Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



September 2016

"It [the Eiffel Tower] looked very different from the Statue of Liberty, but what did that matter? What was the good of having the statue without the liberty?" – Josephine Baker



Josephine Baker Makes an Appearance

Dear Reader,

A recent New York Times Travel section article described a tantalizing visit to Château de Milandes, Josephine Baker’s home in France. Not only did I end up learning about ex-patriot entertainer, decorated member of the French Resistance, civil rights activist and humanitarian Josephine Baker (1906-1975), it made me want to visit her home. Then real life stepped in, and I forgot all about it. Until a few days ago.
I had gone to my studio and loaded the CD player with a trio of fives – 5th symphonies by Prokofiev, Mahler and Tchaikovsky. Sitting at my drawing table, I started a new ink and pencil piece by letting my pen wheel freely over the 6” square gesso board surface. The music made my hand dance with lilting motions. All line, no intention. Very quick. Thirty-six square inches is not a lot of space to roam in, but quite enough in this case.

My latest series is an invitation to create designs that may merge into recognizable (at least to me) images. The artwork completed before this, “At the Barre,” put me in a different kind of studio – with ballet dancers stretching and doing exercises. Not everyone will decipher them, but I can.
This time, that curvy left side leapt out at me. Out of nothing, I coaxed a bowed head and a curvy floor-length gown with oversized draped sleeves. Click! Josephine Baker was making an appearance. All I had to do is let my pen bring her to life. The spotlight searches for her. The stage beneath her, with its black and white striped design, shimmers beneath her elegance. She stands poised, perhaps waiting for the music to begin, or is she pausing to take a bow? Then hands flowed out of my pen – they belong to her audience, to her dozen adopted children (The Rainbow Tribe), to her employees. Hands applauding. Hands that depend on her.
Josephine Baker, the only woman to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, looked out on the crowd and said, "Salt and pepper. Just what it should be."
In spite of her success and honors, when she died, Josephine Baker was broke.

“Josephine Baker Makes an Appearance” is finished. When moments of inspiration result in the bafflement of recognition, I often think about lines from Stanley Kunitz’s poem, “Trompe l’oeil.” With the self-awareness of an artist, he described the act of painting a table with a design meant to play havoc with reality by pretending to be something it wasn’t. “As for finishing,/ I doubt he had a plan,/he simply led his brushes on,/ or maybe it was they that led/”. Exactly.