CONGRATULATIONS! International Dance Festival@ Silicon Valley; a GREAT SUCCESS!

Lively Foundation Artistic Director Leslie Friedman

Hooray for the Eleventh Season of the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley! 18 varied classes from Nov. 7-13 led by acclaimed artists who are also Master teachers of their art. Weekday classes:  Pilates mat (Audreyanne Covarrubias), Tap(Megan Ivey Rohrbacher), Line Dances(Etta Walton), and Leslie Friedman’s internationally applauded repertory(Leslie Friedman) gave participants an up close and personal connection with the artist-teachers. On the weekend, The Full Days of Dance© featured classes in Pilates mat(Audreyanne), Jazz & Samba(Annie Wilson), Ballet(Leslie), Line Dances(Etta), and Tap(Audreyanne) on Saturday. On Sunday, Megan Ivey Rohrbacher led classes in Mime and Physical Comedy.

from L to R: Megan Ivey Rohrbacher, Etta Walton

from L to R: Audreyanne Delgado Covarrubias, Annie Wilson

Leslie Friedman taught dances from her repertory and ballet

Reactions from the participants keep coming: “It was GREAT!”  “Thank you for organizing this wonderful event!”  “I wish it would never end.” Five artists and 18 classes. How does that work? Audreyanne taught 5  Pilates mat classes, Nov. 7-11, another Pilates mat class, morning of 11/12, AND Tap class on 11/12. Megan taught 2 tap classes, 11/10 & 11/11 AND Mime & Physical Comedy, 11/13. Etta taught 2 Line Dances, 11/7 & 11/9 AND Line Dances on 11/12. Annie taught jazz & Samba all in one class, 11/12; Leslie taught Repertory, 11/12, AND Ballet, 11/12.  An opportunity to polish a technique or start learning one. An opportunity to work with acclaimed artists. An opportunity to enjoy moving, breathing, dancing: It was a wonderful experience, and it will be again.

“Opening Night” for San Francisco Symphony!

The San Francisco Symphony may have returned to Davies Symphony Hall many months ago, but for this music lover April 28 was the night that confirmed my wistful belief: It all sounds better live.  The program offered excitement that I did not realize I had craved for more than two years.  Klaus Makela made his SFS debut conducting Peru Negro (written 2012) by Jimmy Lopez Bellido; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1935) by Alban Berg; and Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Opus 93 (1953) by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Maestro Makela, a Norwegian, has received many honors in a short time. At age 25, he is Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Oslo Philharmonic and Music Director and Artistic Advisor of the Orchestre de Paris. This program demonstrated that he is adept at understanding and leading music from widely different eras and composers. Similarly, the SFS demonstrated along with Maestro Makela that they can make brilliant music that glows and lives no matter the style or era.

Klaus Mäkelä conducts the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on April 28, 2022

The program opened with composer Jimmy Lopez Bellido onstage to introduce his music. He explained that while in the US, living in Berkeley, he took time in Lima, his home town. He delved into the sounds of street vendors making songs announcing what they offer. In a question- answer form, the songs grow into stories told by the orchestra. He noted that the African and traditional Peruvian modes were more parallel than intertwined, but he sought to bring them together, and he achieved that goal. He also explored his fascination with rhythms with African origins. The piece was simultaneously delightful and challenging. The closing percussion was thrilling.

Composer Jimmy López Bellido takes a bow following the performance of his “Perú Negro” by the San Francisco Symphony

Berg’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was dedicated to 18 year old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler Werfel and architect Walter Gropius. Berg had known Manon since since was very young. She died from polio, a heartbreaking event for Berg as well as for Manon’s parents and friends. The Concerto is major work, about 22 minutes long. Its four movements of expanding emotions reflect characteristics of Manon from the opening Andante through Allegretto, Allegro and the final Adagio. The violin soloist, Ms Vilde Frang, also a Norwegian, played with expressive power and passion. The end is more tragic for having heard the Allegretto and Allegro before it. Ms Frang was embraced by the deeply moved audience.

