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Counterculture Meets Mall Culture for Grace Slick

Grace Slick, of psychedelic rock fame, at the Wentworth Gallery with Mad Hatter-attired fan John Jacobs and her White Rabbit artwork.
Grace Slick, of psychedelic rock fame, at the Wentworth Gallery with Mad Hatter-attired fan John Jacobs and her White Rabbit artwork. (Photos By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

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Back in 1970, Grace Slick came to Washington for a very different purpose: a White House reception hosted by Tricia Nixon. The event's organizers weren't aware that her song "Mexico" was a scathing critique of President Richard Nixon's anti-drug policy. Nonetheless, she was denied entrance because she'd brought along Abbie Hoffman, whose name was synonymous with radical. Slick said afterward she would have spiked Nixon's tea with LSD if she'd gotten in.

She was a hero of her generation for such bold provocations. And at Wentworth Gallery on Thursday night they want to hear about her glory days, tidbits about the Summer of Love and Woodstock, her ex-husbands (Jerry Slick and Skip Johnson), and daughter China's father, Paul Kantner. And to share their own memories.

"I saw you in March 1970 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia," management consultant Jamison Hawkins of Alexandria tells her. "It was my first case of rock-and-roll ecstasy."

"I saw you the first time in Atlantic City," chimes in retired accountant Tom Wilson of Arlington. Like others, he is carrying the Airplane's 1967 vinyl LP, "Surrealistic Pillow," hoping for Slick's autograph. (But this isn't an autograph-signing op, unless you purchase art. Sorry.)

Slick doesn't sing anymore, but her songs are still heard on classic rock radio stations. "I'm not a genius, but I don't suck" at songwriting, she says. "White Rabbit" is her most commercially popular song -- and royalties still roll in, which, combined with art sales, is enough to sustain her in a stucco-and-tile house on two acres in Malibu, Calif. She describes the song as "a slap to parents." Very loosely based on Lewis Carroll's works, it's all about drugs.

The White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, hookah-smoking caterpillar and other Carroll characters inhabit many of Slick's artworks. As the gallery music gets louder -- all Grace Slick hits, all night -- people come, see, and some buy. Red dots appear on the corner of sold works.

Slick's art includes acrylics, sketches and scratchboard; they range from $1,200 to $19,000. Art critics have panned her work. In 2000, the Wall Street Journal's David Littlejohn said of Slick's art posted on a Web site, "They're terrible." Slick says she took one art class at the University of Miami (but adds that she went there to party and to date football players).

She creates about 120 pieces a year. And judging from the Pentagon City event, people like what she does.

"I was a member of the psychedelic substance crowd," says John Jacobs, 66, an Arlington artist and writer who buys "Hooka Smoking Caterpillar" for $1,495. He's wearing wore red corduroy trousers, a turquoise paisley jacket and a multicolored top hat. With a psychotherapist, "I had three sessions with LSD," he explains.

The Clements family of Fairfax -- Don and Sara, with daughter Haley, 10 -- buy the print "White Rabbit Remembering the Good Old Days," a giclee (a high-resolution reproduction of the original, produced from digital scans) for $1,525. It will hang in their living room. "I've been a big fan of Grace Slick," Don Clements says.

While autographing their purchase, Slick explains that her father, an investment banker, wore only three-piece suits. "I made that bunny look like my father."

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