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March 2008


 With Tibet in the news recently, I thought I’d expand on a piece I have on my website about  my cousin Zina Rachevsky and my travels in Nepal.

Zina Rachevsky

  In the 1980's I lived in Woodstock, NY, practically in the shadow of the Tibetan Buddhist Monestary Karma Triyana Darmachakra (KTD). Although I was not a practitioner, I lived with one, which I thought gave me some in-law status.

White Tara, tibet goddess, liza cowan painting
White Tara, acrylic on canvas by Liza Cowan

In 1985 my partner and I decided to go to India and Nepal. She wanted to see the Lamas and Tibetan Buddhist shrines and I was in search of information about my cousin Zina Rachevsky, who, it is told, had been the first foreigner to study with Tibetan Lamas, (or second after Alexandra David Neel.) 

Zina and her family had always been somewhat of mythical figures in my family. For one thing, the Straus family was fabulously wealthy. In 1921, Simon William Straus -  (Zina's grandfather, my grandmother's brother)  founder of SW Straus & Co., held loans on new buildings across the us worth $150,000,000. (NY Times, Dec 3, 1922) In 1924 they completed construction on  the Chicago building that is now known as Metropolitan Tower, the first Chicago structure taller than thirty stories. It was then known as "The Straus Building." SW Straus owned the Ambassador Hotels in Los Angeles, New York City and Atlantic City. He died in 1930. The company went into recievership, it went under, in 1932 after defaulting on bonds totaling over $200 million.

Zina was born in 1930, the same year her grandfather died. Zina was known to us a wild child, but in the 1950's, when I was a child listening to the stories, that could be another way of speaking of an independent, curious woman. She spent much of her early adulthood working as actress and gaining a reputation as an international socialite, knew the Beat Poets, and eventually made her way to India and finally to Dharma.

Zina Rachevsky  
Zina Rachevsky, actress 1953

Zena's father, we knew, claimed Russian nobility. While the Russian nobility fable is a large part of Zina’s current mythology, in my family we were more interested in our side, the Jewish side. Zina's mother and my mother were first cousins. Zina's grandfather and my my grandmother were siblings. They were all German Jews, who had been in the United States since the middle of the 19th Century, and had made their fortune first as peddlers, then as bankers with huge real estate holdings throughout the country. They settled first in Ligonier,  Indiana, creating one of the first and largest Jewish communities in the midwest.  The family then moved on to Chicago and then to New York.

Zina, in the stories written about her, is usually referred to as a Russian Princess. It is  not likely that Zina actually thought of herself as a Russian Princess. Certainly the rest of the family knew that her common-born father's common-born sister had married a dethroned Russian Duke, which doesn't equal royalty by any inheritance laws anywhere. Not a drop of royal blood coursed through her veins. However, it was a clever way of branding herself when she was creating a name for herself as an actress and a showgirl. The meme seemed to have stuck with  her friends and acquaintences and became part of her public persona. Certainly, it made her memorable, and most likely reduced the amount of anti-Semitism that might have been an obstacle in those days.

Update: It turns out, in fact, that the Russian Rachevsky's were most likely Jews as well. Converted to Catholicism, for various reasons, but Jews. Did Zina know this? I don't know. But it seems that she was, by blood, 100% Jewish.

I didn’t think much about Zina until I became interested in Tibetan Buddhism. She had visited us in New York only once, but I had no memory of her. But when I found that Zina had been involved with Lamas in India and Nepal soon after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, I knew it was something worth investigating.



After_the_rain_parisPaint By Number, After The Rain. Anon. Sold.

 Well it was and exciting evening around the TV on Wednesday. That's when Art Express from Mountain Lake PBS broadcast the episode about Pine Street Art Works exhbit of Paint By Number.

Harry_bliss_on_camera Harry Bliss, on camera.

Paul Larson, producer, and Jared Stanley, DP, came over last August to tape the exhibit. Also on hand to speak and demonstrate were Harry Bliss, Mark Waskow and Christy Mitchell. Harry is an illustrator and New Yorker cover artist. He spoke elequently about how PBN paintings break down colors for shadows and volume, and other wonderfully erudite stuff.

Christy Mitchell on camera. Paul Larson directing.

Paul wanted someone painting a PBN on camera, so Christy Mitchell agreed to do one, using an unpainted kit we had. Paul is in the foreground directing.

Mark Waskow and his Mona Lisa

Mark Waskow, collector (or end user, as he likes to say) talked about collecting PBN. He bought the Mona Lisa, and talked about how charmingly not good the painting is.

