Thursday, May 31, 2012

Benediction Two: Bobbie, Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin

  There is a magic time of day, for me, when the angle of the setting sun creates an ‘otherly’ aura to the early evening.  It’s as though a highly gifted union of lighting elves have been retained to ‘do their thing’ with glebes, scrims, back-lighting, follow spots – all to enhance the setting of whatever fabulation you are thinking, saying, doing.  “They” call it ‘dusk’.  And reputations DO precede.  But not another word.  Well, one, ‘apocryphal’, comes to mind. Thus was the night I was treated to Bobbie. 

      Returning from our walk, Bridie and I met her at the curb and fell quite naturally into an embrace and the start of a cherished relationship.  As we strolled around the bend toward our new, fair grounds, I know I heard strains of a calliope – faintly – but nevertheless.  It was apparent that we shared a savior faire attitude as regarded our neighborhood.  Why dwell on nothing.  But dwell we did, first in rhythmic, outdoor amblings, then on to perching on her bench in front of “the” window.  We shared stories of our dogs’ antics.  Bobbie’s white toy poodle  was a true con and Bridie wanted sooo to run, untethered, playing the huntress.

      On the evening the portals were to open, she’d brought ice water out for the pooches, who settled down under the bench, and simply said “Come.”  The dogs didn’t say a word.  Turning left – and walking past the famous bay window attraction – we were in the grande parlor.  Scented and crowded with objects d’art, I feasted sensually.  Pausing by an ancient baby piano, I took in the length of the room.  First the walls.  Hardly the “Ladies Who Lunch”.  Rather, under the glow of carefully placed mini-lights, the legion of flappers – seated, standing erect and aloof, lounging, one foot adorned – never clad – in a dangling blue satin shoe, staring in bobbed profile to the left and her next prey or just ‘in repose’. 

      Fringed, satin shawls draped divans and tables upon which tortoise shell curios adjacent to ivory safari animals lazed.  The mantle was home to arrangements of miniature groupings of china people, some exotically Asian, others Hoover ville USA.  Persians carpeted one’s footfalls as eventual forward movement began “The Tour”.  The 1920’s engulfed us. Not providing asylum and a fitting showcase for the art and artifacts of this exhilarating, raucous time in our country would render Bobbie an opprobrium to the cult and culture with which she had so fiercely identified herself in her personal life.

            I found myself walking slowly, reverently through rooms, cloaked with the very same sense of shame.  Certainly I had no basis with which to compare her heated involvement with our environs.  Yet there it was -  a found attachment and dedication to her life’s work. Mine was more of an ersatz passion but nonetheless moving.  Indeed, though very little was spoken on this is sojourn, the engine driving the silence was a shared sense of urgency.  It seemed imperative that we move along, our senses honed to the hilt, encompassing this cornucopia of gently preserved re-creation.  The re-creation itself, so impressively prolific had to have been accomplished with a  like intensity.

       The Art was a paean to the pioneers of that ’last hurrah’ mentality.  We were at the casting call for ‘Flappers and Philosophers’.  Certainly, Bobbie had appropriated the memories of others.  But, as Coco Chanel once said, “The dead are not dead as long as you think about them.”  Thus the sense of assertive immediacy. This clubhouse of artists created images with an eye toward perfect form and order - strange bedfellows indeed for the membership of the notorious decade best remembered for its flappers and Fords.

      And they were all there.  The only other such experience I recalled in this geographical locale was at the old Cavalier Hotel on Holly Road in Virginia Beach. The events planner had selected a quiet, empty time on a summer afternoon to show the ballroom that opened out through white french doors to a perimeter lanai– all tile, wicker and palm trees.  I was transfixed and gushed to my daughter, “Scott and Zelda danced here!”  The blue ice in her ‘who-are-Scott-and-Zelda’ blank tape look tore at my heart tissue.  MIND: red blood drops in the snow.

      Bobbie-the-event-planner, paid the same reverent attention to detail in her soiree-ready home.  Standing in for the Gerald Murphys – Jazz Age Dilettantes - she included all of the ‘usual’ luminaries.  You could hear and feel them – extraordinary talents, gifted with preternatural acuity. Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso, Clara Bow, Ansel Adams, Scott, Zelda – swimming, sunning, meditating, dancing, unique and reveling in their difference with ghostly toasts to their ‘home sweet heaven’.  If the world had only apprehended at the time that these were not creatures of instinct.

      Rodin had taught but a decade earlier that, being a naturalist, he believed one’s character is revealed by one’s emotions and concreteness of flesh.  What moment, I wondered, of Bobbie’s physical artistic awakening also marked the birth of her fruitful, fecund imagination?  It has been said that we are formed by what we desire. If seeing is the true language of perception, had she been exposed – consciously or subconsciously – to the art of the 20’s such that the memory of its perfect representation, ideal form and ordered clarity ignited her with desire?

      Like her demigods, she had responded to her dizzying world of modernity with works that seemed to evoke and embrace an idealized realism.  Having reluctantly turned right to embark on a gawking, halting march down a hallway, I saw to my immediate right yet another ‘false’ hallway.  False because its natural termination was now blocked with an enormous, mounted stained glass apse, scarfed, no doubt from a basilica whilst the archbish nodded off.  Bobbie excitedly explained that – miraculously – hubby Steve, an engineer, was able to find JUST the right alcove for its new residence.  Let’s give it up for Steve (before somebody gives Steve up).

