in there, or the tools, or the pallet knives. So they feel if they can touch it doesn’t become so out of their reach.’’
This year would have been Anthony Quinn’s 100th birthday, so Katherine tells them the story of a young boy who grew up poor in Los Angeles, but was surrounded by art at an early age.
Katherine: ``When he was in school music was a given, he was a poor Mexican kid growing up in East LA with no fathe; single parent in this neighborhood that didn’t really have a lot of means, but music was a part of everyday life. Every kid took music lessons.’’
And throughout his acting career, whenever he had breaks in filming his attention would turn to art.
Katherine: ``And it’s not only one thing: Anthony Quinn was an artist, was an actor , was a writer and the fact that he continued to do all of those things throughout his life; I think that was a great thing. He could have given up his art when he realized he was making money as an actor and could have stopped painting. And said `Oh I’m good at this.’ He did it not because he thought it was going to be another career some day. He did it because he loved to do it.’’
The field trips to Quinn’s house have had a profound effect on many of the budding artists who have visited here the past several years.
Katherine: ``I didn’t want the experience to something that they come and see a lot of, where they come on a field trip and say `Oh you live in a big house, surrounded by a lot of art,’ I wanted them to understand that for him being an artist, even though he died when he was 86 years old, he was working up until the day he died. And it’s not just about when you’re in the studio creating, it’s about every day, every waking hour of your life. You’re observing life you’re observing people, you’re getting to know people that’s where his creativity came from, it was from living.’’
Willie: ``It blows my mind that he was able to communicate his ideas and express himself through this many mediums. When you walk around the property you feel like all of these pieces of art must be from different artists and different fields, but it’s all Anthony Quinn. As a person who’s still trying to discover my artistic identity, what I want to do creatively, he’s sort of almost a role model for me as far as picking between the two instruments - whether I’m going to play piano or I want to play trumpet. People say like which one you are going to pick. Which one are you going to play? I say both, I like to play both and I feel like Anthony Quinn had some of the same ideas, he loved to do all these different forms of art and so that’s what he did.’’
The foundation did not start off with a large endowment, as many do. It has to raise its own money every year to fund the scholarships, the main event being the gathering in August. But The Quinn Foundation has now gained a national reputation and last year received more than 500 applications, 10 times the number that came in the first year.’’
Katherine: ``We’re limited with how many kids we can help. We can only help 10, 15 kids max a year and I thought, if an experience like that will be life-changing - maybe not life changing, that might be pretentious to think it’s life-changing but for some kids it is.
Katherine Quinn says one of the foundation’s goals is to help supplement what have become diminishing art programs in many schools - giving scholarship recipients a chance to do something to stretch themselves creatively.
Katherine: ``When they get to go to these art schools for the summer, then they’re there because they want to be there. And they’re with kids who have the same passions as they do. And sometimes in three weeks that can be transformative, because you’re validated and encouraged and something that you do is taking to another level.’’
Mairead Dambruch, now a high school senior, had just completed a six-week program at RISD when we spoke with her in August. The program helped her with her painting.
Mairead: ``It was so cool being in a place where everyone is just so interest in art. Everyone is so happy about life. I feel a lot more prepared and open minded. I definitely changed from it.’’
The application and selection process itself has become what Katherine hopes is a constructive learning experience, especially for those who are not selected for scholarships.
Katherine: ``And so we make them go through this process that’s challenging, on purpose, because we want them to really analyze who are you what do you want to do and why do you want to do it? And so when the judges look at it, they get the full picture, they’re not judging them just on their talent. They’re judging them on their ability to convey why they want to go, to tell us about their passion, why they do it. And that’s hard for a teenager to do. It’s hard on the judges too because even if the kids aren’t selected as winners we ask the judges to give them some constructive criticism - so tell them something about what you viewed that can help them move forward. So when the kids get their rejection letter, or say you weren’t selected as a winner, they get some of the judges’ feedback. And some of the kids who came back the following year to apply said that that was what helped them grow as a artist.’’
``The first time a kid came back, and a parent came back, so that’s why we have these receptions, we bring the kids back, some of their parents come and they say `You know, you changed my son’s life, he would never…he’s a different person, he’s matured, he knows himself, being in that program changed his life. If I did that for one kid, then it was all worth it. I’m just hoping that there’ll be a couple of Anthony Quinns in there that are set off on a path then there’s no stopping them.’’
In Bristol, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.