Joan Baez brings to life the ‘Mischief Makers’ that shaped America

 Tribal Council members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria honor Joan Baez and her work on April 15 at the Green Music Center. 

Tribal Council members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria honor Joan Baez and her work on April 15 at the Green Music Center. 

Joan Baez, the beloved international performer and political activist, is known around the world for her folk songs. But on Sunday, she was celebrated at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center for another type of art work – a series of portraits of iconic leaders from Bob Dylan to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to writer Maya Angelou.

The series of paintings, which have been donated to the university by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is known as the “Mischief Makers” and is an homage to the leaders of many social justice and civil rights movements over the past half-century.

During a discussion with Greg Sarris, chairman of the Graton Rancheria, Baez, now 77, said she had been pulling together some of her art pieces in hopes of doing a show. “I realized that the political atmosphere that we are in now that I had to make some kind of statement,” she said.

She said the name for the exhibit came from something former Czech poet turned president Vaclav Havel when he came to visit her during one of her European tours. “We must make mischief,” he said.

 Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, (left) Joan Baez and Judy Sakaki (right) pose in front of one of Baez’s paintings as part of her ‘Mischief Makers’ series. 

Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, (left) Joan Baez and Judy Sakaki (right) pose in front of one of Baez’s paintings as part of her ‘Mischief Makers’ series. 

“That’s where the expression for me started,” she said. “And I realized that all of these people that I had done paintings of, most of them I know, they all have this same vein of mischief making.”

She noted that is the side of many of these individuals that the public did not get a chance to see. “I mean, Dr. King was very, very funny, sarcastic and silly, but he was afraid to show that in public. So you didn’t see that.” she said.

She called attention to “the importance of the kids in Florida” who are speaking out for stronger gun control laws in the wake of the shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead. “These kids are brave and willing to take risks . . .Three cheers to them,” she said. “This is the closest thing we have had to a movement in this country in a long, long time.”

Baez will be returning to perform at the Green Music Center in November as part of a world tour she is doing this year. But she said that will be the end of her formal touring.

“I don’t know who else I will (paint),” she said. “I thought of painting these kids.”