LIVING A SANE, HEALTHY LIFE IN THE LAND OF OZ - Based on an interview with Susan Weinberg who is the last and only artist on the Boardwalk of Santa Monica and Venice.
Sitting on the front patio of her Santa Monica studio, in front of the Merry-go-round, watching the world go by Susan reminisced about her present life and the fact that she was not always healthy. "I have found a way to live, leaving all of my preconceived notions of what happiness might entail, looking for some kind of simplicity and enlightenment. My growing up was what would be considered normal, for a middle-class Jewish daughter of a physician and a regular housewife, but something was different about me. My family had a very artistic nature, with artists, dancers, singers and designers as a part of my development. Even though my sister and I were always chosen to attend the Chicago Art Institute as honor students my family wanted to be sure that we received an education that would enable us to support ourselves in some kind of rationale way."
So she went to Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin, graduated and received a BS in Home Economics Education, magna cum laude, and immediately got a job as a Home Economist at the Gas Company across from the Art Institute. Her father had said that when she got her education she could go back to art if she wanted. But because she wanted to get married she made different choices instead.
She was offered a position at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, and this was to be the basis for much of her thinking in life. At the time, the lab school was using a Ford Foundation grant to study teacher effectiveness, and she was in on it, in the art department as Home Economics was considered to be an art along with shop, drama and music.
Upon moving to California, teaching at Hamilton High, having 3 children and moving to the valley her life was what would be considered pretty normal. She had forgotten about art, and her husband Bernie had forgotten about music (masters in music composition - Northwestern). They set about trying to live the American Dream, dealing with problems of raising children in this society and trying to conform to what was expected of them. But all did not go well for Susan - she became sick and could not handle that kind of life and finally went back to school - art this time, at Otis Art Institute and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master Fine Arts in sculpture and painting.
Opening a studio in Venice in 1973 opened her eyes to a different kind of world. It was like the Land of Oz - she never had seen anything like it - the people, the music, the freedom, the politics. Never in her life had she experienced so many different kind of people. Her life had been so rigid and sheltered. It was like she had stepped onto a different planet. "I knew that I had found my place. I used to drive from Van Nuys to Venice and I could feel the excitement there. Eventually I just could not go back." So she began to make a new life there.
Venice at the time, was inexpensive and forgiving, and people came there to "find themselves". Opening her new, larger studio in Santa Monica, at a time when everything in the city was in disarray, gave her the opportunity to spread her wings. Her studio was large and she taught and painted, and tried different ways of living and thinking. "I had to give up all preconceived ways of thinking, and try different experiences, meet different kinds of people, and do different kinds of work."
The first series of paintings were watercolors, 250 genre scenes of Venice and Santa Monica beach life, documenting life as she saw it, inspired by Norman Rockwell, and executed after a trip to New York, energized by the activity there, and the great number of people. These watercolors have now been put into print, and have become collector's items. George Lucas is among her many clients, who, at the time, was amassing a collection of contemporary American art.
One of her students, Rachelle Mark, a student at Otis Art Institute, wanted to paint on fabric. Susan knew nothing about painting on fabric, and so, made everything up as she went along. She opened an art business - hand-painted fabric. She knew nothing about fabric design but had the chemical knowledge from her study of textile chemistry as a home economist. She applied her knowledge to create new paints that would do magical things on the canvas. She put the painting sections into repeat and developed a completely new way of approaching fabric design and quickly became the top designer in the United States, selling her work to banks , hotels, corporations, individuals, across the US, from 10 different design showrooms in 10 different cities. "This was an exciting time" she explained. But as things go everything has a life and the originality of the product eventually lost it's importance in the design world so she went on to the next venture.
She created fabric for a ball room in the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles (draperies, furniture , walls, etc.) and was then hired to completely redo walls, woodwork, furniture and antiques for the Club. Seven years of work and the Club was reborn artistically. When that job was finished she went back to her own painting and teaching.
Working to create a kind of painting that was completely new, using some of her techniques developed in the fabric business and the restoration business, she came up with a mixed-media kind of painting using roofing tar, metallic dusts, glitter and paints that did not mix. These paintings have a kind of "Rorshaque" effect, offering the viewer the opportunity of putting themselves into the paintings and seeing their own images and thoughts.
Her work has always been very physical and emotional, using a lot of energy and offering her a way of exercising and keeping in shape. This along with her biking and skating at the beach and gardening and breathing good clean air has really helped her to become and remain healthy. She realized that without health it was difficult to do what she wanted and so has always been on a quest for good health.
Her latest venture is working with senior citizens who are students at Emeritus College in Santa Monica run by Santa Monica College. "I love my students - they exemplify a spirit that carries them through life with a beautiful attitude." Emeritus College is a wonderful model school, offering many different types of classes for seniors, keeping them healthy and happy. This includes the arts, exercises, yoga, and other classes concerning healthy aging. Her class is a "plein-aire" watercolor class, and she takes them to many different locations along the beach front, concentrating on hotels and buildings, some of which are slated for demolition and some of which are landmarks.
Her students come from many walks of life. Some of them are professional physicians, engineers, teachers and some of them are professional artists.
This class is a Master Class but beginners are accepted also. Every student is learning from the other students. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for these students some of whom have been painting together for the past 15 years.
"When I found out about the "Old Man's Garden" through an article written by Jack Neworth of the Daily Press I went down to see it, finding out that I knew the gardener for the past 20 years." So she took her class there to paint, and decided to have Robert the "Old Man" put a garden in her own backyard. This was like going back to the time when she was raised when everyone had a Victory Garden. "I see that we must return to a more simple way of life, using technology less and less, and growing some of our own food instead of being dependent upon society, and keeping ourselves healthy by using good living practices and keeping our minds clear."
So now everything has come full circle around her. She keeps in mind that Matisse, Degas, Georgia O'Keefe and Monet, some of her heroes, did their best work in their 80's and 90's. And considering the fact that her aunt just died recently at the age of 108, and another one at 100, she knows that there are many good years ahead of her. "I am looking forward to eating my own food that I grow myself and painting for the next 25 years, working with people all of the time, looking for better ways to live, and always giving back to society in some kind of way or another. I feel like Siddartha, having tried many ways of life, I decided upon a spiritual, healthy, rewarding path which was taught to me by my many mentors and students."
"I love Santa Monica. I love my students. I love my paintings. And I am able to follow my own dreams with passion and joy." George Lucas said "Dreams are extremely important. You can't do it unless you imagine it." Follow your dreams Susan. Your students and associates look forward to hearing more about this concept of of yours - "painting for health".
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