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On an evening in June 2020, Sharon Watts’s illustrations take me to an America the 60s & 70s which emanated with the big changes. Dreams pour out from the stories of a reluctant hippie chick. Did Sharon meet Bob Dylan at Cafe Reggio on MacDougal Street in New York? – I wonder.
Something incredible things happen in our lives that we don’t even dream about
It had arrived to me in a time of pandemic. Through my blogging, I met illustrator and writer Sharon Watts, who grew up in the America of 50s. And in the 70s as an enthusiastic student she was wandering in New York City with a sketch book.
In 90s during her artistic work, she was illustrating the weekly column By Design of the fashion editor Carrie Donovan, in the Style section of the New York Times. After many years, she decided to draw her memories of the Woodstock era in the book “By the time I went to Woodstock“.
Once, when I was writing one blog post, I wanted to add a quote of some singer from Woodstock 1969. I found a nice song of the young bard Bert Sommer. While searching for who was a boy with an afro haircut, I discovered that Sharon has written an extensive article about him. That’s how I discovered her blogs. Sharon’s sensitivity and way of expression seemed close to me, as if I had found a kindred soul. I wanted to send a message to her, but unexpectedly she gave me a sign first, and wrote in the comments the same what I was feeling.
Her book – illustrated memoir is as drawn history of America of 60s & 70s with personalities of the Woodstock Music Festival.
Part of me wishes I had been a part of this truly phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime experience. But then, I never would have looked back nearly 50 years later and penned “By The Time I Got To Woodstock”.
Younger Sharon never went to the Woodstock festival, because she was kind of quiet and shy. In that time she also had focused on her career as an illustrator. But after some years, she came back to Woodstock as archivist of the era that she lived. And then she felt in some ways like the soul mate of creators of this festival Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld.
Sharon’s illustrations look like drawn with sunny ink
They are light, authentic and make people smile and let remind their own individual past.
How did you discover that drawing is your passion?
I always knew I was an artist. From the beginning, my parents encouraged my earliest efforts. I drew princesses with a lot of accessory detail as well, and later on, my fashion models, Twiggy and Cher. The whole fashion scene from the mid-60s opened its doors to me, at the same time initiating my career path. I wanted to be a fashion artist.
Can you tell me something about your dreams of working in the New York Times and how these dreams came true?
Every Sunday I lay on the carpet in the living room and devoured the New York Times. It was full of fashion ads for large department stores. At that time, ads were drawn-no photography. I knew that was what I wanted, but first I would have to leave my small town and move to Manhattan and attend art school. In 1974, I graduated from the Parsons School of Design after an adventurous (and at times, treacherous) period where I was independent of my family, taking my own chances and making my own mistakes. But also progress!
My first job at NYT was a small ad for a scarf, for a store called B. Altman. It wasn’t until 1999 that I regularly collaborated on the By Design weekly fashion column, which ran for about a decade.
How did drawing affect your life?
Drawing gave me complete confidence. It was the one gift I had that came naturally.
How did you feel about the socio-political changes of the 1960s in those days?
I was aware of everything, but I was too shy or reserved to be an activist at that time. Most American women then were quiet, and still became housewives and raised families. I wanted something more than my mother’s choices. I never understood the concept of inequality as a norm. But I didn’t become truly aware of how people lived, and why, until I moved to NYC and gained another perspective.
What did you think about hippies? Was it also a matter of fashion?
Hippies and their lifestyle were attractive, but not on my career path. But I thought the fashion was cool! I experimented with tie-dye, much to my mother’s horror. I’m not sure if her pots and pans have ever lost their “purple haze.”
Have you ever met Bob Dylan?
In 1972-73 I lived on Bleecker Street, around the corner from the Caffee Reggio which was on MacDougal Street. Dylan lived around the other corner from me, also on MacDougal, but he was about to move to the town of Woodstock. He lived in a nice brownstone, and I lived in a tenement! I never saw him, but I looked!
What is most important in your life?
Freedom-being yourself and living life to the fullest every day. As in the song the Young Rascals sang: “People everywhere just wanna be free”.
Sharon still explores the story of singer Bert Sommer. She became friend with his bandmates, and also a few people, who attended the festival and now volunteer as tour guides at The Museum at Bethel Woods (The Woodstock Museum).
I look forward to continuing this history about singer, who made us meet. Meanwhile, I wander by New York from Sharon’s memories, which I read in her texts. I have already made a plan to visit Café Reggio on MacDougal Street in the heart of Greenwich Village which is full of history of counterculture of the 60s. It is the oldest coffee shop in this area BTW. They installed laptop sockets in the walls there, as Sharon wrote, but nothing else has changed. Maybe I’ll find a string from Bob Dylan’s guitar somewhere in the corner… But for sure I’ll go for a cappuccino with Sharon Watts.
In the text I used the illustrations by Sharon Watts. All Rights Reserved.
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