I am one of those readers of the New York Times newspaper who always turns to the obituaries first. The reason I always look at NYT obits is that they often include many people who I've never met but feel I know.
Sometimes I feel a personal connection because the person opened up a new world to me via their own passionate interests like Mary Hunt Kahlenberg with Navaho rugs and Indonesian textiles. Or it may be because I've spent a lifetime enthralled by their bohemian style like Loulou de la Falaise. Sometimes I was charmed by their story-telling ability like Florence Parry Heide of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Or, like Phyllis Love, they embodied an imaginary character so totally that they have remained a capricious teenager in a role committed to film 55 years ago.
Suddenly, many of my quirky interests collided in one brief moment as these four women all looked out at me the last few days from their final stories in the Times.
. . .
In the 1970s, when Mary Hunt Kahlenberg was head of the costume and textile department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, she organized “The Navajo Blanket” with Anthony Berlant, an artist and textile collector. The exhibit — which I saw at the Elvehjem Museum in Madison when I was a textile student — stunned the art world as she presented American Indian blankets hung on the wall as works of art. Being in the presence of those wonderful creations was one of those rare moments when you know you are seeing something that will forever change how you look at the world. “The Navajo Blanket” was one of the first textile books I ever bought and it still has pride of place on my bookshelf today. For those who love textiles, a number of Kahlenberg's books on the subject are available locally through the South Central Library System.
For decades, Loulou de la Falaise was both St. Laurent's muse and collaborator; and as such, she was a fixture in the fashion pages in the days when I poured over them. Loulou was one in a long line of famous family beauties. But now I realize that what was perhaps most lovely about her is that she at once looked wonderful and her age.
LOULOU DE LA FALAISE
I discovered the books of Florence Parry Heide when I was an elementary school art teacher on the East Coast. It was a job that gave me access to new generations of children's books published long after I had stopped reading such things. My contact with young people — along with a wise school librarian — and brilliantly inventive book's like Heide's "The Shrinking of Treehorn," showed me that I would never be too old to enjoy kid lit!
I've known and loved Martha True Birdwell since I first watched "Friendly Persuasion" with my mother when I was ten years old! Actress Phyllis Love played many more well-known and well-regarded roles during her career, but for me she will always be the young daughter — Mattie — in this story of a Quaker family on their Indiana farm during the Civil War. The cast has a pair of perfect parents: a rueful Gary Cooper matched with a feisty Dorothy McGuire. Anthony Perkins played the older son in a breakthrough role. The parents were a long-married couple who put up with each other's foibles out of both love and respect. And they watched with amusement and concern as their children struggled toward adulthood with a war and an outside world moving ever closer to tempt them from their Quaker — and pacifist — beliefs. In many ways it is a throwback 1950s movie, but one with such sweetness and charm that I never grow tired of watching it. Or watching Mattie/Phyllis fall in love with the soldier pictured below.
The Birdwell family with a soldier neighbor in the Civil War movie "Friendly Persuasion." Phyllis Love is on the far right.