The Wysocki, “Yellow Saltbox in Rhode Island” is sold. Ah me.

The Charles Wysocki painting was in my family for fifty years and had become a part of anywhere I lived. Now the place where it hung is bare. It feels like losing a beloved pet, so I have to wait a good while before I hang anything there again.

What is it about art that makes it seep into your skin, heart and mind? What is it that an artist I have never met can seem like a familiar old friend?

I hope that the new owner realizes what a bargain it was, not even a third of its appraised value, and guaranteed to increase in value since there are few if any original oils by Wysocki to be bought and sold. Most collectors of his work are as fond of his work as I have been, but age is pushing me to downsize my art collection and let someone else, much younger enjoy the beauty and happiness it brings. cropped-joan_johnsons_gallery-81.jpgThis little wanderer by Berta Hummel is the first piece I ever bought. I could identify with this waif and used my small allowance, carefully saved up, to buy her at the corner stationery store in the 40s. The nineteen forties, not my age. I was 8. This will be the last thing I will let go. NOW since Christmas is coming and no gift can be as ongoing as a work of art. It is time for me to go down into the archives again and see what is left in my gallery that would make a lovely one of a kind present under the tree. I have posted a sample of the artifacts I have collected over many years that I have loved to show you as a sample of what you will find in the pages on this website. for dimensions, etc. go to the page where the item is listed. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. Everything that is framed was done so professionally with archival papers and sturdy frames and non-reflective glass. The prices listed are to make your decisions easier, and include shipping except for overseas where there will be customs fees added.

You may see a change in prices since the items were posted on pages herein, and that is because I am watching the art market and pricing below appraisals in general. This is not a business, but my personal collection that needs to be disseminated to other collectors now that I am downsizing. I am not trying to make a profit, but only to be fair.

I hope you enjoy the visit today. Think about giving someone a very merry Christmas with something that will always make them think of you.  Inquiries welcome!


rimbaud Portrait of Rimbaud by Picasso is an original print signed by the artist in stone. I bought this from a San Francisco gallery over the phone and have owned this famous lithograph since 1964. It is so familiar to me now that I can let it go. ($800) One sold in Cannes recently for 1200. Framed and couched in archival papers and mattes to last another century.


An etching by a man who became the Lord Mayor of London! Pristine condition and beautifully framed in birdseye walnut and gold. (400) it is in perfect condition considering its age, amazing print.


IMG_9077_FINAL[1]“Homage” An impeccable original lithograph by the American artist, John Hunter (the California School) with a self portrait lower right. (1200 firm) signed and numbered and framed.

magdalenThe Magdalen Reading

Cornelis Bloemaert, Dutch master and thought to be the teacher of Vermeer. Original etching from the 16th C. Framed in silver. (700 firm).

Joan Johnson's Gallery-2Original book of Raymond Carver’s first published poetry. (1000 firm) signed twice, once “to Joan”IMG_8955[1]

A Creature by young African-born American artist, Otis Bardwell. original lithograph (1,200) framed.


IMG_9737A small original print “The Wandering Artist” by John Hunter (350). Numbered and signed, framed in archival material.


rlstevensonOriginal print of Robert Louis Stevenson at a book signing from early 20th C. framed. (150).

“Talk” original signed by Davey of Carmel. (350) and “Hooked” by LA underground artist, ceramic with antique Victorian paper background. (400) firm.


photograph (Vermont) by Ronald Wilson (American) signed on back with certification of authenticity. (500 firm) framed.


A Suite “The Life Cycle” of rare lithographs by John Hunter. you will find the others in major museums that bought them early on. (7,000 firm) Each print is signed by the artist.

Joan-Johnsons-GalleryThe Patriarch

Original oil painting of St. Paul by Cotti.   carved wood frame. (500)


Daumier original newspaper print. The flight of Icarus. (400.) Very rare!


Artist’s Proof “Janis” by Susan Dysinger (California). signed. (500).


A Collection of Broadsides by renowned poets: Stafford, Bly, and five others. (40 each of all for 200). Rare collectibles. All signed by authors.


If you have looked this far, I should add that the artwork you select will be shipped 7 days after your check arrives. I pay taxes, the 10% to the artist’s estate, and shipping expenses (except customs fees). The work here represents more that I have in the same genre or by the same artist. There is much to be found on the further pages of this website. Happy visiting!













Announcing Summit Seminars in Crestline, CA

Small, intimate writing days and weekends in the beautiful woodland of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Joan Eyles Johnson, M.A. with forty years of teaching in college writing programs, has moved to the mountains above the hustle of southern California to provide a place of quiet retreat for other writers. Please send for a brochure: Summit/P.O.Box 36 Crestline, CA 82325.  Plan a writing session at a cozy pinewood cabin in the woods where you can enjoy complete serenity without interruptions except for a catered gourmet lunch.

Check out the website for a 2017 schedule of upcoming quiet days, weekend seminars and amenities, including a one week residency in the resort ski area of Lake Arrowhead, a four season resort in the alpine region high above the traffic where the air is always fresh among the 50+ trees on the property, called “Dorothy’s Home” in honor of the heroine who learned there’s no place like home. A writer’s paradise in lovely gardens.




Joan Eyles Johnson, M.A., proprietor, mentor, playwright, poet and winner of the 2016 Ernest Hemingway Prize for Short Story: “The Night Packet” Fiction Southeast Journal.

The Ernest Hemingway Prize for short fiction 2016 (Fiction Southeast Literary Journal) I won!

