Faridi McFree was an artist, therapist, and self-proclaimed healer who provided various services for the Dylan family in the mid-1970s. According to her personal files, included among those duties was teaching art to the Dylan children. After Bob’s divorce from Sara was finalized in 1977, and Faridi separated from her husband of sixteen years, Faridi moved in with Bob on his farm in Minnesota. The love affair ended later that same year. Faridi’s recently discovered artwork includes many Dylan portraits, and added affirmations and thoughts concerning the love affair permeate her work. The following is an interview with Phil Nohl, owner of the McFree collection; items purchased at two abandoned storage locker auctions.
Q. How did your interest in Faridi McFree begin and how did you come across her storage lockers in auction?
A. I’ve been collecting amateur Home Movies for about ten years and spotted a collection on eBay consisting of fifty-two reels of 8mm. I normally don’t buy a lot of 8mm, but the word “Woodstock” was handwritten on several of the boxes and that piqued my interest. The dates on the boxes pre-dated the 1969 Woodstock Festival, so I was hoping to see shots of a town well known for being an artist community. After receiving and viewing several of the films, I contacted the seller to find out if he had any additional information on the husband and wife seen in the films. On the boxes their name was listed as Hanft, but I was coming up empty searching for hits on the internet. He wrote back and told me to search the name Faridi McFree. Apparently, the seller knew who the films belonged to, but didn’t think it was important enough to add to the auction description. Lucky for me he didn’t. I won the films at a bargain price and soon found out he had other material from that same storage unit. I purchased everything he had. Those items, from a locker in California, included a 1974 sketch book containing over fifty pencil drawings, a 1975 “Dream Journal,” several other journals, and a handful of address/phone books. I don’t know who rented that locker, but it must have been either Faridi or her husband, Michael. And here’s the strange coincidental part of the story. One week after hearing the name Faridi McFree for the very first time, I spotted a different eBay seller from New Jersey auctioning off six pieces of original art by Faridi McFree. Lucky for me I had bought the films, otherwise I would have had no interest in the artwork. Those items had also come from a storage locker and the two sellers were unrelated to one another. After winning that auction, I found out the seller had a huge quantity of additional McFree material. I purchased everything they had. This included hundreds of pieces of original art, journals and diaries, and thousands of files and personal documents. The majority of these items date from the mid-1970s to around 1990. I believe this locker had belonged to Fardi McFree.
Q. Has she any pictures of Bob Dylan in the collection of artwork?
A. There are at least twenty-five pieces of McFree’s framed art pertaining to Dylan. This includes recognizable portraiture, more abstract renderings, and artwork that references McFree’s relationship with Dylan. About a dozen pieces of art posted on my website involve Dylan. Look for the ARTWORK tab on the CONTENTS page. Dylan clues include: a flat hat, the word Renaldo, a rendering of a harmonica around the neck as in the piece titled I am a Charmer, the phrase “Love is Healing,” or references to a relationship being flexible. Then there are pieces of journal art involving Dylan, and there are many. Several of those are posted on the website. Look for the JOURNAL/DIARY tab on the CONTENTS page. Shortly after the break-up, Faridi was infuriated with Dylan and her artwork and prose speak volumes. I decided not to post any of that material on the website. The site address is:www.ThePlaydium.com
Q. Are there any letters from Bob?
A. Sorry to say there are no letters from Bob. There are various odds and ends including a contract to build a tennis court on his property in Malibu and drawings Faridi made which appear to be of the inside of that home. In her resume she claims to have done some interior design work for that property, so that would be my guess. In a piece of art from 1973, Faridi includes the words “Woodstock, Malibu and Love” along with her drawing – even though she was living in Santa Monica at the time. Dylan moved to Malibu in 1973. I’m just saying…
Also posted on the website is a journal entry concerning another one of Faridi’s design/refurbishing projects; a barn on the property of Levon Helm. I believe this to be the now famous Midnight Ramble barn. Faridi recalls sitting with Levon on the living room floor of her home in Bearsville and discussing the renovation of that structure. I contacted Sandy Helm through the current director of the Midnight Ramble studio to see if I could verify this information, but never got a response. Sandy first met Levon in 1975, and Faridi worked on the barn back in the 1960s, so I’ll assume she simply didn’t know what sort of work Faridi might have done on the place.
