Weissport man was 'Boy on Chair'
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Jacky Bisbing holds a sketch of her husband, Henry, that is signed, "Best Wishes/Franz Josef Kline/38." Henry holds the chair he was sitting in when the sketch was made.
Sometimes kids find the darndest things-like when, in 1979, then 14-year-old Julie Bisbing and her mother, Jacky, were trolling through the attic of her family's Lehighton home.
She found a forty-year-old piece of construction paper. One side had a picture, of a vase with tulips, drawn in grade school by her father, Henry. The other side had a much earlier drawing-a sketch of then four-year-old Henry, signed "Best Wishes/Franz Josef Kline/38. Kline would go on to become one of the most important Abstract Impressionist painters.
Kline, 28-years-old when he made the sketch, was visiting Henry's father in Weissport. "My Grandfather, Milo Bisbing, built a home in Lehighton at 250 South Ninth Street in 1896," Henry Bisbing explained. "My Father, Loren, the youngest of 14 kids, was born there in 1904. When the Klines with their mother, Mrs. Snyder, moved into the neighborhood three doors away, they were befriended by the Bisbings, especially Loren.
"My parents married in 1928. My father worked for Weissport National Bank, and we moved to Weissport around 1931. He stayed in touch with the Kline children until the time of his death."
Franz Josef Kline, born in Wilkes-Barre in 1910, was the second of four children of Anthony Kline-a native of Hamburg, Germany and Anna Rowe-from Cornwall, England. Kline was named for Austrian emperor, Franz Josef.
When Franz was seven, his father shot and killed himself. Three years later his mother remarried, to Ambrose Snyder, a foreman for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Franz went to school at Girard College in Philadelphia, an institution for "fatherless boys," until his mother transferred him to Lehighton High School. At Lehighton, he became President of the Art Club and a cartoonist for the school newspaper.
After leaving Lehighton to study art, Kline set up a studio in New York City. Henry and Jackie remember a story that Loren told about a visit to Kline's studio.
"When he visited Kline in New York, he was wearing a nice white silk shirt," Jacky said. "While he was showing him a painting, he took his hands with paint on them, and wiped them on the front of his white silk shirt."
In 1938, Kline visited Loren Bisbing in his Weissport home. While he was waiting, he sketched four-year-old Henry as he sat on a small wooden chair. "It couldn't have taken more than five or ten minutes," Henry said. "He was a trained artist then."
Henry was so young that he doesn't remember posing for the sketch, nor the visit from Kline, nor even having the sailor suit that he is pictured wearing - but he remembers the chair, and still owns it.
"It was my mother's chair as a child," Henry said. "I had it all those years. When I was a kid, it was painted red. Later, Dad cleaned it up and repainted it brown."
The next time Henry handled the sketch was several years later when he used the reverse side to draw the vase. Then, it was relinquished to the attic-until unearthed by his daughter 30 years ago.
"When she found the sketch in the attic, my daughter knew who Franz Kline was," Jacky said. "We often spoke of him."
Jackie said she immediately recognized that the sketch was of Henry as a little boy. "We have pictures that his parents took of him," she said. "He was an only child."
They bordered the sketch with wrapping paper and had it framed as a present.