6a00d09e47c706be2b00fae8dd8f2e000b-320piIt’s a strange story. Well, not that I won the prize for a story that will be published online with an audio version as well, but the story behind the story, the one about how it came to be.  Enough to make anyone believe in Karma.

I was in my last year of teaching at a Los Angeles private university where my Dean had a serious dislike for me for reasons never stated. It started almost the first semester she was put in place as my boss. I won’t list the humiliating accusations she leveled against me from the start always a brouhaha signifying nothing. Threats by this dean were always aimed at causing me panic, but they were never about anything real.

I enrolled at my own expense in an online writing class at Stanford, a short story course taught by the novelist Lewis Robinson. It was fairly expensive for a part time instructor, but I was excited about hearing what this young new novelist had to teach me about my craft. The class lasted 10 weeks and about seventeen of us, were visited weekly by Robinson via Skype. On the last day of the class, it was my turn to hear his evaluation of the work I had produced during the semester.

It was my day off, and since I did not have WiFi in my little Hollywood apartment, I brought my laptop to my cubby hole cubicle and was at my desk totally engaged awaiting my turn for final discussion of my stories. The instructor filled the Skype window with a strip of “live” students across the top. At the very moment when my turn came, the Dean  barged into my little spot, her assistant dean close behind, saying in an excited and angry tone, “You are in serious trouble!” Despite my begging her to allow me to continue my last online class on my own time on my day off, she continued to berate me and told me I was to be at a meeting at 7:30 the next morning where I would be faced with a committee of faculty and the student who said I wrongly accused her of plagiarizing her final paper for a class, and that she was bringing an advocate, an “alum” to speak on her behalf and I was in real trouble. This played out in front of eighteen witnesses watching my tongue-lashing threats- on my laptop. Needless to say, the distress and embarrassment this caused me set my heart racing, and that was the end of my interaction with Lewis Robinson. It was a distressing, frustrating, inconclusive ending to the class.

I had never in over forty years of teaching been brought before a grievance committee, and the first meeting the following morning was an ad hoc meeting with the accusing student, her advocate, (a former student I had once failed for plagiarism), the Supervisor of the English Department, the Dean, Assistant Dean, and other faculty I cannot remember due to the anxiety I felt in the hot seat at a conference table. The two students were allowed to stand and harangue me, insult, and threaten me with petitioning my termination, saying they were going to the dorm after the meeting to get student signatures to “swear” I was prejudiced (the students were Hispanic. I am not.) and berated me for being a bad teacher and worse than that a “bad person.” The personal diatribe went on so long that eventually  my supervisor felt it had gone too far and stopped the  meeting. It was without a doubt the most horrible experience of my long career as a teacher with many awards, e.g., Future Teachers of America for encouragement and support, Faculty of the Year award  by students from two campuses, and an ISAE award for service to students.

In the grievance committee meeting the following week. I was interrogated by the head of the committee and the Art Department, and one other faculty member from yet another department; my immediate supervisor was present although when asked said nothing in my defense. I felt so much anxiety and sharp pains in my chest that I knew I had to rush to the hospital immediately when the ordeal was over.

The irate accusing student had said in the first meeting with her advocate that I had not checked her paper on Turnitin (a corporation that checks electronically for plagiarism), or any other technology and therefore had no proof it was plagiarized. So, I agreed, in the Grievance meeting to allow them to put the paper through the Turnitin site for an electronic check. The committee sent it to the IT specialist who managed Turnitin at the university and it came back 99 % plagiarized. I was vindicated. It was all another much ado about nothing accusation against a veteran teacher who could, by now, tell a student’s authentic voice.

I drove to the hospital immediately out of the meeting to have an MRI that proved I would have been dead in a short while had I not gone to the doctor. It was not my heart, but a silent thyroid growth that was about to choke off my windpipe. The physician told me if I had not come in that day I would have died very soon with a sudden inability to get my breath.. So, the whole trial saved my life. The student received an F for the course. Her advocate was exposed as a graduate who couldn’t get a job in her field after being fired because she could not write proper English. Not only was I exonerated, the dean was dismissed from administrative duties and sent back to teaching, and my life was saved.I retired.

As for the unhappy ending of the Stanford writing course, I don’t remember the prompt that resulted in the short story I sent off to Fiction Southeast Literary Journal. The judge was the young writer,David Galef. There were five finalists. He picked my story, “The Night Packet.” This year I am the winner of the Ernest Hemingway Prize in Short Fiction. I have another short story online at Foliate Oak, a student run literary journal in Arkansas, and a poem coming up in May in Orchards Poetry Journal, and on April 24th a professional theater group directed by Dr. Sharon Carnicke of USC  is giving me a lovely honor, presenting an evening of three of my one act plays on April 24th in Los Angeles.

Sometimes it just works out that justice is served!  I am happily retired from a plethora of “bosses” and run my own silent retreats and seminars high in the California alpine village of Crestline where we never have more than 6 writers at a time. We also take mindfulness walks down by my lake in the forest with gluten-free, vegan brown bag lunches on sunny days of anxiety-free creative writing.

Check it out! No pressure, not one mean person in sight. Only peace, quiet, and creativity. “A Pigeon’s Life” Flash fiction (February) Summit Seminars

 Later this month First place Ernest Hemingway Prize 

In May: a poem, “Grief” hhtps://

An Evening of Joan Eyles Johnson: “Odile” “Dancing to the Epistle”and Hislop’s Fables” Three one act plays. The Stanislavsky Studio in Echo Park.


