HOTSEAT- Artist in wonderland: Beatrix Ost authors bestseller
Beatrix Ost is not a woman partial to neutrals. She has blue hair and wears magenta lipstick and jade green earrings accessorizing a lime green/orange/blue/black silk ensemble. Sitting thus arrayed on the porch of Estouteville, her historic landmark home in Keene, she describes finding love letters her father wrote to her mother.
The vivid personal style of the well-known artist, who once appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine lolling on the bed in her "Blobitecture" West Side Manhattan apartment, with husband Ludwig Kuttner soaking in the bathtub, has found expression in a new medium. Ost has penned a memoir, My Father's House: A Childhood in Wartime Bavaria, and it's said to be a bestseller in Germany.
As she speaks, the quiet of the countryside is periodically shattered by the shrieks of peacocks, a species that also roamed the Bavarian farm of her youth. "They're mating," Ost says.
Back to the letters. Her father wrote them at the time of Ost's birth when he was stationed in Africa in 1940.
"I was so taken by them," she says. Her mother and her father– a "fearless anti-Nazi" who was sent home from Africa, narrowly avoiding court martial– took in and fed assorted war refuges on their estate north of Munich.
"Who are these people?" she wondered as she first began reading the letters. She decided to tell the story for her children, but 120 pages in, she sent the manuscript to a literary agent in Munich.
"She called and said, 'This is an important book,'" Ost says. "'The world knows about the Holocaust. The world knows about the Nazis. No one knows about private life.'"
Ost says that after World War II ended, there was tremendous guilt and no time for her parents' generation to mourn, "[The agent] said, 'You must write it for everyone, not just your family.'"
The book was such a hit in Germany that she's writing a second one about the '50s and '60s. "One hundred thousand people read your book," Ost says her agent told her. "Give them another."
The visual artist, whose sculptures and paintings make Estouteville unlike any other historic Virginia estate, discovered another side of herself– that she was good with words.
"Art was our religion," she says. "Art was everywhere on my mother's side– architects, painters. It was just there. It wasn't a big deal."
In the 1950s, Ost was "making a lot of money" modeling, she says. She also appeared in movies and was married. The art "just presented itself."
She came to America in 1975 with Kuttner. "This was an adventure," she explains. "We wanted to raise our children here. We fell in love with New York."
Ost continues to divide her time between Manhattan and Charlottesville, where she finds reminders of her childhood world in the rural estate with its vegetable gardens, chickens, and rabbits. "It's an incredible joy to be here," she says.
"When you decide to live in another country, you have a clear view looking from outside," she says. "Here are my people. I look at them with a critical eye." A peacock screams.
"I learned every life is worth writing about," says Ost, who's a Buddhist. "That's the gift of Buddhism. Small things can be so big."
She's also learned to use her royal blue hair as a marketing device. "In New York, every day someone says something about my hair," says Ost. "I have a card printed about my book. When someone asks about my hair, I hand it out."
The artist-turned-author seems to have a knack for marketing– and not only her own work. When she travels to New York, she takes the bus– her son Oliver Kuttner's Starlight Express. "I love it," she enthuses. "It's so pleasant."
Age: I've earned quite a few years.
Why here? A pendulum told me to live here.
What's worst about living here? Charlottesville got overdiscovered.
Favorite hangout? Any good food, outdoor restaurant
Most overrated virtue? Modesty, often a cloak for fear
People would be surprised to know: I can ski.
What would you change about yourself? When I recognize it, I change it.
Proudest accomplishment? Having written My Father's House
People find most annoying about you: I hope they tell me.
Whom do you admire? His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Favorite book? W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn
Subject that causes you to rant? George W. Bush
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The movies
Biggest 21st-century creep out? That wars are not over; Iraq's another Vietnam.
What do you drive? A hybrid Honda
In your car CD player right now: Dave Matthews
Next journey? London and Venice
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Everything is an event forming a life.
Regret: Youthful indifference to fame. But now I see it is very helpful. You have more power in doing good.
Favorite comfort food: Rice
Always in your refrigerator: Sake
Must-see TV: The Sopranos
Favorite cartoon: Everything from Christophe Vorlet
Describe a perfect day. Having the day all to myself writing or painting without interruption. A delicious dinner made by Paul with produce from our garden, sitting outside on my porch with friends on a balmy night.
Walter Mitty fantasy: Being on Oprah with My Father's House
Who'd play you in the movie? Helen Mirren
Most embarrassing moment? Should I be embarrassed? A woman in Munich looked me up and down. Pointing at my hat, she said with a smirk on her face, "We don't have Carnival yet!" I said, "You should wear one of these, it would suit you well." But I am embarrassed when our government in Washington goes to a foreign country and pushes freedom on people.
Best advice you ever got? Wear a big hat.
Favorite bumper sticker? I have three:
In your body is a good place to be.
There's a village in Texas missing its idiot.
What is Ix?