The Carmel Pine Cone – Her Inner and Outer Worlds Collide in Big, Colorful Bursts

The Carmel Pine Cone – Her Inner and Outer Worlds Collide in Big, Colorful Bursts

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld – The Carmel Pine Cone
Article and Photo by DENNIS TAYLOR

Her Inner and Outer Worlds Collide in Big, Colorful Bursts

THE LADY on the mountaintop is a philosopher, a spiritual seeker, a dancer, an artist, an author, and a poet. Carolyn Mary Kleefeld could be the muse for a romantic poet, herself.

Her home, deep in the Big Sur forest, is only steps from a majestic cliff that towers over Pfeiffer Point, with a panoramic view that hardly seems real.

The interior of her house is dark and silent, the epitome of solitude, but every wall is adorned with enormous explosions of color — works of acrylic, ink, gouache and mixed media on canvas or board. Some are 5-by-6 feet. Many were painted in minutes.

“I’m a Taoist, so I love to do things really fast, without thinking about it — no conceptualizing … just being drawn to color,” said Kleefeld, who also has done romantic, figurative work. “I did one yesterday in three minutes … well, maybe five ..and it’s just perfect. I do very well when it’s spontaneous.… and it’s just perfect. I do very well when it’s spontaneous.

Six Pushcart Prize Nominations

“Most of what I’ve done in my life has been instinctive and intuitive,” said Kleefeld, who has authored 25 books of poetry and prose — writings that have been translated into Korean, Romanian, Japanese, Italian, Sicilian, Chinese, Arabic, Bengali, Greek, Persian and Bulgarian. Some became texts in university classrooms. Between 2008 and 2014, she was nominated six times for the Pushcart Prize, which honors “the best in poetry, short fiction, essays, or literary whatnot.”

Her first book, “Climates of the Mind,” published in 1979, was a bestseller (rare for poetry) that was translated into Braille by the Library of Congress.

Another bestseller, “The Divine Kiss: An Exhibit of Paintings and Poems” (2014), was inspired by David Campagna, the love of her life, whom she married on Valentine’s Day 2017. He died 20 days after their wedding, ending his three-year battle with esophageal cancer.

“Marrying David was absolutely the high point of my life, even though we knew he was going to die,” she said of Campagna, who had worked as a Hollywood actor, and also a frequent stand-in and stuntman for Christopher Walken. “We had something so rare, so perfect, and the way he dealt with his illness was one of the most heroic and magnificent gestures imaginable.”

Yet another Kleefeld bestseller, “Immortal Seeds: Bearing Gold From the Abyss,” was published in 2022, but also was written during the final two years of Campagna’s life, during which she commuted weekly from her Big Sur home to live with him in an L.A. hotel while he was enduring chemotherapy.

“David had a hilarious sense of humor and constantly used it to cheer up everyone around him when he was getting those treatments. He dragged himself across the room one day, strapped to all of those chemicals, to meet Leonard Cohen and give him a copy of ‘The Divine Kiss,” Kleefeld said of the celebrated singer-song-writer who died of leukemia in November 2016. “Leonard took the book with him, and later he said, ‘I hope you know how she feels about you and that you inspired this book.'”

Escaping the Nazis

Kleefeld was born in Catford, South London, England, the youngest daughter of Amelia and Mark Taper, who helped smuggle hundreds of Catholic and Jewish children out of Nazi Germany during World War II, then brought their family to America.

Her mother did freelance illustrations for Vogue and her father was a real estate investor, builder, and philanthropist in Southern California.

Kleefeld wrote and illustrated her first book at age 9 after observing a cluster of dust particles dancing in a ray of sunlight coming through her bedroom window.

“I created another universe, with an imaginary family, then drew pictures of all the characters,” she remembered of the book she called “The Nanose.”

“That book turned out to be psychologically revealing,” said Kleefeld, who would study psychology at UCLA. “It showed the disconnection I had with my own family – that my dad wasn’t really there for us on a psychological or emotional level.”

At age 5, she already was taking ballet at Santa Monica’s Toland School of Dance when a visiting instructor from the Bolshoi Ballet tried to convince her mother to send Carolyn, her youngest child, to its elite academy in Russia. “I was the youngest of three children in our family, and, of course, there was no way she was going to allow me to go to Russia by myself,” Kleefeld said.

By the time she was 13, she was enamored with French writer Guy de Maupassant and began writing short stories of her own. At 15, her well-to-do family moved to Beverly Hills, where Carolyn never felt comfortable, but found success as a model and explored acting.

