Katherine Johnson

“I like to learn. That’s an art and a science.” —Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson (born 1918), mathematician and computer scientist, was of NASA’s human ‘computers,’ who performed the complex calculations that enabled spacecraft to orbit Earth and to land on the moon. Check out the excellent movie Hidden Figures to learn more about Katherine (and her friends.)

Yuri Kochiyama

“Don’t become too narrow. Live fully. Meet all kinds of people. You’ll learn something from everyone.”—Yuri Kochiyama

Yuri Kochiyama (1921-2014) was a Japanese American who was put into an interment camp with her family after the Bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her experience greatly influenced a life of advocacy for many civil rights causes including the anti war movement, Black equality, reparations for Japanese-American internees, and political prisoners.  She was a passionate advocate for peace into her old age.


Barbara Hepworth


“A woman artist is not deprived by cooking and having children –one is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day; even a single half hour, so that images grow in one’s mind.”

—Barbara Hepworth

Dame Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth ( 1903 – 1975) was an English sculptor, one of the few female sculptors of her era. She was also revolutionary in her style as she carved massive Modernist sculptures by hand. She was also the mother of four….three of them, triplets. In her lifetime, she did achieve some international success, but she was often thought of as provincial because she was also a mother and lacked the freedom of her contemporaries. Still, the focus of her life and her attention to her children in each season caused her work to be extra special, which aficionados especially appreciate now.

Artist’s note: I was drawn to paint Barbara Hepworth after receiving an email from my husband’s first girlfriend (a friend of mine too) in which she remembered visiting the Barbara Hepworth house in St. Ives, Cornwall, when they were art students. I remembered visiting it too with him (over 20 years later) when we visited St. Ives with my traveling parents. I love when I paint a person, and learn about about her, and hers is just the message I need to hear. Granted, this is often the case when I paint artists and writers…but her story came to me in a time when I was really struggling with the idea of trying to be an artist and support my family as a single mother. I was trapped in the story that I couldn’t do it all. So finding out that this woman whom I already admired (I’ve touched her work in its natural habitat!) also had TRIPLETS (along with a first child from another marriage) was a kiss of life to a hurting soul.  Granted, she was a genius, but I am inspired. Yes, please, Ms. Hepworth, I’d love you to be my mentor! <3

“I found one had to do some work every day, even at midnight, because either you’re professional or you’re not.”—Barbara Hepworth

Joan Didion

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
― Joan Didion

Joan Didion (born 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. She collaborated on several screenplays (including “A Star is Born”) with her husband, John Gregory Dunne. When he died of a heart attack after forty years of marriage,  she wrote a book about her grief, which also became a play.  Joan is a fashion icon as well as a literary icon: at the age of 80, she became of the “Face of Céline” for the French fashion label’s advertising campaign.

Madeleine L’Engle


“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”—Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) was an American author and poet best known for her young adult science-fiction, particularly the beloved book, A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels. She wrote over 60 books (many also for adults) that often reflected her faith and her strong interest in science. As an only child, Madeleine was raised by artistic parents in New York City, with plenty of freedom to use her imagination. Instead of her school work, she found that she would much rather be writing stories. In fact, she wrote her first book at age 5. She later joined the theatre, married an actor, moved to the countryside, and raised her children, running a general store, while always keeping up her lifelong discipline of writing and journaling. When she wrote A Wrinkle in Time, which went on to win the prestigious Newbery Medal, almost didn’t get published. It was rejected by 27 publishing agencies, and in her mid-forties, Madeleine was ready to retire. We are so glad she kept writing.

To give an idea of her wonderful mind, here are a selection of wonderful quotes from Madeleine L’Engle:

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

“Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”

“The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.”

“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.”

“When we lose our myths we lose our place in the universe.”

“But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.”

“It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”

“Somethings have to be believed to be seen.”


Margaret Keane

“I didn’t want people to know that I was an artist. I was ashamed. I thought artists were weird, crazy people, you know. So I always kind of hid the fact that I was an artist.” —Margaret Keane

Margaret Keane (born 1927) is an American artist, known for painting  the kitschy “big-eyed waifs” that were popular in the 1960s. At one point, her sentimental work, mass-reproduced and sold cheaply in dime-stores, were among the most popular and recognized in the country. The problem was that her her husband, Walter Keane was taking all the credit. Walter was a great marketer, but he lied to the public so that her work would be passed off as his own. Caught in his deception, Margaret worked, at the height of (his) fame, up to 16 hours a day. This would become one of the greatest stories of art fraud in America, regardless of whether the work was critically acknowledged as serious art. When Margaret finally found the courage to leave Walter and branch off on her own, the word came out that she had been the artist behind these popular paintings all along. Walter denied the charges so a “paint-off” was called for in court (to which Walter found many excuses not to engage.) Eventually, it was established that Margaret had been the original painter all along. In her words, after being awarded 4 million in damages (including emotional distress): “I never saw a cent of it, but I won… It was a blessing just to sign my name.”

Artist’s note: I wouldn’t say that as an artist, Margaret was breaking new ground. But she was an overcomer and a survivor of an abusive relationship. In the end, truth won out, and she not only cleared her name, but she continued to make paintings, signed in her own name for the rest of her life. She’s 90 now. Bravo, Margaret!

I made her eyes just a little larger on purpose to pay tribute to Margaret’s style.


Aretha Franklin


“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”—Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin (1942) American soul singer. Often called “the Queen of Soul,” she is widely considered one of the greatest musical performers of all time.

In this podcast, my friend Sarah discusses the admiration she’s had for Aretha from an early age—and the influence she still has on her life.

Maria Tallchief

“I think it is an innate quality that Indians have to dance. They dance when they are happy, they dance when they are sad. They dance when they get married, they dance when someone dies.”—Maria Tallchief

Maria Tallchief (1925-2013) was a Native American ballerina.  In a field dominated  by Russian dancers, Maria danced her way through racial and cultural barriers to become one of the country’s leading ballerinas from the 1940 to 1960s —and one of the only Native Americans She became America’s first prima ballerina at the New York City Ballet, and held that title for 13 years, touring the world and becoming an international star. When she was older, she turned to teaching, founding and becoming artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet. She was widely praised through her life for her precision and musicality, something that she always attributed to her Osage heritage.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

‘The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war.”—Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1990-1990) was an Indian diplomat and  the first woman to serve as president of the UN General Assembly.

“Education is not merely a means for earning a living or an instrument for the acquisition of wealth. It is an initiation into life of spirit, a training of the human soul in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue.”—Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit


Clara Rockmore

“A lot of trial and error went into it, but the theremin saved my musical sanity by giving me an outlet in music.”  — Clara Rockmore

Clara Rockmore (1911-1998) was a Lithuanian musician who became the most famous and accomplished performer of the electronic instrument, the theremin. As a child, Clara had been a violin prodigy, admitted to the Imperial Conservatory of Saint Petersburg at the age of five. Though she was poised for a life as a professional violinist, tendinitis in her bow arm (caused by childhood malnutrition) forced her to abandon the instrument. After her Jewish family fled Russia to live in America, Clara met another immigrant, Léon Theremin, who had invented the self-named theremin. With her refined violin skills, she became the most prominent theremin player, performing widely, bringing attention to the strange instrument, and helping Leon improve his invention. While the theremin is mostly known for spooky sounds used in vintage science fiction movies, under Clara’s control, it sounded like a classical stringed instrument or even a singing voice.