Trick or Treat – Queen and Doggy

By the time I was in Grade 4 I was already immersed in Egyptian art from my many hours spent at museums.

Egyptian musicians Dynasty 18th Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nice outfits, Dynasty 18

I also read a lot about ancient Egypt, and like most kids found the art and culture fascinating and beautiful. So when I was finally old enough to wear the Safran Egyptian Queen costume I was thrilled.

My mother had originally made this Halloween costume for my sister several years earlier.

The wig was made from strips of thick hair-like wool fabric and it sat very comfortably on the head. I liked it especially since the ladies of ancient Egypt also wore wigs that looked a lot like this one (to me anyway).

Betty Safran as an Egyptian queen

“Hail to thee oh Cleopatra my Queen” – that’s what the school janitor said to me as he bowed… and that’s when I discovered what it must feel like to be revered…too bad it only lasted one short moment.

I chose to wear a red cloak. We made it from a bed sheet that we dyed with Rit dye in the bathtub – a very exciting process for me.

Once it was dry and pressed, I had to stand still while my mother figured out how to sew and form the sheet into some kind of garment that I could walk in and keep secure around my neck.

I made the golden “beaded” collar under my mother’s direction – I stapled bits of paper onto a sparkly piece of fabric – a lame, but effective enough substitute for the real thing.

Getting the thick black eyeliner put on was difficult and uncomfortable but it made me feel glamorous and exotic.

And what a triumph when I went to school on Halloween and the janitor bowed down to me in the hall!

In 1970 my mother decided for me, that Grade 5 would be the last Halloween I would celebrate. I guess she had tired of the whole thing and she was ready to retire from costume making.

I still feel a touch of bitterness and disappointment about my last Halloween; me being only a mere child of 10 years. However, we are talking about my costume here in this post not my feelings – and I have to admit the costume was pretty cool.

I went as a Dapper Dog –

Dapper Dog costume083My mother spent some time creating the head-covering mask that made me look like a dog with nice floppy long ears. On top of this I wore a hat and for the rest of my costume I wore what looked like a suit. I seem to recall that I also had fuzzy mittens from the same fabric as the head gear.

As you can see in the photo I have a suitable 1970’s Flower Power necktie on too.

…So that was it for me for Halloween.

It was a good run while it lasted.

(next year I’ll have to dig up the rest of my childhood costumes to show you)

Steinlen black cat



Halloween 1968: My Pony and Cat Trick

In 1968 when I was in Grade 3 my mother made a papier mache horse costume for me.

Betty Safran in her horse riding costumeWe regularly watched The Ed Sullivan Show on TV and I think we saw some performance with dancers wearing similar costumes and this inspired my Mom to make one for me.

I saw the horse come to life as my mother made a wire armature and then covered it with papier mache. It was a beautiful white pony with a fushia mane and tail and I adored it. It wasn’t an easy costume to wear – it was big and awkward, but it was awesome. I wore it to school on Halloween and proudly pranced around the school yard in the PS 8 yearly Halloween Parade.

The cap on my head had a kind of Baroque style brooch on it that attached a feathery plume. I felt very grand. When I walked or cantered my stuffed little legs would bounce up and down.

Halloween c. 1968 Betty Safran in her horse riding costumeOn Halloween night that year, my sister went Trick or Treating with her friends so my mother took me by myself. But I wasn’t alone for long –  as soon as we left our house, Babby the neighborhood tabby cat joined us.

Babby wasn’t our cat, he lived with other people, but he visited us everyday and he and I had known each other since he was a baby and I was about 2.

So he came Trick or Treating with us that night, up and down the streets.

It was raining and the streets were shiny and black. Every time a car went by, its headlights would sheer across the asphalt and blind me for a quick second. I was so afraid that Babby would run in front of a car and get hit… but he was a street smart cat and sometimes I could see him as a black silhouette running along the edge of the street through the grass and bushes.

BabbyEvery time I’d go up to a door and ring the doorbell, the door would open and Babby would run into the house. I’d get my candy and then suddenly the people would notice the cat in their front hall or living room and there’d be a scream and shuffle and Babby would run back outside and go on to the next house with us.

It was the only time I ever really had a true Trick to play on Halloween – it was also the only time the cat came calling with me on Halloween.

When we moved from Bronxville, NY to New Brunswick, Canada we left my pony behind in the attic – it was very hard for me to let go… it had been such a remarkable costume made just for me, and such a weirdly wonderful night with Babby.