Violinist Vilde Frang performs Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony

Shostakovich’s music is always great, and this is the right time to hear him, especially Symphony No. 10. When the content of this program was chosen, it is unlikely that anyone thought that Stalin or his political off-spring could be on so many minds. Russia’s war on Ukraine and the echoes of Stalinesque behaviors in suppression of a whole country can be seen on every channel. Stalin and his helpers followed, criticized, and punished Shostakovich through his life. The death of Stalin, in 1953, could have meant the liberation of his composing creativity if Shostakovitch had not been so worn down and terrified for his family. However, in No. 10 the composer paints an audible picture of experiences in such a dictatorship.

Dmitri Shostakovich

The long first movement is full of fear and uncertainty. It is like an entire population stumbling and crashing into stone walls. The second movement is said to be a portrait of Stalin. It is fast and angry. One would not want this music to chase after oneself. The final movement is something completely different even after the astonishingly “different” beginnings. It has quiet moments that say “let’s meditate about this” and daring, playful times that seem to promise escape. The SFS woodwinds added heart piercing and glorious solos to this expressive movement. Just when a listener might think the direction could take us down to the depths, there is a coded message from Shostakovich. He found a way to spell his initials in musical notes. He does it right here knowing his survival is a triumph.

Photos of Klaus Makela, Jimmy Lopez Bellido, and Vilde Frang by Stefan Cohen, courtesy of SF Symphony


EDWARD UPWARD, by Peter Stansky

In honor of Peter Stansky’s 90th birthday, Lively is posting reviews of his books. Professor Stansky, an historian of modern Britain, has been Chair of the Stanford history department and served in many leadership positions. These reviews are by Leslie Friedman and appeared in the publications of The Institute for Historical Study.

Edward Upward: Art and Life. Peter D. L
Stansky (Enitharmon Press, London, 2016)
Long-time member of The Institute for Historical Study member Peter Stansky, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University, has written a classic biography of Edward Upward, a man of mystery. A leading light of the English literary world in the 1930s, he is widely unknown, even though he lived to be slightly older than 105 (1903-2009), was author of twelve books, and still has, posthumously, seven books in print. Stansky’s is the first biography of this important figure. Stansky succeeds at highlighting the details of
Upward’s life while also focusing on the refrain that repeats throughout his life and has universal impact: which must one put first—art or life?
The book’s title demonstrates Stansky’s conclusion that Upward achieved in both.
Edward Upward was born in Essex. His father was a doctor. His father’s family had made
money through the first wholesale grocery import business in England. Welcome to
English, hair-splitting class definitions. To have money is good, but trade is middle class. A
doctor is a professional, but, at the opening of the 20th century, medicine did not have the
cachet it would later achieve. Edward Upward was in the middle (or upper) middle class with
enough advantages to have the childhood of a young gentleman.
He attended a prep school, a reputable public school, Repton, and Corpus Christi College,
Cambridge. He hated these schools. He had good times at sports, saw his early poetry
published in school journals, and won the Chancellor’s Medal for English Verse at
Cambridge. However, schools were for him replicas of Hell. Still, he became a
schoolmaster. He felt the need to support himself; being a schoolmaster gave him security.


