I knew when I found this drawing (and a second listed separately)--sent as a Christmas card to artist Lois Gross Smiley, at whose estate sale I found it—that it was something—and I was right! This is the work of Vaclav Vytlacil (1892-1984), a major figure in the emergence of American modernism. Vytacil co-founded the American Abstract Artist Group, the predecessor of the New York School / Abstract Expressionism, and his now highly valued paintings are in the collections of the Met, MoMA, the Whitney, the Smithsonian, etc. He was also a highly influential teacher for many years at the Art Students League, NYC, and also Black Mountain College, California College of Arts and Crafts, etc, with students including Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Twombly, etc etc —AND Lois Gross Smiley!
Smiley, who grew up in New York City, in fact encountered Vytlacil early on, in high school at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side, where both he and Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo taught. I imagine their paths continued to intersect, as Smiley went on to earn her BA at Sarah Lawrence and to work as a painter and curator in NY until moving to Wellesley, MA in 1991. So, it would make sense that she would receive Christmas and New Year’s greetings from Vytlacil and his wife Elizabeth (Betty). I’ve found a few other of Vytlacil's drawings from the 1970s that very closely align with these, making me pretty certain of the attribution.
The mixed drawing (graphite, conte crayon, and paint on paper, I believe) itself measures 4 1/4”x 5 1/2”, and is adhered to a paper backing (on which text is written) which measures 5 1/4” x 7 1/4”. The paper has darkened with age, there is wear and some tearing around the corners of the backing sheet, and there is a fold in the drawing at the bottom right corner and some small scattered discolorations to the paper, perhaps from a water spatter—as documented. Easy to frame just showing the drawing--quite a striking little piece.