For the last nine decades, Joyce Livingston lived a free life. A painter, photographer, writer and adventurer who continued to create captivating works of art until she passed away last week at age 91, Joyce filled her small Inverness home with relics, artifacts and arcana collected from her frequent expeditions to South American jungles. Hundreds of paintings were hung and stacked along her colorful walls. She was an unconventional but loving mother and matriarch, and everyone who knew her agrees that she was truly a remarkable woman.
“Joyce was superbly independent: although she lived for decades with a surprisingly small income, she managed to travel to beautiful and interesting places,” wrote her son Dewey.
Joyce was born on March 11, 1919 to George and Mary Scott. George worked as a machinist in a foundry, living a comfortable life in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. Even during the Great Depression, he never wanted for work, and he later prospered when he and a friend opened a box factory to serve the military in the Second World War.
Joyce loved her parents, but was unsatisfied by life in suburbia. She was fascinated by Portland’s emerging beat culture, and convinced her parents to let her join a drawing group. Joyce was the youngest person in the group and quickly made friends and like-minded collaborators.
After she graduated from high school, Joyce got a job assisting a professional photographer. She spent hours in the dark room learning photographic chemistry. She was especially talented at hand-coloring photographs, a popular technique before the advent of accessible color film. Joyce took great care in applying paint to photographic prints, expertly creating the illusion of skin color and tone. “It was her first taste of freedom,” Dewey said. “She seemed to have this desire to break out. She was a teenager and she was hanging out with artists who were in their 20s and 30s and 40s.”
Joyce moved to Eugene to study art and architecture at the University of Oregon soon after. Many young men had shipped off to Europe, which provided more college opportunities for women. She worked as a photographer and in shipyards during the summer to aid the war effort.
While waiting tables at the Paradise Lodge on Mt. Rainier, Joyce met a young army trooper named David Livingston, who was training in a ski-mounted squadron that would later fight Nazis in the Alps. The waitresses loved to flirt with the troopers, and Joyce was stunningly beautiful. “Very similar to my daughter here,” Dewey said, smiling at his daughter Molly.
Joyce and David dated for two years before David was injured skiing and discharged from the military—which was lucky, as the ski troopers turned out to be a decidedly ill-conceived enterprise. David took a job at a Sausalito insurance firm Marsh & McLennen and Joyce pledged to join him after she finished college.
In the summer of 1944, Joyce and her university friends Nancy and Kitty decided to ride their one-speed bicycles down the two-lane Highway 101 to San Francisco. Their friend Champ joined them for the first leg of their journey, but the young ladies soon left him in the dust. “They jettisoned him pretty quick,” Dewey said. “He just didn’t cut it, I guess.”
The first day both of Joyce’s worn tires blew out. They repaired the bike and continued through the grueling Grants Pass, making it to Crescent City after only four days. “We were hungry for clam chowder, since we were going to be at the beach,” Joyce later said. She was disappointed to receive tepid Campbell’s clam chowder instead.
Most of the truck drivers, locals and fellow travelers Joyce met were friendly, although once a bleached-blond woman sneered at them, “Oh, tramping on bikes are you?”
The girls slept by the side of the freeway and ate from bags stored in the front baskets of their bicycles. “Having the most stupendous time ever!” Joyce wrote to her parents. The trio enjoyed sunny weather and were mostly alone on the freeway, save a few passing truckers. One day, after a 50-mile stretch, the girls finally reached the redwood forests and collapsed on a sandy riverbank under towering trees. “We made a great team,” Joyce remembered. “We had a lot of fun, we danced on a lot of hilltops and did a lot of silly things.”
When the friends parted ways, Joyce joined David in Sausalito. The couple married, and Joyce gave birth to Eleanor in 1945. Even as she bore three more children, and uprooted her family when David found a more lucrative job in Pasadena, Joyce did not abandon her art. She continued her studies in Pasadena and Los Angeles and became an accomplished painter. The family preferred living in the Bay Area, but David was tied to his job. “He said, ‘I’ll go to LA if it’s only for three years,’ but he kept getting advances,” Dewey said.
The role of housewife was too similar to Joyce’s childhood upbringing. She was uncomfortable living in a stilted marriage, and had no interest in hosting parties for insurance executives or entertaining business acquaintances. She divorced David in 1971. “She was much more interested in pursuing her art than in being a proper business wife,” Dewey said. “She just blossomed.”
Joyce became a masterful print-maker and made wonderful works of art with pastel, watercolor, collage and assemblage. She was interested in Mayan culture and began traveling around the American southwest. She became a professional archaeological sketcher, and went on expeditions to the Yucatan and Honduras.
Joyce’s art turned to watercolors of jungles and ancient ruins. She painted Chaco Canyon and the rugged mountains of New Mexico. She turned to writing poetry and prose. In the 1980s she traveled the country tracking down distant family members to collect oral histories and character sketches. She went to Colfax, Washington to visit the simple two-story Victorian house where she was born.
“She never had much money,” Dewey said. “It was always a matter of finding a way to keep traveling.”
In 1987 Joyce moved to Inverness, where she continued her studies at College of Marin. Her archaeological expeditions decreased, but Joyce loved camping and hiking the Yosemite high country, Mt. Tamalpais and the Point Reyes beaches.
Her house, small and inauspicious on the outside, was a living museum of Joyce’s life. “She transformed that dull house into a place of beauty,” Dewey said. “Everything to her had an aesthetic. She changed things, you’d go in and everything was different from the last time. It was organized clutter.”
As Joyce’s eyesight diminished, her artwork grew smaller. In the end, Joyce made colorful arrangements and geometric shapes from magazine and construction paper clippings. “She could not be stopped,” Dewey wrote. “She never lost her passion and had plans for more work to the end. We will miss her.”
Joyce is survived by her brother Corky; daughter, Eleanor; sons David, Marshall and Dewey; grandchildren David, Dylan, Robin, Ethan Walker, Nathaniel, Molly and Ben; great-grandchildren Harrisen, Elizabeth, Marilyn; and numerous nieces and nephews. Memorial donations can be made to: Inverness Garden Club Scholarship Fund, PO Box 724, Inverness CA 94937; and/or Stockstill House, c/o West Marin Senior Services, PO Box 721, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956 (please write “Joyce Livingston” on checks).