A Hollywood husband

Her first husband, Travis Kleefeld – known professionally as Tony Travis – was an actor whose credits included roles in “77 Sunset Strip” and “Perry Mason,” among others, along with a feature film called “The Beat-niks.” He was a talented singer, discovered by Dinah Shore, who helped him cut several albums.

Their marriage produced two daughters, Carla and Claudia, but ended after 9 1/2 years, and Carolyn Kleefeld moved to Malibu, where she thrived in a meditative environment among a creative community of free thinkers. That’s where she began writing “Climates of the Mind.”

Shortly after completing the book, she made a visit to Esalen Institute, took a workshop on “rebirth,” and fell in love with Big Sur.

“That was in 1980, around Christmastime, and I liked it so much that I decided I had to stay for a while,” she said. “And I never left.”

Over the years, Kleefeld’s circle of friends has included Timothy Leary, who spent time at her house, Rod Steiger (whom she dated in Malibu), Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck (“The Longest Day,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and many others), self-help guru Wayne Dyer, poet Allen Ginsberg, psychoanalyst John Lilly and musician/author/ psychotherapist/lecturer Laura Huxley. “Laura was my best friend,” she said of Huxley, who died in 2007.

“I’ve known a lot of interesting people,” she said. “I never sought them out – it just happened.”

Since moving to her mountaintop more than four decades ago, creating art has been Kleefeld’s primary focus and passion. Her $10 million endowment resulted in the expansion and renaming of the Carolyn Compagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum at California State University Long Beach.

Living in paradise – and in isolation – can often be a lonely and difficult lifestyle, she said. “It’s like a monastery up here, and a very odd life, she said. “I sometimes feel like a sort of priestess, venturing into the wilderness of the unconscious, constantly discovering things that add to my understanding of life. And that’s what keeps me alive, centered and integrated.

“Making art, for me, is like a transcendent experience,” said Kleefeld. “It’s like a special dimension – another place I can go – and it’s the best place.”

Monterey County Herald Tribute to Carolyn

Monterey County Herald Tribute to Carolyn

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld – Monterey Herald

Author and artist Carolyn Mary Kleefeld awakens in her Big Sur home, breathes in the rarified air of an utterly wild place that refuses to be tamed, and wanders down to the big stone pool for a cool swim. She feels the freshwater against her skin, breathes in clear air, and notices a hawk on the wing. Soon, she will be ready to read, to write, to paint.

Kleefeld is a spirit unfettered, who breathes with the rhythms of the Big Sur landscape but who also feels a certain vitality in traveling, in creating a world context for her creative expression. COVID curtailed that, but once she could continue to travel, she did, with her beloved David Campagna, a man she describes as Italian, Portuguese, a Mediterranean lover, a wise and humble partner, and the great love of her life.

He took her back to England, to the place where she was born, to a mountain top in Greece, and other places of meaning for her all over the world, as they had, so many times before.

And then he died.

Kleefeld has written and published 25 books over the years, 15 of which, she said, have been translated into many languages. All of them are an exploration of the artistry and metaphysics of life and love, particularly her most recent book, “Immortal Seeds: Bearing Gold from the Abyss,” published in 2022, in tribute to Campagna.

“Immortal Seeds” is the story of my love for and expressed with David,” said Kleefeld, “told through poetry and paintings, particularly the last three and a half years, as he waged his own brand of warfare against the C word.”

The day Campagna learned in 2014 that he had what Kleefeld will call only “The C Word,” his response was to take her to a place in downtown Lost Angeles that breeds butterflies.

“He escorted me into a contained area where the butterflies were flying all about,” she said. “What a way to react to a terminal diagnosis. What a context in which to introduce The C Word to your beloved. His courage lifted him above fear to a place of concern for me.”

It was in this mindset that Kleefeld framed her own thoughts and feelings about a diagnosis that would end something in her life, as well as his, into poetic expression.

And so, she wrote, “I called to the greater will to transform my mind as I felt crushed against the rock of fear. Terrified I could lose my beloved… I don’t want to die with a broken heart. Our life is too infinite to be that mortal. I don’t want to let my beloved down. I want to be as strong as he… I want to dance with him until the end of time, until our next beginning.”

Much more than her mourning, Kleefeld’s book, a pairing of her painting and her poetry, a harkening to the likes of painter Marc Chagall and poet Barbara Mossberg, is a vivid portrayal of love and loss, an honesty of imagery and expression that reaches beyond courage to truth.

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld | Author: Immortal SeedsThe book begins, as the relationship did, with exuberant gratitude and joy.

“I couldn’t be happier,” she wrote. “I’m dancing on the moonbeams of passion. Never have I known such a romantic creature and so much fun and humor. I’ve been graced by the gods to have these wondrous times with him. May it last as long as we wish it to.”