Upward saw beating and bullying in schools as a parallel to England’s class system which he
despised. His sense of injustice led him to Marxism-Leninism and, later, membership in
the Communist Party. Whatever his socio-political analysis of school life, he gained an education and friendship that deepened his creative gifts and refined his literary perceptions. Christopher Isherwood, novelist and short story writer, arrived at Reptona year after Upward. Isherwood describes him in his memoir, Lions and Shadows: “Everything about him appealed to me. He was a natural anarchist, a born romantic revolutionary.” (Stansky, 55) Stansky conveys the friendship between Upward and Isherwood in its many levels of understanding and the help they gave each other throughout their lives. Isherwood revered Upward. They were each
other’s first readers of new writing. Isherwood introduced poet W.H. Auden and Upward, in
1927. Auden was three years younger than Isherwood whom he knew from prep school. Though Auden later abandoned the left, Upward’s politics influenced him. Auden
adopted aspects of Upward’s fantasies into early  poems. In fact, when Auden gave Upward his
book, Poems, in 1930, the poet wrote in it that he wondered how much he had “filched” from
Upward by way of Isherwood. (Stansky, 131)  These literary relationships, as described by
Stansky, put Upward at the center of 1930s English writers, the “Auden Circle.”
Together at Corpus Christi, Upward and Isherwood wrote stories of a fantasy world they
invented. It had a map, characters fulfilling basic village roles, but the stories’ events were
surreal. In the stories of Mortmere, Isherwood and Upward became Starn and Hynd,
professional pornographers. The Mortmere fantasies are obsessed with sex, violence, and
potty jokes. They were the works of brilliant men in their teenage to young adult years.
Upward wrote that Isherwood wrote “about shit-eating and I about necrophilia.” (Stansky, 93)
Upward destroyed his own writing but kept Isherwood’s.

Christopher isherwood

Stansky notes that Upward cites Wilfred Owen, Katherine Mansfield, and Emily Brontë as the
greatest influences on him when an under-graduate. Emily Brontë and her sister Anne,
when ages sixteen and fourteen, created the fantasy island world of Gondal which was then
matched by Charlotte and Branwell with their fantasy island, Angria. These worlds were
preoccupied with war, spies, and romance. One wonders if “Hynd and Starn” knew about
Gondal and Angria and decided to make their own complete world which was on the Atlantic
coast of England rather than in the Pacific like Gondal and Angria. Stansky succeeds in
describing Mortmere’s significance in the English literary tradition of imaginary worlds.
Upward became a master at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, South London, in 1932 and stayed
until he retired in 1961. The year 1932 was also the year he joined the Communist Party and met his future wife, Hilda Percival, a teacher. Having met Hilda when she gave a talk at a
Party meeting, he recognized she had a different status than previous women he had known. He felt she connected him to the Workers, though Stansky shows she better fit the lower middle
class. Hilda and Edward Upward had a happy family life, including two children. Together
they continued to work for their local Party: going to meetings, selling publications,
spreading the word. His love for Hilda grew throughout their lives. “I am very lucky to have
Hilda,” he wrote to Isherwood. “Marrying her was one of the few really sensible things I’ve done in my life.” (Stansky, 241)

In 1932 Upward also went to the USSR with a group primarily of teachers. The trip helped to put Upward on a watch list for MI5 and the Special Branch of the Police. He had gotten their attention when he contributed to a Daily Worker fund in 1931. Hilda made a trip to Russia in 1933. There were files on both of them. Upward’s life seems quiet, devoted to family, teaching, and faith in Communism while his inner life could be in turmoil. His inner debate did not stop even after he and Hilda left the Party, in 1948. Could he focus on writing and shortchange political action? Would he be just another bourgeois individualist? He led a peaceful life but believed that violent revolution was necessary to change English society. He wrote The Spiral Ascent, his trilogy, in plain, straightforward prose. He abandoned his surrealist style so that workers would have no trouble understanding exactly what he wrote. In 1958, when Upward had a breakdown and might have given up writing, Isherwood wrote to Hilda, sad that his friend might abandon this part of himself. “I feel this not only because I love him but because I’m only a writer myself because of him. At the beginning he taught me everything and I’ve always felt his talent is far greater than mine, even if he hasn’t used it as much.” (Stansky, 287-288)

