I was privileged to be part of an intimate group invited to Kathy Ireland’s beautiful Montecito home for a party she hosted in honor of her dear friend, the artist Baret Boisson.
The two women met many years ago on the Caribbean island of St. Barts. “I was on vacation from my first year at Columbia University and Kathy was on one of her first modeling assignments,” says Baret. “Almost since the day we met we became best friends.”
Later, when Kathy went to New York to work as a model, Baret didn’t like her Hell’s Kitchen accommodations and insisted she stay with her instead. “Even though we’re from such completely different backgrounds, we have found so much in common,” says Kathy.
“She has been such an inspiration to me. I started painting when I was 30,” Baret says. “I had never picked up a paintbrush in my life and on my 40th birthday Kathy called me and she yelled at me. She said ‘you are being selfish.’ I was about to go in and take an exercise class on my birthday and I said, ‘What did I do?’ And she said, ‘You are not sharing your art with the world and you need to get out of your own way.’ She has been my greatest fan and my greatest support,” says Baret, who is godmother to Kathy’s three children: Erik, a recent graduate of Providence Hall, Lily, age 14, and Chloe, age 9.
Clearly a doting godmother, Baret donated a portion of the proceeds from the evening to the Providence Educational Foundation, an organization that supports both the Santa Barbara campus, a school in Haiti and similar innovative Christian education programs in other countries.
“When Kathy was so gracious to ask me to introduce my work to her friends and to the Santa Barbara community, I said ‘Well, I would like to do something as well for the community. The Providence education, the whole foundation has been so instrumental in my godchildren’s education. … I am up here every weekend. I don’t have children of my own, so in a way they are my children and they are so well-rounded, they are so great, and some of that is the education at Providence Hall.”
Ireland and her husband, Dr. Greg Olsen, were part of a small group of parents who founded Providence Hall approximately eight years ago (the school has been operational for six years). Baret says, “She was a little scared. She didn’t want her kids to be spoiled. She said, ‘If I send them to a public school in Montecito, it’s worse than sending them to a private school.’ You know, and I see that in these children, they are so well-grounded.”
“It’s an amazing education,” says Kathy. “Providence Hall is a pilot program. You have to start somewhere when you’re building something and the vision is that … I think a lot of people, they think Christian education is kind of less than or where you send kids if they’ve been misbehaving, but we say just the opposite, it’s got to be extraordinary. It welcomes children of every faith and serves children of every faith and the academics are amazing. I mean, just to experience what the kids are learning and the greater vision is that is has no limits, it would go to the ends of the earth.”
She continues, “Providence Hall is in its 6th year … it’s just been amazing and the product is phenomenal. So once that is fully established with the endowment then more of the funds will be dispersed to other schools. In the meantime, we are sharing information, learning from one another and also giving support to those schools.”
About 80% of the students receive tuition assistance, says David O’Neil, head of school. “And the average independent school is probably 9-10%. We really want to be, as Kathy said, a school for our community and we want to reflect our community. We really started a school not for those just in one pocket, but really in Santa Barbara, we want to come and give you an education that we’re going to say is of the highest quality and in some sense, that’s a more liberal experience in that we have the best of the last 2,500 years of what men and women have been talking about, plus bringing in all of the Christian faith. So we look at more material than probably any other school in the city.”
Not to mention, says Kathy, “100% of the students were accepted to the university or college of their dreams that they wanted to go to—so that was really exciting.” Obviously a big fan of both the Providence educational model and her friend’s talents, Kathy was clearly thrilled to be able to sing the praises of both and bring them together for this event.
“Baret’s work is genius and we have her work all throughout our home and it’s happy. My favorite of all of the pieces that Baret painted is in the living room. It’s my mom and dad and it was their wedding picture. For their 50th anniversary a couple of years ago we redid their wedding here in the yard and so Baret painted that. She did Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, they didn’t last as long as my parents but she painted their wedding painting,” says Kathy.
A commissioned portrait of the late Elizabeth Taylor, Kathy’s dear friend and mentor, sits prominently in the Ireland/Olsen house. Media icons Sumner Redstone and Tom Freston and their wives have also commissioned paintings by Baret.
More recently, “Somebody gave Jimmy Fallon an engagement present of one of Baret’s paintings and he loved it so much that for his wedding registry all he wanted were Baret Boisson works of art, and he got them. Then when Drew Barrymore got married down the street, Jimmy and wife, their gift to her and her husband was a gorgeous painting. … It was their favorite wedding gift,” says Kathy.
In addition, much of Baret’s art highlights historical figures that she admires. “Her work is a wonderful thing. There’s great history with Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., some great historic stuff, she’s a historian and an artist so there’s a lot to learn,” Kathy says.
Indeed, Baret’s work has a charming folk-art style that feels timeless but also very fresh. The crowd clearly responded well—not only were many of the paintings on display sold, but a hand-painted doll with the likeness of Baret on one side and Kathy on the other also went for $3,000, all of which was donated to the Providence Education Foundation. The winning bidder also received a lunch with these two talented women. (Editor’s Note: We just received word that an additional bidder came up with another $3,000 for another doll, so $6,000 was raised in all, just from the dolls.)
“I am self-taught, so I don’t have all the perspectives right and of course since then I’ve stayed away from school because I want to keep it,” Baret says. “I think what people really respond to is not only the colors and the message, but the universal messages that people can relate to like friendship and love. But also that it’s not perfect, you know that it feels kind of authentic in this world that’s so tech-oriented and hard and fast, it’s something to kind of just ponder and enjoy.”
Click here to go to Baret’s website and “ponder and enjoy” her work for yourself.