Once I visited Arrowhead, (Pittsfield, MA) the home where Herman Melville wrote the Great American novel that almost nobody reads anymore, and certainly it is far too long for students with short attention spans who need commercial breaks every six or seven minutes.(I will not go off on a tangent here.) It was deserted the day I visited, this grand old sea captain’s house, now harboring an American treasure. Well, not entirely deserted, the volunteer at the front told me not to sit in any chairs or touch any furniture as I walked reverently upstairs to the room with the desk the master used when writing. It faced the wide window showing an excellent view of Monument Mountain,the place where Melville had walked into a storm with his neighbor, Nathaniel Hawthorne. I must admit I sat in his chair, touched his desk, his inkwell, his pen, although very lightly. It was a thrill I will not forget. Today I write in a room where my desk faces a wall to wall window on a view vastly unlike the one at Arrowhead, although I live in a village beside Lake Arrowhead, My view is an extreme close up of giant cedar pines, and because I am on the second floor I only see the fullness of their middle regions, long graceful branches loaded with needles, wall to wall trees. Today I woke to the wild wind gusting, the TV tells me, up to 85 miles an hour. That, my friends, is like watching a stage full of frenzied flamenco dancing ladies shaking their ruffles to the point of tearing them. It is very dramatic here in the San Bernardino mountain forest today. So much so that my big, usually wild dog, is overwhelmed by the weather and rather docile, content to stay in her cozy bed and allow me to write with my back to her for as long as I like. Now, an hour after waking, the dark fog has saturated every inch between the trees as they continue to sway, toss, and knock their heads together in front of me. All this accompanied by a wind whistling like a steam engine much too close to the house. So I am, naturally, thinking of Melville writing through the New England storms and telling himself it is time to go topside to pull in the sails and to go below to batten down the hatches. I have a friend who calls my house the “ship house” because this room where I am writing juts out over the steep hill the house is on. and I have some nautical touches brought like flotsam and jetsam from my long life. I tell you, it is dramatic. The TV tells me this is going to be the worst storm of the too many I’ve survived already this winter, but I have a pantry with supplies, and lanterns for possible outages. Days like this bring me close to Melville, Even though I write flash fiction, It is a good day to get in the hammock and read Moby Dick again, but the hammock is out in the storm for what I expect to be a long spell because now it is beginning to rain.


Search the pages for this impeccable original print  “Retired from the Sea”in our gallery.

Janis (Pearl)


This very large beautiful original print, Susan Dysinger’s artist’s proof of young Janis Joplin is for sale unframed (700) or framed by Grey Goose in Los Feliz, Los Angeles (1,200).

If interested, email for dimensions and order professional archival framing.

Questions: An Essay

At this moment in our history we are seeing an ever-increasing epidemic of drug deaths, again among the famous, infamous and wannabe famous victims of addiction. From news broadcasts, politicians, teachers and parents, come scary statistics, the alarming numbers of drug-drenched towns and cities, the waste of lives and parental hopes while huge numbers of young people decide, knowingly or not, to check out, to cut the cord to the future, whether it is fear or doubt about the future, or pain so deep it cannot be assuaged by any balm or comfort, only total oblivion, or whether it is copycat behavior due to mentally tortured artists who gain world fame and burst into flames to remain “forever young.”

As we old folks know, it takes courage to take on old age, but it is oh so worth it; just ask those of us who have outlived our wildest passions and have successfully dealt with memories of traumatic events and universal meanness by the monsters in our world, the lucky among us who have endured long enough to live long lives, gain peace of mind and sometimes even prosper.

I hear often that our young generation suffers from unspoken guilt about their debts to credit cards and to the old folks in their families.Guilt is a terrible engine that drives anyone but a psychopath to emotional turmoil. there is a slogan in the twelve step program: “Guilt sucks.”  I personally know a faithful attendee of meetings who even sponsors others but has never made any kind of serious amends, one of the central steps of the program. Guilt mixed with deception is a toxic blend and may be a reason to seek liberation from any emotions at all. Who knows? A suicide meant to hurt others, an act of revenge, a way to put the guilt on others is not uncommon.

This portrait (Look at the eyes) asks a painful question. Think about the appropriate answer. Think about Hemingway, Plath, Woolf, and so many more towering artists who took their own lives, and join those of us who love life with all its pain and are angered by those who opt out on drugs. Think about David Foster Wallace and ponder the question. How many aspiring wannabes will be in love with death now because of his famous” example? There is always one more on that dusty road with a longing to be remembered in any way possible, albeit by causing grief.

I lived in Hollywood for over 20 years and very often drove by the small motel where Joplin partied herself to death, the hotel where Belushi ended his life in front of his girlfriend, the sidewalk where River Phoenix gave up the ghost after a night “on the town.” In fact there is an entrepreneur who has a company called Graveline Tours and a limo that takes you to all the places where short-lived famous people continue to attract fans in death.The license tag reads, “I C ded ppl.”  There is even a Museum of Death on the Boulevard. The cult of dead “stars” grows daily. I didn’t know Joplin’s music, but someone I loved knew it and copied her style, became a fan-atic in town and bleached her life with drugs. It was and is a tragedy. I bought this lithograph with Joplin’s beautiful persona to remind me of that girl, and to remember that every drug-addled thief of time was once an innocent child.

