Imitating Life

An interview with local artist Paula Prager

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Paula Prager

Paula Prager is more than happy to show her art and tell you the stories and meanings behind her paintings, but the widow is more inclined to discuss the impact that her spouse had on her more than her personal point of view.

Her husband B’nai, who was also an artist, passed away a year and a half ago after the couple had been married for 30 years. Besides art, a significant and mutual interest in astrology seemed to form the foundation of their longtime relationship.

“He was a master astrologer,” Prager said. “And an artist and a writer. And we used to work with astrology all our married life.”

Prager, who is originally from western Philadelphia, met him in California after he had moved from his home state of Mississippi. In telling the couple’s story, Prager mentions how many, but not all, of her loved ones accepted the marriage– she was white and he was black.

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“Who Am I? What Am I? What is the Purpose of My Existence?” acrylic on canvas

“He was a black Southern man with an Eastern little Jewish broad, who got together and brought together two families. We really were the Brady Bunch,” Prager said. “He was an athlete. He was truly a Rennaisance man. He was extraordinarily handsome, till he died– till the day he died. I stayed with him till the very end. He passed of cancer very quickly. Took about two months. And then he was gone.”

Prager said the two met when he read her horoscope. Prager had expressed a desire
to change the way she had been painting, and a friend suggested she meet him.

“The first thing he said to me, when he looked at my birth date, was, ‘First of all, I’m wondering why you’re still alive, because you were very sick as a child, and you made it through,’” Prager said, confirming that his insight had indeed been correct. “And then– no one knew this, it just blew my mind– he said, ‘Your father is European, your mother is American.’ And I said, ‘How did you know that?’ And he said, ‘It’s here. It’s written all here.’ He would open an ephemeris, which has all the symbols that tell you where your planet placements are, and be able to interpret it.”

Prager explained that indeed her father was a Holocaust survivor who came to the United States on the Queen Mary, and he met her mother on American soil.

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“The Journey,” acrylic on canvas

Prager, who was already married at the time, said that the initial meeting between her and B’nai turned into weekly readings. He would read her horoscope, and she would give him a painting.

“So, we met for a while,” Prager said. “Then, around September 1981, he said, ‘You’re going to have a death in the family.’”

He explained that the following month, she would be doing “a lot of entertaining.” Prager did indeed have an art show opening on Oct. 1, and her birthday is in October.
Prager said the opening went well.

Then, later in the month, her then husband, Shelly, was planning a surprise birthday party for her. He called B’nai to invite him, and he accepted the invitation.
“On Oct. 28, my husband dropped dead at home of a massive coronary,” Prager said. “He was 38 years old.”

She said the first person she called was her rabbi, the second was her mother, and the third was B’nai, whom, she said, was waiting by the phone for her to call.

“This man was the most amazing man I’ve ever met…He got on the phone and said, ‘I know what happened. You don’t even have to tell me,’” Prager said. “And I ended up marrying him. I married my best friend. Who else can you marry, with someone who knows you intimately, without being intimate? So, I married him, against all odds of families ostracizing me, friends who disappeared, communities that looked at us askance because we’re mixed races. I just went on living my life, you know, and so did he. And we had a wonderful life. We had a fantastic life.”

Prager is dedicating her upcoming show to the man with whom she had that wonderful life– B’nai Faulkner. The Warehouse 1333, 1347 Redondo Ave., will host Prager’s work during an exhibit entitled Remembrance and More, from Saturday, Aug. 1 to Monday, Aug. 31, with an opening reception Sunday, Aug. 2 from 4pm to 7pm. Prager is donating a portion of the proceeds to Starr King Elementary, a Title I school. For more information, visit warehouse1333. com . ✦

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