ART BY TECHNIQUE: painting Feed

Liza Cowan interview: FAKE! on Mountain Lake PBS

From 2005, here's an interview with me about my FAKE! Series. Taped in Burlington, Vermont by Paul Larson at Mountain Lake PBS. 

This interview was originally done on video, and after they had rebroadcast it several times over the years, the station switched to digital.  The video went into the Mountain Lake PBS archives until Paul had it transferred to digital and posted it on youTube again. I'm so glad.



More Dogs and Annie Sloan Paint

My new photography show, Saki, Pug For Fun opens in two days but I'm still shooting for it. Crazy, right? Today I took four pictures I'm very satisfied with. One will go in the show, maybe two.


Spotted chair, annie sloan chalk paint ©Liza Cowan
Spotted Chair. Painted by Liza Cowan with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

 Recently I started painting old chairs. This was my first. It's been a lot of fun and I'm so pleased with the results. I paint on any surface, really. Glass, walls, wood, canvas. And in the past I've painted some furniture, but discovering Annie Sloan Chalk Paint really made a difference. That suff goes on so easily and covers so beautifully. And no smell. And water cleanup. 

Today I decided to photograph the chairs, on a beat up old table in front of my living room wall. I painted the wall 11 years ago when I moved into my house. You can see I like spots. I'm shooting with my iPhone 4, using the Camera+ app.


Saki pug on spotted chair , annie sloan chalk paint ©Liza Cowan
Saki on Spotted Chair. ©Liza Cowan

 Here's Saki on the spotted chair. Saki is a very good poser. For a dog who doesn't relax even when she's asleep, it's fascinating to me that she will calm down and pose as soon as she sees a camera.



Stella doxy daschound on chair painted with Annie Sloan paint liza cowan photo
Stella, my doxie, on the spotted chair. ©Liza Cowan

And here is Stella, the doxy. Stella's not quite as happy in front of the camera but the floor was a long way down and she was not about to attempt a jump. So she sat. Here she was listening to the sound of a car outside. It's best when something captures their attention.



Saki pug on spotted chair, annie sloan chalk paint, photo liza cowan
Saki, relaxed in front of the camera. © Liza Cowan


Most of these images will soon be available as greeting cards on my online store.



Four years ago I found the artist  TMNK, The Me Nobody Knows. I was searching for art about Obama, because I believed in him passionately, and wanted to spread the word about him through art. I was running an art gallery at the time. I found "Nobody" on a google search for Obama art. Thus began a wonderful relationship. 


6a00e54fabf0ec8833010534a10aa3970b-450wiTMNK, The Me Nobody Knows. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. 2008. Used by permission of the artist. 

Once again, I passionately support Obama for his second term as President. So here is a small re-visit of some of TMNK's Obama paintings.


6a00e54fabf0ec883301116837a70b970c-450wiTMNK, The Me Nobody Knows. The Blacker The Berry. 2008


6a00e54fabf0ec8833010535da33e5970c-450wiTMNK. The Me Nobody Knows. Innaugural Obama. 2009.

In 2010, TMNK presented his work at my gallery during Art Hop, which is New England's largest art fair. Close to a thousand people saw his work during Art Hop, and over the next month. "Nobody" came to spend the weekend with me during the Art Hop, and to meet what turned out to be an adoring public. 


6a00e54fabf0ec883301348602b510970c-450wiTMNK, The Me Nobody Knows, hanging his show at Pine Street Art Works.

This weekend (September 7, 8, and 9) is Art Hop in Burlington, Vermont. I no longer run a gallery. And Obama is running again. "Nobody" is doing phenomenally well in his career. Visit his website HERE,  The painting "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" hangs in my living room.

And once again I say, Obama Or Else, 2012.


Tibor gergely self portrait oil painting 1935
Tibor Gergely, self portait, 1935

Tibor Gergely is best known in the US as the glorious illustrator of Scuffy The Tugboat and The Five Firemen, and 70+ other well loved childrens books, most published by Golden Books. If that were his only work, it would have been enough. But that is far from the whole story.

Tibor gergely, Gossip. #FC40 from
Tibor Gergely, Gossip, from part of a large series of drawings he made in the 1920's and 30's in and around the village of Kortvelyes, Hungary.

