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2006 – Emily Winters: A Retrospective


What better way to celebrate a 70th birthday than to look back at the past 50 years to see where you´ve been and where you´re going. “It´s a birthday present to myself,” says Emily Winters. “What´s the point in having all this stuff in drawers and closets. No one sees it.”

Emily grew up in a farming community in Illinois on the Mississippi River. Her interest in art started as a child. “I was in a small town and everyone was getting married,” she says. “I thought I should get married, too, but my parents said, ‘No, no, why don´t you apply at the Art Institute’.”

So instead, Emily married while attending the Chicago Art Institute. In 1963, after graduating with a Bachelors’ degree in Figure Drawing, she and her husband moved to Venice where he had friends. “He always liked it here – near the Pacific Ocean,” she says. “There was a big space between Venice and Los Angeles. It was like a prairie.”

The Gas House had closed down and the poets and artists started getting together at the Venice West coffee house on Dudley Ave. when Emily arrived in Venice. “I had little kids at home and no money for a baby sitter so I couldn´t go to these places but I heard about them. It was like an intellectual community that moved into Venice. There were bikers and drug dealers too, but everybody got along.”

Emily first lived on the canals. She remembers the truck gypsies. “There were a bunch of empty lots,” she says. “The people who lived in their trucks would hook up to our electricity. Nobody had much money. We helped each other.”

The marriage didn´t work out and Emily had to go to work. Her first job was painting album art on mini billboards. Then the first billboard company in Los Angeles, Foster and Kleiser (now Eller Outdoor Advertising) started in 1905, was cited for non-compliance of affirmative action. “The Labor Department was on them because they never hired a woman painter,” she says. Men she had worked with at the album company recommended her for the job. “All the posters were done by hand,” she says. “I enjoyed the work a lot although the subject matter wasn´t all that exciting, but I learned a lot about color. It opened my palette.”

After technology pretty much phased out her billboard job Emily went back to school to learn graphic design and animation and did that until she retired at the age of 63 in 1999.

The 50-year retrospective is comprised of Emily´s work as a student to current work in 2006. This includes her Venice projects. While she was working at the billboard company, she got involved with the Free Venice Beach Head, a Venice paper started in 1968. Her graphics along with accompanying articles will be displayed at the exhibit and prints will be available for sale.

In 1975, when Emily was living on the canals, Judy Baca, Executive Director of SPARC, had started the City-Wide Mural Project and wanted to do a mural in Venice. After numerous community meetings, “Jaya” (Sanskrit for non-violent victory) designed by Emily and painted by a Women´s Artists Collective, found its place on a building at the corner of Dell Ave. and Venice Blvd.

The mural depicts a time in Venice´s history and, amazingly enough, it still remains although there was controversy attached to the theme and the building has been sold numerous times in the last 30 years. With a composite of people and events it represents the canal community´s struggle against what was considered the encroaching influence of the new marina to its colorful way of life. “People were being evicted because their rents were being raised from $50 to $90 a month,” says Emily. “That was a lot of money then.” A representation of the bulldozing of a Mrs. Hay´s home is one of the sections. “Mrs. Hays was an elderly woman who couldn´t pay her taxes,” says Emily. “The city wanted to evict her. Ultimately, they let her stay, but sent out a bulldozer when she died. The community said, ‘You can´t do that without notifying the family’. Even the guy driving the bulldozer got off and joined the protesters.” It´s stories like this that gives “Jaya” a sense of history.

Another mural, “Endangered Species”, painted in 1990, is located on the corner of Park Ave. and Ocean Front Walk. It, too, represents an encroachment, but this time of the misuse of technology polluting the quality of life. Depicted are the elderly, families, children and the homeless. “Not only the people,” says Emily, “but the air, the sea, the sand.”

Emily´s latest project is the Venice Arts Council that she founded and chairs. “The artists inVenice don´t get together,” she says. “They don´t know each other.” Initially it was part of her platform when she ran for District 5 Representative for the previous Grass Roots VeniceNeighborhood Council. “We broke away because then there was too much politics and we weren´t able to get to the business at hand,” she says.

Now the council is partnered with SPARC (Social and Public Art Resources Center). You may have enjoyed the numerous events that were put on last year to celebrate the Venice Centennial. Starting off the new year was a workshop for the community´s input on the type and location of public art in Venice. “It was a successful beginning of a dialogue,” says Emily. “It helped pull the community together.” Check out their website at

The opening of the retrospective is February 4th from 6:00pm to 9:00pm at SPARC, 685 Venice Blvd., kicking off its 30th anniversary celebration. The exhibit continues until March 4th. Call SPARC at 310-822-9560 or visit their website at for more information.