Trick or Treat: Bronxville 1960s

Bird Costumes Halloween 1966 or 1967

My sister (the tall bird) and me (the short bird) in our homemade costumes. I used a big rubbery balloon as the base for the papier mache head. It was hot inside that head and hard to see where I was going. We ended up getting egged by some kids and ran home crying covered in goo. c.1965

I think Halloween is every kids favorite holiday…it was certainly mine…

When we lived in Bronxville in the 1960’s, almost every house in our neighborhood was open for Trick or Treat business. I remember the thrill of going door to door in the night and the crisp smell and swooshing sound of fallen leaves on the sidewalks.

My sister and I went out with my mother when I was little. It was sometimes hard to keep up with the fast pace of running from house to house, especially in some of the costumes I wore. But once our bags were full with yummy stuff, we’d head home and get to go through out huge hauls.

Later when I was older, my sister went out with her friends, and I went out with my mother and cat… (more on that in the next post).

All of my costumes were home made: my mother made most of them or helped me make my own.

My first real costume was of a Japanese lady dressed in a red silk kimono, a golden striped obi and a wonderful wig.

Betty Safran as a Japanese princess, Halloween 1963

Halloween 1963 age 2½ – though I’m dressed as a Japanese Princess I really resemble a mushroom more.

I loved this costume, and when I say loved, I mean LOVED…

I wanted to wear it all the time and I sincerely wanted to be a Japanese princess when I grew up. This was my first ambition in life and not a bad one either.

I’m not sure where this costume disappeared to eventually, but I was heart broken when it was gone.

The next Halloween (in1964) I was Mrs. Santa Claus.

You can see that I have “dimples so merry” and a little round belly, that shook when I laughed like a bowlful of jelly!

I remember trying to walk in this costume. It was difficult because I had a full pillow stuffed inside my suit, and it kept shifting downwards. It also hampered my arms so it was hard to get at my loot bag as I walked around. I think I got cranky about all of this and had to go home early.

Betty as Mrs. Santa Claus 1964

Mrs Santa Claus and the family ghost 1964

Back then when you got a chocolate bar from Trick or Treating it was a full-size big chocolate bar, not one of those tiny things they make these days for Halloween. And we got handfuls of candy corn.

Of course we had to be careful of crazy people putting needles and razor blades in apples and soft foods and candies; my mother always had to okay the loot before we started stuffing ourselves. But I don’t remember anything like that ever appearing in our goodies, though one year there were rumors about some creepy lady up the block and I remember being very afraid and avoiding that house.

My parents were pretty lax about us eating tons of junk. The only thing I remember my Dad doing (and I never forgave him for this), he took all my big chocolate bars for himself and put them in the freezer every year!!!

Hershey's Chocolate with Almonds

My favorite chocolate bar

Talk about stealing candy from a baby!!!

Naturally as soon as I was big enough to stand on a chair to reach the freezer I’d sneak chocolate bars – but I had to be careful not to take too many so he wouldn’t notice any were gone.  I guess I was always a bit of a rebel and a chocoholic.Mrs Santa Claus078

Fond of Dragons

As a child, I was naturally drawn to paintings showing Saint George and the Dragon. The more museums I was taken to, the more I noticed that every painting of the story showed a different kind of dragon, a differently armored Saint and very different scenery.

I can’t remember if I really believed in dragons – but the evidence in the art museums was pretty compelling. In many cases, the artists were showing an adrenaline pumping image of the victorious Saint destroying the beast (and saving the beautiful lady).

Uccello St.George and the Dragon, London - National Gallery

I saw this painting when I was 5 and immediately loved it. I especially liked how the lady is gently gesturing while this scene of violence takes place in front of her. Its so spectacularly beautiful in every way – what child wouldn’t love it?

I usually felt sorry for the dragon. Sometimes the dragon was pretty big but a bit goofy like the one above. If you didn’t know better you’d think that this pretty lady is out walking her dragon and along comes this knight on a white horse and he stabs it in the nose. The dragon looks so unhappy, like his feelings are hurt.

St George and the Dragon by Rubens, Prado

This is by Rubens. Here is an example of a very dramatic, full of action painting of St. George killing the dragon. The dragon here is hissing and coiled and you have to feel bad for it – its mouth is stuck with broken pointy things and the Saint is about to give a deadly blow. Even the horse looks like he’s thrilled to be pounding this dragon to death.

In other paintings the dragon was smaller and could look like a grumpy snake all coiled and hissing, or some weird conglomerate animal like the one in the Rubens painting – it even has a human shaped hand.

Best of all are the depictions where the dragon is really small and looks like a weird little beastie that the Saint overpowered by squashing it with his foot.

St. George and the Dragon, the Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Saint George looks very gentle here while he is standing on top of the little dragon that looks a lot like a beloved dog.

In 1962 a song by Peter Paul and Mary came out called Puff the Magic Dragon. Puff instantly became part of popular culture, and I remember singing it in grade school with our scary music teacher leading us along.