Gergely, an Austrian Jew, had a full, rich, life as an artist and intellectual in Budapest and Vienna before he emigrated to the US in 1939. You can find his story and more images at

Tibor Gergely sketch of Paul Robeson '29 Vienna
Tibor Gergely portrait of Paul Robeson, signed by Paul Robeson

While Gergely was in exile in Vienna in the 1920's he worked for the newspaper Der Tag. This portrait of Paul Robeson is one of many he made for the paper.

Tibor gergely charcoal sketch of woman in hat
Tibor Gergely, charcoal sketch of woman in hat.

“It often happens that the essence of a whole lies concealed in some minor, insignificant detail. To find that detail and to express with it the whole - this is the joy of discovery, and the painterly gratification of the artist.”  Tibor Gergely

Fleeing the Nazi regime, Gergely and his wife, the painter Anna Lesznai, landed in New York City, and immediately fell in love with the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

Tibor gergely %22the battery%22
Tibor Gergely, The Battery, guache, painted from atop the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Shortly after he came to the US, Gergely met Georges Duplaix, who was head of production at Artists and Writers Guild and they collaborated on Topsy Turvy Circus. In 1942 Duplaix  became head of the Graphics Department at Simon and Shuster where he introduced Gergely to Lucille Ogle. They, along with Albert Leventhal, created Golden Books. Here Gergely found the home that would bring him millions of delighted readers. He created illustrations for over seventy Little Golden Books.

  Tibor gergely a year in the city 1948

Tibor Gergely, A Year In The City, Simon & Shuster, 1948


Tibor gergely fireman illustration with color samples
Tibor Gergely,  the right half of an original illustration for "Five Little Firemen" 1942 

tibor gergely the taxi that hurried

Tibor Gergely, The Taxi That Hurried

Tibor gergely five little firemen
Tibor Gergely, Five Little Firemen

tibor gergely, scuffy the tugboat

Tibor Gergely, Scuffy The Tugboat


Körtvélyesi kert | Artportal
Painting by Anna Lesznai found here


You might be interested in this book about Golden Books.

  Golden Legacy; How Golden books won children's hearts

Golden Legacy, How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, And Became an American Icon Along The Way.

Interveiw with author Leonard S. Marcus HERE

And here is a wonderful little documentary about Gergely by his step great granddaughter, Sabrina Jaszi, including a telephone interview with her very knowlegable father, Peter Jaszi. 


YouTube video about Gergely

And it give me great pleasure to be able to make some Small Equals Keepsake Boxes with Gergely images. I only use pages from books - mostly Goldens - that are too beat up to salvage. I sometimes have them in stock, sometimes not, depending on what old books I can find. Look for them at my ONLINE STORE


  Small equals keepsake box tibor gergely the chief is on his way

Small Equals Keepsake Box with Tibor Gergely illustration on lid.

If you are interested in seeing more Gergely images I have a lot of them collected at Pinterest.


TMNK the me nobody knows, pine street art works, photo liza cowan, art hop, burlington, Vermont

TMNK-The Me Nobody Knows, hanging his show at PSAW, Sept. 11, 2009

Art Hop came and went. About 2 million 1,000 people passed through these doors on Friday and Saturday. We had a blast and everyone adored the work of NYC artist TMNK, The Me Nobody Knows.  He blew them away. As predicted. 

TMNK the me nobody knows, pine street art works, burington, vermont, photo liza cowan

Nobody's window. The mannequins are wearing his T Shirts and bandanas.

I always have four personae at these events:  Sergei Diaghilev, the impressario; Dolley Madison, the hostess; Hazel, the maid; and Ron Gallella, the paparazzi. I'm good with the first three, horrible with the last. Hence, I have almost no photographic evidence that the event actually happened. You'll just have to take my word. Or send me your pictures.

Rootstein mannequin, art is my weapon, TMNK, photo Liza Cowan

Diane, the Rootstein mannequin, wearing Nobody's T Shirt. Photo Liza Cowan


Art Hop, Friday September 11th 5-10 in the evening and Saturday Sept 12, 10-5 daytime.


