Monday, October 13, 2008

Marie Larson 1926-2008: A Legacy of Light and Shadow


"Aunt Marie is one of those people that just does everything perfect!" 8-year-old Oakley was beside himself with delight. Marie Larson, Bennie's aunt, had just moved to New Mexico from Michigan and had purchased a modest little condo in Albuquerque. She had invited us for New Year's Day dinner and had made an Oakley-friendly meal--roast beef, baked potatoes, green beans. Plus her condo was such an interesting place to be. It had nice tall ceilings with vigas, and saltillo tile floors, and for those places that were lacking in architectural charm, Marie had shopped salvage stores for corbels and mounted them in doorways and beside the kitchen cabinets. Although the art this dazzling painter made was very much classic representational, she had an eye for the "found" art object, and her walls were decorated with a vintage snowshoe and sled. Her furnishings were a mixture of simple comfortable contemporary seating and dark walnut antiques, set off by elegant candlesticks and a big jar of her own paintbrushes. We all laughed at Oakley's comment, understanding immediately the truth of it.

Marie's relationships with some of her family members will be remembered as less than perfect. She and her husband divorced rather bitterly when the children were small and apparently, she never completely recovered from the hurt of it. According to her children, she wasn't the perfect picture of the nurturing mother. She freely discussed the perhaps exaggerated shortcomings of their dad in their presence, and sometimes these shortcomings she applied to the entire male sex. She wrote off men as romantic partners as a waste of her time. It was a way of simplifying her life raising two children on her own in the 60s. It was not unlike the way she distilled a composition into the essentials of light and shadow.


She had a gift for portraying the human figure and face. She inevitably tapped into her models' vulnerability and sadness. It was as though the sadness at her own core opened a door into the hearts of her subjects.


She preferred to paint and draw rather than to cook, and at an early age the children learned to get their own meals. Bennie remembers his cousin Paul reporting long afternoons spent as his mom's captive model.




The Marie that Oakley and Flannery and I knew was the more public Marie known by her art students. A Marie who laughed. A Marie who offered encouragement. Once we drove down to Marie's place on the evening of July 4. I made food and we grilled steaks on her patio; afterwards we watched the fireworks from there. Although whatever food I brought was so simple I don't even remember it, Marie said, "Well, I just don't see how you have the time to work and cook." She always expressed appreciation for simple gestures. And as recently as this past spring, I received an email from a former student who was trying desperately to track her down. She wanted to visit her and catch up. (I have met other students of hers, some of whom have become clients of our gallery, people on whose lives she had a dramatic and positive impact.) By that time, however, Marie had moved back to the Midwest to be closer to her children and was living in an assisted living facility. Yesterday she quietly passed on with them nearby. Paul says it was a beautiful fall day and a feeling of peace pervaded the room.


I believe the last time I spoke with Marie it was the occasion of one of her last outings after a serious heart attack. Oxygen deprivation had left her with on-and-off memory loss and she had become quite frail. Soon she would be returning to the Midwest. Paul had come out from Chicago, and he and Marie met Bennie and me at a restaurant. I'd just had my hair cut and one recalcitrant curl kept falling over my forehead. The first thing Marie said to me: "There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad she was horrid." We all laughed and had a delightful meal.

I treasure that memory of Marie's remark. It does apply to all of us. We are all part good/part horrid. We can hope that our legacy of good will outweigh the horrid. I believe that in Marie's case that is very much the case. Marie's artful hand fashioned a life pared down to the luminous essentials. And that's good.





(Note: All paintings and drawings in this post are the work of Marie Larson.)

93 comments:

Virtual Voyage said...

Lovely and very telling post; reminded me of the quote by O'Keefe on how she rushed through days when she wasn't painting. Enjoyed the view of your recent work as well - congrats on the sales.

CrazyCath said...

What a beautiful tribute. Are these Marie's paintings? They are so good. The emotion in them shines through. The sketch and painting of her son is perfect.

