So, this Thanksgiving, I thought to acknowledge someone here who provides day-to-day inspiration to many. This post is about Virginia. She is an artist, model, ballet dancer, intellectual, and a force behind the Arts in the Bay Area. More than that, she is a dear friend and an amazing lady with a wicked sense of humor! We met up for brunch early in the fall where she kindly shared her art gallery-home and photo albums with me.
(She agreed to have me publish this. Errors in details or chronology are mine. I simply strung together stories shared with me.)
|Virginia back in her modeling days in the '50s|
from her photo album
Soon after we moved to California, I encountered Virginia at one of the ballet studios and was simply stunned. Here was a lady doing everything we were doing -- but she was in her mid-80s! As you can see from this advertisement (a few years old), she still displayed strength and artistry. In fact, ballet studios in the Bay Area were angling for her to be their "Adult Class" spokesmodel. Even more astonishing, she had taken up ballet quite late -- at 40 years old! It turns out, Ballet had contributed to rebuilding her life after her divorce. I sense she had a natural aptitude for it though. Her old, modeling photos positively exude poise and grace.
|Ballet schools around the Bay Area|
were fighting to get Virginia as their "adult class" model
Her advanced age was such an inspiration
My admiration deepened as I got to know her. Here was someone who knew how to live life -- infusing it with art, intellect, beauty and a dry sense of humor. Age had done nothing to diminish her passions. If anything, she had finally grown into herself.
Her youth was spent in the corn fields of Oklahoma. She claimed to be on the shy side (you wouldn't know it now) but with innate talent. Fortunately, the vibrant cultural environment at Stillwater University, now Oklahoma State, introduced her to world class artists, including Russian ballet dancers on tour across the United States.
|Young Virginia as an art student|
at U.C. Berkeley
Shy as she was, you can see
her strong personality from these photos.
|Portrait of the Artist as a Young Lady|
I really liked the one of Virginia at her easel!
The Intellectual Salon
An art scholarship propelled her towards the University of California at Berkeley. There, she was thrown into the California renaissance of the Beat Generation. Yes, that spirited circle of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and others! Their Throckmorton Manor gatherings in Berkeley were filled with musicians, artists, writers & poets, and good champagne! If you loved the nocturnal salons of "Midnight in Paris," she actually lived it (different era though!).
|Virginia's hand-drawn, hand-written invitation|
to their Throckmorton Manor party.
The Manor was torn down decades later
|Examples of fabulous Throckmorton parties|
at Berkeley University.
Streetstyle photographers would have had a blast!
Modeling for a Living
Funding fabulous gatherings on a scholarship wasn't cheap. Enter Modeling. Gigs for magazines and papers were an easy way to supplement her stipend. Wryly, she observed that most of the models she encountered were uninteresting (can't compete with that Beat social circle) and had poor skin (ah, the power of pancake make-up ...)!
One of her earliest modeling jobs was for ladies' underwear. We had a laugh over this one.
|One of Virginia's earliest shoots.|
She quips this is how her husband first saw her.
An American in Paris, Munich, London ...
Graduate school beckoned and her printmaking art secured her a Fulbright Scholarship to Munich. At the same time, her husband, whom she had met in Berkeley, also won a Fulbright Scholarship for a doctorate at Cambridge University. Thus began their over-the-Channel relationship. London modeling shoots were handy excuses for meet-ups. Virginia recounts chilly outdoor shoots with chattering teeth momentarily suspended by smiles for the cameras!
|Virginia on a yacht modeling shoot|
|Virginia's fashion spread for an English magazine|
Bumps on the Road
It seemed she and her husband were better friends & flatmates than married to each other. Virginia eventually divorced her husband several years after their son was born. Her ex-husband went on to a successful career and founded a publicly listed company still trading today. They were not estranged, but she finally began to build her own identity. She forged on, continuing her artistic career -- teaching Art, starting a gallery & business, trying new things like Ballet. Through it all, she raised their son herself. As time went by, she also survived bouts with cancer, broken bones from falls (as recently as 2 years ago), and other personal and physical challenges. But as long as I've known her, she's been a trouper and fighter!
Sometime after her divorce, she began Sperling Gallery. She put new artists on the map in Bay Area museums, such as The Triton, and as far East as New York art galleries. To this day, she provides art consulting services to institutions.
|Virginia at home, where she stores the gallery artwork|
|So much great artwork, some of them simply stacked on the floor|
Practically every inch of her house is covered in original artwork. They are on the walls or on the floor. It was really cool walking around!
|This is one of her popular artists, sold and displayed|
in the Bay Area and galleries in NYC
I liked how the shadows of the sculpture play right into the shadows in the paintings
Life is Beautiful
|Ever the gracious hostess|
Virginia laid out a champagne spread for me at 10 am!
I told her I would post this homage this week. She doesn't use the computer and the Thanksgiving holiday was an opportunity for her to ask her son for help on the Web. I hope she is able to see this!
Do you have real-life friends of any age who inspire you? Who are you thankful for?
Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving.
Note on photos:
My shots here are all hurried snapshots. My husband had previously berated my tendency to ignore friends or family around me when I was being a "photographer". I have since promised that, in company, I will refrain from lengthy framings and stay with the conversation! So, please excuse any strange angles ;-)