Apr 5, 2023

Artist Marcy Friedman: Her Work is as Timeless as She Is

Sacramento philanthropist has a spectacular new show

By Ed Goldman

Even after a 42-year hiatus from painting, Marcy Friedman continues to dazzle as an artist at 87.

She has a show of more than two dozen new works running through April 29 at b. sakata garo, a midtown Sacramento gallery that looks as though it had been bodily lifted and flown in from New York City’s Soho district.

Edgy Cartoon

Marcy, photographed by Paul Kaufmann

She’s also a fine photographer, a humanist and a philanthropist. She and her late husband Mort forged the donation chain (and gave a few million dollars of their own) to rethink, remodel and resurrect the Crocker Art Museum, the oldest such institution west of the Rockies. The project came in at about $125 million and, as they say about expensive movies that turn out to be terrific, you can see every cent of it in the once-taken-for-granted/now magnificent Crocker.

But what I like best about Friedman is that her inestimable energy reminds me of a favorite old joke. A motorcycle cop is doing about 80 miles per hour on the interstate when he’s passed by a guy gunning his Lamborghini at around 120. The guy zips by so fast that the cop feels he must be standing still. So, naturally, he climbs off his vehicle to see what’s wrong….

Marcy has a way of making the people around her wonder if they’re standing still even when they may very well be tearing through life. At times when I’ve been assailed by ennui or non-clinical depression, I’ve either run into her, dined with her or interviewed her—and emerged feeling as though I’d gone on a spree at Restoration Humanware.

The new gallery show is Marcy’s third solo exhibition. Raised in Hawaii, she’d always planned to be an artist—but ended up taking a 42-year hiatus from painting to marry Mort, whom she met at Stanford University in 1955, raise their children and plunge into both community work and assisting him in his business ventures.

Edgy Cartoon

“Sunbathing” by Marcy Friedman

When you see her new paintings—portraits, landscapes and impressionistic pieces (the latter starring koi from her backyard pond)—it’s easy to assume they’re art she made as a young woman. Their vibrancy, confident brushwork and outright vivacity portray a youthful fascination with form, function and fun.

“All artists refer to drawing from life or otherwise as tapping into their muscle memory,” she recently told in an interview for ArtBeat, a monthly column I write for the website Art Lady. “What I like to do when I paint someone is keep a close eye on skin tone and contours—but more to the point, that glint in someone’s eye, the way people might twist their heads to express curiosity or confusion. I look for a person’s characteristics, something they may not share with anyone else.”

She sure found my glint (though I later learned it was a cataract). To engage in what’s redundantly referred to as “full disclosure” —just “disclosure” should cover it— I need to confess that Marcy painted a couple of portraits of me for her first solo show a few years back, at the highly regarded John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, California. She allowed one of them to be used as the cover art for my most recent book, “Don’t Cry for Me, Ardent Reader,” published by the Sacramento Business Journal. I now find myself wearing that Annapolis sweatshirt whenever I feel an identity crisis coming on. (Okay. Obviously, I just did.)

Friedman lives in a spectacular, light- and art-filled home that overlooks the American River with her second husband, Paul Kauffman. Kaufmann is an elegantly tall, genial and endlessly curious retired corporate executive and venture capitalist who’d been Marcy’s high school boyfriend back in Hawaii. He’s also one of her biggest fans.

Edgy Cartoon

Book cover painting by Marcy Friedman

In the few years they’ve been together—Mort Friedman passed away 12 years ago—they’ve traveled extensively, something Marcy always did and which most certainly informs the cosmopolitan and humanitarian sensibility of her art.

Yes, I think this young artist shows real promise. Now let me just climb off this motorcycle and see why it’s apparently stalled…. 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President, Golden Pacific Bank, a Division of SoFi Bank, Inc.

photo by Phoebe Verkouw


Best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for her 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” lit up the room last week at the Sacramento Speaker Series, and we were proud to be a co-sponsor of her life-affirming talk.

Jennifer Egan of The New York Times has described Gilbert’s prose as “fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance that is close to irresistible.”  I found that same description to be true of Gilbert’s entire talk.  She was delightfully intelligent and witty, yet also had an air of complete approachability.

If the goal of a great speaker or performer is to leave the audience wanting more, she sure did that for me. I left wanting more of her stories, and ready to read and re-read her impressive line-up of books.

Gilbert has what in business is known as a high “Executive EQ.”  Her emotional intelligence and willingness to be vulnerable in her stories was refreshing and enticing.  She has that super-power blend of humor, authenticity, aspiration and drive, combined with unrelenting energy.

Virginia Varela with Elizabeth Gilbert

Her presentation made a strong case for following a life of curiosity.  She argued that in the end, a life based on following one’s curiosity and what makes one most excited, is a life best lived.  Her life question to every person at any level of life: “What is it that you are most excited about in your life today?”

It struck me that in business I find the same case applies to leadership.  The best leaders I know are those who remain excited by their work, who are curious to build and improve and grow. 

Every leader should embrace the concept and practice of emotional honesty, energy and self- feedback. That combination can help make you an authentic presence—someone who builds trust and creates empowerment. And while you’re at it, be sure to eat, pray and love!

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