May she rest in peace now.

San said...

Julie, thanks. The quote by O'Keefe is appropriate here, although, ironically, Marie was NOT a fan of O'Keeffe. I don't believe she ever even visited our O'Keeffe Museum here.

San said...

Yes, Cath, these are all Marie's art. You are right--the emotion shines through brilliantly.

Akelamalu said...

Those paintings are just beautiful, are they Marie's?

I remember the poem about the curl - my father used to say it to me when I was a child.

Such a lovely tribute San.

San said...

Yes, Akelamalu, they are Marie's.

I remember the rhyme too. I believe I will update my post so that people know these are all Marie's artworks.

Celebration of Life said...

I'm sad for your loss San, but am glad you have such fond memories of her. Her art speaks for her heart and even though she went through life without her soulmate, her energy and enthusiasim shines through. Thank you for sharing!
Jo

Lee said...

This is a lovely remembrance, San. I recognize some of the paintings from the gallery page. The ones you chose for this post have a special quality about them.

May Marie always be at peace!

Hugs!

david mcmahon said...

This is a tribute to Creativity itself, San.

Meg Wolff said...

It is amazing how children speak a wonderful truth when it isn't stiffled. Loved Oakley's comment.

And yours about how Marie (because of her own sadness) did a great job seeing into the soul of others. Wow, she sure did, how poignant.

And yes aren't we all part good/horrid? I know I am!

Thanks for this wonderful tribute, San. I think Marie would love it.

murat11 said...

San: Great (and compassionate) tribute to Marie, and great choices to illustrate her life's work. I see that apricot runs in the larger familial tribe, even across the marital latitudes and longitudes. I like the first one a lot; second one is like a blazing sun out of a blazing sun, with apricot and red. The third portrait is a heartbreaker: the sadness is palpable. I love the house: love that one.

Peace, cousin.

jsd said...

Marie's work is beautiful and your words describe the truth that they shed light on before you realize what it is; there are your words, "She inevitably tapped into her models' vulnerability and sadness. It was as though the sadness at her own core opened a door into the hearts of her subjects."

Peace to your family and hers.

Velvet Ginger said...

She was a wonderfully talented lady...my word...those faces sure tell some stories. I am deeply sorry for your loss of Bennie's Aunt, my condlances for your family. Her legacy will ive on forever in her art! Thank you for sharing her with us!

Kim said...

San, I know you feel a hole in your heart with the loss of Marie. I can understand that. No matter what, the people who come into our lives fill a void of some kind there. We don't have to agree with them, and we all have different experiences with those people...but in some way they touch us and when they are gone they leave a void we cannot express. Marie's art is exquisite and it sounds as though her life was full. But best of all, you (and your family) learned a great deal from having known this special person.

Please accept my sincere sympathy for your loss and my gratitude to you for sharing Marie here.

katie jane said...

Oh San, what a lovely and sensitive eulogy. And her artwork is just beautiful.

I do believe we all have two personalities: the one we show to the public and the one we keep to wear at home, or maybe just in the bathroom where nobody else sees.

I think Marie was a lucky woman to have you in her family.

WILSONART said...

I adore the portrait of the woman in the blue shirt. Very talented lady.

We are all equipped so differently,and Marie seems like a perfect example of someone who lived life the best way she knew how,whether or not that way stood up to anyone else's standards. It's all any of us can do.
God bless her,and I'm sure her children loved her,,,,even as they were preparing their own meals.

SandyCarlson said...

There is so much here. I especially like the way you explain her life in terms of her art. Thank you. There is so much passion in these images and so much compassion in your words.

Thanks.

CoyoteFe said...

Thank you so much for sharing both the words and the paintings. You brought to life a person that I do not know, but can now feel, and her work has such a wonderful intimacy. Thanks, again.

Lori Skoog said...