Nobody has developed a tour of places where famous people who died of old age lived, who worked, prayed and served others. I am thinking of the niche dedicated to St. Therese of Lisieux in the magnificent Church of The Blessed Sacrament on Hollywood Boulevard, given to all who visit or worship there as a gift of Irene Dunne. There are beautiful places where seekers who were also famous practiced lovingkindness, like the Zen monastery on Mount Baldy where the “elder” late Leonard Cohen sat zazen as a monk for five years. It is a life-giving alternative to drugs, a spiritual path. A life-saving path, as any 12 step follower will tell us “if they work it” and don’t just “talk the talk.” (God save us from these ubiquitous people.)

Some ex-heroin addicts preach almost continuously using social media like a pulpit, like true fan-atics of Christ, but privately they are still full of the hatred, resentment, and trauma that made them zone-out in the first place. (“The devil quotes scripture.”) Here perhaps only therapy or true conversion to love and forgiveness and gratitude can help, as it has for many who hide behind a curtain of deception.A person, of any age, who doesn’t practice the great commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is not a Christian. Privately some who claim to be “saved” are secretly still “lost.”

Freedom is not “just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Freedom is a word for something very sacred to everyone with a soul to cherish when found; it is only the soul-sick who think it means only escape. Alas. How paradoxical that addicts think drug highs are liberating if only for a moment, when they are the road to total prison and slavery and often an early death-before-life.

I have empathy for those left behind, the real victims of this epidemic, this cult of the dead that has grown exponentially with the loss of spirituality.  There can only be pure grief; that is all that is left when someone we love has chosen a broken-off life.

Ah! Back to Art.

To some artists, e.g., the very young and dying of  disease, John Keats, art, the senses and nature combined  form a higher high than reality  and is “oblivion” enough. (Time to closely read Ode to a Nightingale again.) Life is enough. Love is enough. Nature and Art and the Senses are enough. Thank God. This starkly beautiful portrait of Janis asks a painful question. Think about the appropriate answer. to the question, What is ever not enough? Dickens knew this when Oliver asked for “more.” Hunger is more than physical.

Then, ask yourself how and why so many musicians are so prone to escape rather than seeking the spiritual? Maybe the Pied Piper really was an evil kidnapper? I am thinking, again, of Bob Dylan, recently awarded the Nobel Prize? (my question mark) Thinking of Joyce Carol Oates who dedicated a pied piper story of the real monsters of our world to Dylan. “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?”  You can Google it by writing in “text” before the title. Beware, it’s a tale you will never forget.

I once, long ago, had a friend who asked if his son could visit me for a week before going into the army during the Vietnam War. I was a mom with a tiny infant. I met him at the airport where he arrived long-haired, wearing knee high fringed suede boots, and hippy-like clothes, a guitar with attached harmonica (Dylan style). On the way from the airport a cop pulled us over with my infant in a car seat in back and me, dressed like the suburban housewife I was. After a thorough inspection of my car and trunk, we were told to go on….Shocking! Was it the clothes of my young guest that aroused the officer and caused the search? To this day I still remember that question. My guest never left my house the whole week, but lay on his bed, guitar and harmonica singing more like wailing at all times. This was my first introduction to Bob Dylan who was obviously his compelling inspiration, but to me a total departure from what I called music. The constant loud droning was nerve-wracking, but I submitted knowing his near-future would be harrowing  and tried to understand the “music” and its guru who my young guest obviously adored.

One day I had all the fixings for fruit cakes I was going to make for Christmas gifts in my kitchen and I had to go shopping. On my return, my guest told me he had made my cakes and he had put something “special” in them to enhance their effect. My husband threw it all out. (This was the 1960’s after all.)

The boy came home from the war a year later and, I was told, out of his mind on drugs. He had been stationed in a psych hospital as a private first class, and one day close to home, high on PCP  he ran from his car head-on into oncoming traffic and was killed instantly. He was 21 years old.

Wherever we live now there are so many drug-addled walking zombies  on street corners, in gutters, slums and luxurious couches and expensive Hollywood hideaways. Every minute someone buys a first “fix” from a greedy purveyor of greed for “more” to the never-to-be-satisfied.Question: Why?

Final question: How can lost people get on the right path, the ancient quest so honored and understood by so many artists, writers, philosophers, and spiritual leaders, the search for peace of mind, that pearl of great price, the only real liberation that cannot be bought for any price? I believe that inside every human being lies the answer to every question, but it takes time and hard work, legendary courage, and patience to get them. For some of us, maybe even a long, long life.


Many years ago I bought this lovely portrait in an art gallery in Santa Clara that was having an exhibit of Dysinger’s work. Check out her website to see her most recent art for sale and  you’ll see how surprised I was when I asked the owner if he had any “specials” in the back room. (always ask about what is in the back room for wonderful surprises.)  No matter the real woman, the portrait of this unusual Janis Joplin has caused me much to think about over the years. .I didn’t know Joplin’s music, but someone I loved very much knew it and adopted her style, was a fan-atic in my town and bleached her life of potential singing-success with drug addiction. It was, and is. a tragedy. I bought this lithograph with Joplin’s beautiful persona to remind me that every drug-addled thief-of-time was once an innocent youth with wasted potential.Now it is time for me to pass it on to someone else who will love it as much as I have all these years. To see more of the art from this (Laguna Beach, California) artist’s work, go to her website:


Susan Dysinger.  Limited edition prints: Lady Day, Georgia String Band, Chet Baker, Aretha B..B. King, and Duke Ellington at his piano.

Georgia String Band

B. B. King

My newest venture: a writer’s cabin in the woods

Writing_Quote_329This from an excellent writer who we lost not long ago. Even though, alas, there will be no new books from her, she left us with some wisdom and some mighty good reading materials.