Edward Upward older.
Stansky presents good and bad reviews of Upward’s writing and shows how it was
received in the literary world. He doesn’t take sides but does create sympathy for his subject.
Upward was dedicated to writing but had to fight himself to do it.
In addition to being a bourgeois amongst Communists, Upward was a heterosexual among
homosexuals. His best friend, Isherwood, and others of the Auden Circle had active homosexual love lives and partnerships. None of this appears to have ruffled Upward. When
young, he wrote about his need for sexual encounters and described, in less than politically
correct language, to Isherwood how it was working out with the women he saw. He and
Isherwood exchanged this kind of information without hesitation.
Upward believed he needed to be politically active to be able to write. Yet, after the Hogarth
Press published his novel Journey to the Border, in 1938, until he broke with the Party 10 years
later, he could not write. This biography offers insights that will especially excite readers
interested in the 1930s, the literature of the time, the particular character of the English
Communist Party. Upward was a man of mystery in the contradictions within his seemingly calm life. However, it is hardly necessary that a communist should be wild eyed and badly
dressed. Some of these contradictions are stereotypes in the mind of the beholder. His
anxiety over the choice between art and life may have been resolved through writing how he
found, as in the name of the last book of his trilogy, there was “No Home But the Struggle.
Having written that book, he brought the two into one.
– Leslie Friedman

Thanks to Maria Sakovich, editor, and The Institute for Historical Study for permission to republish this review.

Twenty Years On, by Peter DL Stansky – book review

Twenty Years On, by Peter Stansky (Pinehill Humanities Press), 2020

Peter D.L.Stansky, Professor Emeritus, Modern British History, Stanford University

This is a delightful book. Stansky’s felicitous style allows him to write profound observations which never hit the reader like a blow on the head. Instead, one feels historical memory and imagination light up as connections such as those between architecture in California and the Arts and Crafts movement in 19th century England become clear. The book is a collection of essays and lectures Stansky has presented over the past twenty years. His field is modern British history focusing on the intersection of political, social, cultural, and artistic history and where each defined area influences and modifies the others.

The essays’ subjects were the interests of his books: the Arts and Crafts Movement, especially William Morris; George Orwell; Bloomsbury; writers and artists of the 1930s, especially concepts of boundaries and frontiers; World War II, especially Churchill and the London Blitz; what it means to be English. There is a contemporary subject: history over television. How does history fare when the need for drama is nearly so important as accuracy?

The book is entertaining, informative, and learned. This reader’s favorite is the Preface in which Stansky tells how he decided to be an historian and why of England (I will not divulge details best enjoyed directly). Reading these essays does not replace reading the books, but it reveals the germs of ideas that propel the books. Provocative ideas in one subject suggest relationships with ideas in other chapters of life as well as of history.

Stansky wrote two books on Orwell with the late writer and editor, William Abrahams: The Unknown Orwell (1972) and Orwell: The Transformation (1979). Turn to Orwell’s writing to correct notions of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” One thinks the blight corroding truth is easily recognized; then falls into an enthusiasm created by Big Brother. Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, about his time in the Spanish Civil War, is proof. Which side has the good guys? Hard to tell.

Stansky shows that Orwell himself saw political confusion and aggression amongst socialist and communist parties. Spain led Orwell to the political direction of his life. He became committed to Democratic Socialism, he wrote, “as I understand it,” and opposed totalitarianism.

Stansky and Abrahams give fidelity to Orwell’s texts the greatest importance. They reject the “St. George” approach to Orwell. Others define him by his virtues, but that does not address his powerful writing or its purpose. Saints, suffer though they might, are easily dismissed when not understood.

Bloomsbury writers and visual artists seem light hearted after Orwell, despite premature deaths in the Spanish Civil War and Virginia Woolf’s suicide lying ahead. Stansky presents the vision behind these artists’ works: the world is not what it seems. He points out that major thinkers in the same time period, Einstein, Freud, and, in an earlier time, Marx, demonstrated that through physics, psychology, social-economic theory. They changed the way one could perceive the world. Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness writing reveals lives not by appearance but in progress.

According to Stansky, history must tell the story of what happened and also explain the story’s “significance.” He does that in studies of the London Blitz and Churchill, that stout, determined Englishman who saved the world. Was it a time of mythic heroism or of “panic and fear?” These contradictory views show Stansky a truth about the English. During the Blitz, they were encouraged to stay calm. Keeping on was the victory. There was bad behavior and terror, but they won by waiting. Then, Hitler took his planes and went East.

review by Leslie Friedman

This review first appeared in the Institute for Historical Studies, Winter, 2021. Thank you to Maria Sakovich, editor, for permission to publish it in the livelyblog.