San...Well put. I love her style, her work. Was she an influence on you?
Lori

Todd said...

San,
Such a warm, loving tribute! I am captivated by her work. Such expressive work!
Peace to you and your family,
Todd in Santa Fe

Maggie May said...

What a beautiful post and a tribute to a very gifted aunt.
It is a real gift to be able to reach deep down inside a person's soul and to capture that on canvas. She had that gift.
The little rhyme about the curl was often flung at me when I was a child! Somehow or other, I always seemed to think I was horrid! So I'm not to keen on it! LOL

RiverPoet said...

San - I'm so sorry for the loss of Marie. Her work is amazing, and it sounds as though she was pretty amazing, too. Funny how the creative among us aren't always the best parents (though many, like you, are!). It's as though our minds can do it all.

Peace - D

lime said...

the honest treatment of your aunt along with the exhortation and fact that her children were with her to the end...this is a brilliant remembrance. i am so glad you are able to acknowledge both shadow and light in her personal life and allow it all to speak as a thing of beauty.

truly she was a gifted artist, thank you for sharing her work with us. thank you for sharing her with us and gently exhorting us all to acceptance of flaws even as we aspire to growth.

my sincerest condolences on your family's loss.

San said...

Jo, I believe that art was ultimately Marie's soul mate. Like you, however, I want everyone to have a partner to share life with.

San said...

David, thank you for an observant comment.

San said...

Meg, thank you for reading so carefully and with an open heart. As ever.

I like to think Marie would be pleased, but we'll never know for sure I guess.

San said...

Thank you for your good thoughts, Lee.

HUG.

San said...

Paschal, how like you to trace the apricot "blood lines" "across the marital latitudes and longitudes." As ever, you turn a phrase and then twist it a bit. Lovely.

Wish I had more images of Marie's art to post. Her body of work was incredible. And yes, she had a way of painting the souls of houses too.

San said...

JS, I believe art that doesn't tap into the shadow and the sadness from time to time is just decoration.

Peace to you too.

San said...

Rubye Jean, you're right--Marie will live on through her art, which has already touched many lives.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

San said...

Kim, isn't that the truth? People do enter our lives for a purpose, even when that purpose is a bit mysterious and puzzling.

I knew you would love Marie's art and I appreciate your sympathetic comments.

San said...

Katie Jane, you are too kind.

And you are right on with regard to the "bathroom personality." We all have one of those.

San said...

Babs, yes, that woman in blue is exquisite! The collector who owns that painting is fortunate indeed.

Your words regarding how we are variously "equipped" to live our lives are wise and loving and accepting. Thank you.

San said...

Sandy, I love your pairing of "passion" and "compassion." Two words whose origins are the same, and yet we seldom see the connection.

San said...

Fe--"a wonderful intimacy"--that is an apt description of Marie's art. That would please her much.

San said...

Lori, good question. I don't see Marie's art as a direct influence on mine. It is after all so different. But as to her being an influence as a person, no doubt she was to a degree.

San said...

Peace to you, Todd. "Captivating." "Expressive." Again, words that I'm sure Marie would be quite pleased to hear with regard to her art.

San said...

"...to reach deep down inside a person's soul and to capture that on canvas." I am re-typing your lovely words, Maggie May, in the event that Marie has an opportunity to read them from her new vista in the universe.

San said...

Doris, yes there sometimes seems to be a conflict between the nurturing and the creative urges. Each, however, brings great rewards. You know all about that and I believe you balance them well.

San said...

Michelle, thank you for acknowledging the necessary "acceptance of flaws even as we aspire to growth."

That's something we need to do for our selves as well as for our dear ones. Lovely thoughts.

Raven said...

What a lovely memorial. The paintings are lovely. So true that we are all a mix of good and "horrid." I guess that's what makes both us and life interesting. There is something wonderful about having your life touched by someone truly creative. It sounds like she was a great blessing in your life and that of many others, even with her very human failings.

