It has been 50 years since feminist artist Susan Saunders found classical flutist Louis Davidson in Chicago's Lincoln Park playing Vivaldi in 1969. A year later Louis found free-spirited flutist Sylvie playing Bach in Boulder after which they became pen pals. This is Louis' introspective memoir of his obsession, Susan's jealousy, Sylvie's disappearance and their search for her.
Some say the 'Summer of Love' was 1967, others say 1968. From my personal experience it was 1969. It was a cool and cloudy day late in April, but the capricious sun did sometimes shine in Chicago's Lincoln Park. When it did, sunlight sprayed through the trees and splattered light on the grass. Warm sunlight had caught me leaning against a tree with my flute and I had just finished playing most of the largo melody of Vivaldi's "Spring" concerto from his Four Seasons. I was not alone. In my peripheral vision, there was a young angelic looking woman sitting under a tree. Far enough away to not be intrusive, she was close enough to hear me well and have a good view. Not only was I in a spotlight, there was an audience. Her hand flew up and down a page in what resembled a notebook.
When I walked over her eyes didn't stray from her notebook. She was sketching - me! The artist finished cross-hatching a section with tight short strokes of the pencil. The corners of her mouth drooped for a moment as she lifted her head and jerked it back, pointing the top of her head toward my tree.
"Go back where you were, please, I'm not quite finished." The angel put her hands together as if in prayer and mouthed, "Please," again.
After I returned to the tree, I tried to resume my original position. As I planted my back against the tree, I set my right foot on a large root that ran out from the tree. That raised that knee to a right angle. In my opinion, I was artistically arranged.
"Move a little to the right and hold your flute like you were playing it but hold it so the keys and the hole thingy are showing more." After she pointed her pencil to the right, she poked the air in that direction.
"That is not the way you hold a flute. And that's an embouchure hole, a blow hole and this," pointing to the lip plate on the head joint of the flute, "is the lip plate."
There was giggling and then, "Hold it as if you have just put it up to your mouth and haven't quite got into position yet."
As I moved, the sunlight glinted from the silver flute and I realized I had been in the shade. "Ok, how's this?" and moved to resume the same position but a couple of inches further over from where I had been.
"Perfect! Just hold it there for a few minutes. I just need to sketch out the flute a little more. I can get the details later." Once again, she bent forward as if to draw. Her long blond curls that hung in loose ringlets swept across the sketchpad. Now I knew why she impressed me as an angel. The resemblance to a Flemish angel in a painting I had seen in the Art Institute was astonishing. My Flemish angel turned her head to look at me from that angle and then straightened. As I stood there, I could hear the scratching of her pencil on the pad as she resumed her work.
But the flutist in me found holding a position pretending to play was more difficult than genuinely playing and shifted the flute to a more correct position.
"Hold still! Back as you were!"
"These fingers want to play." Laughing, I rolled the flute forward to where the instrument had been.
"Yeah, later," she mumbled; it was not amusing to her.
"Never mind." She smiled to herself this time, and her lips pursed but a suppressed snicker somehow escaped. Maybe she had found it funny.
The pencil moved with a mind of its own. My artist was paying more attention to me now than to her drawing. After 15 minutes of limbo for me, she closed the notebook and put her pencil away.
As she got up, she suggested, "Let's go get a cup of coffee. I owe you something for sticking around after I interrupted your lovely music."
My angel led the way and the two of us walked quietly over to a deli on Clark Street. As we walked through the door, the smells of fresh baked cookies and coffee welcomed us. It was still too early to eat much, so we sat at the table in front that faced the sidewalk and ordered coffee.
The angelic artist continued to draw. When she stopped and looked up from the sketch, I found out her name. "I'm Susan."
"I am Louis. You are a fantastic artist. Let me get a better look."
Up to that point I had only seen the unfinished sketch. Done with the details, she pushed her art over so I could see. The drawing looked good except the embouchure hole didn't look right so I tapped my finger there.
"This doesn't look exactly right." As soon as I spoke, I worried she might take it as criticism and our coffee "date" would be finished. But Susan, saying nothing, turned the drawing around in such a way so I could see it from a different angle. As the pad turned in front of me, the embouchure hole came into full focus beneath my eyes, my cheeks got hot and turned red. The artist had drawn a vagina for the embouchure hole.
Susan saw I recognized what it was and placed her finger on it. Further embarrassing me she announced, matter-of-factly, "That's me, that's mine, in reverse because I used a mirror to catch my subject."
This left me speechless! Even though I am not a prude by any means, my mouth was left hanging open. My first thought, as my cheeks grew hotter, was that I could never play the flute again without thinking of her. But maybe that is what she wanted. After an immense void of silence, I ventured, "Do you do this often?"
Susan's mind was occupied somewhere else. "What?" Her eyes blinked, and she leaned in as if to hear me better.
Even though she was so close, my cheeks were cooled from the sudden flush of blood to my face. My mouth was straight, so I could appear serious in asking my question, "Draw pictures of your vagina?"
"Somewhere my vagina is on most of my artwork." Her body straightened, and her head tilted back. Pride showed in her eyes as she held them wide open. Susan had caught on to my subtle flippancy and put me in my place. I slumped back in my chair.
"Always in reverse?"
"Yes, that was my first self-portrait, and I began to use it because this was me. In reverse, of course. It is unique. Drawing my vagina was my answer to restroom stalls being adorned with penises." Susan's lips spread into a tooth revealing grin.
Somewhat puzzled I continued. "This one has to be seen from a certain angle before you know what it is. Do the people who buy your art know what they are getting?"
"Most certainly! That is what I am famous for."
"Famous?" Was she drawing her vagina on lots of restroom stalls?
"Well, getting there. The rent is getting paid."
"You live by yourself?"
"Trying to find out if I have a boyfriend or given my art - a girlfriend?"
"Worse than that, trying to find out if you're solvent." I intended that to be a joke.
Susan laughed again. "Barely. And you, my fine fingered flautist financially speaking how are you doing?"
"How long did you take for that alliteration to come to fruition?"
"Are you saying I'm alliterate?"
"Obviously, but to answer that question I live with a married couple who are musicians, too."
"A threesome, huh?"
"Only in music but we would be an odd combo with flute, bass trombone and electric guitar. I don't think there is music written for it."
"And not totally electric! I bet Georgia O'Keefe is your favorite woman artist."
"I am an admirer. She covers a lot of canvas! Did you know she first studied at the Art Institute? She also prefers to be referred to as an artist not just a woman artist."
"I didn't know that. How about Frida Kahlo who was the wife of Diego Rivera?"
"Ah, the Southwest and beyond the border. You do know how to impress a girl, but Frida was more than just a wife. Frida was a great artist in her own right and my inspiration to do my first self-portrait."
"Of your vagina?"
Susan's neck began to turn pink, and the color made its way in a slow-moving wave to her cheeks. Her pale skin changed colors easily, and I later learned that it could mean either anger or embarrassment.
"No, that came later, but I was nude." Susan stressed the word "was." Now fully recovered, she flashed that impish smile again. How far up could the corners of her mouth go?
The artist pleaded. "Please, I would love to have you sit for me - actually stand. This would be a simple drawing."
"Because you are a flutist and from everything I can see, you have a nice body."
Thinking I knew where this was going, I instantly objected. "I am not posing nude for you."
"You don't have to. I just want you to strip down to your skivvies and pretend to play your...