What better way to celebrate a 70th birthday than to look back at the past 50 years to see where you’ve been and where you’re going.

“It’s a birthday present to myself,” says Venice artist Emily Winters of a 50-year retrospective exhibition opening Friday, February 4th, that encompasses her work as a student through her work this year. This includes her Venice projects.

The opening of the retrospective is from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, February 4th, at SPARC (Social and Public Art Resources Center), 685 Venice Blvd. in Venice, kicking off its 30th anniversary celebration.

The exhibit continues until Saturday, March 4th.

“What’s the point in having all this stuff in drawers and closets?” she asks. “No one sees it.”

Emily grew up in a farming community in Illinois on the Mississippi River. Her interest in art started as a child.

“I was in a small town and everyone was getting married,” she says. “I thought I should get married too but my parents said, ‘No, no, why don’t you apply at the Art Institute.’ ”

So instead, Emily got married while attending the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1963, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in figure drawing, she and her husband moved to Venice, where he had friends.

“He always liked it here — near the Pacific Ocean,” she says. “There was a big space between Venice and Los Angeles. It was like a prairie.”

The Gas House had closed and the poets and artists started getting together at the Venice West CafÈ on Dudley Avenue when Emily arrived in Venice.

“I had little kids at home and no money for a babysitter, so I couldn’t go to these places, but I heard about them,” Emily said. “It was like an intellectual community that moved into Venice.

“There were bikers and drug dealers too, but everybody got along.”

Emily first lived on the canals. She remembers the “truck gypsies.”

“There were a bunch of empty lots,” she says. “The people who lived in their trucks would hook up to our electricity. Nobody had much money. We helped each other.”

The marriage didn’t work out and Emily had to go to work. Her first job was painting album art on mini billboards.

Back then, the first billboard company in Los Angeles was Foster and Kleiser (now Eller Outdoor Advertising), which started in 1905.

Foster and Kleiser was cited for noncompliance of affirmative action, according to Emily.

“The Labor Department was on them because they never hired a woman painter,” Emily says.

Men she had worked with at the album company recommended her for the job.

“All the posters were done by hand,” she says. “I enjoyed the work a lot, even though the subject matter wasn’t all that exciting, but I learned a lot about color. It opened my palette.”

After technology pretty much phased out her billboard job, Emily went back to school to learn graphic design and animation and did that until she retired at 63.

While she was working at the billboard company, she got involved with the Free Venice Beachhead, a Venice paper that started in 1968.

Her graphics, along with accompanying articles, will be displayed at the exhibit, and prints will be available for sale.

In 1975, when Emily was living on the canals, Judy Baca, executive director of SPARC, had started the City Wide Mural Project and wanted to do a mural in Venice.

After numerous community meetings, Jaya (Sanskrit for “non-violent victory”), designed by Emily and painted by the Women’s Artists Collective, found its place on a building at the corner of Dell Avenue and Venice Boulevard.

The mural depicts a time in Venice’s history and, amazingly enough, it still remains although there was controversy attached to the theme and the building has been sold numerous times in the last 30 years.

With a composite of people and events, it represents the canal community’s struggle against what was considered the encroaching influence of the new Marina del Rey to its colorful way of life.

“People were being evicted because their rents were being raised from $50 to $90 a month,” says Emily. “That was a lot of money then.”

A representation of the bulldozing of Mrs. Hay’s home is one of the sections.

“Mrs. Hays was an elderly woman who couldn’t pay her taxes,” says Emily. “The city wanted to evict her. Ultimately they let her stay, but sent out a bulldozer when she died.

“The community said, ‘You can’t do that without notifying the family.’

“Even the guy driving the bulldozer got off and joined the protesters.”

It’s stories like this that give Jaya a sense of history.

Another mural, Endangered Species, painted in 1990, is on the corner of Park Avenue and Ocean Front Walk.

It, too, represents an encroachment, but this time of the misuse of technology polluting the quality of life. Depicted are the elderly, families, children and the homeless.

“Not only the people,” says Emily, “but the air, the sea, the sand.”

Emily’s latest project is the Venice Arts Council, which she founded and chairs.

“The artists in Venice don’t get together,” she says. “They don’t know each other.”

Initially, it was part of her platform when she ran for District 5 Representative for the previous Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council.

“We broke away because then there was too much politics and we weren’t able to get to the business at hand,” she says.

Now the Neighborhood Council is partnered with SPARC. You may have enjoyed the numerous events that were put on last year to celebrate the Venice Centennial.

Starting off the new year was a workshop for the community’s input on the type and location of public art in Venice.

“It was a successful beginning of a dialogue,” says Emily. “It helped pull the community together.”

Check out their Web site at www.veniceartscouncil.org

Information, on the exhibition, SPARC at (310) 822-9560 or

www.sparcmurals.org

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