TMNK The Me Nobody Knows, Bird, graffiti, street art, too many ants, urban bird, exhibit pine street art works

TMNK Art Hop postcard. Art: TMNK, design Liza Cowan 2009

Art Hop is almost upon us. Art Hop is  one of the biggest- possibly THE biggest - outdoor/indoor art fair in New England. We expect around 20,000 visitors one weekend every September in our otherwise modest little neighborhood in the South End of Burlington, Vermont. Hosted and produced annually by the South End Arts And Business Association (SEABA) Art Hop is well worth the trip. Lots of art, a fashion show, music, outdoor sculpture and demonstrations make it a family worthy destination.

TMNK, The Me Nobody Knows, graffiti, street art, contemprary art, My Boombox,  

TMNK-The Me Nobody Knows: My Boombox Plays The Sound Of Music. Sold. Used by permission of the artist.

This year the New York City artist TMNK- The Me Nobody Knows, will be the solo artist at Pine Street Art Works. I've written a lot about TMNK this past year, so I will refer you to previous posts for more information about him.

NOBODY will be here in person with his art on Friday and Saturday. If you live within driving distance, I urge you not to miss this rare Vermont opportunity to meet Nobody and see his work. 

And  check out Nobody's blog as well.

See you next week!


Lucky me. I just bought this painting by one of my favorite artists, TMNK - The Me Nobody Knows.

TMNK, The Me Nobody Knows, Bird, street artist, african american artist, new york city artist,


Bird Seeds. Copyright 2009 TMNK (The Me Nobody Knows) (mixed media on masonite 12" x 12" approx.) Used with permission of the artist

"Notice the happy sounds they make as they flutter about munching on their tiny morsels. It’s the bird seeds. The little things in life they enjoy. I’ve decided to learn from them, as I too rise early each morning, feeding my mind positive little thoughts. And reminding myself to be grateful for the small things in life that we sometime overlook. And though many say I inspire, this painting was inspired by a tiny little bird chirping in my ear. Not the one outside my door, the little bird I’m referring to is my youngest daughter. She’s made many attempts at goals, sometimes not achieving her desired result. Yet, I’m amazed as I speak with her, she’s like the birds outside my door, happily chirping away despite what some might call disappointing results, continuing to try, determined to fly. Hungry for something different? Allow me to suggest some bird seeds." - TMNK

Nobody will be here at Pine Street Art Works with his wonderful work on Sept 11th and 12th for Art Hop.
Check his blog for more wonderful images, inspiration and buying opportunities.


Some of these artists I've already posted about, some not. I'm so excited about the lineup of shows at PSAW. Even though times are tough, and businesses are tumbling like dominoes in an earthquake, we here at Pine Street Art Works (and Atelier Tove) are determined to keep going and thriving.


Tim Matson photo of Pilobolus. Dance called Untitled.copyright 1978. Used by permission of the artist.

The dance troupe Pilobolous began in 1970 at Dartmouth College. Tim Matson began photographing them early in their career, and, in conjunction with a Pilobolus April 11th performance at Burlington's Flynn Theater, PSAW will exhibit a dozen or so of Matson's original prints. Matson's book of Photographs, Pilobolus, was published by Random House in1978 and is still available through used book dealers.


Plattsburgh NY/ Burlington VT artist/educator David Powell will show his collages and prints at a date to be announced. I've been a fan of David's for a few years. He had a show last year at Burlington's Fleming Museum which was super.


Into the Future. David Powell. Copyright 2000. Digital print mounted on Wood Panel. Used by permission


Aline has been winning awards and grants left and right, and I'm happy to say I knew her when. She will be exhibiting here in August.


Aline Smithson. Arrangement in Green and Black. Portrait Of The Photographer's Mother. Copyright Aline Smithson. Used by Permission


I've blogged a lot about TMNK, but here's another image and a reminder that this amazing NYC street artist will be here on Sept 11th for the Burlington South End Art Hop. 


TMNK-The Me Nobody Knows. Copyright 2009. Used by Permission.



How To Read The Hand. Copyright Carol Golomboski. Used by Permission

"Psychometry is a series of black and white photographs exploring issues relating to anxiety, loss, and existential doubt. The term refers to the pseudo-science of "object reading," the purported psychic ability to divine the history of objects through physical contact. Like amateur psychometrists, viewers are invited to interpret arrangements of tarnished and weathered objects, relying on the talismanic powers inherent in the vestiges of human presence. These images suggest a world in which ordinary belongings transcend their material nature to evoke the elusive presence of the past. 