Jared Stanley, Paul Larson and Liza

My commentary runs throughout the episode. Here's a picture we took on my iMac photobooth. The version that aired was a rough cut, and when they have the final edit, they will rebroadcast and I will have it available on quicktime here and on my website.

Meanwhile, if you get Mountain Lake PBS in your area (northern Vermont, Montreal, or the Plattsburgh NY region) you can catch it on rebroadcast Saturday March 29th at 6:30 pm.

PSAW Show Cards


If you don't live around here -Burlington, Vermont, USA- you probably haven't seen my show cards. I don't mail them out because postage is too expensive. I leave them around in local stores and galleries. I thought you might like to see a selection from the past couple of years.

The exhibits were by or about: Charlie Hunter, John Anderson, SP Goodman, Denis Versweyveld, Cara Barer, Connie Imboden, Alison Bechdel, Phranc, Nakki Goranin. The three generic cards are for Artifacts, 20th Century Posters (with an image from a poster by William Steig for Shell Oil) and one generic card with an image of a mannequin by Ralph Pucci based on Maira Kalman's drawings.) Charlie Hunter and SP Goodman designed their own cards. I designed the rest.



Phrancpaper_play_postcard_small Ok, this is too cool. I've become a cameo.

For any of you interested in reading about Pine Street Art Works, Art Hop, Liza Cowan, Alison Bechdel and Phranc in an amazing novel-in-progress, I urge you to check out Maggie's Meta Watershed.

Maggie Jochild writes a blog that not only has some of the most astute political commentary available in the blogosphere, but she also regularly posts chapters of her two novels-in-progress: Ginny Bates, and Skene. This is a blog to bookmark! And read seriously, because we all have a lot to learn from Maggie.

In the novel, Ginny Bates, the main characters visit Pine Street Art Works during Art Hop in 2006. That was the year Alison Bechdel and Phranc teamed up for a show called Paper Play. And what a show it was! Ginny and Myra travel from Seattle to see it, and then go on to visit Emily Dickinson's home in Amherst. Oh, and in the novel they actually buy some art, and I agree to ship it the next week, which is how you can know it's fiction. In real life it takes weeks for me to pack and ship big pieces like that. And nobody has ever bought more than one piece from a show. But, hey, I'm not complaining. Bring on the art buyers, the more the merrier.

Fictional characters can pay with fictional money. Everyone else, I take checks, plastic or cash.


Reader Ginny J-B asked about the reverse painting on glass in the photo of my exhibit at Healthy Living in South Burlington.

The Liza Leger she asked about it is the first one of his works that I FAKEd. I've always been a huge Leger fan. I remember copying "Big Julie" using scraps of color from magazines for my color class during my foundation year at The School Of Visual Arts in NYC. But that wasn't  a FAKE! Yet.

Vitraila1 During the winter of 1999 or 2000 I was doing a lot of painting on windows, experimenting with color and line. I had just discovered a wonderful glass paint made by Pebeo of France. The line is called Vitrail and I love them. When I was looking at a book of paintings by Leger  it dawned on me that the color fields he used in some of his work would look wonderful as translucent shapes.

Liza_pbo_color_chart299_3 Here is the color chart I made for working with the product.

This is a scan of the reproduction of the original Leger. Two women and flowers. 1949

My cartoon and graph for my FAKE painting.


Liza Leger. Two women and flowers. Reverse paint on old window. 2000

I was still experimenting when I made this. Well, I'm always experimenting, but in this case I hadn't used translucent paint and opaque paint on the same piece, and I was initially disappointed with the combination, because when you hold the piece up to the light the opaque paint looks nasty. It is the vines on the edges that are opaque. So the whole translucency of the piece was compromised and it had to be a wall piece. I solved this by backing the painting with white board,  which actually is great because when light is on the piece, it casts shadows onto the white backing, adding a whole new dimension. Extra bonus - the piece changes with the changing light.

I hadn't thought of the FAKE series when I made this. I just wanted to experiment and have a Leger. Most of the works in the actual series work with tweaking the pieces to see how much I can change a painting, add my own "paw" as the French say, and still have it recognizable as a Leger or a Picasso or a Matisse. This one is almost pure Leger. Except it's not.


So, thanks for asking, Ginny. And yes, the piece is for sale. Price $1,800.