Q. You hope to get an exhibition for Faridi’s work, how is that going?
A. So far I’ve submitted proposals to six galleries. All six have turned down a Faridi exhibit. I promised myself at the beginning of this project I wasn’t going to burn any bridges, so I’m going to say this as politely as possible, but when the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum turned down an exhibit I was appalled. This is the first paragraph in their published Mission Statement:
“Since its beginnings in 1919, the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum has been committed to exhibiting and collecting work in all media by area artists and supporting the tradition of Woodstock as the “Colony of the Arts.”
Faridi not only lived in that community for over a decade, she was a member of the Woodstock Artists Association. I strongly believe that in this case, politics was not on the side of Faridi. Dylan was also a member of that community and a show featuring the works of an ex-girlfriend would probably be frowned upon by many in that clique. Although the Executive Director of the WAAM, Josephine Bloodgood, called Faridi “An amazing woman. A true visionary,” she rejected the show by saying “It wouldn’t be a good fit.” I honestly felt incredibly sad for Faridi. I’m sure she would have loved to have seen her work hang in that gallery.
Likewise, a gallery in Santa Monica rejected the show by never even responding to a proposal or two of my emails. Without understanding the scope of the McFree collection, it would be easy to conclude a showing of her work might be nothing more than kiss-and-tell, but that would be an unfortunate and mistaken assumption. Whatever you may think of Faridi personally, she was at the heart of the Rolling Thunder storm in the mid-1970s and her insights into Dylan seen through her art reveal quite a lot about the man. After all, she must have had a good reason for painting a gold crown on his head.
It is also important to understand that art is subjective. One gallery labeled Faridi’s work as “child-like.” For me, that label fits many of the most celebrated pieces of art known to man – and it is not necessarily a bad label. For instance, consider The Scream by Edvard Munch. In my opinion, child-like is the perfect description. So be sure to check out the piece of art on the website with the accompanying quote by Picasso. That piece represents the very definition of child-like and it was intentionally created for that purpose. In my opinion, it is a great piece of art – and most likely a Faridi self portrait
Q.Have you had any contact with Dylan?
A.I have had no contact with either Bob Dylan or any of his people, nor do I expect any contact. I did, however, work a Dylan show at Montage Mountainin Scranton, Pennsylvania, on July 25, 2000. I was the only videographer allowed to shoot his performance for big screen projection. Imagine trying to capture an entire Dylan concert by yourself. My camera was broadcast live for nearly two hours. It was one of the most thrilling days of my life. In Dylan’s realm, that particular concert was no doubt an insignificant event. The only reason he might remember me is that when his band was running through their sound check, I was in the pit setting up a second camera to be used for the follow-up act: Phil Lesh and Friends. Dylan was behind the soundboard and was not at all pleased a cameraman was dicking around on his clock. I later got a tongue lashing from one of his subordinates. It was, quite truthfully, something I rather enjoyed.
Besides my albeit small connection to Dylan, here’s another coincidence. Faridi’s art and philosophy was heavily influenced by the the blossoming New Age and Transcendental movements in California in the early 1970s. Starting in 1987, I worked four years at Narada, a major New Age music label out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I never took the New Age movement seriously, in fact, I published an underground company newsletter lampooning the subject. Yet here I am, over twenty years later, championing someone whose world revolved around those philosophies. Talk about Karma biting me in the ass.
Q. Did you know that according to Expecting Rain that Bob wrote a lot of Street Legal when he was with her in July and August of 1977?
A. Yes. Much of Street Legal was written while Faridi and Dylan were together on his farm. I haven’t taken the time, nor am I sure there is anything to uncover, but I’d be curious to see if Faridi influenced any of Dylan’s material starting in 1975. That’s when she ran into him at Jonathan Taplan’s wedding. Faridi was a fireball who had already entertained such celebrities as: Danny Thomas, Joan Crawford, Jackie Cooper, Merv Griffin, George Harrison, and even Al Grossman (Dylan’s manager). I imagine the attraction at that wedding was mutual.
More pics of Faridi McFree are on the forum, link at the top right.