JS: You began to study in Paris in 1930.
HS: The first time I went there I was 18 or 19. At the beginning I would go for three or four months at a time, when I was still living with my parents in Bucharest. I was studying philosophy and art history at the university, but in the end I dropped out.
JS: In Paris, you studied in the atelier of Léger. Could you describe that?
HS: Well, he wasn't there. I never met him until much later in New York, in the ‘40s. But at that time I never saw his face. He had a very good man who was a substitute. It was more than anything a place to work. Nobody tried to influence me, I just worked.
JS: Where did you live when you were in Paris?
HS: Most of the time in Montparnasse. But through the years in every neighborhood, because I wanted to know all Parises. In the end I kept going back to Montparnasse, because it was the place of strangers, and I was a stranger.
JS: Which artists did you see in Paris when you settled there in 1930?
HS: I saw Victor Brauner, and he was very good to me, and introduced me to people.
JS: In 1932, two years after arriving in Paris, you married a childhood friend, Frederick Sterne, from Bucharest, and resettled there for a short time, before again moving between Paris and Bucharest.
HS: The first husband I married when I was 22. He was very, very supportive but with no idea about art. We had an excellent relationship but not a real marriage for a variety of reasons that are not of interest in the history of art [laughs]. But he was an extraordinary, true, loyal friend. He brought me here in 1941. And he encouraged me and helped me and kept me—I never had economic problems because of him. He started out as a reader, an intellectual, then he went to study with a financier and learned how to deal with money and became very, very successful. He came here in '39. In '41 he brought me over, wtith tremendous efforts.
JS: I read that you barely escaped—
HS: —unspeakable death. Yes. But I did, so I never enlarged on it.
JS: You left via Portugal.
HS: I stopped in Portugal for a while because the ship I was supposed to come in was sunk by submarines. And I had to wait and I came on another one. It was in October 1941, and America was very difficult about visas. It was quite a miracle that I came. In New York, at that time, there was a situation with expatriates and refugees—a kind of solidarity so that you had immediate friendships. Very different from what you'd have now.
JS: Whom did you meet?
HS: Saint Ex [Antoine de Saint-Exupéry] was one. I was taken to him by a young Yugoslavian girl I had met on the boat. I was 30 and this girl was 19. She came alone, brought by the Quakers, and so I told her, "If you are ever having troubles and need somebody"—I gave her my address. She said, "You are using absolutely the same words of somebody you have to meet." It was Saint Ex, and we became instant friends.
When he wrote anything—I lived alone—he would call me up and read me a chapter or two, at 2 or 3 A.M. When he did Le Petit Prince, he was always doodling. He called me up to ask for the name of a good illustrator, and I said, you do it. He went to the publisher and they used his illustrations. And then he wrote me a thank-you note. That letter was very important to me, the idea that I participated, encouraged something that became so important—it was extraordinary for me.
JS: Did you suggest the way the characters should be sketched?
HS: No, no, no. Only that he use his doodles. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, and a great talker. I've met a few great talkers in my life, and he was one of them.
JS: Who were the others?
HS: Duchamp. And Meyer Schapiro—and as storytellers, Franz Kline and Bill de Kooning. Bill would go on a bender and come back with stories you wouldn't believe. And Franz Kline one evening talked about his cat for hours. And we sat there—it was like Scheherazade. We were totally enthralled listening to him. He had us paralyzed with interest and awe, just talking about his cat. Fantastic. Only at one point he said something that really broke your heart. He had a wife ill in the insane asylum, and at one point he dropped that the cat looked like his wife. And that was deeply moving. You realized that he adored that cat because he identified the cat with her. That evening was totally unforgettable.
JS: And Duchamp. What kind of stories did he tell?
HS: Duchamp was just a conversationalist, you know, to keep it going, beautifully. Wonderful spirit, elegant mind. And Harold Rosenberg was a great debater. When he talked, brilliant, brilliant. Generous. He didn't just keep it for his writing, as so many do.
JS: I'd like to go back for a minute. In 1938 you were in an exhibition in Paris, the "Surindépendants" show.
HS: For that one you submitted the work yourself you didn't have to be elected. That's where Arp saw my work, and gave it to Peggy Guggenheim in London, where she had a gallery, and that's why, when I came to New York, Peggy became my first friend and I showed in her Art of This Century right away. Can you imagine? And never for a moment thought it was extraordinary. Everybody was here because of the war, and they gathered in her house. I didn't know any ordinary person.