Alla Nazimova is included in a set of (non-traditional) matryoshka dolls by Alex Chowaniec


Alla Nazimova is included in a set of (non-traditional) matryoshka dolls by Alex Chowaniec


I first met Alex Chowaniec 4 years ago when we were both showing in a pop-up gallery in San Francisco.  Now both in NY, we swapped studio visits on a winter afternoon. I was excited to hear about her project questioning cultural traditions in contemporary Russia.

A friend gifted Alex a set of raw unpainted matryoshka dolls. These are the popular Russian souvenirs of one babushka within another. The folk art that is hand painted on wood milled from a single block of basswood. When the anti-gay laws came out in Russia this past summer, a ban specifically on propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

Russia it turns out has a long history of prominent LBGT figures, and Alex wanted to bring some awareness to this buried culture by painting some of these figures on Russia’s popular souvenir. And here comes the ironic twist, the dolls aren’t really all that Russian. Their origins are Japanese; the design was inspired by a doll from the main Island of Honshu, that came as a gift to two Russian craftsman who entered their version into 1900 Worlds Fair, winning a bronze medal and accidentally triggering a new fad.

Alex chose to start the smallest doll with the oldest chronological LGBT figure: Ivan the Terrible (known to go both ways, 1530-1584) and ascending in scale and time through Nikolai Gogol (author/novelist/writer, 1809-1852), Peter Tchaikovsky (composer, 1840-1893), Alla Nazimova (silent-film star, a fashion inspiration to Lady Gaga, 1879-1945) ending with the outer most doll representing Pussy Riot our present day activist rockstars. The set of figures delineates the existence of a tradition of homosexuality in Russia’s history.

When I asked Alex if she had any plans to turn her project into reproduced multiples, she said no, but she would be interested in making more based on people’s engagement with these and suggestions of other figures. “Or,” she added, “if other people want to make similar dolls as a form of activism, that would be great! The intent is for the digital images to serve as viral agents of change.” She really just to start a conversation – unpack the history and open up the questions. For example, how is Russia going to handle openly gay athletes winning medals at the current Olympics? The matryoshka doll is one of the main official souvenirs of the Sochi olympic games.

Alex’s recent work will be included in “Inspiring Change,” an exhibition in Ottawa, Canada opening next month on International Woman’s day. The show will also be happening simultaneously with her display of recent drawings at New York’s SCOPE.

Since I last saw Alex in San Francisco, she has branched out from her painting into film. A few years ago, she became a producer of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary, HYPERLINK “” “!Women Art Revolution”, about female artists that had its New York premiere at MoMA. She is currently in pre-production of her own documentary film project about a Slovenian female artist. She says, “sharing a lineage of female artists is critical – it is the ideology that underpins my work in this medium.”

Text by David Molesky

Alla Nazimova is included in a set of (non-traditional) matryoshka dolls by Alex Chowaniec


Dorothy Parker Book Events in West Hollywood This Week

Dorothy Parker (Photo by George Platt Lynes).

Dorothy Parker (Photo by George Platt Lynes).


[Dorothy] Parker’s WeHo history will be celebrated this weekend with a series of events, beginning with a reception at Tags, the clothing store on 8570 W. Sunset Blvd. near Alta Loma, for Kevin Fitzpatrick, author of “Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide.” Fitzpatrick is president of the Dorothy Parker Society in New York. The LA chapter is headed by Adrienne Crew. The reception is from 6 to 8 p.m. and includes cocktails and discounts on shopping.

On Saturday there are two events: A bus tour of Parker’s West Hollywood and Beverly Hills residences, including the former location of Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Allah and mansions and cottages where Parker lived. The bus boards at 1 p.m. across from Book Soup at 8818 Sunset Blvd. west of Palm. Tickets, $49, are available online.

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, Book Soup will host a discussion of Parker’s Hollywood years, speakeasy drinks and Prohibition recipes. It will be the only place in Los Angeles where one can buy a signed copy of Fitzpatrick’s book.

“I like to have a martini,
“Two at the very most.
“After three I’m under the table,
“After four I’m under my host”
– Dorothy Parker

Podcasts: Martin Turnbull Interviewed about Nazimova and the Garden of Allah

Alla Nazimova Society co-founder Martin Turnbull was interviewed recently by the Kim Cooper and Richard Schave, the folks behind Esotouric and the Los Angeles Visionaries Association (LAVA) about Alla Nazimova and the Garden of Allah. You can listen to the podcast through the Los Angele Magazine website.

Update: Esotouric has released their second podcast interview with Martin. You can listen to it by clicking here.

