Exhibit of William Sanger’s Maine watercolors at the Tides Institute and Museum of Art in 2016:
William Sanger, who was a leading social radical of his era, was at heart a romantic artist. Yet a more touching, personal double irony brackets Sanger’s artistic career. If not for his relationship with Margaret Sanger, William might have remained an adjunct figure in the world of early 20th century modern art. On the other hand, Sanger’s relationship with Margaret’s contemporary and then abiding fame as a social reformer and Planned Parenthood founder may well have served as a brake on his artistic success during his lifetime. Today he is still the lesser-known Sanger in the family. His work is widely dispersed and rarely seen. Some of his art does remain in family hands. Yet most of the paintings, prints and watercolors he so resolutely created are lost. A few paintings remain sequestered at the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Newark Museum, and the Hispanic Society of America. His one large public commission, a mural for the Brooklyn Industrial School for Girls, done when he was a WPA artist during the Depression, was later painted over with another mural. But with the current exhibition at the Tides Institute & Museum of Art, the day has come to re-examine William Sanger’s artistic achievements and struggles in their own right. It’s high time to rescue him from his disproportionately one-dimensional role as a supporting figure in the life and legend of his famous, even notorious, first wife.