Gertrude Abercrombie

     I've described in previous blogs my relationship with legendary Chicago artist Gertrude Abercrombie. Gertrude was a close friend of my uncle Hugh and during the racial turmoil of the late 1950s and early 1960s, my uncle would pay me to drive him to Gertrude's townhouse in Hyde Park. The townhouse was located on Dorchester between 57th and 58th. Not only did I learn a lot about how to paint watching Gertrude, but I also met a lot of famous people.

    Uncle Hugh and Gertrude.

  Gertrude and Hugh were into a lot of goofy shit such as astrology and tarot cards.
   Gertrude's parents were traveling opera singers.

    Young Gertrude.


She was not what you would call prepossessing.I never met her first husband, Bob Livingston, although I did meet her daughter Dinah several times.

One of the neat things about hanging out at Gertrude's was meeting famous people like Dizzy Gillespie. 


During the 50s black people couldn't stay at most of the big hotels in downtown Chicago, so Gertrude let a lot of black jazz musicians and singers stay at her townhouse.

    Gertrude's second husband, Frank Sandiford, was an ex-con burglar. He wrote a book The Next Time Is For Life under the pen name of Paul Warren. I snuck my parent's copy when I was a wee lad. It was quite interesting. Of all of Gertrude's friends and associates, I think I enjoyed Frank the most. Although Uncle Hugh warned me that Frank was gay, he never made any overt moves on the young, handsome Genius. Ever since I first met Gertrude she was an out of control alcoholic. James Purdy used Gertrude as a character in several of his novels.

I forget most of the names in the above photo. The large transvestite on the right was a real character.

   Frank is the guy on the far left, and Dizzy is on Gertrude's right. Perhaps some of you jazz fans will recognize the other musicians.


Gertrude was a fixture at the annual Hyde Park art fairs on 57th Street.

   Uncle Hugh bought a number of Gertrude's best paintings. He also bought a few paintings of some other local artist friends of Gertrude's. His hope was that his collection would be kept intact. Tobin is in possession of what remains of this marvelous art collection. 

I found this Gertrude watercolor portrait of fellow artist Tud Kemp in a Rogers Park resale shop.

      One of the last times I visited Gertrude's house (she died in 1977, shortly after I returned to Chicago from California), my late girlfriend Indy took a number of photos of Gertrude.


Gertrude loved cats. I don't remember the dog.

  Nor do I remember whether she did the self-portrait sculpture or Tud did.

   She had a small group of gay groupies that hung around her townhouse during her declining years.

  She rarely left her basement during the last year of her life.

   I think the guy on the far right is art professor Don Baum. He was an interesting guy.

   My brother Scott talked uncle Gordon into selling this large self-portrait. It is now hanging in the Art Institute. 

  Scott also talked me into selling this self-portrait for a measly $25 grand. I wonder how much he made off the deal?

   It's a shame Hugh's wishes weren't honored. His collection was a real piece of Chicago art history.


Gertrude Abercrombie