Puff the Magic Dragon 1966

But I gotta say, that even though I liked the song and sang it a lot, the way they showed Puff like a cartoon left me wanting – why didn’t they show Puff like a real dragon – like the ones in the museums that were so much more dragonee?

St_George English manuscript

“Everybody must have a fantasy.”
Andy Warhol

A Little Funny Bunny

Most Sundays when I was little – when we went to museums, it was to see paintings…

Madame Charpentier and Her Children by Renoir, Metropolitan Museum

I loved this painting especially because of the big dog (I wanted a big dog to sit on too). But I also loved the elegant room and furnishings, the beautiful clothes, and the lovely faces… I could easily imagine myself as one of the little girls.

My parents were not interested in contemporary art so we spent our hours in rooms full of masterpieces from previous eras.

West Gallery at the Frick Collection showing Rembrandts, photo New York Times

My Dad worshiped Rembrandt’s work – here its being shown at the Frick Collection – a museum that we frequented when I finally got old enough at age 10.

I’d overhear my parents talking in front of artwork and then I’d try to see what they saw. Their talk was about technique, color, composition, poses, light and shadow, and all those other things that artists think about.

In this way I learned naturally by osmosis about all the artists and their art. Even as a kid, I became very good at recognizing an artist’s style and work. I had quite a surprisingly sophisticated set of favorite paintings including more mature works like Madame X by Sargent.

I was frequently allowed to purchase postcards of these paintings – so I had my own collection to look at at home. Actually all four of us had postcard collections – my parents looked to them for inspiration, and I just enjoyed studying them at leisure.

Adele Safran's postcard collection

This was my mother’s collection of postcards – she has a lot of Impressionist and Post Impressionist artists represented because she aspired to paint like them. The collection also includes an eclectic assortment of things that appealed to her.

I had my favorite pastimes in the paintings collections. For example: I enjoyed looking for little details like flowers, bugs, and animals…

Detail of rabbit from St. Francis in the Desert by Bellini, Frick Collection

A little funny bunny in a big painting – the kind of look and see game I played with many paintings.

I liked looking at the people in the paintings; their different hairstyles, clothes, or expressions…

I really loved the Medieval and Renaissance paintings with all the luxurious details – especially the golden halos and embellished clothes…

Saint Justina of Padua by Bartolomeo Montagna , the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here’s an example of a painting that had lots for me to look at – a beautiful lady, golden jewellery and halo, amazing clothes, and great hair.. and its beautifully painted.

I also liked paintings that had landscape backgrounds that receded into a clear horizon with trees, buildings, castles and boats – all on a tiny, far away scale…Metropolitan Adoration of the Shepherds by Andrea MantegnaThe Adoration of the Shepherds by Mantegna is a painting I could stand in front of and study for a long, long time while my parents were off discussing something serious. There are wonderful people in it; it tells a great story; it has great animals; and a receding, yet intricate landscape – all in beautiful color and detail…

Ernesta (Child with Nurse) by Cecilia Beaux, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It wasn’t just paintings of little girls, like me, that I loved – its just that this was another favorite painting so I had to include it.

And I loved pictures of children…

All in all, I was a very lucky kid to get such an in depth education in the history of art and art appreciation. I owe it all to my artist parents.

Sunday trips to New York City

Pretty much every Sunday in the Fall, Winter, or Spring, my parents would load us into the car and we’d drive from our suburban house in Bronxville to one of several wonderful museums in New York City.

1960-Red Valiant

The Safran family car – a 1960 red Valiant

We had a red Valiant just like this when I was little.

Cars didn’t have seat belts in the early 60s, so my sister and I could slide around and fight over seat territory in the back. It had a push button dashboard which I always wanted to play with, and snazzy black and white upholstery; the tail lights were especially cool and looked like eyes to me.

Going to museums was a big deal in our house. We’d all meet in the kitchen on Sunday morning; each one of us saying where we’d like to go or what we’d like to see, and then a museum was agreed upon and we’d go after lunch.

map of new york museums 2013

This is a current map of all the museums in NYC. The red dots and red balloons are museums: there are a lot of places to go and things to do there just like in the 1960s and 70s.

My father usually had veto power if the suggestion was too outlandish (or not what he was willing to do) or the desired collection was in too dangerous a neighborhood. For example: by the early 1970s, going to the Hispanic Society of America which was located on the edge of Harlem, was just too dangerous as was even going to the Brooklyn Museum by then.

We always dressed up for museum going. I remember taking the time to choose my outfit which always included my best clothes, and jewellery (brooches, bracelets, rings, necklaces),

Betty Safran dressed to go to a museum

I am dressed and ready to go to a museum in my pretty clothes… just note that my collar is up on one side, my jumper is crumpled, my pin is lopsided, and my hair bow all droopy… I look clean at least. c. 1964

and frequently my little white gloves, a small purse to hold whatever small change I had for the museum shop, and my black patent leather shoes (or my white Courreges style go-go boots that I liked to wear with a white mohair mini skirt – I was a very groovy kid).

