Friday, June 26, 2009
This documentary is a retrospective spanning 60 years of the American master artist Lady Bird Cleveland who was born into poverty in the foothills of Georgia in 1926. ”When I was a little girl in Georgia”, she said, “They’d whup me with a hickory stick six feet long when I got caught drawing in school. I‘d wait until the teacher left the room, then I’d draw, when no one was looking.”
In 1941, at the young age of 13 going on 14, she would journey alone to New York, to Harlem, on 130th street five blocks from the Apollo theater, to help her older sister care for her five children; she worked hard in a zipper factory in long island to help pay for food and rent; the whole family lived off her salary.
While attending the Wadleigh Highschool in New York Lady Bird was discovered painting in the art supply room after school by one of her teachers who was so impressed by Lady Birds talent that she entered Lady Bird’s work into the R.H.Macy’s Scholastic Achievements contest, it was a painting entitled “The tired woman” which won first place over a thousand high school students, Lady Bird was presented the award by mayor Lagurdia, and the painting was bought by two Broadway producers. Cheryl Crawford and Margo Johnson. From that win Lady Bird received a scholarship to the prestigious Pratt Institute, where she developed her skills as a fine arts painter. She was the only female amongst solders in the class. It was world war two and times became hard, she had to leave school to find a job to survive. She worked feverishly for months, producing paintings she could sell for money. Her work caught the attention of art critics, and she started getting write-ups in the Amsterdam News, Daily News, Herald Tribune and New York Post.
Yet with all the accolades, she was still a black woman. America was still a strictly segregated society offering little opportunity or encouragement to Black American artists. She had to resort to painting neckties in a window on Broadway. But she made it work for her, and people on many levels of society were exposed to her work. Lady Bird also worked on executing the ultraviolet animated three-dimensional billboards on the New Jersey turnpike, and for the New York subway station at Times Square, where her work appeared for over a decade.
Although she worked downtown, Lady bird was a constant on the scene in Harlem. Her paintings of the 1940’s would reflect scenes of the Harlem nightlife featuring luminaries such as Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis and Billy Eckstein; she has been photographed by Carl van Vechten, and has done catalogs for Elsa Perett the jewelry designer for Tiffany’s.
During her Harlem period, frequenting the jazz scène, she had a love affair with the Swedish saxophonist Johnny Johnston. This changed the course of her live. She got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter and was a single mom. Her daughter was to become Pat Cleveland the International top model. Yet with all of her notoriety she has never forgotten where she came from. She has always wanted her work to reflect a social consciousness…tell a story.
Today she lives in Willingboro. Her private collection of hundreds of oil paintings, sketches and drawings, focuses on aspects of life from slavery to the civil rights movement; to her latest painting of President Barack Obama’s election victory. Her work is a testimony to her belief that it’s her calling to paint African American culture which she does from her heart.
INFO ABOUT THE PROJECT
Format of Show Genre: HD Documentary
Target Demo: The diverse 18-45 audience
Release Date: Black History Month 2010-11