The International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley typically includes a Festival Concert. The artists who teach perform. There was nothing typical about 2020 or 2021! However, IDF@SV carried on producing two successful seasons of classes & workshops online. Fantastic! Now, the dancers, students, and those trying out dance for the first time will have a chance to see what the artist/teachers do. The performances will be over Zoom. The artists will perform in separate places as their homes are separated by thousands of miles. Farthest East: Audreyanne Delgado Covarrubias in Durham, North Carolina. Farthest West: Megan Ivey Rohrbacher in Hawaii! Even the two artists in California are as far apart as they could be and still be in the Bay Area: Annie Wilson in Novato (Marin County) and Etta Walton in San Jose.

No matter where they are, they are terrific! Join us for an amazing, fun hour on Sunday, Jan. 30, at 2 p.m. We are limited by space – no one is in a theater – but the talent is UNLIMITED!!! The performance is FREE. Of course, we will appreciate a donation of any amount to support the program. To do that, mail a check to The Lively Foundation at The Lively Foundation, 550 Mountain View Ave., Mountain View, CA 94041-1941 OR go to the landing page of this blog, scroll down until you see the PayPal button (PayPal keeps 2.2% plus 30 cents for every donation.)

Here is the Zoom invitation. The show starts at 2 p.m. You can enter earlier, but there is no need to be there much before 2 p.m. Thanks!

Leslie Friedman is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Leslie Friedman’s Zoom Meeting
Time: Jan 30, 2022 01:30 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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pictures from top: Audreyanne Delgado Covarrubias, Etta Walton, Megan Ivey Rohrbacher


LEONARD WOOLF: Bloomsbury Socialist

Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist

By Fred Leventhal and Peter Stansky

Oxford University Press, 2019

Leonard Woolf was the secular saint who helped his famous wife, Virginia, through mental crises. Historians Leventhal and Stansky show he was much more. Leonard Woolf was also a leader, scholar, activist, successful author of fiction and deeply researched papers on international government and economy, creative co-founder and business director of the Hogarth Press, anti-imperialist statesman, Foreign Service diplomat, spokesperson for mutual security agreements of the League of Nations, devoted gardener, dog lover.

This is a breakthrough book. It restores Woolf to a place of his own and demonstrates why his contemporaries revered him as a moral intellectual, a paragon.

The first part, The Personal Journey, covers Woolf’s family, education, marriage, friendships all in historical context. It gives an intimate look at his years in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the Foreign Service. This section examines the influence Woolf’s friends had on his intellectual and spiritual development. Virginia, through their love and shared work, is a major presence. In Ceylon, he had authority over a large district. He collected revenue, dispensed justice, interacted personally with individuals. While he worked twelve hour days, expanding agriculture and building schools, he received letters from his friend Lytton Strachey urging him to propose to Virginia, maybe by telegraph. This part of the book is distinguished by psychological insights, sympathy with the subject, and examination of social and intellectual classes.

The second part, The Political Journey, analyzes Woolf’s studies of economics, trade, and labor in nations and colonies around the world. He wrote for the Fabian Society and the Labour party. Woolf was aligned with the Fabian Society, the British Socialist organization that sought reforms leading to democratic socialism. However, Woolf favored individual rights over state authority and nationalism. In early days in Ceylon, he believed that Britain helped colonials solve problems. Later, he favored self government. He adopted that attitude toward other British colonies, though not all simultaneously. His many, gigantic research projects include the books Empire and Commerce in Africa, written for the Labour Research Department (1920), International Co-operative Trade, the Fabian Society, 1922; both published by George Allen & Unwin. Foreign Policy: The Labour Party’s Dilemma, Fabian Research Series/Victor Gollancz (1947)

The presentation of the studies’ details and purposes is admirably clear and shows how the work shaped Woolf and how his intellect shaped the work.

Labour’s dilemma was how to react to human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. Woolf’s opposition to the Soviets’ cruelty was steadfast as it would be to China’s. His lifelong belief that an international system was the only hope to avoid another cataclysmic war led him to advocate for the League of Nations. His findings supported collective security agreements. He was among the first British writers to recognize the truth about the Nazi regime.

