Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Passing Of Perhaps The Worlds Most Famous Photographic Muse Charis Wilson 1914 - 2009

I was captured by this story as I understand the power of the muse, that special model that not only drives your imagination as an artist but also connects with you to a degree that often boarders on a personal relationship. Indeed Edward Weston would marry his muse. The connection is mysterious and powerful.

Charis Wilson, died Friday at her home in Santa Cruz at the age of 95, carried a particularly potent and long-lasting brand of fame.

We knew her by her image.

Model and wife to photographer Edward Weston, Wilson's nude body is one of the most iconic human images in the history of photography. From 1934, when the two first met, until the middle 1940s and his creative partner in what was one of the most productive periods of his long career.

"She didn't really think of herself as a muse, or an icon," said her daughter Rachel Harris. "She thought all that stuff was nonsense. They had a good, collaborative, working relationship. They both gained so much from that union."

"She didn't feel that she was just a nude body," said writer Wendy Madar who collaborated with Wilson on her 1998 memoir "Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston."

Once they met, Wilson moved with him to Santa Monica where she pursued many artistic interests. At the time, Weston had had a checkered sexual history and had just returned from an extended period in Mexico where he counted among his friends and acquaintances Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

"Her identity was not wrapped up in being Edward Weston's wife and model. She was very much an intellectual and lived an active life of the mind to the end."

Indeed, Wilson emerged as a writer in her partnership with Weston when the two traveled the West as part of a Guggenheim Fellowship. The result was the seminal book "California and the West," in which Wilson contributed the text to accompany Weston's photographs.

Wilson was just 20 when she first met Weston who was 48 at the time. The two married in 1939 and divorced seven years later, after which Wilson re-married and had two children.

After divorcing Weston, Wilson married labor activist Noel Harris and raised two daughters in Humboldt County. Her oldest daughter was murdered in Scotland in 1967. After a divorce from Harris, she moved to Santa Cruz and lived close to her daughter Rachel for the rest of her life.

"She knew dozens of ribald limericks by heart, loved conversation, was a great story teller and deep listener, a person with a gracious empathetic imagination and absolutely generous of heart."

Her literary collaborator Madar said that Wilson enjoyed her status as a central figure in the life of Edward Weston, but never let it define her life.

"She never felt any resentment of being known as that," said Madar. "She was on the one hand very modest, but it wasn't false modesty. She knew the value of her contributions."

Harris said that her mother died surrounded by the animals that she loved, including a pet chicken named Emily.

"Every morning, she'd roll out in her wheelchair," said Rachel Harris, "look out the windows and just say, Oh God, how beautiful. Look at that sun!' It reminded me of that old New Yorker cartoon with the dog saying, Oh boy, the same old dog food again!' No one could experience the freshness of every single day like she could."

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