Mary Morris and Polly Cowan

I got these photos in the mail today. They were photocopies, not original prints, but who cares. I'd never seen them before and they are of my mother, father and their best friends at my mom's 40th Birthday in 1953.
Max Lerner, Lou Cowan, Polly Cowan, Mary Morris Steiner, Ralph Steiner
From left to right, Max Lerner, my dad (Lou Cowan,) my mom, (Polly Cowan.)  Above Polly is Mary Morris Steiner and biting Mom's shoulder is Ralph Steiner. On a personal note, isn't my mother gorgeous?? Too thin, perhaps, but wowza. Photograph probably by Edna Lerner, set up by Mary Morris Steiner.

Photo by Mary Morris Steiner copyright 1953
L to R. Max Lerner, Holly Cowan (my sister) Lou Cowan, Polly Cowan and Ralph Steiner. At first I thought this was some kind of fashion shoot with a roll of seamless paper, but in fact this was a wall in our New York City apartment. My dad planned this celebration with great ingenuity. He bought forty presents for my mother, not sure what they were but I remember a lot of fake gold wedding rings, had them all wrapped and tied in grocery twine and suspended all around the apartment. Four years old at the time, I wasn't at the party.  But my three siblings were and the affair was family legend.

I got the photos in the mail and the descriptions of the party over the phone from Mary Morris Steiner (now Lawrence.) Mary and Polly had been best friends at Sarah Lawrence college. The third best friend was Edna, who later married their professor Max Lerner. Mary married the photographer Ralph Steiner. And mom, of course married dad, who was radio and later television producer and executive Louis G Cowan. But this unusual group of former college co-ed weren't just housewives.  They married famous men, but they had their own careers as well.

My mother was a radio producer and later a civil rights activist. Edna Lerner was a psychologist.  Mary Morris joined The Associated Press in 1937 as the only woman phototo journalist. Later she worked for PM (Picture Magazine) a leftist daily newspaper in New York City. When I knew Mary and Ralph they were working as advertising photographers .


Photo by Mary Morris Steiner copyright 1953. Clockwise from the far left: Ralph Steiner, Geoff Cowan (my brother) Polly Cowan, Max Lerner, Edna Lerner, Paul Cowan (my bro) Holly Cowan and on the floor, my dad, Louis G. Cowan. The trunk which serves as a coffee table was filled with family photos, all of which were destroyed in the fire.

These photographs are particularly poignant for me because most of my family's earliest photos were burned in the fire that killed my parents in 1976. Each addition to our scant collection is precious. I'm also happy to have images of the party that was the stuff of legend around our dinner table. And then there's Mary.

I looked for Mary Morris Steiner for years, but only knew her as Morrie (her nickname) Steiner. Google searches were in vain. Finally Sherrie, at the Charlotte (VT) Community Library, found a file of clippings on Ralph Steiner, who had moved to Vermont later in his life. Sherrie found me Mary's second married name and some phone numbers.

So now, not only have I found  an important link to my family history, but a new friend as well. And, in my role as gallerist, I have found an amazing photographer. I'm hoping that someday I will be able to exhibit her work at PSAW. So far it's just a hope, because it would be a large task, but keep your fingers crossed.


I hung the first show at Healthy Living Natural Foods in South Burlington on Monday, and it looks swell. If you are in the neighborhood, go over and check it out, buy some great food or products, and tell me what you think.  I'm so excited to have this new adventure in retailing. Brilliant, if I do say so myself, to combine art and food retailing. I wonder if it will become a trend.

Melaney and Megan at the customer service counter at Healthy Living Natural Foods .

information counter at Healthy Living


FAKE! on the long wall at  Healthy Living. The one on the right, Liza Leger Woman With Vase is a print of my original painting. I had it done on water color paper and it looks amazing. Best of all, it only costs $200 unframed, so if you want one, send me an email (liza@pinestreetartworks) or call. 802 863 8100. I don't have a paypal widget but I'm happy to wait for a check, or take a credit card over the phone. the rest of the work is for sale as well, at slightly higher prices because they are originals.

Megan on the phone in front of my two Picassos. The one on the left, Portrait of Jacquline,  is on a mirror. In the back Portrait of Marie Therese, is a reverse painting on an old window.

Amanda at the coffee bar.

Head Chef, Jaime Eisenberg.

Cosmetics counter, Healthy Living

Cup display at Healthy Living

Display at Healthy Living. Seriously good visual merchandizing  by Rhoby throughout the store.


I've been thinking about White Mare, and found this aerial photo online. It is from Uffington, in the Berkshire Downs in England. It is 3000 years old, and now maintained by The British Trust. One of several such chalk carvings in hills in England, this is the largest, at 374 feet in length.


I'm adding this picture I painted a few years ago. It is based on a drawing by my daughter Willa, who was five when she drew it. Myra Josong mentioned it in a comment, and by Georgia, she's right. There is a powerful similarity.

