Walker Evans Photos of Carla Grissmann
An Incident in the Life of the Celebrated Humanitarian, Carla Grissmann (1928-2011)
Walker Evans took photos of Carla Grissmann at the Old Lyme golf course in Connecticut in 1953. They are viewable at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website:
I recall Carla mentioning her friendship with Walker Evans only one time. So I will share that story with the hope that others can fill in around it and a more complete picture of the time and events can emerge.
Not long after Carla had to leave Afghanistan due to the 1979 Soviet invasion, she came to visit me. I had a house on a remote and rugged section of the Oregon (USA) coast in those years, and Carla had not been back to the US for a long time. The house was a 19th Century homestead that I was restoring, close enough to the ocean that the sounds of the waves breaking on the shore penetrated the walls. A fire was crackling in the wood-burning stove, an antique Nikolai samovar I had carried back from Kabul was polished and gleaming by the hearth, and we made eggplant parmesan for dinner, baking it a long time so that the house was filled with its savory aromas. After dinner, I pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon off the shelf and put it on the table, and Carla fixed her eyes on it.
I got glasses and started to pour. “I can’t,” Carla said. I looked at her quizzically, but she still had her eyes on the bottle. I put it back down on the table. “Karl, you don’t know how much I’d like a Jack Daniels,” she said. “But I’m allergic. I’ll break out.” Her eyes left the bottle and she looked at me. “You go ahead though. You drink it and I’ll pretend it’s me.” I poured myself a drink and also poured a little in Carla’s glass so that she could sniff Jack Daniels’ dark, oaky aromas. Then she told me about Walker Evans and Jack Daniels.
In the early Fifties, she had returned to New York from Europe and taken a job with a publisher. Another young woman at the publisher became her close friend, and worked in a section of the publishing house that dealt with Walker Evans. Soon her friend and Walker Evans developed a relationship, and Walker Evans, Carla, and her friend began spending weekends living the life. Walker Evans liked Jack Daniels, apparently a lot, and it was a constant part of their weekends. It was obviously a period that Carla savored greatly. We talked on into the evening and I probably drank a little too much. I remember that her recollections of that time involved driving here and there a lot, so I suppose it was Walker Evans’ car.
That was the only time I heard her talk of Walker Evans, though Jack Daniels became a small in-joke between us that persisted for years. “And our friend, Jack Daniels, will he be there?” she’d comment in the midst of some conversation and I always suspected she was reconnecting, via our pleasant evening, with Walker Evans and the New York of her early womanhood. Like Carla then, I haven’t tasted Jack Daniels in many years, but the thought of it still brings back memories of a long and wonderful friendship.