Celebrating the lives of two men who left their marks on the D.C. area in very different ways.
John Bailey died last week in Richmond. He was responsible for one of Washington’s most famous paintings, even if you never knew it was he who painted it: the Marilyn Monroe mural in Woodley Park.
I mentioned the mural last week in my column about one of the men who commissioned it, hair stylist Roi Barnard. It was an odd but fitting coincidence that Bailey passed away at age 78 just as I was preparing the article for publication.
“It was just so beautiful,” Barnard said of his reaction the first time he saw Bailey’s mural, painted in 1981 on the side of the Connecticut Avenue NW salon Roi ran with his then-partner, Charles Stinson.
For Barnard, it was a literal dream come true: He had seen the mural in his sleep.
Bailey spent a year living in Barnard and Stinson’s house at 16th and Colorado NW. The artist used it as a base of operations while he painted the bottom of their swimming pool (another Marilyn) and worked on portraits.
“He specialized in doing children,” Barnard said. “What he would do if you commissioned him was come and stay in your house for three or four days to get to know the children. And then when he would paint them he would have more of an insight into the inner workings of that child.”
Bailey was also a dancer and was married to the grande dame of dance in Virginia, Frances Wessells, who survives him.
Robbie Kinter, music director in the dance department at Virginia Commonwealth University, knew Bailey through the dance community and admired his visual art.
“He meshed photorealism with a painterly touch,” Kinter said. “Even though he was a photorealist, he had a beautiful sense of design. I think he really saw beauty in things.”
Bailey’s Marilyn was one of the first murals in a city that has since become famous for them. Her lips are parted, her eyelids heavy. She fills the frame, an inscrutable memorial in this monumental town.
“He made a beautiful, physical mark on this city that has nothing to do with politics. And not everyone can say that,” said
Nancy Tartt, who met Bailey when she studied dance at George Washington University. “When I think about him leaving, I just think he can go and dance all he wants now. He can paint all the time.”
The plant whisperer
Charlie Koiner made art, too. It was art you could eat.
Lettuce, tomatoes, kale, peppers, eggplant, okra — for 30some years, before his death last month at 98, Koiner tended a oneacre garden a peach pit’s throw from downtown Silver Spring.
Encountering Koiner’s Farm was like slipping through a rip in reality. You’d be going through the scruff of urbanity — Ethiopian restaurants, a laundromat, a comic book store, a gas station — then enter a modest residential neighborhood and incongruously come upon a bit of Eden.
With help from his daughter, Lynn, and a group of volunteers that included Evelyn Jemionek, Koiner maintained the patch. Surely the land would have been more valuable cut into parcels and planted with houses. But Koiner had witnessed that transformation up close once before, when his family’s farm was sold to make way for MidPike Plaza in Rockville, site of today’s Pike & Rose development.
Koiner never wore gloves, wanting to feel the soil. He was meticulous, instructing his helpers on how far apart seeds should be planted and how deep, and where to step when walking through his garden.
“He was a micromanager in the best of ways,” said Hannah
Sholder, a volunteer helper for the past three years. “He was never that good at explaining why he did things the way he did.”
But she believed him. He’d been doing it a long time, after all, had touched a lot of soil, had planted countless seeds and had fed a lot of people.
Sholder and Kate Medina cofounded the nonprofit Charles Koiner Center for Urban Farming. They were able to secure a tax credit ensuring that the farm will survive.
Koiner died in the quietest season of a farmer’s life: winter. It’s a time that often found him in his house at the edge of his garden, ensconced in his favorite chair.
“The only time he did that was in the winter months,” Lynn said. “He’d sit in his chair and watch cowboy movies.”
The ground may have been sleeping, but Charlie Koiner wasn’t. On the night before he died, he discussed the seeds that needed to be ordered and when to plant them: peppers first, then tomatoes, then lettuce.
He was sketching in his mind the garden to come. For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.
John Bailey’s Marilyn, painted in 1981 on the side of a Connecticut Avenue NW hair salon, was one of the first murals in a city that has since become famous for them. Bailey died last week.