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Baring it all for art’s sake

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / A sculpture of model Susan Wood is displayed.
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My contribution to Lake Tahoe Community College’s Annual Student Art Exhibit came long before today’s preview of the awards ceremony.

I wish I could say my confessions as a nude model were more exotic. But after modeling over the last few years for David Foster and Phyllis Schaefer in the Lake Tahoe Community College Art Department, I discovered working as a model for the figure sculpture class was just art. And sometimes, it would turn into something greater. Last year, Valorie Ford won an award off my pose. This year, Phil Middleton has entered another one he calls “Gaia.”

Frankly, I was amazed by how casual I was about dropping my purple terry-cloth robe and kicking off my sheepskin boots – two key essentials to going bare in Tahoe in winter. But Foster and Schaefer are considerate instructors, pointing small space heaters at the models. When called upon, I carried the items in a gym bag like an executive toting a briefcase.



My introduction to the art world was memorable. Leila Call, a 70-year-old student from Amador County, would drive every week to LTCC to take Foster’s class. She tried to pick up her clay and hunched over the process, acknowledging me before I embarked on a pose.

“You’re braver than I am,” she said, with her large eyes peering up at me.



I smiled. I knew I was safe with this class. If I had any brush with modesty, I could just complete my four- or five-sitting session and suddenly become unavailable to Foster. The opposite happened. Modeling became a part of me. I felt like I was there for them. I was invested in staying still so they could have a visual reference. Sometimes I would remain docile for 40 minutes. This may seem easy for someone striking a pose in a lazy boy chair draped in velvet, but my muscles told me otherwise. Shifting and stretching saved me. Foster instructed me to drape myself on the chair like I was relaxing in front of the television. I could handle that.

For another pose, I sat on one hip and turned my head as if someone had called to me. Foster likes the illusion of movement in the poses. I even sat through a “relief” pose holding a mirror. Reliefs protrude from the platform, giving the image a three-dimensional look.

When I wanted to get an update on the artists’ work and take a break, I walked around the room. Myrna Vindum, a regular in the advanced class, said on a number of occasions that she liked my curves. I’d glance down at my calves built up by triathlons and long-distance bike rides.

This year I modeled for a beginning class. The students intently stared at me, but I didn’t mind. My mind was so far away. When you use your brain every day like I do, it is such a nice departure to “zone out” as they say. Even if the artists smiled, I wouldn’t know because I’d remove my glasses. I can barely see without them.

For the most part, I needed to maintain a stare to model for three hours. This meant keeping a straight face when Foster would tell the beginners to mold “realism, not idealism” in portraying my breasts in art. Yes, my age – 46 – has grown on me.

The experience is like no other. The money isn’t bad either at $18 an hour. But it’s the contribution to helping one hone his or her talent that makes art a reflection of our lives. I’ve reflected fondly about it.


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