Bohemian Legend Returns

New book, two exhibits and talks bring to life colorful Sausalito artist Jean Varda
Jean Varda
A summer filled with Varda—Sausalito's legendary bohemian artist Jean Varda,
that is—lies ahead, through the release of a new book (cover photo pictured here),
two exhibits, a launch party, and lots of talks. Photos courtesy Betsy Stroman
Jean Varda
Jean Varda
Two Varda collages.
Jean Varda
Jean Varda during the 1960s.

Anyone who's attentive to mid-century bohemian arts and culture and spends time in or around Sausalito has heard wild tales about that artist of the good life Jean 'Yanko' Varda. But are they true? And was he much of an artist?

Those questions and others will come to the fore during June and July, when Varda and his work will be explored extensively—through the release of a new book, two exhibits, a launch party, and numerous talks.

Varda (1893-1971), who helped birth the entire Sausalito ferryboat artist's scene, had earlier been the centerpiece of an artistic coterie in Monterey and Big Sur. He is best known for his mosaics and collages, but he worked in a variety of other media as well.

"I say that Varda is highly civilized because he is a true bohemian, which is a European phenomenon distinct in style from the American beatnik or hippie," Varda's close friend Alan Watts wrote. "It is distinguished above all by what Montaigne called 'une certain gaieté d'esprit,' for which the recipe is a marvelous amalgamation of exuberance, sensuality, culture, and literacy, salted with that essential recognition of one's own rascality which is the perfect preservative against stuffiness and lack of humanity..."

Many of Varda's tales, unbelievably enough, were true—even some of those that were told by Varda himself, a fabulist as well as a raconteur. And his art is fabulous, colorful, childlike at times—but not part of the standard history of 20th century art, not yet.

But Elizabeth Leavy (Betsy) Stroman, author of the newly released The Art and Life of Jean Varda, hopes to change that. She's been working on the book for seven years and will celebrate its completion at a book launch party at a new exhibit of the artist's work at the Bay Model in Sausalito.

The book party is Sunday June 14 from 3 to 5 p.m. The exhibit itself runs from June 2 to July 12. It is co-sponsored by Stroman and the Sausalito Historical Society.

A second exhibit of Varda's works runs at the Sausalito Public Library from June 7 to July 19. Stroman will discuss the artist's work there on Friday, June 19 at 7 p.m. Stroman will also take her book and talk on the road, to the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur on July 5, and to the superb store Old Capitol Books in Monterey on July 6.

Stroman, a longtime Sausalitan, has been involved with many good causes in the town, including the historical society, the library, and Sausalito Village.

Stroman's book, deeply researched, well-written, lively as any book about Varda needs to be, and skeptical about many of his tall tales while admiring overall, will be available at the events and on Stroman's website. It will also make its way into some local stores, including Book Passage in Corte Madera, where Stroman plans a talk on August 30.

• For more on Varda, Betsy Stroman's new book release, and all the surrounding events, click here.

• For 'Return to Bohemia,' our special retrospective on Jean Varda and the Sausalito-Big Sur art scenes of the mid-century, click here.