Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Blast from the past--Addi Somekh and Mary Holmes

I've mentioned here a couple of times, I think, that I'm a regular at a local discussion group called the Penny University. I've flagged a bit over the last couple of years--it has to do with external things more than lack of interest--but I always make that extra effort when word of certain guest speakers show up. Such was the case this Monday, when Addi Somekh, balloon twister extraordinaire, returned to give us a talk about one of our beloved leaders of the past, Mary Holmes.

Addi is a story in himself and enlivened our lives considerably from the moment he appeared on the scene some years ago, and returned from time to time to regale us with his stories of making balloon hats for people around the world. Sounds crazy,  maybe. It wasn't. And in fact, one of the first people to encourage him was Mary Holmes. With her amazing art history background, she was able to place his project in a larger historic and cultural context. In a word, people like hats.

Addi's presentation included some video from some film that was shot of Mary and which he has posted on YouTube. You can find that stuff here. Seeing her again, even in virtual form, was a true delight.

Addi didn't just go around the world making balloon hats. He came back and he and his photographer partner Charles Eckhert put together a  beautiful book about Mary called Mary Holmes: Paintings and Ideas. I picked up another copy at the Penny last night.

This doesn't sound much like a confession of ignorance, does it? Well, there was a Mary Holmes story that I had never heard, so let's go with that. Addi had heard that Mary was a friend of Ray Bradbury (which I didn't know). They had in fact, driven out to Los Angeles together at some point. Addi had some version of the book ready when he heard that Bradbury was doing a book signing in some part of L.A., Glendale I think, so he decided to go out there and present him with a copy. When he got there, there was a line circling around the block to see him, and he could barely make it through the crowds. When he got somewhat within range, he talked to a handler of some kind and said he wanted to give Ray Bradbury this book. The handler basically said get lost, buddy. Addi said, "Just mention the name Mary Holmes." So the handler did. Bradbury stopped what he was doing and said "Mary Holmes--I knew her for years and years." And then he spent several minutes going off into raptures about her, much to the befuddling of the stunned crowd. Bradbury did endorse the book. Here is the quote from the balloon hat website:

"This is a fascinating book about an amazing woman. I knew Mary Holmes on a personal level for more than thirty years, and this book captures the ambiance of her fantastic personality." - Ray Bradbury

Tell it, Ray.

Sometimes, I find myself a bit uncertain about the meanderings of my own life. But sooner or later, I always seem to come upon an evening like this one, where I am reminded of the extraordinary people who have come my way and how lucky I have been to know them.

Mary with our two present leaders, Jim Bierman and Paul Lee.


  1. a true confession of ignorance on part, I'd never heard of her. so thanks for that, I shall do deeper research now...

  2. Well, I don't know how you would have, and I don't know if you'll like her, but she was a true teacher and that always counts for something. And you can take Bradbury's word for it, so you don't have to take mine.

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