Copyright Carol Golomboski. Used by Permission

Through an examination of fortune-telling and clairvoyance, many of the images confront the desperate human desire to know the unknowable, historically referencing the Victorian interest in spiritualism as well as the look of the nineteenth century photographic image. Illegible text and arcane symbols in pictures with themes like palm reading, tea leaf reading, and numerology force the viewer to consider man's insatiable need to anticipate his own fate.

The concept behind each picture dictates its darkroom manipulation, sometimes requiring research and revisions that last weeks or months. Combining photography with drawing, seamlessly incorporating photograms, integrating appropriated text, and scratching the emulsion of the negative create images where horror, history, and psychology occupy the same imaginative locale." Carol Golomboski from Photo Eye Gallery


I swear to the stars above that when I started Pine Street Art Works three years ago I thought it would be a gender neutral retail operation. I've never been particularly girly. I dig abstract thought and tough decisive action. I hate processing my emotions. I loathe and abhor the word "journaling." My preferred artists are the Modernists, I like old tools and worn out industrial equipment. I only wear jeans and sensible shoes. Not that I call myself butch, but I'm no femme either. I've always thought of myself as androgynous. Hah! Apparently not, at least in retailing.

Truck At Sunset. Copyright Liza Cowan, 2002.

Build a green economy, photo 2
This is me, yesterday. I made this self portrait  for MoveOn.Org for their top priorities campaign. I mean, come on. Am I a girly girl? PS: My picture didn't make it into their final selection of images, which just goes to show that a great grassroots organizing movement doesn't always know how to pick the best images. 

Update (later the same day as I posted this on the blog): I just got this sweet note from Justin at MoveOn.Org "Hi Liza, Saw your blog post courtesy of google blog alerts. Thanks for your photo. Not sure how it got overlooked, but I added it to the photo set that's showing on the page that we put up today dedicated to the 'green economy' goal. Thanks for adding your creativity to the process.
Hope your winter is more snow than mud.
Best, Justin"

MoveOn.Org is just sooo excellent! OK, back to the original post....

By actual count, 50% of the artists I've shown have been male, 50% have been female.

Then comes my love of all things ephemera. You know, the Jell-o booklets, the needle packs, trade cards, and that kind of thing.

There are men who love ephemera and old illustrations.  You can follow the links to some great ones. But they aren't shopping here.

So what happens when men come shopping here, or women looking to buy things for men? Once in a while a man walks in and buys art, sometimes they buy a book or an old print. Certainly they buy presents for the women in their lives. Flashbags are a huge hit as presents for women.  But the rest of my inventory? Apparently it's too girly. 

So my question to you is: what should I stock that would appeal to guys? Because despite my best intentions and what I thought was my gender neutral approach to art and life I've still got the feminine eye. Who'da thunk?


Steven P Goodman, Lake at the Intervale. Copyright SP Goodman.


Here are some more Ginny Joyner images for your viewing pleasure. These prints are available here at Pine Street Works, and are soon to be seen on Flashbag handmade handbags and accessories, made in Vermont.

Ginny joyner le chapeau de femme small
Copyright Ginny Joyner, Chapeau De Femme. Used by permission.

Ginny joyner LUNA small
Copyright Ginny Joyner. Luna Moth. Used by permission.

Ginny Joyner Spode 2 pavilions plate small
Copyright Ginny Joyner. Spode Two Plate. Used by permission.

Ginny Joyner WATCH small
Copyright Ginny Joyner. Better Late Than Never. Used by permission

Ginny Joyner Eyeglasses small
Copyright Ginny Joyner. Eyeglasss. Used by permission.


Today we welcome a new artist to the walls of Pine Street Art Works - Ginny Joyner. Ginny is a Vermont artist, well known and loved, both here and farther afield. She graduated from the Rhode Island School Of Design in 1986 with a degree in illustration, and her work has appeared in many publications and for clients as varied as Harper Collins, The Baltimore Sun, and Eating Well Magazine.

