Portraits of ‘Mischief Makers’ by Joan Baez donated to Sonoma State University

JOAN BAEZ / f Seager Gray Gallery In her first solo painting exhibition, Joan Baez celebrates the “Mischief Makers" - portraits of people who have brought about social change through nonviolent action - the risk-taking visionaries. The cast of characters, most of whom Baez has known personally, include Martin Luther King, Jr., Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Czech Velvet Revolution leader Vaclav Havel, Malala Yousafzai, Bob Dylan, Congressman John Lewis, farm worker heroine Dolores Huerta, folk legend and activist Harry Belafonte, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, spiritual leader Ram Dass, the Dalai Lama, Bread and Roses founder Mimi Fariña, civil rights leader Reverend William Barber (shown here), Vietnam draft resistance leader and author David Harris, and native American medicine woman and activist Marilyn Youngbird. She also includes a portrait of herself as a author David Harris, and native American medicine woman and activist Marilyn Youngbird. She also includes a portrait of herself as a young woman and one of a young monk inspired by a portrait she saw during a trip to Vietnam.


Mischief isn’t always welcome on a university campus, but this week Sonoma State University couldn’t be happier about it

A collection of 14 colorful portraits called “Mischief Makers,” painted by singer and activist Joan Baez, was donated to the school with funds from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

The paintings, a series of pictures of modern-day human rights crusaders, will be displayed in a second-floor gallery at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall starting later this month, and eventually may be displayed permanently at an envisioned new social justice learning center on campus.

The Graton Rancheria tribe, which owns the Graton Casino in Rohnert Park, recently paid a little over $270,000 for the purchase and moving of the paintings, said Greg Sarris, tribal chairman and Sonoma State University professor.

“If it had been an art collector who wanted to buy the whole lot, I wouldn’t have sold it,” Baez said by phone from her home in Woodside. “It’s casino money, and it’s being used to make this gift to a social justice center. It really couldn’t be any better, plus I didn’t have to work to sell anything.”

Baez and Sarris had met and become friends through a mutual friend — Native American healer, lecturer and teacher Marilyn Youngbird — whose portrait is included in the “Mischief Makers” series by Baez.

“The Graton Rancheria mission has been social justice and environmental stewardship from day one,” Sarris said, “and Joan Baez has been an inspiration to us all.”

Other paintings in the series include portraits of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Dolores Huerta and John Lewis, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafazi, singer-activists Harry Belafonte and Bob Dylan, and spiritual leaders Ram Dass and the Dalai Lama.

The paintings were shown in a public exhibit last month at the Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley. Three of the works, including a self-portrait by Baez, were sold before the Graton Rancheria-SSU purchase and not included in the 14 works received by SSU.

“So I am painting a new self-portrait as a gift,” Baez said.

The idea of a new social justice learning center on campus already had been discussed by Sarris of the Graton Rancheria tribe and Judy Sakaki, Sonoma State University president.

“It’s an idea,” Sakaki said. “The social justice learning center is a vision right now. It’s part of respecting all people and their diversity. And the storytelling in these paintings helps people connect to the issues.”

Baez, 76, said she began painting with acrylics, at her home studio about six years ago. Working from photographs of people she admired, she gradually cut back her concert touring.

“Next year is really going to be the last year of formal touring I’ve done for the past half a century, getting on a bus and going out for six weeks. It’ll mean that if I want to sing at a benefit or go to a festival, I’ll still have the choice to do that,” she said.

The Baez paintings will be unveiled Oct. 26 during a private fundraising event for the university, with Baez attending. Tickets are priced at $300.

There will be public showings of the portraits from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 28 and from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 2.

The paintings also will be available for viewing during performances at Weill Hall through Nov. 13.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or On Twitter @danarts.