Life, unscripted

Traveling a long and winding 'Road,' Linda McCartney crafted a legacy larger than that of Beatle bride.

Traveling a long and winding 'Road,' Linda McCartney crafted a legacy larger than that of Beatle bride.

August 04, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

List the accomplishments: Musician in Wings; vegetarian crusader; author of landmark rock 'n' roll photographs.

As diverse a resume as you can find, and still Linda McCartney is as likely (if not more) to be labeled Wife of Paul as author of her own sizable contributions to the 20th century.

So Washington County Museum of Fine Arts has taken to the 'Road' to introduce another layer of the late wife of Beatle Paul McCartney.

"Roadworks: The Photographs of Linda McCartney," opening today and continuing through Sunday, Oct. 13, assembles 92 images of life as the photographer, who died of cancer in 1998, encountered it.


They are images almost entirely devoid of star power; a stark contrast to the iconic portraits of Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Janis Joplin and other '60s pop culture luminaries she took as the first staff photographer for Rolling Stone magazine.

Instead, her camera captured life encountered in mid-journey, unflinching snapshots of an imperfect world where homeless men in search of a meal held her fancy as much as a throng of music fans.

"There were really a lot of artists working during the Depression that did streetscapes of people," says museum Director Jean Woods. "But Linda McCartney is showing people in the street, people driving cars and trucks, people on beaches, people wheeling baby carriages in parks. And to me it's a social realist approach, only it's 50 years later from the movement in the 1930s."

Born in Scarsdale, N.Y., Linda Eastman was already lauded for her rock imagery when she met Paul McCartney during the press launch of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

"Roadworks" assembles photos taken pre- and post-Paul, between 1962 and 1995. Some are wry, such as Wander, a 1978 photo taken in Sussex of a Public Footpath marker set in front of a fence choked by weeds. Others, like 1989's End of the Earth, depicting a smokestack polluting the sky, evoke a sense of sadness and waste.

Whimsical or poignant, all are born out of a spontaneity Butler Institute of American Art Director Louis Zona finds irresistible.

"I spent more hours in her show than in any other because every time I walked through I noticed something, some minutiae that interested me," Zona says. "It's like capsules of life, slices of life, things we walk by, drive by and don't have time to deal with, and she's sliced them off for us."

For four months in 1997, as McCartney fought breast cancer, Zona's Youngstown, Ohio, museum staged "Roadworks," which has criss-crossed the country ever since.

Like Woods, he says there are images in the exhibit that spark his curiosity.

"I want to stop this fellow and ask him where he's going," Zona says of Watney (1974), which shows an older man walking toward a train station. "(She has) a knack for getting the right shot, the right angle, the right verticals and horizontals and things we art people talk about all the time. It just came naturally to her."

Walking among the mix of black and white and color images scattered around the Groh Gallery, Woods points out photos that jump out at her.

There are quite a few, from a group of boys on a Barbados beach to a child peering at his father from the back seat of a car to a statue of Christ taken in Barcelona.

"She was multi-faceted and because of the fact she was a Beatle wife, so to speak, people don't know this side of her. And this will give people the opportunity to see the diversity of her personality and interests," Woods says. "(There are) ones you relate to more than others depending on your life experiences.

"I mean, some of them are obviously in a foreign country you may not relate to as well. And then if you've been in an old car it's so nostalgic and brings back the fun and exhilaration of racing down the road in one of those sports cars."

After spending two days installing the exhibit, most recently in Saginaw, Mich., Associate Curator Amy Metzger says what strikes her is the common thread weaving through so many disparate images.

"I think one of the most interesting things is they're images of people from different parts of the world but you can see a unifying theme," she says. "It's people caught in a moment, reflecting their true feelings. It's not people posed or staged or set-up."

It is an honesty Metzger and Woods feel will captivate visitors attracted to the exhibit, even if they are lured in solely as fans of The Beatles.

In a voice touched with a hint of melancholy, Zona recalls a brief encounter with Sir Paul McCartney in New York after Linda's death. McCartney asked him if Zona had ever seen a more talented photographer.

"And I said no and I really believe that," he says.

"She had just a natural ability. It's easy for us to say that the McCartney name has helped Linda but I firmly believe you can't hold a natural ability like this down. Even if she had not married Paul McCartney she would have become one of the world's most famous photographers."

If you go

"Roadworks: The Photography of Linda McCartney"

Opening reception at 2 today, featuring selections by Frederick, Md., musician Gary Schwartz. Exhibit continues through Sunday, Oct. 13

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

City Park


Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

For information, call 301-739-5727 or go to on the Web.

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