For the United Nations, he urged collective security against militarized nationalism. His work is timely now: international cooperation is threatened by attacks on the European Union, the US refusal to support the World Health Organization, and scorn from Brazil and the US for steps against climate change.

At St. Paul’s, his public school, though an outstanding scholar and athlete he was taunted for being Jewish. At Cambridge he was part of the most elite, intellectual cliques yet defined by friends as a Jew. Judaism and Hellenism combined to form his philosophy. He credited the Hebrews with establishing the value of individual lives through the non-negotiable Ten Commandments and the Greeks with secularizing government by being skeptical about religion while keeping spiritual values. His integrity was as powerful as his intelligence. This book brings us Leonard Woolf, and we need him.

The Authors:  Professsor Fred Leventhal taught British history for 35 years at Boston University. He also taught at Harvard, Boston College, and the University of Kent (UK). He was co-editor of the journal Twentieth Century British History and is former president of the North American Conference on British Studies. Professor Peter Stansky taught at Harvard and then at Stanford University and is the Frances and Charles Field Professor Emeritus of British History. He also served as president of the North American Conference on British Studies.

review by Leslie Friedman, published Fall, 2020

Lively Books for Holiday Joy: Special Offers

It is Halloween Weekend, and The Lively Foundation offers a very special treat: the first ever sale on two beautiful, readable, and even re-readable books! Both The Dancer’s Garden and The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View have won enthusiastic reviews and glowing responses from readers, lovers of good writing, fine photography, nature.

Buy either book and receive a 10% discount off the normal, retail price. Buy two or more books -same books or a mixture of the books – and Lively will cover the shipping costs. This is a deal.

The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View, by Leslie Friedman, with full color photos by Jonathan Clark and Leslie Friedman sale price: $26.95

The Dancer’s Garden, by Leslie Friedman, with full color photos by Leslie Friedman and Jonathan Clark, sale price: $37.80

A Few Reviews:

The Story of Our Butterflies: “Leslie Friedman is an historian, dancer and choreographer, and now a perceptive writer about nature. …in a second splendid work she takes flight into the world of butterflies. … One is grateful for this delightful book, so well written and illustrated.” Peter Stansky, Author, Historian, Professor Stanford University

The Story of Our Butterflies: “This is a wonderful book and I look forward to sharing it with the rest of the staff here.” Joe Melisi, Center for Biological Diversity, National Conservation Organization based in Tucson, AZ

The Dancer’s Garden: ” I love it. It is a perfect book, in conception and execution….a marvelous writer, as I expected, and I am particularly fond of short essays. The scale and layout are just right.” Diana Ketcham, HOUSE & GARDEN, EDITOR (ret), Books Editor, THE OAKLAND TRIBUNE

The Dancer’s Garden: “a wonderful quirky, perky, series of ruminations on gardens, flowers, plants, trees, cats, people, indeed life. It has magnificent photographs…it is an exhilarating read!” Peter Stansky, Author, Historian, Professor Stanford University

You may purchase by check or credit card.

By check: please make your check to The Lively Foundation and mail it to The Lively Foundation, 550 Mountain View Avenue, Mountain View, CA, 94041-1941.

To purchase by credit card: please go to   Scroll down the landing page to find the PayPal logo and click on that.

Most important is that you buy the books. “There is so much delight and poetry and wisdom to be found in the garden and in your book!” S. Abe, California Academy of Sciences (ret)





Registration Closes August 3 at Midnight

You have been thinking about it and cannot decide. The Full Day of Dance© sounds so good but do you really want to commit the time? Can you decide which classes to take? Maybe you need to think about it some more before you go to the Reg. Form. Nope, you do not need to think about it some more. The classes are all amazing and led by gifted artists who are also gifted teachers. Time’s almost up! Monday night is IT.


The time is now. Dance is time made visual. Jump in.  You will be dancing in your home, alone, with no one watching you. You will only be watching the artist teaching. This is ideal. While you are here on the Livelyblog, go to   There you will find the link to the Registration Form.   Do it now; you will be so delighted with the fun you will have dancing.