It didn’t last, not in the form in which the couple were enjoying their life together, as Campagna passed away in 2017, inviting Kleefeld, as he departed, to “be the butterfly of us.” And yet, for Kleefeld, their relationship continues. When the joy of rapture was met with the sorrow of loss, she buoyed herself by understanding that both what was and what would be were vital and true, and everlasting.

“I ended the book,” she said, “understanding our relationship as a never-ending story. The love goes on. My last poem is ‘My Eternal Husband’.”

“I lay there like a rag,” she wrote “and then I thought of you, my beloved, and how you would call me Babycakes and how your kiss always transformed me, and suddenly you appeared, enveloping me with a kiss and love… Yes, you have come back from that other world to embrace me and give me that kiss on the forehead… My eternal husband.”

The essence of a Spiritual Artist
Born in Catford, England to her mother, an artist for Vogue, Kleefeld wrote and illustrated her first book when she was 9 years old. Creative expression is in her blood, said. When asked her age, she was quick to confirm that the only thing she’ll reveal is that she celebrates every year on May 11, always with a great cake. Otherwise, she said, “I’m ageless, timeless, like life.”

Kleefeld actually grew up in Southern California, where she studied art and psychology at UCLA. By 1980, she had moved to her cliff-dwelling retreat in Big Sur, where creativity pulses through her like a life force, inspiring poetry and paintings, drawings and books, and an uplifting way of moving through her life on earth — and above and beyond.

“Carolyn understands the entire world as a great metaphysical structure involving the essential mysteries of time, space, matter, and fate. She paints to reveal these eternally mysterious truths. By capturing these universal wonders in a work of art, she invites us to grasp the essential paradox of life,” wrote the late Michael Zakian, Ph.D., in ‘Visions from Big Sur.’ “That is the great gift of her art.”

“Immortal Seeds: Bearing Gold from the Abyss,” is available at the Henry Miller Library, at the Phoenix Shop in Big Sur, and at River House Books in The Crossroads Carmel, as well as Luminata Books & Gifts in Monterey, among many of Kleefeld’s other works, as well as on Amazon.

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Biography – The Fathomless Tides of the Heart by Peter Thabit Jones

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Biography – The Fathomless Tides of the Heart by Peter Thabit Jones

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Biography – The Fathomless Tides of the Heart by Peter Thabit Jones


The Power of the Poet’s Voice

Tasking a poet to write the biography of an impassioned and poetic life

The only real danger in asking a poet to write someone’s biography is that the tale may be told more poetically than it was lived. Unless he’s been asked to write about Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, a horsed untethered, a bird uncaged; a Magdalen, an Isadora Duncan, a Salvador Dali or maybe his mistress; a woman who hears her own melody, who moves to her own rhythms, who paints with a bright palette, who loves hard and loses harder, and still she rises to swim in her coastal pool and dance and splash paint across a canvas and think about the ones she loves. Besides, she, too writes poetry.

When Welsh poet Peter Thabit Jones was invited to write The Fathomless Tides of the Heart, a biography of Kleefeld, a longtime resident of Big Sur who had become his friend, he’d already known and loved her for 11 years. Having arrived on the Peninsula on behalf of a literary event organized by his publisher, at Monterey Peninsula College, he met Kleefeld there and she invited him to stay at her cliffside cabin in Big Sur.

Jones, who lives in his native Wales, where he taught creative writing and literature courses at Swansea University from which he retired in 2015, has returned to Kleefeld’s cabin, as a poet in residence, for 11 summers. Typically he comes to write, to craft poetry in a place that both inspires and unleashes his words. More recently, it was to write and then release Kleefeld’s biography…

by Lisa Crawford Watson

Read the full article

Launch Event at The Henry Miller Library

Sunday, May 7 was the celebratory launch of Carolyn’s new biography, The Fathomless Tides of the Heart at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. The event was a chance to meet with Carolyn and the book’s author, Peter Thabit Jones, the internationally-published Welsh poet, playwright, and librettist. His book is co-published by Cross-Cultural Communications and The Seventh Quarry Press. The launch was a grand success, with the combination of Peter’s introduction and his readings from the Bio, and Carolyn’s spontaneous, original, and inspiring responses to Magnus’ questioning. The audience was captivated, and a joyful time under the sunny skies was had by all.

Arthur Williamson, Ph.D., author, retired professor, and historian wrote 〝It is no small matter to write the development of a poet, artist, and thinker of Carolyn Kleefeld’s stature, yet Peter Thabit Jones’ biography rises to the challenge, offering insight not only into her voice and vision but into the dynamics of creativity itself – its tensions, complexities, mysteries.