      That brief break in the action permitted some spacial orientation and I realized we were ‘processing ‘ along a wall of brilliant stills of flora and fruit in oils on the wall to our left.  My distraction – ‘miracle apse’ – had been dramatic enough (and my mind now on overload of decades of visual stimulation) to actually FORGET to clue my eyes to the ‘open and obvious’ centerpiece of Bobbie’s kitchen.  Edible stills notwithstanding, I’d missed the fact that we were in the range ‘home’.  Possibly, the ISLAND center stage had blind-sided me (no pun intended and if perceived, so be it.)  This island – and I do not recall whether it was functional – was a large chunk of rectangular tile block, ?36” H, ?48”L and ?24” Deep. Standing where we were, rooting among the walled, still, oil garden, the 2’ by 4’ tile ‘side’ portrayed – in very bright cerise/gold/brown/black hues – the faces of a young man and young woman, smiling. 

      Bobbie’s blithe accompanying commentary, “It tells a story!”, had not yet achieved comprehension in MY cerebration area so I inched along, getting a glimpse of the ‘broadside’ action, a 4’ by 3’ tile imbued pictorially, in the same vivid-but-slightly-subdued hues, the young woman – flying solo without a net – crying.  Bobbie: “We found it in Italy!” (‘apsi-dentally, I’m sure).  Without further ado, I whipped around to the ‘end of the story’ – a 4’ by 3’ tile picturing the first young man, this time accompanied by a second young man – both smiling.  It was truly a stunner – artistically and thematically.  And, given the liberating Freudian juxtaposition revelations of the twenties, conceptually as well.

      The most extraordinary thing about Bobbie’s kitchen island, however – again, functionality withstanding or not – is it is very pretty, a fact, when shared, pleased Bobbie no end.  Think of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret”: “If someone were to ask me why I paint my fingernails green (and it just so happens I do paint them green), I’d say, ‘Because I think they’re pretty.’’’  Well, more’s the pity Bobbie can’t trot out her kitchen island as easily as her fingernails; because it’s PRETTY.

      Moving along, we came to Bobbie’s room, her special place, her personal place.  Here we are greeted by family and friends, photographed and framed, activity-oriented or in repose, as well as shelves of period dolls and never-to-be-forgotten doll house furniture – all lovingly positioned, grouped, displayed.  They are joined by Bobbie’s sketches and some portraiture – some personal, some universal, all 20’s.

      Even characters in motion – gentle motion – are sharing their feelings with the observer, who at times feels the bombastic interloper.  This because one’s gaze is fixed on a delicate, angular figure, bobbed curls dampened and drooping, one hand caressing the equally tear-moistened missive, his last from the front.  Her other hand rests lifelessly, a vessel for the lace, hand-crochet-edged pastel linen square, constant companion, tender comforter, atop the hiked hemline of her home-made velvet ‘welcome home’ dress.  Her long lashes closed on pale, sagging cheeks rob the viewer of likeness or expression on this ‘porcelain doll’s’ visage.  Her facial architecture, like her life, fading in increments such that the viewer recognizes less of her upon departure than upon discovery. It is meant to be.  Expressions of visual intimacy, like ‘flapper mentality’, were alluded to rather than delineated during this contradictory era.

      These were the ideas that dared: Faith in the potentiality of youth and the sustaining value of beauty.  This is why she moved on to Picasso and the impressionistic genre that used color for its own sake.  Her collection of his re-creations, prolific and profound, also introduces the ‘Ford’ to the ‘Flapper’.  The era was conflicted.  How to maintain individuality when mass production and mechanization is no longer a futuristic ideal.  Coincidentally, hubby Steve worked for Ford and after retirement, continued to travel, doing consignment work for them. They are still a strong and happy union.

      In fact, I was privileged to see a beautifully mounted collage, “The Many Faces Of Helen” – a wedding present to Steve and Bobbie.  The presenters, old friends of hers, always called her Helen.  They remain close, the two couples.  The collage was lovingly made by the gay couple p- two men who are surgeons but create framed art as a hobby.  The collage treats the world to thirty or so ‘Bobbies’ – in costumes, festooned with feathers, beads, sparkles, a rainbow of different wigs and scarves.  Each picture – most taken at fund-raisers – is injected with her vigorous humor and riotous life style which some might have viewed as stemming from the disreputable behavior of that ‘roaring’ era.  But Bobbie is thus adorned for reasons which define her and her art: it’s pretty.

       In the style of most of her mentors, she lived rather than just recreated her own art.  In that unusual, spontaneous display of her many faces, it was apparent that hers was a love of life lived with youth. She was photographed in costume many times as a very young and fetching performer. On a personal level, her belief that that beauty had a sustaining value was evidenced by the fact that she always wore a solid the gold choker, pending a stunning opal.  Globally, that same belief was evidenced by photographs of Betty Grable and other stars who’s beauty sustained our soldiers as they faced potential death protecting our - her country.

      For Bobbie’s sake: O’ art critics and philosophers: Like the Flappers -Lois Long, Dorothy Parker, Clare booth Luce, please deconstruct that formal language of collectors and museums.

      Lois Long, reviewed all your sisters and in the depth of your passion created the new woman journalist. Ms. Parker, your small talk alone revealed your taste for the element of surprise buffeted by the element of intelligence in commentary such as, “If all those sweet young things present at the Yale prom were laid end to end, I should not be surprised”. And Clare Booth Luce, taking advantage of the fortuitous fact of being Henry’s wife, executed her journalistic career brilliantly, and then before going on to represent her country abroad and in the House of Representatives, managed to find the time to leave a tableau of the new women, and write in the early thirties “The Women”.

      Bobbie knew/knows that Flappers were a cover for the launch of the new woman.  She asks: O’shapes, faces and material forms: Hold on to abstract thinking.  Believe in human freedom. Long live painting!  Long live Bobbie!
"Girl Jumping Rope" Janeen Koconis

Later, Lorane. . . .
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