I've loved Ginny's work for years, but while I was focusing on bringing my customers one -of- a- kind art I couldn't figure out how to incorporate her into the fold. But now that I've decided to bring artist made limited editions to my collections, Ginny fits in perfectly. I'm telling you, it's not easy to find such gorgeous work locally, and I'm so glad that Ginny agreed to let me carry her work. I'm sure you will love her paintings of pastry, teacups, garden vegetables, ruby slippers, porcelain figures, butterflies, cows, ladies shoes, fruits and teapots as much as I do.

This is just a small sample of her work, which is prodigious and varied, and always exquisite. I will post more images as she sends them to me.

Joyner -GARDENboots  
Ginny Joyner, Garden Boots. Used by permission.

Joyner -Pastry croissant
Ginny Joyner - Pastry/croissant. Used by permission.

Jouner Pastry572
Ginny Joyner - Pastry. Used by permission

Joyner Radis
Ginny Joyner, Radis. Used by permission.

Ginny Joyner, Chelsea Rabbit. Used by permission

Ginny Joyner, Ruby Slippers. Used by permission.

Ginny does her own printing so she can keep the quality high and the prices low. These prints cost $40 for 8 1/2 x 11 or $70 for 13 x 18. That isn't always the size of the actual image, but the paper it's printed on. Cellophane wrapped and ready for giving, these make a great holiday or housewarming gift.

As always, I can ship anywhere. Just email me. liza (at) You can pay over the phone with a credit card, easy as pie- or tart au cerise.


TMNK- The Me Nobody Knows. Mankind: Mixed Media on Canvas. 22x28  copyright 2008

"Mankind, Or Unkind men? That story and the legacy thereof will be determined not by grand promises or royal gestures.It will be something far grander, our kind and generous ACTS as humans, caring for EACH OTHER, REGARDLESS of our differences. That historic event will determine what history writes of US.

I pray we can find ways to walk like "kind men" and work together for mankind. Mankind." TMNK

TMNK - The Me Nobody Knows, is having a 2 Damn Cold, 2 Day Sale at his eBay site.
Hop on over and check it out.

TMNK will be at Pine Street Art Works in September for Art Hop, but it's never too early for you to start collecting his work.


New York City artist TMNK - The Me Nobody Knows - is a gift that just keeps on giving. It's old news that I have a big art crush on Nobody but I'm surprising even myself that his work is just that good. By good I mean many things but mostly it's that Nobody's work just keeps taking my breath away and making me smile. Not in a sappy way, but a deep down visually and intellectually satisfied way. Nobody makes me happier. I get to look at great art while maintaining my obsession with this election. Obama => Art. Art => Obama.

TMNK get On The Bus
TMNK - The Me Nobody Knows -Get On The Bus- mixed media on masonite ( 24" x 18") Copyright 2008, Used by permission of the artist

"With days left, the people have begun to board the bus for change. Each candidate promising a better tomorrow in this gothic novel of epic proportions. Obama seemingly cast as our new guardian angel. Well remember, we make our own heaven or hell by the choices we make. This election has energized a nation to head to the polls on November 4th. Together ordinary people of all races and religions are coming together to make a difference. Next stop an election booth near you; get on the bus! Get On The Bus" TMNK

see TMNK's blog and his flickr site

TMNK will be at Pine Street Art Works in Burlington, VT next September for Art Hop, our wonderful annual art festival.  But before then we've got an election to win, and an economy to get back on track - so get on out there and vote, and drag everyone else along with you. Obama Or Else. .


Here at Pine Street Art Works in Burlington, VT, we have some amazing shows lined up. People often ask how far in advance I book shows, and the answer is anywhere from a couple of months to a year. I like to have some flexibility and I also like to know where I'm headed.

So here are three upcoming shows to look forward to:

Illuminated Sculpture by Riki Moss and Robert Ostermeyer. Used by permission of the artist.

Illuminations - Studio Glow - November.

I've scheduled a show of light. Yes, the days are getting shorter and we all start to crave illumination. Heading towards Winter Solstice, dozens of  important traditions worldwide honor the return of the light and have done so since the dawn of human life.

