Shall We Paint

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ginger painting, 1960s.  From Getty
One of the things I admire most about Ginger is her appreciation for and skill in art. More than just an artist on the screen, she had a talent for sketching, painting, and even sculpting. She completed countless pieces throughout her life, and used art as a form of expression and escapism from her packed Hollywood schedule.

Her interest in art became apparent early on in life. She states in her autobiography that by 1934 she had been sketching for a long time. It came to her naturally, much like performing. One day during a break while filming Change of Heart (1934), Ginger began sketching actor and pal Jimmy Gleason. Co-star Janet Gaynor was fascinated by Ginger's ability, remarking that she herself had no talent when it came to drawing. Ginger then persuaded her to come over on a weekend afternoon and allow her to teach her the ropes. From then on, Janet seemed to take an interest in sketching and painting, even selling her work to galleries.

Many artists create works inspired by figures that they admire, and Ginger was no different. One of the pieces that she was most proud of was a charocoal sketch of Maria Ouspenskaya. There is some confusion in the timeline here, as in a Truth and Consequences article from the 1930s, she states that this piece was one of the first sketches she attempted after becoming inspired by Maria in what is implied to have been the film Conquest (1937). Regardless, it is a beautiful creation, and she even invited Maria over for dinner so she could show off her work. In the article, Ginger states, "If she hadn't liked it as much as I did, I believe I would never have recovered from the disappointment."

You can spot that sketch of Maria displayed in this photo from an art exhibit in Beverly Hills, 1953.

from Getty
Ginger seemed to be a natural talent at anything she attempted. By the mid 1930s, she had taken a liking to sculpting, another hobby she excelled at. Below, she is touching up a sculpture of her mother Lela she had been working on a few years prior.

from 1940
You can spot this same sculpture in the photo below, taken in 1942 by Bob Landry. Ginger can be seen lounging at home among many of her own pieces.

She often had many pieces displayed throughout her home, and in the 1946 film noir The Locket, you can apparently spot a few in the background during some scenes. The only item I have found to substantiate this is a brief newspaper clipping, so unfortunately I am unsure what exact pieces, if any, are displayed and where to look for them in the film. Nevertheless, if true, it is a pretty neat fact.

Her creative hobbies didn't stop there. By the 1950s, she had become interested in pottery making. Although you might not know it by watching her film Twist of Fate from 1954, she was an excellent potter. In the movie, her character fumbles when attempting the task, and receives assistance from co-star and husband at the time Jacques Bergerac. In reality, it was Ginger who was teaching Jacques to make pottery behind the scenes.

from Getty
A decade later when Ginger was playing the titular role in "Hello, Dolly!" on Broadway, she rented a studio in Cambridge with her heart set on creating a unique piece of pottery for everyone involved in the show. She presented them as gifts on closing night, and did the same a few years later when she starred in "Mame" in 1969. In 1971, she can even be seen on the television series "Dinah's Place" where she is teaching Dinah Shore how to make pottery.

While early in her artistic career she seemed to have drawn people, later on she seemed to be fixated on still life. Below is an oil portrait of a collection of toys she completed in 1967:

from a listing at

Ginger never tired of her artistic ventures. One cannot put a number on the countless pieces she must have completed throughout her life, and neither did she ... a price, that is. Although she displayed her artwork in many galleries over the years, she has stated before that she could never really bring herself to sell her work. We are lucky that many of these paintings have gotten to see the light of day through auctions and exhibits, but there is no doubt that many are still left to be discovered, and personally I can only hope that I might see one in person someday.

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