Tuesday, November 22, 2011


'Tis the season to be Thankful.

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

Virginia Now
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.

Back Then
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!

Sperling Gallery
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
This spirited lady just celebrated another birthday last week.  Solidly in her mid-80s now, perhaps even late 80s --  the exact years are a mystery!  She continues to be a regular, much more than I am, at the ballet studios.  (We all aspire to move half as well as she decades hence.)  She is ever the purveyor of fine champagnes at gatherings and is equally effervescent company.  And, she continues to dazzle us with her elegance and gorgeous evening wardrobe -- her velvets and fur-trimmed jackets are enviable!

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 ;-)


  1. very inspirational!!!

    Happy Thanksgiving eve!

  2. An impressive, inspirational lady indeed!
    May we all be Thanksgiving everyday!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing this magic and inspiring woman.

  4. Oh wow! This post is so inspiring and interesting (and I really really mean it!). This is how I want to be like when I grow up, no questions asked.

  5. this post is absolutely amazing!!!!!!

  6. What a lovely post! :) Have a great thanksgiving!

    much love,
    Hybrid Hunter

  7. This was a truly inspirational and an amazing read~ She seems like such a gracious, elegant and interesting lady!
    Thank you for sharing these photos and memories

  8. Hey! I have not been able to swing by for weeks. Been so busy. BUT, I am glad that caught this piece. So inspiring. Virginia is living THE life. We should all be like her and live our lives to the fullest! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Oh, my she sounds truly inspirational. She had a lot to start with and made good use of it. I feel her early talents and beauty probably helped give her strength to fight against adversity in later life.

  10. Jenny I loved this post. She was and is a beautiful woman in so many ways! I love the first photo but I also love the hair style in photo number 4 it's a hair style that I've always wanted to try!but I don't think will suit me :( anyway I also love the painting on the floor I can only see half of it but looks amazing!xx

  11. WOW! What a brilliant post so inspiring and beautifully written. The best post ever and I like especially the photo of Virginia on a yacht modeling shoot - I adore her dress smile and hair definitely my style.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  12. what an interesting friend you've found
    I would love to walk around her house & see her art collection

  13. Moved to tears, Jenny.

    I spent a long time 'with' this post, as I know you spent a lot of time - and care - composing this. I'm quickly finding that your posts, your comments on other blogs I love - and our email 'pen pal' exchange developing.. I relate to you so much.

    Virginia is an inspiration on so many levels.

    You're inspiring me, now, to do a post on my friend and neighbour, Barbara Clapham. She formed our garden square when she retired. In 1958. She is either 97 or 98.. depending on who you talk to. It seems like only yesterday she was telling me she is 96 1/2, and as she always reminds us 'I'm not going to be here forever, you know.'

    I've taken on her role as Secretary for the executive garden square committee (my husband and our friends are also on the board), but I could never fill her shoes, and she continues to host the annual meetings, and basically runs things. She learned to drive in Cambridge, driving late at night for the Ministry of Information during WW2: she'd be bringing MisInformation through checkpoints to London, to print the wrong information in the newspapers, to throw the Nazis off the track. Sometimes they'd wire to a checkpoint for her to turn around: the information had changed. I love that this tiny woman was such a force during the war - and she only mentioned it to me once, in passing.

    Sorry to write so much on your post! But you asked who influences me, and she's just one of many, many older women who I adore - good friends - who springs to mind.

    I hope Virginia gets to read this. She has such great style, and that comes from within. I thought at first, from the top shot, it was Audrey Hepburn. And I love that line about the pancake make up: I bet the other models had bad skin BECAUSE of the make up: their poor pores couldn't breathe. We've come a long way. And role models like Virginia - and Barbara - have made that all possible.

  14. p.s.: As if I haven't already said enough: I am especially moved that you chose your Thanksgiving post as a tribute to someone you admire. Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving - well, still are, in California! You're one of the new virtual friends I am thankful for this year.


  15. What a beauty! I'm finding myself more and more drawn to the enduring allure... To people who have lived and have a story to tell.

    Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you. Hope you are having a wonderful time. X

  16. Absolutely wonderful! She's gorgeous! Hope you had a lovely thanksgiving!

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  17. Hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving

  18. what an incredibly rich life!! what an incredibly sublime woman! what an incredibly interesting realtionship this must be. I loved this post... :)

  19. This is a wonderful post. What an amazing person. I love people like this who make the most of their lives. It must be wonderful to know her. I am thankful every day for all the wonderful people and opportunities that come my way. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Xxxx

  20. lovely <3
    I used to ballet when I was younger.
    Giveaway on my blog,check it out :)

  21. She is an amazing lady with a very adventourous and singulair life! I enjoyed reading this post! My inspiring lady? My aunt Nenne! She is fabulous!

  22. LOVE THIS POST... first photo is magic and the things you say here too!


    Have a great weekend :)


  23. Love this post!! She is marvelous :) Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate them, I am doing much better and getting ready for Christmas!! I hope you are doing well!! xx


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