A child of northern New Jersey whose first seven years were spent in urban Newark and industrial Bayonne, Grace Hartigan’s earliest childhood was full of the grit and color of America’s immigrant and working classes. When the family moved to leafy Millburn, young Grace’s life unexpectedly included an exotic element not generally associated with small town, Rockwell-esque America: Gypsies.
From her perch in an apple tree overlooking an empty field, she’d watch as Gypisies ”came with caravans and horses and built bonfires outside and cooked over the fires in big black pots, just like romantic movies and stories.
They really did it. I watched them all the time. The women would come around in marvelous long skirts, brilliant colors, and big earrings, and tell fortunes. The men would sharpen knives.”
For a child already enamored of the romantic tales and songs passed to her from her Irish paternal grandmother, is it any wonder that the emotion inherent in bold lines and aggressive color she saw in this Gypsy encampments would find their way into her adult artistic expression?