As writers, we can never rest on our laurels, or even get any without Persistence. A writer needs a space for solitude, silence and, if necessary, assistance. Therefore, I have opened my mountain cabin to others where I can share not only my beautiful space but whatever I have learned that will help others on their journeys to publication or performance.

For information about a writing place away from your home, please go to my new website at:

.out my windowA mountain getaway where you can (without interruptions)

Finish your script, novel (historical, romance, mystery), poetry chapbook, memoir, poetry collection, children’s and adult literature, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, stage play, travelogue, interview, essay, and all with the coaching of an award-winning author, poet and playwright and very special guests.

Our goal is to get you to publication and solid intellectual property (copyright) for your legacy. From start to finish, work toward your goal.

Write for information today!   Summit Seminars   P.O. Box 36 

                                                         Crestline Village, CA 92325


 (Dedicated to the writer who “fathered” a whole world of real characters who live and breathe, who wrote with wit, excitement, humor, pathos and a feather pen. Summit Seminars honors the works of Charles Dickens, and aims for the highest rung of writers!)
Upcoming 3-4 day seminars

November 12, 13, 14:  Writing the Short Story/from flash fiction to the novella

December 9, 10, 11, 12: a “holiday” Memoir: Capturing your life on paper one episode at a time

All seminars daily from 10-4 and limited to the first 6 applicants chosen in order to guarantee personal attention

Each complete seminar is $150. (really)

You must send your application, a check for the seminar and a brief biography and, of course, any questions  to:

 Summit Seminars P.O. Box 36 Crestline Village, CA 92325 to be received at least a week before the beginning date. All payments are totally refundable if cancelled or received too late to be processed, or if your plans change and you cannot attend the seminar you chose; the next applicant will replace you and your payment will be totally refundable upon notice at any time.


“Dorothy’s Home”   Hosting Summit Seminars 2016-17 silence and monthly seminars about writing ( see 2017 schedule on

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Price includes all snacks, continental breakfast and lunch each day



You will be catered to while writing . A continental breakfast and a healthy lunch menu is available every day. Snacks, coffee, tea and water are always available, and at 3pm there will be  sharing  (optional) with your convivial small group of companion writers during our positive  “questions and critique” periods.


In a  directions package we will will send you a list of recommended lodges, cabins and hotels in and around Lake Arrowhead within a very short driving distance. Low cost and discounted rates for guests. 


If you want to extend your stay in the mountains and enjoy the pleasures of Southern California, Lake Arrowhead is one hour from Palm Springs, an hour and a half from San Diego and two hours from L.A. (Hollywood). Crestline Village is a four season resort with boating, fishing, swimming (water park )in summer and famous ski trails in winter, all this at 6,000 feet above the valley of the Inland Empire.

The Rim of the World Highway has been named one of the top ten most beautiful scenic drives in the country!

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Our retreat is situated high in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California where we are two hours from the ocean at Seal Beach  and/or Los Angeles, in winter you can ski in the morning and surf after lunch.  While writing, and being coached you will be in a cozy  pine cabin in a natural forest (cedars, oak and pine, mountain laurel)  in which to write, and if it is cold, snowing, and/or you would prefer to write indoors, we have a floor to ceiling river rock fireplace and cozy dens, nooks, sofas, and an extensive library where you can tuck yourself up with your laptop. We are a Wi-Fi property, indoors and outside.

Oh and we have flying squirrels, stellar blue jays, colorful juncos, “Woody” woodpeckers, raccoons and a very rare bear who will not bother you as long as our mascot, Daisy Buchanan*, a genuine bear-dog is on patrol. Bring your camera!


(This is the real thing, a bear in the neighbor’s back yard. Photo by Jeanine Just.)

*She’s spoiled rotten and always leaves the messes she makes for others to clean up after her. W/apologies to one of our favorite authors.

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Please write to receive a schedule of activities and contents of  upcoming seminars through March 2017. Also daily rates for solitary writing space, personal instruction and small writing classes.

BOOK NOW (Strictly limited to only 6 writers in each seminar to allow for individual attention.)

(Crestline summit. The view from Hortensia’s restaurant. Photo by Birgit Tregenza)


Summit Seminars

P.O. Box 36

Crestline, CA 92325


Mon-Fri: 9:00am – 5:30pm
Sat: 9:00am – 1:00 pm
Sun: Closed


photos of Crestline ca – Bing images

(Hortensia’s restaurant)

Growing artists: an experiment during WWII


When I went there with my big black trunk filled with name-taped hacking jacket, jodhpurs and at least two of everything else, it was called Altaraz School. In this antique post card, the house and fountain seem so much smaller than they did to a seven year old  child sent from “far-away” Framingham, Massachusetts. I went to the train station with my mother, boarded a steam train through billowing black smoke and found myself alone for the long trip across the State to Great Barrington, Massachusetts near the New York border where the forest turns from the Berkshires into the Catskills where I was to enter the third grade and the unknown.

A taxi was waiting for me when I got off the train and brought me to an imposing German-style manor complete with grinning gargoyles jutting out from under the eaves,  a circular drive and a long dark vestibule. (The picture above is the back of the main house, not the front which was equally imposing.)

A small man with black-rimmed glasses and kinky hair stood arms akimbo on the top step. “Are you the new girl?”  I didn’t know how to answer.

“What’s your name? He did not come down the steps to greet me.

When I told him,  he said, “We already have a Joan here. What’s your middle name?”


“From now on you will be Ellen.”  Before I knew where I was, my name was erased.

At that moment an older girl walked by on the green circle of lawn in front. The man called to her and she came closer.

“Take the new girl around and show her the farm.”

