[Marxism] "Peggy Lipschutz - Social activist who draws 'songs you can see'"
Kevin Lindemann and Cathy Campo
kklcac at earthlink.net
Wed Dec 17 07:36:08 MST 2008
The Chicago *Sun-Times* article below was published on December 4, so
the event it mentions already happened, but it is a wonderful tribute to
a wonderful woman--a person who has been an inspiration to me since I
was a teenager (and I'm 50 now).
Peggy Lipschutz - Social activist who draws 'songs you can see'
Performance artist Social activist who draws 'songs you can see' uses
her work to make the city and the world a better place
by Mark Brown Sun-Times Columnist
Chicago Sun-Times - December 4, 2008
Peggy Lipschutz draws pictures to the accompaniment of folk music, a
socially aware form of performance art that's been variously labeled
"songs you can see" or "drawings you can hear."
In certain circles, these musical "chalk talks" have made Peggy a
legendary Chicago institution, in a league with her contemporary, the
late Studs Terkel.
Unlike Studs, though, I'm guessing most of you are like me and had never
heard of Peggy.
It's time we did something about that.
Peggy turns 90 next week and to mark the occasion, the Old Town School
of Folk Music is hosting a birthday celebration Friday night in her
honor. One of the highlights will be the screening of a new 30-minute
documentary, "Never Turning Back: The World of Peggy Lipschutz."
After viewing the film myself, I couldn't pass up the chance to tell you
about somebody who has long used her art to try to make this a better
city and world, whether by protesting for peace, teaching schoolchildren
about the Holocaust or designing picket signs and pamphlets for the
steelworkers and electrical workers unions in the heyday of labor
Since the 1960s, the staple of her art has been the chalk talk, usually
performed in conjunction with a folk singer, with Rebecca Armstrong
doing the honors for the past 25 years.
Peggy also has performed with musicians including Pete Seeger, Ella
Jenkins, Win Stracke and Fred Holstein, as well as the musically
enthusiastic Terkel, with whom she worked up a presentation protesting
the Vietnam War.
Here's how Peggy explained her chalk talks to me: "Each song is an
image. It starts with a clean piece of paper, then I start, and at the
end of the song, it's done."
Peggy would be the first to tell you it's not as easy as that makes it
sound. There's a matter of inspiration and timing and keeping the
audience interested. She draws with one-inch squares of colored chalk.
Part of the trick is to avoid being obvious about what she is drawing.
To help create misdirection, she puts the colors down first, then the
lines come later. As one child observed upon seeing her work: "It starts
like a big mess, and then it turns into something."
Thousands of kids all over the city and suburbs have been entertained by
these chalk-talk programs over the decades, as well as many union
But it's not just the art itself that differentiates Peggy. It's the way
she has used it to get involved in the major social causes of her time.
"The 20th century had so many fabulous struggles in which I was a
participant, starting with the Spanish Civil War," Peggy says in the
film, referencing the first cause of her teenage years in England before
ticking off those that followed after her family came to the U.S. in
1938 to escape the spread of fascism:
"Fights for freedom and justice. Union struggles. The struggles for
justice on the picket lines, for decent wages coming out of the
Depression. The Second World War. The fight for the rights of the
soldiers. The Red Scare. The fight for equality. The fight for gay
"Just a fabulous century, and I was there," Peggy says. "And now I'm
still here, and the struggles go on. But now I'm painting them,
remembering them, doing the best I can to bring them to life so they're
not forgotten. And many, many of the struggles we were working on are
still to be won today."
Peggy says she retired from the chalk talks this summer to concentrate
on her painting, the evidence of which fills her Evanston home.
Peggy's work has an upbeat, optimistic nature, causing me to observe
that it idealized her subjects in a way. Peggy balked at the
description. What I then came to understand is that she viewed the same
paintings as realistic. This is how she sees the world, finding the
positive attributes in everybody.
Some of you think I'm a lefty, but Peggy is the real thing.
"I was a communist, and I still am, in my heart," she says, making it
clear this is more a philosophic distinction at this stage of her life
than a plan of action.
Let's put it this way, it wouldn't bother her at all if Barack Obama
really did try to "redistribute the wealth," but she wryly observes, "I
don't at this point think there's going to be a proletarian revolution."
Peggy would rather let her art speak for itself as to her beliefs.
"You remember a picture better than you remember words," she said.
Don't I know it.
"Never Turning Back - The World of Peggy Lipschutz"
This is the story of one woman's unwavering commitment to art, peace,
justice and social change.
The Completed Film and a Successful Premiere and Benefit Screening
Over the last 2 years we have compiled a small archive of interviews
with Peggy and many of her colleagues Pete Seeger, Angela Davis, Ella
Jenkins, Rebecca Armstrong, Kristin Lems and others. We have gathered
and recorded the music that is so central to Peggy's art, some of which
has been arranged and recorded specially for this film by Mark Dvorak.
We have scoured Peggy's slide collection, her vast archive of drawings,
sketches, cartoons and printed material. We have solicited video and
film footage from her family and friends.
We hope that this half hour film will pay a long deserved tribute to
this remarkable woman, and that it will inspire a new generation of
artists and activists to carry on Peggy's important work for peace and
A world premiere screening and benefit was held October 26th at the
Unity Church in Chicago. The film was received with much praise and a
standing ovation! Over 125 people attended the event and through the
generosity of the attendees, we were able to raise over $7,000. A great
View the Trailer: http://neverturningback.net/trailer.html
Buy the Film: http://neverturningback.net/purchase.html
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