Time to Dance! Register NOW!

It’s time! Register for Full Days of Dance©! Do it now. August 8 & 9 are only a couple of weeks away even though they are in another month. Strange how that happens. You have such great classes to choose from; you may just want to sign up for them all. This is a unique opportunity to take classes from wonderful artists who are also wonderful teacher, and it is all for FREE! Unbelievable, but true. For more about the teachers and classes please


To register for your classes please visit


OR, just go back to the landing page and click on the posts you will see on your right hand side. This is going to be fun. Come dance with us.

GODS IN COLOR at SF’s Legion of Honor Museum

Close your eyes and think of ancient Greek statues. Do you see them in their gleaming white marble? Do you see how the classical purity of their forms is presented without enhancement or any distraction from colors or other decor? That’s certainly the way anyone interested in art history would have envisioned them for the past several centuries. Turns out, that vision is wrong. The astonishing exhibition, Gods in Color, will be at the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum through its last day, January 7th. It’s more than an eye-opener. It will not just invite you to reconsider everything you know about aesthetic values; it will force you to blink a few times and conclude the past is something different, maybe more complicated, than we thought we knew it to be.

Reconstruction of Trojan Archer, 2005. Original: Greece, Aegina, ca.480 B.C.E.Glyptothek Munich. Copy synthetic marblecast with natural pigments in eg tempera, lead, and wood, height 37 3/4in. Leibieghaus Sculpture Collection (Polychromy Research Project), Frankfurt, on loan from the Universit of Heidelberg, LG157. picture courtesy Fine Arts Museums San Francisco.

This writer had heard years ago that the Acropolis was thought to have been painted in bright colors (my mother, a student of Art & Archaeology at Washington University, St. Louis, called this “a wake up call.”) Improved technology has now analyzed the bits and traces of color especially on statues and architectural remnants. The Gods of Color exhibition shows reconstructions of famous statues, friezes and even an Ionic capital all painted according to what the scientific detectives have found. Shown with the reconstructions are outstanding, original, unchanged works from classical Greece, Egypt, the Near East. The exhibition is fascinating not only for the chance to see these art works in a way close to the way the ancient Greeks saw them, but also for what is revealed about the science and economy of the times.

For example, one color is called Egyptian blue. The color was entirely synthetic. The Egyptians had worked out the science of producing a blue for their art through their knowledge of chemistry. They used silica, lime, copper and alkali. Blue made from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone, was too costly for a multitude of projects. Other colors in the Greek works were derived from natural mineral sources: red and yellow ocher, red cinnabar, azurite and malachite. The cave paintings in Lascaux (ca. 17,000 B.C.E) demonstrate that even then the artists could create colors from minerals. Dr. Rene Dreyfus, Curator in Charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation, explains that although they might have found a way to make the deep black for their art work from local sources, it’s most likely that they used hausmannite, a rare manganese oxide that would have come from the Pyrenees, 150 miles away. The use of color derived from minerals like lapis lazuli suggests that even in these eras so far away from us in time, artists could have relied on far flung trade routes for color. The lapis, for example, would have come from Afghanistan.

When you first enter the exhibition, you will see two magnificent male, warrior statues. They demonstrate that bronze statues (these from ca. 460 B.C.E.) also were enhanced by color. Silver, colored stones, gold, copper were used for teeth, eyes, eye lashes, lips, and nipples. The color was an integral part of all of the “glory that was Greece.” It appears that during these golden eras, nude art works would have been naked without their colors. Will you see these statues and think them garish? That is surely what our culture had long ordained. Rush to this exhibition and consider how much you will, or will not, reconsider.  Warrior picture: Two bronze warriors from Riace, originals ca. 460 BCE, These were found underwater off the coast of Reggio di Calabria.  The last day for Gods in Color is January 7, 2018. See     Museum Admission: Free for members; $15 (ages 18-640, $12 (over 65), $6 (college students with ID), Free for age 17 and younger.