I had no idea what a farm was, but we walked a long dirt path through very tall trees and came to a tall totem pole. My guide let me stand in awe for a few minutes while I followed the strange images to the top from turtle through masks and finally an owl. My introduction to the art of another culture.

“From Alaska.” she said, and we moved on to a  multi-storied barn, a long chicken coop and a very real bull with a ring in its nose behind a high fence we climbed to have a look..

“All our food is grown right here on the farm.” My guide told me, “Even the meat. You will see how the farmers work and they’ll show you how they kill the chickens.”(They did.)

entrance(The path to the farm)

Back in the Main House in what was to be my dorm, a room with three beds, heavy red velvet curtains and floor to ceiling windows,  I was introduced to my roommates: Mori Wildfeuer and the girl who got there before me, the “first” Joan, who had, I was told, escaped Poland with her father, Mr. Wolteger. There was a war on I was told, and awful things had happened to Poland.

That night I woke up suddenly vomiting and I had wet my bed. The whole mess was startling to me. A woman came in and took me to the bathroom where she made me clean everything up by myself while she watched. I remember gagging as I leaned over a cold bathtub and washed the sheets in icy water. It only made me sicker, but she continued to berate me for being a bad girl.

When all was restored and I was back in bed, Mori said, “You won’t get to see the sheikh tomorrow,”

What was she talking about and why should I care?. I was so frightened by the place, the people and the uncertainty of my future, and I had no idea who I was anymore, let alone what a sheikh was.

The next day as I sat, a prisoner locked in the room, tearfully  looking out the window, I saw below in the middle of an entourage, a man dressed in a long white robe with a veil and figured out I did see the sheikh after all because he was kind enough to walk directly below my window. He was kind enough to give me the honor of seeing him.Today I wonder what country he came from and what he was doing, and I have always been fascinated by the Arab dress and culture.

That was my first two days at a place that taught me things that influenced my entire life.  And although I had no idea who or where I was, Altaraz School introduced me to luxury, art, music, elegance, beauty, manners, Persian rugs, crystal chandeliers, formal gardens and mountain walks, the wealth of nature on expansive grounds dotted with rustic pavilions in a strange place I could never have known except in a movie, a place where I was conditioned (often with severity) to become an artist. That was the whole idea of the place based on Summerside in England, a progressive school where children were allowed to run free to grow their artistic talents. In my case, for example, If I did not want to go to math class because I was in the middle of painting a totem pole on the sidewalk, I was encouraged to continue by teachers on their way to the classrooms.I skipped many a class to wander along the Housatonic River curiously watching long rows of snapping turtles watching me from floating logs. Once I started a “museum” of natural history in one of the pavilions where I encouraged my fellow students to contribute their findings from the countryside, mostly dried-up orange salamanders and odd-shaped rocks. Without adult supervision I was allowed to exercise my imagination and I have always cherished this activity more than any other.Giving me the freedom to dream without limits was a precious gift.

This same freedom allowed me to run wild through the enormous place like a wolf-child, my beautiful red winter coat with green velvet collar and cuffs soon torn and missing buttons, my new Spring coat burned through where the naked light bulb touched it as I kept reading after lights out, my hair long, stringy and dirty. Often my face was unwashed until dinner in the formal dining room where the food was unpalatable smelling of vinegar. Mori, soon my ally, and I stole lots of yellow tomatoes from the ornate glass greenhouse at the top of the lake. We also filled a bushel basket once with weeks’ worth of pine nuts we gleaned from the many cones under trees on the vast grounds. The food at dinner was mostly foreign to me and unpalatable. I remember being made to sit all one afternoon in front of a bowl of pea soup I had refused to eat. To this day, I have never eaten pea soup or eggplant, two bad memories of discipline.

Eventually I was taken to a doctor and found to be iron deficient and had to drink lots of Ovaltine with my meals. I ignored the nutritional problems while I learned to paint on glass, to memorize and recite poetry, to love Mozart and ballet and, best yet, reading. At the end of third grade I had read Ivanhoe and The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott, although I did not know what the word “bairn” meant and missed much of the plots.

3a3b4e7479d0035699cfffb9bd2f1313(One of the many similar pavilions that were scattered all over the grounds. This one in the lake still stands in what is now the Eisner Camp.)

When, after two years,  I was taken away abruptly and put in a convent school to begin the fifth grade, I had no inkling of a times table, but I could tell a good story, write and direct a play and of course, paint on paper, glass or even a sidewalk. I knew the music of Beethoven, Schubert and more, knew about Pavlova and Nijinsky,  had been exposed to opera in recitals by at least one famous opera singer. One afternoon Mori and I hid in the minstrel balcony and looked down into the Music Room where Dr. Altaraz’ beautiful teenage daughter, Vera, serenaded her boyfriend Clarence with”Poor Little Buttercup” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I still love operettas, especially HMS Pinafore. Clarence, we heard, came riding up to visit Vera on a motorcycle. How romantic and extraordinary–the wild young man and the golden princess!

