Josephine Baker Makes an Appearance
A recent New York Times Travel section article described a tantalizing
visit to Château de Milandes, Josephine Bakers 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
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
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
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 Kunitzs poem, Trompe
loeil. 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 wasnt.
As for finishing,/ I doubt he had a plan,/he simply led
his brushes on,/ or maybe it was they that led/. Exactly.