Daryl said...

Wonderful post, San, may she rest in peace.

I am in awe of her style, its pure and simple and yet complex .. I could look at the second profile painting a long time before I got tired of all it said to me.

Thank you for sharing...

:-Daryl

sukipoet said...

A beautiful tribute to Marie. Her paintings are just beautiful. the portraits exquisite. You invite us into her world, her home decorations, the picnics you had,the things she said, your memories a fine tribute to an interesting woman who made somewhat unusual choices. Namaste, suki

Blue Sky Dreaming said...

San, Your Marie Larson lived her best life...maybe not perfect but her best life...lovely writing, a tribute.
One of my art teachers warned me to be careful painting hands because they can easily look like a bunch of bananas!ha I mention that because Marie Larson painted some of the most beautiful expressive hands, very talented artist.
Mary Ann

Ron said...

What a BEAUTIFULLY written post, Sans!

I feel as though you just took us on a wonderful jouney through Marie's life!

I'm not familiar with her work, but these pieces are just beautiful!

LOVE the colors!

I so enjoyed your last paragraph in this post about ALL of us being part good/part horrid. I agree! It's BOTH parts that make up the beautiful whole.

Thanks for sharing this, Sans!

Thoroughly enjoyed it!

SandyCarlson said...

Thanks for stopping by, San.

San said...

Raven, you're right--the good and the horrid, in the right proportions, can make for beauty.

We are all touched by one another's lives and we need to let others know the blessings they bring us.

San said...

Daryl, I know what you mean about the purity and simplicity opening to those complex feelings.

Yes, I could look at that one for a long time.

San said...

Suki, thank you for reading my post with such attention. You are always so focused. And I am deeply appreciative of that quality in you.

San said...

Mary Ann, that new profile image is just delightful. I know what your art teacher meant about banana hands. Notice how many painters conveniently have people with their hands somehow hidden? You will NOT see me posting any drawings I do of hands.

Yes, Marie's hands are rendered with incredible skill and nuance.

San said...

Ron! I love your enthusiasm. You are two parts good/one part enthusiasm. With a sprinkling of horrid for zest. But it's the very best horrid.

;-D

San said...

Sandy, it's always a pleasure!

A.Bananna said...

that is a beautiful tribute. she was a beautiful artist also. wow!

Carol said...

Oh San,

Between your beautiful post and the warm, intimate paintings of Marie's that you shared, I feel like I know this interesting woman who touched your life in many ways. I love the complexity and acceptance of the "good" and the "horrid". Without all of it, Marie couldn't have painted like she did. I am touched by her work and your words. Thank you.

Sandi McBride said...

Isn't it wonderful when we have a hero so close to us that we can speak their name with the confidence that our hero will reply?
Beautiful!
hugs
Sandi

San said...

Anna, I'm glad you enjoyed looking at Marie's art. I always enjoy your visits.

San said...

Carol, somehow I knew you would appreciate the depth of this personality and these paintings. You're the kind of person who regards life from various angles.

Peace to you.

San said...

Sandi, I'm a little puzzled by your use of the word "hero" here, but I'm glad the post struck a chord in you.

Hugs back.

CHEWY said...

Beautiful post and amazing portraits, I particularly like the last one of the hands.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Yes, the inner mood of the artist always does seem to find its way into the mood of the art, try or no!

Wonderful post!

Leau said...

What a beautiful tribute San, and how authentic. I love when people are portrayed with all their faults intact, isn't that what makes us human after all? I am always a little sad when those who have gone on are only discussed in terms of their goodness. Thanks for sharing.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Extremely well and beautifully written, San. Thank you for sharing Marie with me.

Michele Benjamin RN, MSN said...

Marie Larson's pictures are beautiful...and I love your tribute to her!!
Michele

Daphne Enns said...

I love how you've written about Marie for all of us. I wonder what her children would think of your memories and perceptions of her.

