Benfolly by Janice Biala


Janice Biala (1904-2000), Benfolly, no date [1930s]. Oil on canvas.
Museum object collection GA 2006.02658

In 1913, Schenehaia Tworkovska (1903-2000) and her older brother Yakov (1900-1982) immigrated to the United States from Biala, Poland. She took the name Janice, he became Jack, and they anglicized the family name to Tworkov. Each worked to pay for painting classes at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. To avoid the stigma of being a female artist, Janice painted under the name of her hometown, Biala. Before long, both Janice and Jack were American citizens.

Janice traveled to Paris in 1930 to continue her education in art and there, she met and moved in with the English writer Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939). Ford was the founder of The Transatlantic Review, where he published James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and other friends. Describing their relationship, Janice wrote, “He found a little handful of dust and turned it into a human being.”

Through Ford, she met the poet Allen Tate (1899-1979) and Tate’s wife Caroline Gordon (1895-1981), who worked as Ford’s secretary. The Tates invited Ford and Biala to spend time at their antebellum home on the Cumberland river near Clarksville, Tennessee. Purchased with the help of Tate’s brother Ben, the house was dubbed Ben’s Folly or Benfolly. In the summers it was filled with visiting writers and artists, as seen in Biala’s painting (purchased by Princeton from the Tates’ daughter).

“All of Biala’s paintings seem touched by a tough ingenuousness — never sentimental or naive, but slightly nostalgic in their playful intimacy. Suffusing them is the outlook of a painter who has found what she needs and knows what she wants to do. The results glow with a wondrous candor.” John Goodrich, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” New York Sun, December 13, 2007

See also: Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), Provence: from Minstrels to the Machine; illustrations by Biala (Philadelphia; London: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1935). Gift of Edward Naumburg. (Ex) 2004-1848N

Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), Great Trade Route; with drawings by Biala (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1937). (Ex) PR6011.O53 Z99036