By Stanley Wlodyka
The artists of A Diamond Jubilee are vastly different from one another, but they each can reveal the secrets to longevity and a fulfilling life.
By the year 2050, experts predict that the segment of the population over the age of 60 will more than double, jumping from 900 million to 2.1 billion. Complicating the situation, the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) is running a deficit year in, year out. The only way they’ve been able to stay afloat thus far is by eating into a reserve accumulated from the surpluses of past years. That well, however, is expected to dry up by 2034, and unless the age of retirement is increased, the SSA will only be able to pay out 79% of the need from the amount they receive from taxes.
Jenny Tango may provide the solution. At 92 years old, she is renowned for her vitality, quick wit and lust for life, which she attributes, in part, to marrying a man 28 years younger. She is one of seven artists who are participating in an exhibit that celebrates productivity past the age of 75 in the gallery room of Westbeth Artists Housing in September. Entitled A Diamond Jubilee and coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Westbeth, this exhibition will feature a wide variety of art forms: abstract, figurative and impressionistic paintings, as well as masks, puppetry, embroidery, and photographs.
Ralph Lee, a mask maker whose creations have appeared in everything from the Metropolitan Opera to Saturday Night Live, is perhaps best known for founding the Village Halloween Parade, which today draws 60 thousand costumed participants and two million onlookers annually. He believes that conforming to a prescribed formula in life—like slowing down after 65— is over-rated, especially since one of the great things about being human is the freedom to choose which mask to wear. “In a lot of cultures, you become the deity when you’re wearing the mask. It allows you to behave in a lot of different ways, to use your body in a different way,” says Ralph.
Judy Lawne came up with the idea for A Diamond Jubilee shortly after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A photographer, she considered the camera an extension of her body and, for the sake of her art, found herself hanging out of a building with only a makeshift harness to keep her from falling and climbing over the rubble in the days after the September 11th attacks. She had to make a decision after receiving her diagnosis: was she going to succumb to the bad hand fate dealt her, or was she going to continue in the craft that took a lifetime to develop? Though she now must use a tripod to continue her work, she persists because she’s devoted to capturing, “a moment in time.” That’s what photography is: a moment in time that no other medium can capture.
The other artists in the show are just as fascinating. Robert Ludwig is a painter whose training as a physicist had him working with J. Robert Oppenheimer on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico during World War II. Penny Jones taught hundreds of school children across New York City to express themselves through puppetry; she remembers one boy in particular who built a fortress, “for me and mommy and daddy, so you don’t have to go outside for anything.” The child’s parents were divorcing, and Penny had provided the boy an opportunity to express his anxieties. Bea Kreloff left her husband and her Jewish middle-class life in Brooklyn to move into Westbeth with her two sons as one of the first tenants; she and her partner of 30 years, Edith Isaac Rose, will participate in this gallery show posthumously. Their lives, works and legacies stand as a testament to the fact that love makes the most impossible dreams a reality.
The show will run from September 8th through the 29th, Wednesday to Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Westbeth Gallery (55 Bethune Street, New York, NY 10014). All are invited to the opening gala on Saturday, September 8th from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.; there will be food, drinks, a live jazz band, and the opportunity to speak to the artists in person.