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Artists hope to meet Oprah to donate works

Artists hope to meet Oprah to donate works

TV host giving commencement speech Saturday at Skidmore
Artists hope to meet Oprah to donate works
Artist Raj Kahn of Saratoga Springs next to her 2006 painting of Oprah Winfrey.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

Raj Kahn and Susan B. Hale never crave the spotlight. But for an opportunity to meet Oprah Winfrey, the artists are happy to leave their comfort zone.

Kahn, who moved to Saratoga Springs nearly two years ago from California, hopes to present Winfrey — the commencement speaker for Skidmore College's Saturday graduation ceremony -- with a portrait she painted of the TV talk show host and actress back in 2006.

Hale, meanwhile, who grew up in Scotia and continues to live in the Schenectady area, would love to donate a box full of copies of the children's book she wrote back in 1998, "Follow Your Dreams," to the school created by Winfrey in 2007 — the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Skidmore College hasn't promised the women anything, but they are hopeful of getting a brief audience with Winfrey.

"I didn't really watch a lot of TV, but when I heard that Oprah had decided to open a school in Johannesburg for those unfortunate people who couldn't afford to go, a specialty school for girls, well, that's something I do have a soft corner for," said Kahn, a native of India who moved to the U.S. nearly four decades ago. "Coming from India, I knew there were a lot of people who couldn't go to school because of the social setup and poverty. That really impressed me."

That same night, said Kahn, she had a dream about Winfrey.

"She was wearing a red saree, and the next morning she was still on my mind," remembered Kahn. "I thought, 'I should do a painting of her.' So I painted her in a red saree as an Indian mother goddess.In one hand she's holding a book that says 'Shakti,' the Indian word for power, and in the other hand she has two gold coins, and that means knowledge is power. Everybody said how Oprah should see it, but that didn't happen and you just go ahead with your life. Then I heard Oprah is coming to Saratoga."

Kahn was born in Punjab, India, and began painting at the age of 5. In the eighth grade, one of her paintings won a nationwide competition. Her academic path, however, never reflected her love for art, as she concentrated on the fields of psychology and philosophy before finally finishing her education with a master's degree in English literature.

"After that, I came to this country and got married to my wonderful husband, and we had our wonderful children," she said. "You get busy, and time goes on. We are semi-retired, so I decided to carry on with my art work. My son had a business here, and he wanted us to move to Saratoga Springs for a while. He told me, 'Momma, this is a town of artists. You will love it here.' So we moved."

Susan B. Hale. (Provided)

Hale, meanwhile, is a classically trained organist who went to Wheaton College in Illinois. As accomplished as she is on the organ and piano — a friend has asked her to accompany her at Carnegie Hall in New York City in October — she is also a talented oil painter. And in 1998, she wrote and illustrated "Follow Your Dreams," a story about a young pig named Pickles who is dominated by her four older siblings. 

"I've always admired what Oprah has done with her life," said Hale, who is a descendant of Edward Everett Hale Sr., a popular Unitarian minister from the 19th century and the author of "The Man Without a Country."

"I've always wanted to donate a box of my books to her school, because the book is about dreaming and people who are struggling to be heard. It's about following your dreams."

A series of events will take place on the Skidmore campus Friday before the actual commencement exercise begins — at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday — at SPAC.

"Ms. Winfrey is not expected to be available for press or public meetings during Commencement," said Diane O'Connor, director of campus and media relations for Skidmore, in a statement to the press. "Her representatives have told us that she would like the focus of the commencement to remain on Skidmore's graduates and their incredible accomplishments."

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