San said...

Dar, I thought you would appreciate the hands. It's actually a detail from a larger drawing.

San said...

Moody, my friend, you are attuned to the moods. As an artist, you know a little about it.

San said...

That's a good point, Leau. It does make sense to honor those who've gone on with complete memories.

San said...

And Nick, thank you for visiting. It's always great to see you here.

San said...

Michele, thanks much for the visit. I haven't seen you here in a while!

San said...

Daphne, I wonder the same thing. Perhaps I will learn.

Sparkling Red said...

She sounds like quite a lady. Her artwork is beautiful. Some of the best of her will live on through those images.

Cestandrea said...

Oh San, thanks for sharing these thoughts about your friend, who was such a wonderful painter. I love the way she sculpts the painting out of the air, the paper, the colour of the paper, the shadow and light.
Andrea

Dianne said...

Her work is lovely

I especially like the painting of the woman in the blue shirt. I think I look like that when caught thinking too much

a loving recollection of your friend

Peace San

'American Dreamer' said...

San, you have such a beautiful way of expressing not just yourself but mostly your way of lifting others up.
I wish that you had a physical book or magazine that I could just read and hold and share without going online.
I've chosen your blog as one my seven favorites.
Please go to my blog and copy and paste the little picture award and put it on your site.
You may choose seven others in your turn.
I hope you won't wait as long as I did, it's a 2008 award and the end of the year is nigh.
Love you...

Casdok said...

A beautiful tribute. And i remember the rhyme too.

Angel... said...

San, this is such a beautiful post. and I love that paintings made by Marie's..thatz good to have a good memories.

Celebration of Life said...

San,
Thank you for your kind comment on my blog today. You are such a warm and caring person; I got through my pain with friends like you!
I hope you are having a marvelous and joyous day; enjoy your weekend!
Jo

indicaspecies said...

A loving tribute to Marie. San, each of your posts is a masterpiece, just like your fabulous paintings.

San said...

Spark, quite a lady is right. And she did leave a rich legacy in art.

San said...

Andrea, how gracefully you talk about sculpting a painting out of air, light, and color. You do know about that, don't you?

San said...

Diane, I guess we all look like that when caught thinking too much. Great observation.

San said...

Dreamer, I am honored indeed. Thank you so much!

San said...

Casdok, I believe you're the third Brit who remembers the rhyme. It must be really popular there!

Of course I remember it too.

:-D

San said...

Angel, I send my best wishes to you and your baby.

San said...

Celine, you are making me glow.

Thank you!

San said...

Jo, I hope your weekend is going great too. It's an absolutely radiant day here!

Celebration of Life said...

Hi San!
I just popped in to say hello!
Have a great week!
Jo

whimsical brainpan said...

What a lovely tribute!

Jeanne said...

What a beautiful naked tribute of a life. Her images give an insight to the soul inside. So glad you have such a fun last memory.

YogaforCynics said...

I remember that little rhyme (or off-rhyme) from my own childhood...though I can't remember who exactly used to say it, even though I remember the sing-songy voice....

Wonderful work, too, particularly the girl with the hairbrush at the top....

Cris, Artist in Oregon said...

What a lovely tribute to Marie and what lovely paintings. She was wonderful. I guess you can tell a truly dedicated Artist when they live, sleep and breathe it. I have always loved reading about Women Artist. How strong they are and how much they have to sacrifice for their art. Sometimes being their Children.
Thanks for your lovely comments on my Madhatters Tea post.

Mima said...

She had a wonderful eye, I especially love the pencil hand at the end which has an amazing grace to it. I have always had a thing about pencil drawings and hands are the most wonderful subject. As a non-artist you can try, try and try again and not manage to get even close, and someone who has truly got the eye just draws a few lines and what a powerful result.

I'm sorry for your families loss, she will be sorely missed.

heartbeats said...

Dropping by to say Hi!!