Polly G Kemp

Pigments Of The Imagination

Due to an oversight on the part of our Government, or perhaps due to my anonymity, I was not invited to a single party for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during their summertime visit to the United States. It's a pity. I really did want to meet them.

While some people might have sulked at not being invited to a White House reception, I, in my Off Hours, fantasized myself into a reception of my own invention.

Iowa's Answer to Royalty

In a personal way, I face reality; and if it doesn't live up to expectations, I improve on it with fantasy, then transpose my fantasy into a new reality by giving it substance with my paint brush. Take the queen's visit, for instance. I have just committed it to canvas the way I prefer to remember it. The setting is the Jaqueline Kennedy Garden at the White House. (I usually start with a seed of reality.)

You can tell right away which one is the queen. She's the only one wearing a crown. The prince is the tall man beside her. President Ford is a little bit shorter. Mrs. Ford is extending her hand to a 95-year-old friend of mine who is Iowa's answer to royalty. Mrs. B. is the most dignified lady I have ever known. She doesn't leave her apartment much any more and greatly enjoyed the news coverage of the queen's visit. I thought she would like to be included in this special party. (When she saw the painting, she was so pleased! "I'm so glad I'm still having fun," she mused.)

I do not recognize the lady with whom the queen is speaking, I've never seen her before. Washington receptions are like that. Lots of people you don't know.

For background music, I called upon a classmate whom I haven't seen since high-school days. She is the only harpist I know. I always thought her music was fit for a queen; I'm sure it still is. Her sister was equally accomplished on the flute, so she's there too. The girl playing the recorder must be a friend of theirs. I don't know her.

The Black Girl in Pink

Standing directly before the arbor is my favorite Washington couple, friends whom I was sure would have been invited in reality (but they weren't). Their three children are with them, a remarkable uncle, a god-mother, and a young black friend. All these people are special to me and I wanted to share this happy party with them. Two of them have seen the painting. The young black student asked me who the black girl in the pink dress was.

"I don't know," I answered. "I thought she came with you."

"I don't know her, " he said squinting for a better look.

"Well, I bet you meet her before the party's over."

"I hope so," he said wistfully. That's what I call subjective viewing.

My family is the big bunch of people down in the left-hand corner of the garden. There are ten of us, including our first daughter-in-law. The middle boys said they would be in the painting only if they didn't have to shave off their beards. I try to be accommodating; I didn't even paint back views of them. We are visiting with our former congressman and his wife to whom our youngest son is offering one of the flowers he has brought for the queen.  (I hope he didn't pick them at the White House!) I am carrying a painting of the arrival of the pilgrims which I intend to give her.

Name Dropping

My sister is visiting with a group center front. Connie Chung, nearby, is visiting with some news-media friends of mine from Cedar Rapids.

Mary Louise Smith is there because I like her. (She's from Iowa too.)

Shirley Temple Black is there because I have always wanted to meet her. She has auburn curls and is wearing a longer version of the white-organdy-with-red-polka-dot dress that all the dolls wore in 1935. (She'll hate me for that, but that's the way I think about her.)

There's another Washington family there who entertained us once. The lady dressed to match her living room. That really impressed me, so that's the way I dressed her - in green and white. (The most difficult part of doing this kind of painting is figuring out what all those people are going to wear. The Sears catalog comes in handy.)

That's all the people I'm going to identify right now. Some other special friends are there, and, as I said, a lot of people I don't recognize. I did that on purpose. I wanted to leave room for the beholders, if there are any, to imagine themselves into my painted party.

And if, years hence, someone says to me, "Is that the way it really was when the queen came to visit?" I will truthfully answer, "No. That's the way it should have been."

The Queen's Tea Party Essay

published in The National Observer Dec. 4, 1976