Book Events for ‘Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide’ Scheduled for West Hollywood, Parker’s West Coast Home

Dorothy Parker is so closely associated with New York that it is often forgotten that she lived at the Garden of Allah and elsewhere around town — in fact, for a brief while, she owned one of those tiny houses on Norma Place — off and on from the mid-1930s through the 1960s.

So it is fitting that there will be several events here next week celebrating the publication of a new book about one of Parker’s — and West Hollywood’s — favorite pass times: Drinking. The author, Kevin Fitzgerald, president of the of the New York branch of the Dorothy Parker Society will be in town to promote the new book, “Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide.” Local host will be Adrienned Crew, president of the Los Angeles DPS chapter.

Fitzgerald will be present at four events to discuss his book, Mrs. Parker and libations. Three of them are free, but the bus tour costs $49:

More after the jump »

Photo of Edith Luckett, Nazimova’s Lifelong Friend, Nancy Reagan’s Mother
Edith Luckett, from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection photograph file at the New York Public Library

Edith Luckett, from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection photograph file at the New York Public Library

Alla Nazimova took young Edith Luckett under her wing when Edith was starting her career on Broadway in the very early 20th century. Later, Edith asked Alla to be the godmother of her daughter, the future first lady, Nancy Reagan.

Solved! Mystery of the Missing Model
The scale model of the Garden of Allah Hotel created around the time of the hotel’s demise is alive and well and living in West Hollywood
The model of the Garden of Allah Hotel, built in 1960, as it appears in 2013

The model of the Garden of Allah Hotel, built in 1960, as it appears in 2013 – Photo by Martin Turnbull

One of the objectives of the Alla Nazimova Society is to identify and locate artifacts related to the legacy of Madame Nazimova. Among the items at the top of this list is a scale model of the Garden of Allah Hotel, which was once displayed in the bank building that now occupies the property where Nazimova’s home, which was later converted into the the hotel, once stood.

Thanks to the diligence of Society co-founder, Martin Turnbull, we have located and examined this model, which is in a private home in West Hollywood. The good news is that the model, now 53-year-old, appears to be in excellent shape. The original airtight case is long gone but the current owner has built a new glass case joined with brackets.

Martin published photos and an article about the find here: “One Man’s Search for the Garden of Allah Scale Model.”

Here, briefly, is what we know so far about the history and provenance of the model.

More after the jump »


After acquiring a mansion at 8080 Sunset Blvd. (or 8152 Sunset, depending on who’s counting) in 1918, Alla Nazimova spent six years living in the home she somewhat facetiously dubbed “The Garden of Alla” (referring to an enormously popular 1904 novel The Garden of Allah by Robert Smythe Hichens). What is rarely mentioned is that in 1924, she built a second house on the property, immediately behind the main building. This second home only stood for a couple of years and was razed when Nazimova decided to turn her 3.5 acre property into the hotel which became “The Garden of Allah Hotel and Villas.”

Here is the link to the original article:

LAT 19240202 Nazimova builds second home.

But the entire text has been reproduced here:

More after the jump »

Camille ‘a la’ Nazimova from Creme de la Creme

Nazimova and Valentino in a scene from "Camille" that shows designer Natacha Rambova's artistic flair

Nazimova and Valentino in a scene from "Camille" that shows designer Natacha Rambova’s artistic flair

Inge Gregusch, editor of Creme de la Creme: film, fashion & frivolity, has published a wonderful essay with photos on Alla Nazimova’s “Camille,” one of the last movies Nazimova made for Metro Pictures, and the first and only film she made with Rudolph Valentino.

The essay, “Camille ‘a la’ Nazimova,” is published in two parts — here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Gregusch also published a biographical sketch of Natacha Rambova, the scene and costume designer Nazimova discovered, whose imprint on “Camille,” “Salome” and other productions is indelible. Rambova was to become Valentino’s second wife, after Jean Acker, who was also a protegee of Nazimova, and whom he married in 1919.

You’ll also find stills from “Camille” here on the Society’s site.

Then and Now: Proposed Towers on Garden of Allah Site on the Sunset Strip, 1930 Vs. Today

Left: rendering of the Garden of Allah Hotel tower by architects Gilbert-Stanley Underwood & Co. Inc. proposed in 1930; right: proposed mixed-use building for the same property today; (A) Intersection of Crescent Heights Blvd. and Sunset Blvd. looking southwest

Cross-posted from Playground to the Stars.

Plans were unveiled this week for redeveloping the former Garden of Allah Hotel property on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The plans show a couple of high-rise buildings, including a 12 story tower. Here’s the project description from the developer’s website:

More after the jump »

Was Early Gaga Inspired by Alla Nazimova?


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