Kim Novak's pastel artwork, “The Magic of Music,” depicts animals gathered around a dancing tree as a boy plays a flute.

Actress Kim Novak designs Britt poster

The world knows Kim Novak as an actor, not an artist. But before Hollywood plunked her down in roles opposite William Holden, Frank Sinatra and James Stewart, Novak studied at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago.

So maybe it's not totally surprising that a movie star is the creator of this year's Britt Festivals' fine arts poster. Novak's pastel artwork, "The Magic of Music," was unveiled Thursday evening on the Britt grounds in Jacksonville. The work depicts a group of animals gathered around a dancing tree as a boy plays a flute.

"It's a fantasy," Novak says.

The actress, who says she attends three or four Britt concerts each summer, says that rather than buy a reserved seat she often takes a blanket and lies back on the ground and closes her eyes to listen to the music, especially at Britt's classical festival with conductor Peter Bay.

"It allows your mind to go into dreamland," she says.

In such a state she often finds herself wondering what nearby woodland creatures make of the music rolling out over the hills on summer evenings.

"I can't imagine how they cannot react," she says.

In "The Magic of Music," the nearest figure to the viewer is a frog.

"I think he's a magic frog," Novak says. "I have frogs everywhere in my house. I adore frogs."

She says the magical amphibian reminds her of her mentor, Harley Brown, an Arizona art teacher who also plays classical piano.

"Sometimes Peter is conducting, and I'll 'see' Harley down in an orchestra pit playing the piano," she says.

In one such vision, the orchestra was playing Bernard Herrmann's powerful theme from Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," which starred Novak and Stewart. In the fantasy, the tree around which the animals gathered expressed the spirit of a woman. If you look closely at the poster, the woman/tree is dancing a dance very much like the one Novak does in "Picnic" with William Holden.

A bird directing the musicians is based on Bay. Other animals embody the spirits of other friends.

Like Walt Disney and J.R.R. Tolkien, Novak is fascinated by trees that look like people.

She's painted many such trees and talks of doing an entire series in either oils or watercolors.

Novak grew up in Chicago, studied at the institute and modeled briefly in Los Angeles before being discovered at age 20 by Paramount Pictures.

The next year she was cast as Madge Owens in "Picnic," for which she won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer.

Two years later came "Vertigo." She fled Hollywood in the 1960s but returned often for films from the 1970s into the '90s.

These days she lives with her veterinarian husband on a rural Jackson County property where the couple raise llamas and horses, three of which are named Poet, Lionel and Hunka Hunka. She sees several plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival each year.

"I lived in Carmel (Calif.) for years," she says. "It didn't have nearly the fine arts we have here."

She always wanted animals as a little girl but didn't have any. Acting was the last thing on her mind.

"Sometimes it's hard to believe I lived that life," she says. "It almost seems like it didn't happen to me."

"I'm kind of a farm girl. It was as if I played dress-up and got to play these characters. I've made peace with that other me. I enjoy looking back."

She says Hitchcock was tough but sensitive. He was so intense about the timing of certain scenes that he'd have the actor rehearse with a metronome to get the exact rhythm he wanted.

"But he never messed with your mind," she says. "He never interrupted your interpretation."

She says Stewart was just what he seemed to be on screen.

"The most incredible, gentle, kind man, the most wonderful man."

Sinatra could be difficult.

"You never knew," she says. "His moods changed. He could be the nicest, kindest human being, but he was moody.

"On 'Pal Joey' he was ornery. But so much of it had to do with the character he was playing. You get into the character."

Novak says her approach to acting was to steer clear of emoting and go for her true feelings.

"What I believed in was being real," she says. "The genuine thing."

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at

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