Publisher Stanley Barkan further writes, 〝 … [a) detailed, fascinating, and page-turner biography… The Fathomless Tides of the Heart takes readers on a saga of [Kleefeld’s] amazing life.. many notable acquaintances, romantic loves, philosophical exploration, and creativity in image and word, that has touched so many worldwide…

The book includes iconic figures of the literary world, Hollywood, and the 60s counterculture, including Anaïs Nin, Allen Ginsberg, Jacques Cousteau, Ted Turner, Rod Steiger, Laura Huxley, Dr. Timothy Leary, and Leonard Cohen.

Both Carolyn and Peter were present at the launch for an introduction by Peter, readings from the book, a discussion with Magnus, the director of the Library, Carolyn, and Peter, as well as a book signing.

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld – CAJA Ukrainian Support Fund
Left to Right: Carolyn and Peter Thabit Jones; The Fathomless Tides of the Heart on display; Attendees at the Henry Miller Library
Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum – On Top of a Mountain Exhibition

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum – On Top of a Mountain Exhibition

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum – On Top of a Mountain Exhibition

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum presents Carolyn’s newest exhibition, On Top of a Mountain, which opened on February 7 and will run through December 2023. The exhibition showcases her works from her Northern California home where she has welcomed friends, creatives, and thought leaders for decades.

In her journals, she describes her studio as situated “on top of a mountain”, and has inspired this selection of works. Her way of living is organized around sustained engagement with nature, love, solitude, writing and visual art making, and a rejection of market values and consumerism. Always inspired by life, the art on view is part of the artist’s large gift to the Museum.

Some of Carolyn’s paintings and drawings in the exhibition.
Left to Right: Cosmic Energy Beams, Cosmic Stage Over the Rocks, Circus Icon, I Receive Planetary Guidance, and World Catastrophes.

Philanthropist Carolyn Mary Kleefeld Initiates the CAJA Ukrainian Support Fund

Philanthropist Carolyn Mary Kleefeld Initiates the CAJA Ukrainian Support Fund

The photo (above) shows a large group and not sure how they came across an American flag, but this symbolizes the joint effort of the Fund. Emelia and Jarek are in the center, back row.

In the past few weeks, Carolyn’s treasured friend Jack Robinson and Carolyn created the CAJA Ukrainian Support Fund, which will provide monthly vouchers for food and needed supplies to 78 Ukrainian individuals and families in Poland. Jack traveled to Poland 3 months ago and has been valiantly volunteering to help distribute food to the refugees, making friends with many, and meeting other heroes helping with the refugees. Through these efforts, he realized how much help such a voucher program would be and identified, along with his Polish colleagues, Emelia and Jarek, the recipients who could most benefit. Together Carolyn and Jack established this Fund, and Jack last week distributed the first vouchers.

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld – CAJA Ukrainian Support Fund

Left: Emelia (white shirt and sunglasses), with each person holding one of the vouchers. Right: A group of women recipients, including Inna (blue shirt), only 20 years old and in Poland alone from Kiev, continuing her pre-law studies online, while cleaning houses and volunteering during this time.

Carolyn is humbled and honored to be able to make a difference for people in need during this time of humanitarian crisis.

Stanley Barkan, messages Carolyn about her “Immortal Seeds”

Stanley Barkan, messages Carolyn about her “Immortal Seeds”

Stanley H. Barkan is the publisher of Cross-Cultural Communications and the editor of the Cross-Cultural Review Series of World Literature and Art, that has, to date, produced some 400 titles in 57 different languages. His own poetry has been translated into 25 different languages, and he is the author of 18 original poetry collections, several of which are bilingual. He has assisted with the publication of many of Carolyn’s books in a variety of languages.

Stanley, Carolyn’s publisher, left her a message on her answering machine, which she loved and wanted to share with her friends and public. “My beloved friend and publisher Stanley Barkan left me this most sacred and meaningful message after reading my latest book, Immortal Seeds, said Carolyn.

Dear Carolyn, this is Stanley. I just reread, very carefully, page by page, five pages at a time, Immortal Seeds. I’m sitting here thinking of you and David on a skiff sailing in the clouds of the seventh heaven where the ancient gods still drink their nectar, eat their ambrosia and offer you, waiting for you to come where Orpheus will play his lyre and you will sing your poetry and David will lie there listening with joy. So, Carolyn, you have touched me deeply in my deep heart’s core, to quote Yeats, and I am very proud and humble to be your publisher. Love you. Bye.

This photo of Stanley was taken by Bebe Barkan, his wife, as he is reading during a Walking Tour of Dylan Thomas event.