Well, we're jumping in a bit early with a show of lights by Studio Glow - the light sculpture studio of Riki Moss and Robert Ostermeyer. The whole gallery will be aglow with these beautiful lamps and lights.

 aline smithson arrangement in green and black portrait of the photographer's mother series

Aline Smithson, from the series, Arrangement In Green And Black: Portrait of the Photographer's Mother. Used by permission of the artist.

Aline Smithson, August.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Aline Smithson on my last trip to Los Angeles. I'd only seen her work online, which is how I find a lot of my artists, by the way. And I'd quite fallen for her photography. Aline is a highly respected photographer and teacher and a great person to go to art galleries with. We had a blast looking at art together. I'm so excited about presenting her work in August, and I will be blogging a lot more about her. Meanwhile, I urge you to check out her website - linked above.


TMNK - The Me Nobody Knows - Save My Ass Too, used by permission of the artist. Mixed media on canvas.

"Some of the wealthiest, most powerful money brokers screw-up and you say you want to use my money to bail them out? They make millions, hundreds of millions, fly first class, live in mansions, and have yachts. Yet we, the poor-ass-struggling folks are about to loan them 770 billion dollars?
I have a better solution. Let the greedy idiots who caused this mess take their lumps and loose everything. Then do for the American people what we do for developing third world nations, simply forgive our debts. Bail us out. Keep all of us from going bankrupt, and pay our bills, our homes off. After all we're the backbone of the nation, right? Good, for once let those at the top of the mess suffer the consequences.
Now you've already wasted a bunch of my money looking for weapons of mass destruction, then starting a very expensive war, funded again with MY money. So the way I figure, if you really care about a nobody like me: Dear Uncle Sam, Save My Ass Too! Save My Ass Too" TMNK

TMNK- The Me Nobody Knows.  September.

If you've been following my series Picture The Future: Obama in Art, you've seen two of Nobody's paintings. I found New York City artist TMNK as I was researching for this series and, as I said in one of my posts, I've fallen in love with him. With his work. We haven't met yet.'s the best part of my job - I wrote and asked Nobody to do a solo show here at Pine Street Art Works next September for Art Hop. And he agreed! Sometimes I love my job so much. Follow the link to Nobody's website and blog and I think you will be as excited about his work as I am.



Remember to check out the website

I have fallen in love with this artist: TMNK- the me nobody knows

TMNK website

OBama by TMNK

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?
TMNK™ - The Me Nobody Knows -used by permission of the artist. Contact TMNK here before reprinting.
mixed media on canvas 24" x 36 "

see TMNK's Flickr site

Text from TMNK's flickr site:

In Stanley Kramer's 1967 movie "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?", a whirlwind romance by an interracial couple forced their families to confront their attitudes about race. The male love interest, and lead was a young NEGRO played by Sydney Portier. Matters were only further complicated by the fact that this was no stereotypical NEGRO. Smart, accomplished, ARTICULATE, polite, and sophisticated.
Well here we are some 40+ years later, and guess who may be coming to dinner?
Yup, another smart, accomplished, ARTICULATE, polite, and sophisticated Negro, accept today they're called Black.
It seems America is in the midst of filming an updated version of that cinematic classic starring Barack Obama. This time around , however, the love interest is not a "white woman", it's THE WHITE HOUSE! And just like the parents in 1967, America is being forced to confront it's racial attitudes (the one's it supposedly doesn't have).
You think Tilly had a fit when Sydney Portier's character wanted to marry the sweet little white girl she had helped raise. Well Tilly honey, will likely piss in her panties when she sees who's at the front door of the white house.
Guess who's coming to dinner now Tilly? "Hi, my name is Barack Obama."


 The Richard Gombar exhibit is now up at Healthy Living, Natural Foods, at 222 Dorset Street in South Burlington, and it looks great.

Melaney with gombar paintings
Melaney with Richard Gombar Paintings at Healthy Living Natural Foods.

Melaney and amanda
Melaney and Amanda in front of Richard Gombar painting at Healthy Living Natural Foods

The paintings will be at Healthy Living until July, when they move over to Pine Street Art Works. There will be more Gombar paintings at PSAW than there were room for at Healthy Living, so please, if you are in the neighborhood, stop into Healthy Living for this great preview, and then join us a Pine Street Art Works in July for the full exhibit.


 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.