December 15, 2011

I WAS WATCHING the news recently — on the evening of December 3rd, actually — and saw lines of people who paid $30 a pop to stop in at Christie’s to see Liz Taylor’s jewels that were going up for auction. Their anticipation was obvious and one could almost feel the TV screen quivering with the bottled up excitement of the crowd. Interspersed with stills and panned sweeps by equally excited camera- and newsmen inside the galleries of the movie queen’s ‘treasures’, one could catch quick glimpses of flashy stones, necklaces, brooches, and rings, all colorfully seducing the eye — a conglomeration of rocks and metals awaiting the shivering and eager crowd impatiently waiting outside along the sidewalk. The event had been touted for over a week, “teases” given to the audience to keep them glued to future tidbits — shots of the glamorous Liz with the various husbands who had given her this or that bauble, shots of her with this necklace around her neck, that brooch perched above her breast, that ring on her finger — all in preparation for this opening night. Not much of a jewelry person — I could never quite understand the primitive penchant for hanging shiny stones and metal from or attaching to one’s person — I just couldn’t get “into” the feverish hullabaloo of auctioning off someone’s (no matter whose) knickknacks (no matter how expensive) to a zealous mob of status-seekers. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve already seen one of Liz Taylor’s real treasures up close and personal, one given to her by Mike Todd in the form of their daughter Liza Todd Tivey. Liza, more precious than any piece of stone or metal and equally as beautiful as is her mother, stands at the opposite pole of “celebrity” as does Liz, content to live quietly and creatively on her upstate New York farm, confident in herself, in her talent, and in her choice of jealously guarding her privacy. An extremely gifted sculptor exquisitely attuned to nature, Liza has a sensitive talent of portraying animals in drawings, clay or bronze, quietly making her name in the artworld as a master sculptor of horses, having already back in 1986 completed commissions to portray “Northern Dancer” (1981), “Nashua” and “Clem” (1982), “Ruffian” (1983), “Producer” (1984), “Seattle Slew” and “John Henry” (1985). I have since learned that in 1990 a cast bronze of her “Secretariat” had been completed and am not surprised at the commission. Familiar with horses since the age of 4, Liza had eventually parlayed her love of animals into the enviable position of being named one of the world’s foremost equestrian portraitists. I had the great honor and pleasure to spend an afternoon in October 1986 with Liza (profiling her in the following month in our November 1986 Issue), an afternoon of autumnal color and cerulean skies that, even after 25 years, I still can clearly recall. An outdoors person, Liza was anxious to get out of her studio (where I prefer to hold my interviews in order to get a “feel” for an artist’s space) and to take me on a slow-paced tour of her farm — which I soon found out was her real “creative” space. Her baby son Quinn snug in his carrier on her back and accompanied by “Bocci”, her pet donkey (a gift from Mom who kept getting his nose nudged between us as if to protectively guard his mistress) and her dogs, we strolled her grounds, checking on her horse, her cats, and “her” Canadian geese resting in her pond (“They’re late this year,” she whispered), speaking of things that move her, that “call” her, that shape her thoughts and that eventually get gently nudged into artforms. I’ll never forget Liza — diminutive, intense, focused, completely unaffected or pretensions — in brief, a genuine treasure of the finest quality. You can have the trinkets — I’ll cherish the memory of Liza.

Raymond J. Steiner

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