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Jack Neworth The Daily Press, Santa Monica, California

July 2007

LOCAL ARTIST CLAIMS ART CAN EXTEND LIFE

It was a late Sunday afternoon, when I first met Susan Weinberg, artist, teacher, and weekend philosopher.  We sat on the patio of her art studio across from the Merry-go-round and under the pier, chatting while the human circus passed by.  Amazingly, her "Infinity Studio" is between a pizza parlor and a psychic reader!  I could almost visualize the 30's when celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Mae West, and my favorite, W.C. Fields, made this their hangout.

A teacher at Emeritus College, Susan believes artistic expression is essential for well being and that it even can extend  life.  She should know, she's been creating art for nearly all of her 73 years.  (73 going on 43!)  Susan is the last remaining artist on the boardwalk, but has no intention of leaving, or slowing down for that  matter.

Susan's formal art education began at the age of 11 when she and her sister, Karen, were honor students at the Chicago Art Institute.  She still remembers riding in the open-air, double-decker, red bus down Michigan Avenue in 1945.  Their father was a physician, a violinist and a sculptor and their mother was a dancer.  The depression a recent memory, Susan's father decided she should be practical and get a teaching  credential.  His decision would be both positive and negative. Positive, because without her degree she never would have become a teacher. Negative, in that it kept her from her art for the next twenty years.

Susan got her college degree but even for a magna cum laude graduate, jobs were scarce. She was hired by the Chicago Gas Company.  To promote cooking with gas, in the showroom window she baked pies, cakes and bread.  (The Rachel Ray of her day?) One positive was she could eat what she cooked.  One negative was she gained twenty pounds.

At twenty-two Susan married and moved to California.  A few years later, with three children and a home in the valley, they were living the American dream.  Almost.  To make a living her husband, a classical musician, had to forsake his music and Susan her art. 

Susan feels that's why she got ill with severe headaches.  So she finally enrolled at Otis Art Institute and earned a Masters Degree in sculpture and painting.  A little nervous, she opened a studio in Venice and entered a whole new world.

Venice was the Land of Oz - hippies, music, freedom and politics.(Not to mention nude beaches, marijuana and belly dancers.)  " In Venice people got lost or they found themselves," Susan says.   "Fortunately I did the latter."  Then she discovered a larger studio in Santa Monica, which even had a garden.  She moved in and began to paint watercolor scenes of beach life which are now collector's items. (Five being owned by George Lucas.)

Soon her art business took off.  Susan's work  was in design showrooms in ten cities across the country.  "I went from a nobody to a star." She sold her work to banks, hotels, corporations and even the Smithsonian.  But great success often has a downside.  (Or so Im told.) For Susan the downside was becoming more of a businesswoman than an artist.  She promptly returned to art and teaching.

To Susan art is emotional and physical, and even provides exercise, along with biking, skating and gardening.  Speaking of gardening, she happened to read my column about Robert, the homeless landscaper with the green thumb and realized she knew him.  She paid him a visit and now Robert's helping her create an organic garden, a modern day Victory garden.  (I'm hoping for 10% of the tomato crop as a finder's fee.)

In 2005 Susan began teaching a "plein aire"  (outdoor) watercolor class through Santa Monica's Emeritus College program.  To promote healthy aging, Emeritus offers free classes to seniors, including art, writing, music, exercise and yoga.   Susan's students come from many walks of life: physicians, engineers and teachers.  Some have been painting together for fifteen years. "With their positive attitude, it's they who inspire me."  

For "subjects", Susan often takes her students to hotels and buildings along the boardwalk, some slated for demolition, and some are landmarks.  As shown in the photo, they trekked to Robert's garden.  It's a Master Class but beginners are welcome as Susan believes everyone should express themselves artistically.  (Keep in mind she hasn't seen my drawings yet.)

As sunset was turning to dusk, Susan talked about  "art extending life," noting that Matisse, Degas, Georgia O'Keefe and Monet, did their best work in their 80's and 90's.  "I hope to eat the food I grow, teach and paint for the next twenty-five, " she says enthusiastically.   "Like Siddartha, I have tried many ways of life, and chosen a healthy path taught to me by my mentors and students.

 

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