Willa's Horse. Reverse Painting on glass. Liza Cowan, 2003


Many lifetimes ago, in the 1970's, I used to design, publish and distribute buttons. Not sewing buttons, but the kind you pin onto your coat, or shirt, or backpack. Badges, they call them in England. I'd collected political buttons as a teenager and had quite an impressive bunch of them. I loved the smooth roundness of them, the graphics, and how they had to deliver their message in an instant. Like little billboards for your clothing.

White mare buttons ©liza cowan

White Mare Buttons. Image made on Mita 500D copier circa 1978. Liza Cowan

I liked to use symbols from Greek and Celtic antiquity, probably because they were accessible in books, and because the education we got in the nineteen fifties and sixties presented Mesopotamia and Greece and Egypt as the only places that existed in ancient times. Africa didn't exist- except for Egypt - in our racially biased educational system, even in the private progressive school I went to. Robert Graves' highly annotated book The Greek Myths led me to his book The White Goddess, A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, and those were my two most insprational sources.

The first button I made was "A You're An Amazon" based on the song by Alix Dobkin (which was, in turn, a riff on "A You're Adorable" by Buddy Kaye and Sid Lippman) The moon and stars connected it to imaginary Amazon space. At the time, Amazons occupied a huge portion of Lesbian imaginary space until the other Amazon (.com) colonized the name and the pretty much corrupted the powerful symbolic association to an all woman civilization.

The triangle with a little groove etched in it that I found in pictures of carved rocks in Greece became the basis of my second design, "I like older women". I was twenty four  at the time, but the message seemed really important, surrounded as we were, even then, by media images of the perpetual child/woman.

The Labyris, double headed ax, was the ubiquitous symbol of matriarchy, which feminist Lesbians worldwide had chosen as their symbol,  I chose to pair it with the Star Of David, to connect my two identities. If you look closely, the Star of David is in the circle which tops the Labyris, turning the whole affair into a women's symbol. I thought it was quite clever. When jewelers started making pendants with the same design, I took it as a compliment. Several jewelers, when I told them I'd actually made up the design, said they thought it was ancient.

I asked a friend to design "Mother Nature Is a Lesbian" for my company. It was a huge seller, but truth be told, I never liked the design. The trees were nice but too much of a couple. The colors, light green, dark green and light blue, were pleasing, so that was good. But the typeface drove me nuts. There, I've said it.


mother nature is a Lesbian ©White Mare Buttons, 1976
Mother Nature Is A Lesbian, White Mare Buttons 1976


Medusa, the Gorgon who could turn men to stone if they looked at her, was another ubiquitous symbol of women's rage and power. Greek Goddess Athena featured the head of Medusa on her shield. Greek bakers put Medusa on the oven door to keep people from stealing the bread. I thought it would be nifty if we in the modern world could also wear Medusa as our aegis. I hired cartoonist Roberta Gregory to design this one.

And last is the White Mare, Celtic symbol of The Great Goddess. She was etched large on cliffs in England, I named my company after her. White Mare, Inc. If only I'd started an internet bookselling company we'd be ordering from and I'd be rich.

And I'd share it with you.


Paul Larson produces Art Express on Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh, NY. He has been incredibly supportive to me and to PSAW in the past few years. He did a piece on my FAKE! Series in 2004, then last summer he came to the gallery to do a piece on the Paint By Number show, which I think will be aired soon. This week he and camera man Jared Stanley braved the snow and ice to travel across the lake  to tape a show on Nakki Goranin's American Photobooth.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience working with Paul and Jared when they interviewed me. Paul is a good director, and  I absolutely loved it when he'd say, "wait, there was a truck in the background noise, we have to re-shoot that sentence." or "please make that statement a bit clearer" or "turn this way". He took the same care with the PBN story and the American Photobooth. I'll let you know when they air. Meanwhile, if you want to see the FAKE! story you can go to my website and click on "media"


I thought you might like to see some more of my design process. I've taken one of the seed packs from the  collection I posted a few days ago and worked it into a postcard design for the PSAW annex at Healthy Living. I've also decided on a name for the annex, which is Pine Street Art Works 2, but in the design the 2 looks like the symbol for squared. In other words, it's raised a bit. I know that mathematically squared doesn't mean the second but I'm taking license here, because for me visual appeal trumps.

This is going to need some tweaking, and I don't know if I'll use it at all, but for me graphic design is like playing, and I'm playing. Last time I posted a design process I got some useful feedback, so thanks.