Dr. Altaraz, who we were told was a child psychiatrist, must have been determined to “grow” generations of artists and I think it worked for many of us despite our confusion with the stuffing of culture at every turn. One of my classmates, Alex, tall for a twelve year old, would galumph into any room with a piano, sit down and rip off some classical music and just as suddenly run out again. I also remember in the playground he taught me naughty songs we loved to sing as he pushed me on a swing; one began with the words, “Whenever you see a hearse go by….” It is now clear to me that the good director of the place coming directly from a self-destructing world found purpose in teaching the young about art and culture as a salve for the wounds of war and more likely hope for a more peaceful future. Once, Mori and I sneaked into Mrs.Altaraz’ bathroom and saw her stacked paintings leaning against the walls.I remember how we shivered  looking at  one showing a line of young women wearing only red stripes of paint across their naked bodies from top to bottom. Was that war up close and personal? Since then I have been appalled by torture all the Saturday matinees in Framingham had never shown me.

maxresdefault(The former Gatehouse to the 880 acre estate (Altaraz School) where we dormed for summer camp is now the entry to the Eisner Camp.)

Every Wednesday night there was a formal salon and we, the students of all ages, were expected, in fact forced, to perform, to show off our talents in fancy dress. For my turns, I directed my  fellow students to recite poetry from my Child’s Garden of Verses, or a play I plagiarized from the radio. (Karma when becoming a teacher and finding the temptation and/or stupidity continues to this day.) Oh the talent in that school! I remember a probable young Dorothy Dandridge in a slinky white satin gown leaning against the grand piano singing “Embraceable You” and two budding opera stars in their teens, Ned and Esther in formal attire. It was a treat to be among so many talented students.  I loved writing poems and short plays.And ever since have been a show-off, ready to hold forth at any time.

2016-08-07-15-31-14(A picture of the lake and great landing (from the archives of the Library of Congress) where I learned to swim and row a boat and, most importantly, dream and imagine without interruption.)

Whatever they did at Altaraz, it worked. There was an ever-present atmosphere of beauty and creativity: Recitals and concerts in the oak and gold paneled music room with twin grand pianos, coffered ceiling, built-in organ which doubled as a multi-instrument with piano rolls filling a row of drawers just above the floor, and my favorite crystal-globed chandelier, while outside a parade of Greek statues and marble benches lined a rolling lawn edged with giant chestnut trees, and then there was an Italian rose garden with more statues and a long rose covered colonnade, all in the midst of  the Berkshire mountains where Dr. Altaraz led all the students on Sunday mornings on hikes with a walking stick from a large collection he kept on the office wall behind his desk. The rumor was if you were bad he would use these for whippings. On hikes, he held forth among the glories of nature and the grandeur of God while waving his stick above us.Oh the impatience to be done with it as the smell of Sunday morning pancakes wafted in the air.

housatonic-405x246(The Housatonic River ran through it all….Through all four seasons, it seemed a never-ending kingdom– limitless to a wandering little kid.)

There was a double marble  landing on an artificial lake big enough for the seniors to hold their cotillions, where I raced a heavy green rowboat during summers, and a second artificial lake where I learned to skate, and hills to ski down in winter. In summer “camp” I still remember the words we sang ( “John Jacob Jingle Heimerschmitt”) around a campfire toasting marshmallows, and I never tire of Strauss waltzes recalling the parqueted floor of the grand ballroom when the Persian rug was rolled up by six people across, preparing for the formal dances when my partner was a nine year old boy named John Allen. I remember the feelings of pride in my little peach satin gown while the older people looked down at the little couple and crooned, “How adorable.” Good for the soul of a child who had magically entered some kind of wonderland.


(I remember drawing these urns with pastels as a kid)

italiangardens-360x231 (1)(The rose garden)

(my secret garden?)

I spent hours as a child playing and imagining in spectacular gardens. I learned to swim in the fountain you can almost see in the first picture. There were six rearing white marble horses spitting water into the pool and every time I paddled on my little board under one I would bob up and down. After we graduated from the fountain, Mori, Joan and I were taken to the big lake with the landings where we hung on for dear life to the marble edge kicking our feet. We had ballet lessons on the terrace above the fountain. It ran the whole length of the building, but it was not easy to dance on bricks.

(The picture doesn’t give a true picture of the grand marble landings big enough to hold dances on. At graduation we 3 little girls watched from our window at the romantic couples canoeing across the lake under moving spotlights– just like a movie!)

We were taught to fish on this lake, and I remember the horror of removing the hook. (Recently my dog, Daisy caught a catfish where I now live near another bigger  lake.)  I have happy memories of “my” assigned green boat that made me love sailing. And then there were always kingfishers and herons….things to write poems and stories about.

I remember these two years with gratitude because I became a writer with so many wonderful experiences, awards and memories, published poems and stories, and plays off-Broadway, and on NPR. Once on my old TV show  my producer said I could talk to “anyone”about anything. (I even got to interview Johnny Carson, one of the best!) The truth is I knew enough to begin a conversation because of my varied beginnings. I continued to meet famous artists, writers and musicians through years of my own company productions of classical music (PeQuod Productions) – too many to name here. and my paintings are in some nice offices, homes and studios. I’d say that for better or worse, whatever Dr. Altaraz envisioned for his students’ future, it worked for me. I owe so much of my happiness and artistic success to the mission, goals and vision of the man who christened me “the new girl, Ellen.”

O, My handsome riding habit was a ludicrous outfit since the best I could do was sit atop “Nursey” a smelly black Shetland pony while a groom led me up and back on the bridle path as I watched Mori speedily dash across the meadow bareback on a pinto pony. She was the real tomboy. I still have the scars in my leg where when wrestling, she pushed me down on a rusty nail sticking out of a wooden crate we were planning to make into a soapbox derby entry. We ignored Joan W. as she was a true blue “Goody Good” the name we had for well-behaved young ladies. She most likely grew up to be a politician or a judge.

(our “other” lake where we could skate in winter at the bottom of the hill where we  learned to ski.)