Betty Safran a selection of childhood jewellery and scarf

This is all that remains of my jewellery collection from childhood – most of the cheap stuff has vanished. Here is a favorite pin from Venice; a gold letter B; a jade and gold turtle brooch; a choker made by my sister; a copper dove; and a scarf from our 1965 trip to Europe.

We also had to have our hair done properly – my mother put bows in my hair, and later ribbons when I had braids.

And on Sundays I became the family’s shoe polisher – especially for my Dad – I made sure that our feet were as good looking as our hair. This I would do sitting on the top step of the basement stairs, using a shoe polishing kit. I polished my patent leather shoes in my room with spit.

We only went to the museums that had free admission. In fact, although the Metropolitan Museum of Art was probably my parents’ favorite museum, once the Met started charging “voluntary donations” in the early 1970s we stopped going  there. But by then I was finally old enough to go to the Frick Collection (which had an age limit of 10 years old) and that became a top favorite

St Francis in the Desert, Giovanni Bellini c1480, Betty Safran's favorite painting

One of my all time favorite paintings at the Frick Collection -St Francis in the Desert by Giovanni Bellini. The first time I saw it as a kid I loved it, and I looked forward to returning to see it again and again.

My sister and I grew up walking around museums looking at art. We were so well behaved that my parents were often complimented on our comportment by museum guards and other visitors.

Of course there must have been times that I got cranky and difficult too. But my only memories of these trips are happy ones.

Posing Old Testament Style 1961-1965

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, my Dad was doing cover portraits for Time Magazine in the early 1960s (to see some of his Time portraits from 1957 –1966 go to And while he was working for Time, my father was also painting other works on his own time for himself. Many of these depicted Old Testament stories. So for the first few years of my life I saw friends, family and neighbors posing in my father’s studio and coming to Biblical life on his easel.

Betty Safran, 1964, for religious work

Trying to pose c. 1964

From what I can gather from his records, Dad probably started working on the series in 1961. These paintings went into his first solo show held at the Fitzgerald Gallery, located on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, in 1965. (I’ll be writing more in another post about the show of ’65.)

Here I am trying my hardest to pose seriously for some dramatic scene, and typically I am controlling myself yet typically cannot pull it off – note the way my sweater is sort of tucked in, my fly is open and I am wearing fuzzy socks. At least I have a noble (if not long suffering) expression on my face…

There is a series of photographs from this session – I offer two more of the shots here – so you can see how this photo shoot progressed to the final impressive image of my sister, mother and I looking in awe at some miracle…

…In the second shot my back is turned to the viewer and my dignified sister has joined me…

…In the third and last image from the series my mother is included, and I am reduced to a blob of hair in the back – no embarrassing open fly; no goofy expression…

Bernard Safran religious work reference material Betty

Bernard Safran reference photo for religious work c 1964The final painting that went in the Fitzgerald Gallery show, uses this last image with my head blob – I guess I just didn’t command enough presence to make the cut.

My paternal Grandfather posing as King Saul was one of the earliest paintings completed in this series.

Pop (as my father called his father), posed with a broom handle that in the painting serves as his mighty staff, and with a satin turban on his head that my paternal Grandmother made when turbans were a fashionable item in the 1940s or 1950s. Tiny Mama (which is what we called my paternal Grandmother on account of her being tiny) knew how to make fancy hats – she’d been a milliner in the early 20th century when she was a young girl and teenager. (It looks too, like Pop’s wearing my maternal Grandmother’s fur collared coat.)

King Saul 1961

King Saul by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 1961, 18″ x 28″

Despite my joking about the painting, if you really take time to look at – it is magnificent – beautifully and sensitively painted; a striking portrait of my Grandfather (and possibly King Saul).

Using props was just what the Old Masters did too – in fact most realist artists use 3D references when constructing a complex painting, and many have used photography or similar technologies* to establish composition and reference material.

The Angel and Mom034

My mother Adele assisting an angel

Bernard Safran reference photo c1964, Jacob and bloodied coat of many colors

Sinister Bernie Safran has just given Jacob the bloodied coat of many colors

Lastly, I’ve included a couple of shots of neighbors (and my father) posing in the studio of our house.  I especially like the picture of my mother and the angel.

*Note: My father used photographs as a tool – not as a crutch. His technique was very slow and time consuming and no one was prepared to pose in his studio for weeks or months while a painting was being created. For those of you interested in the more technical aspects of his work – I will be writing about all these things in the future.