LETTER TO LUCIA
I cant come to the corner of Hudson and Bethune without seeing your gray lions head, Lucia. Coffee at the Bus Stop Cafe? I mumble. A danish? Im treating.
You roll your eyes in mock appreciation.
How often we met there, to talk nonstop for an hour or more. No one could listen to a friend in trouble more sensitively than you. Or talk about books more intellligently and subtly. (You had read everything and you remembered everything you had read.) Or gossip more fascinatingly: your comments perceptive, biting, funny, passionately partisan--it was gossip raised to an art form.
We usually agreed about novels but not always about politics and movies. Then we would yell at each other. I thought you doctrinaire, you thought me decadent. (One was an ex-fellow traveller, one an ex-Trot.)
How you raged at me. Your nostrils flared. You were unforgiving. Would you really, I wondered, stop speaking to me because of a Fellini movie? You were impossible but you were also right. Ideas matter: art and politics are never trivial.
Politics was one of your great passions; art another.
You were forever going to meetings or making signs-- You never missed a demonstration--even after you got sick you went. Ive been to jail with you, Lucia. Many of us were. You were fun; you were sisterly; you taught us bella, ciao. But underneath it all was your fierce anger at injustice.
You never stopped challenging the system. With your eyes blazing, you looked like a fallen angel. Even now I imagine you making trouble--organizing, and getting up a petition against sickness and death.
And now Im thinking of you as an artist--the beautiful Vietnam doors you made for the Washington Square Church, protesting the bombing. And all your other work--portraits, woodcuts, your political art.
Like many other women you didnt take your talent quite seriously enough. You played it down while raising standards impossibly high. You complained about not painting. Yet after your death, when Paul started sorting out your studio, it turned out that you had produced a large body of work--very fine work, I thought. Im sure your fellow artists will say more about that.
One thing I can talk about with authority is you as a teacher. You taught a class in self-portraiture at the Center for Continuing Education at Sarah Lawrence. (I was the director of the Center at that time. I hired you, to our shared delight.)
You gave that course more than once. Each time you taught it, it transformed the students--they were older women who had never drawn or painted before. But in a very short time they trusted you and loved you--and turned out amazing work. I dont know just how you did it but you taught them to look; to be daring; daring to be themselves.
And thats what you finally were, Lucia: 100 percent yourself. If that old-fashioned word personality still means something, you had it. There never was or will be anyone like you.
I miss you, Lucia. I always will.