I remember when they drained it once we found razorback clams galore in the mud.

2016-08-06-15-15-28(There was an inside courtyard formed by the 3-sided manor house, filled with a hedged-in garden, more roses and a dog house in the center for Spitzy, the  Altaraz’ American Eskimo dog who barked all winter in the snow. The doors open out from the grand ballroom and once John Allen spilled a bit of cocoa out there on one of my three pretty ball gowns when we took time out from waltzing.)

Frieda Altaraz was an excellent painter who died in the 1970s and her husband, Dr. A. died tragically a few years later trapped upstairs in a house fire. Their lovely daughter, Vera, passed away just last year after a long life, painting wildflowers and gardening and inspiring others during her lifetime to enjoy everything beautiful! A few years ago, I found her book on Amazon  of paintings of the wildflowers of the Berkshire mountains. Mori and I thought her the most beautiful and talented “big” girl in the world. She did NOT marry Clarence. She married a writer.

Long after I left the school was named Brookside and it was, I am told, for boys only. These linen postcards were made during that period all but the top one of the back view with gardens.

Today, Altaraz School has become the modern Eisner Camp for Reformed Jewish kids. You can Google it for all the new and wonderful things available for new generations of students. You know who Michael Eisner (Hollywood) is, no doubt. How canny and wise of him to purchase a place of majestic beauty and the creativity it inspires in young people!.

©This is from a memoir-in-progress (Are You My Mother?)

Does anyone know what happened to Mori Wildfeuer and Joan Wolteger? I have wondered for years now to no avail. I believe Mori’s mother was a high-fashion model who only visited once while I was there, and I was very excited for her since nobody ever visited me during my two years in the school. I remember her being very tall and beautiful, but she made a big deal of a “present I brought for you, Mori.” When she pulled a lollipop out of her purse, I was not too young to feel let down. I mean once in two years. a small lollipop?I must admit that each time she married, Mori got a package. Once it was  “Fruit of the Loom” and she opened a box full of aprons and dish towels. ???? But when her mother married a toy manufacturer Mori got a little movie projector and we had lots of fun creating films of “Our room” slowly panning across the bureau draped with stuff falling out of open drawers and  our massive pine cone collection from the forest. Mori was my best friend for the long two years.I hope she was in the movie business.

I looked up the name Wolteger online and found the name of one such person in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 who was a physician. His wife, the report says, was “lost.” (That would explain a lot if indeed it was Joan’s history..)The only other Wolteger is a well-respected violinist named Edna in Toronto. Could this be her granddaughter?


LOWELL%20THOMAS%20IMAGEfrederick frankllin as slaveimagesrlstevensonTE Lawrence and Lowell Thomas, Tinted photograph, © Lowell ThomaSee my gallery for sale items

Lists some of the treasures when sold.

for original lithograph of Robert Louis Stevenson, an original photograph and book from my meeting with Lowell Thomas, and the book by T.E.Lawrence. Read more about these artifacts for sale now. Oh the picture of Fredrick Franklin is not for sale. He was my hero from the moment in my childhood when I saw him dance to “Freddie and his fiddle” in the play, Song of Norway.

You can read more about dancers on these pages. Jose Greco and Franklin were two of my heroes who I was lucky to meet when I was a kid. Can students today enjoy real art when they are so addicted to technology/screens? Is there time in their lives for cultural enrichment when they spend hours on end playing video games? Or is art obsolete in a world where Sci-fi is reality?

When I was a teenager I had seen the Ballet Russes at the Boston Opera House year after year, and I remember Jerome Hines in Faust, and so many other of the great artists in live performances of my youth.

My conflicted mother, whose single life and career as a nurse had little room to raise a child, worked hard and long to pay for someone else to do the job and told me when I asked the big why (?), that she saw the alternative: a kid growing up in a rented room with only a fire escape for the outdoors. While my mother lived with a hot plate in the closet and a jar of peanut butter and a can of tomato soup, I lived the radical difference at Altaraz School for two years, and despite the loneliness, discomfort and sometimes real pain of being alone, I grew to be a fearless single traveler through much of the world, with an outlandish love of art and its makers, so much so that I became one. And in the end I feel overwhelming gratitude to my mother for doing the best thing for her only child.

I wonder:  “Are social media and video games plugging up childhood today and will it matter if adults eventually have little use for art and artists?” 

I was at one time the Public Relations Director for the San Jose Symphony and Opera Company in Silicon Valley. Yes, I grew up to consort with many world talents, e.g., having  lunch with Alicia de Laroccha, a tiny lady with such strength at the keyboard that she broke a piano string on her first note on our Steinway!  alicia-de-larrocha-big-at-piano

During my TV days, I remember a picnic in the San Francisco Zoo with Ron Moody before his turn in Oliver that night where we drank cheap Spanish wine and laughed our heads off, and later in his hotel suite with his mother, his cousins and his aunts, where he yelled out the window at a practicing opera singer to “Keep it down” so the rest of us could practice too. And Joan Baez sang in my car as I drove her home where she made me a cup of tea in her cozy kitchen. So many fun times with the best of the best. The list of my contemporary “famous” actors, singers, dancers, painters, and a list of all who I have met and known in my long life is too long for a blog-post, but let’s say, when I watch TCM or listen to the radio, I have happy memories of the performers.


Thank you, Mom, for giving me the Altaraz School experience. And thank you, Dr. Altaraz and family for putting me in a fairy-tale setting at an early age. It put me on the path to a lifetime of writing, another way to continue playing and dreaming into adulthood.EIonesco-WriterVacation