The Receipt of a Gift

"The Visit" by Julia Zollman Wickes
Art and artistic people have always been around me.  I suppose I have always taken it for granted that that was just "what we do" in my family.  With the recent death of my Aunt Mary Rose and our memorial gathering, I would like pay tribute to a great artistic influence in my life.

My memories of Aunt Mary Rose are very colorful!  

Mary Rose was my first Aunt.  She was 20 years older than I.  She was married to Uncle Frank.  When I was a little girl, we lived next door to the Aunt Mary Rose and Uncle Frank and shared a huge emerald green back yard.  They had a wonderful, fluffy, lovable collie named Trouble who was my best friend back then.  

Young Mary Rose had long black hair, which she wore pulled back in a chignon with colorful clip on earrings and colorful clothes.  She wore high heels, even for a day of shopping at L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis.   She had a warm wide smile and a little space between her two front teeth, which I loved, because I did, too.  Her mother, my grandmother, whom we called Dandmama, called our teeth Butter Teeth. 

Although Aunt Mary Rose worked as the bookkeeper/secretary at the Bedford Auto Company, our family's family business, she was an artist in her soul.  After high school she headed to Chicago to attend art school to become an illustrator, commonly called a commercial artist in those days.  She left school to marry Uncle Frank and they moved back to her hometown of Bedford, Indiana.  Like her mother, she expressed her artistic talent mainly in her home decor and her clothing.  While my grandmother incorporated light or turquoise blue to  accent her home and her standard uniform of gorgeous black dresses,  Aunt Mary Rose's home and fashions danced with a full spectrum of bright colors. 

Aunt Mary Rose liked to entertain and she was a great cook. The family had moved to a new home down along the White River and they had the biggest round dining table with the biggest Lazy Susan I had ever seen always filled with delicious food served on FIESTAWARE OF EVERY COLOR.   I have a vivid memory of my cool Aunt Mary Rose wearing short shorts, a colorful Mexican ruffled blouse and big red earrings to one of her parties.  

Several years ago, I made a special trip to tell her that I had enrolled in art school.  We talked a lot about art and artists.  Some time later I made a painting of her entitled "The Visit", which recalled a lovely luncheon with my mother, Aunt Mary Rose and me at her giant banquet table in her 3rd home, which I always thought of as The Castle The table was always set for the next feast with colorful dishes, napkins, goblets and centerpieces.  Little clusters of interesting objects or groups of furniture were arranged throughout the house, like in a painting.  The sun, hitting the prisms from the chandeliers cast rainbows on the walls and the mirrors reflected the array of colorful dish ware.  It was like a fairy land everywhere you turned.

When Aunt Mary Rose was at the end of her life, we traveled to see her and say a final good bye. She asked me not to forget her.  

How could I ever forget my Aunt Mary Rose?  

She, with her deft hand at spotting a colorful object and knowing just where to place it in her home, has given me her gift.  She is in every painting I make, every decision about which blue to paint the lamp next to the green chair, which shade of purple for the shadow to place on a yellow floor, which green to lay in under the chin.  We both just knew these things from having art and color be the filter through which we see so much of the world.  

The painter, Georgia O’Keeffe, once said:
"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.”

A couple of weeks ago, family and friends celebrated Aunt Mary Rose’s life.  The table was set in The Castle for the last special meal and the food was delicious. .  And I think that for those who took the time to look around the rooms in this house and let themselves listen, they heard Aunt Mary Rose speaking to them in her special colorful words.


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