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An Art Day’s Night

Exhibit showcases John Lennon’s drawings, lyrics for local charity.

Nostalgic fans, wandering around while lost in their own thoughts. Couples openly crying in the aura of their hero’s artistry. Old friends recalling the first time they dropped acid and listened to The White Album.

These are just some of the reactions Rudy Siegel has witnessed through the years when fans experience the late John Lennon’s artwork. “There are all of these connections that people have with this man that are continually amazing,” said Siegel, director of media relations for the Florida-based Legacy Fine Art and Productions.

For over 15 years, Legacy and Yoko Ono have showcased an exhibit called “In My Life: The Artwork of John Lennon,” featuring Lennon’s drawings and original lyrics. The show has toured throughout the world, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations. This month, “In My Life” makes its first appearance in the Washington, D.C. metro area with a three-day showing to benefit the Alexandria Seaport Foundation.

Lennon’s work will be on display at 1006 King Street — the site of the old Alexandria Furniture store — on June 23 from 3-9 p.m.; June 24 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; and June 25 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. A $2 donation is suggested for admission to the event.

Joe Youcha, executive director of the Seaport Foundation, said the spirit of the Beatles’ music visionary is alive in the exhibit. “He was very interested in social activism. Trying to get folks to help other folks,” he said. “There’s certainly a tie-in with what we do, trying to give these kids a better life.”

The Alexandria Seaport Foundation (www.alexandriaseaport.org) is an apprenticeship program that works with at-risk youths, who work towards a certified pre-apprenticeship with the carpenter’s union by building boats. “When they finish our program, they can be placed in a job,” Youcha said.

He said Mary Ellis Fannon, a board member and the manager of Fannon Fine Printing in Del Ray, was instrumental in attracting interest from the national touring exhibit and bringing Lennon’s work to Alexandria.

“One day she called me and said ‘I think I have some exciting news,’” Youcha recalled.

Fannon said she viewed the exhibit in Rehoboth Beach and "was blown away by it." She started working with Siegel and Ono to bring the show to Alexandria. A first attempt last fall didn't work out, but this year the timing and the venue were right.

"It's a wonderful show," said Fannon, "and what I liked most about it was that it benefited a local non-profit."

SIEGEL SAID the first thing that surprises visitors to the Lennon exhibit is the volume of his work. “Most people don’t know John was an artist, so when they walk into the exhibit they’re taken aback by the volume of the collection and how prolific he was. They expect to see 20, 30 pieces, and there are 100 pieces,” he said.

According to the collection’s official Web site, Lennon began drawing before he owned a guitar, attending the Liverpool Art Institute for three years before The Beatles consumed his life. His early work featured ink or pencil sketches of whimsical images — themes revisited in his drawings for his son Sean. In the late 1960s, Lennon did a series of sketches for Ono — the “Bag-One” collection — that chronicled their wedding and featured several erotic pieces.

Siegel said the latter content caused raids of the exhibit in Chicago, Toronto and London. “A lot of the art work was confiscated: burned, marked-up, all kinds of [stuff]. So who knows out of that original set of 300 prints how many survived?” he said, adding that rare works from the “Bag-One” collection will be on display in Alexandria. They join lithographs, copper-etchings, and original drawings colorized by Ono after Lennon’s death in a collection Siegel said will attract thousands of fans with its themes of peace and hope.

“[It’s] like-minded people; some of them making their first foray into an art exhibit, because they’re coming because of John or The Beatles. Like his songs, his artwork’s for the masses. He’s able to convey so many messages with a few strokes of his pen — similar to his lyrics,” he said.

LENNON’S MUSIC also plays a prominent role in the exhibit, as serigraphs of his lyrics are part of the collection.

“In ‘Revolution,’ there’s definitely an artistic look: the beginning part of the lyrics are wide-set, and it goes down to one word phrases. It has a poetic look to it,” said Siegel. “With ‘Nowhere Man’ or ‘Imagine,’ it’s almost like he’s struggling to get it out of his head. It’s like a doctor’s note.”

Youcha’s children — ages seven and 10 — discovered Lennon through Beatles music. He said they were thrilled to hear the exhibit was coming to town.

Siegel said Lennon still has influence over generations of people, and that the exhibit has become a meeting place for fans young and old.

“His messages resonate throughout the exhibit,” he said. “It’s really become a meeting place for fans of his — they’ll bring their kids, the kids will bring their parents.”