Portraits from old photos: REVIVE YOUR ANCESTORS FOR YOUR DESCENDANTS.
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Revive your ancestors for future generations by commissioning a portrait from an old photo. Give the gift to your children or grandchildren of a painting of one of their grandparents, or other fading ancestors.
I charge by the hour $30 per hour, and the final price will depend on size of painting, number of figures, and amount of details. You can send me a photo for an estimate.
I charge by the hour $30 per hour, and the final price will depend on size of painting, number of figures, and amount of details. You can send me a photo for an estimate.
I have gone to my ancestors for inspiration about how to move ahead in this new world. By bringing back life to old black and white photos, and writing about my relatives, I have brought them closer to me. Below are my stories and paintings of loved ones who have past. New stories will appear in the months ahead to accompany paintings.
We called her Donut sometimes, other times Donnie, since she seemed more like a cool older sister than an aunt. My mom’s youngest sister came to live near us in the fifties, and not only kept my mom connected to her family, but became our favorite member of the “village” raising us. The ultimate reward, for which I am sure my mom got us to clean and behave for days, was the chance to spend Saturday with Donnie. She would drive us to get donuts, then visit her workplace where she made films, or just hang out in her “bachelorette” apartment with the kitchenette in the living room and posters of France on the wall. She had been to Europe so was sophisticated, urban, compared to mom who seemed small town. Mom and Donnie cut out a cover of the Saturday Evening Post: an illustration of two women with bubble dreams over their heads, one a housewife, one a working woman, each dreaming of the other’s life, laughing at the grass seeming greener on the other side. They spent hours in the dining room putting together a newsletter for kids, while we four kids cuddled up on the couch watching Ed Sullivan, so I got a chance to see how well two grown sisters could get along, with lots of fun and exploring of crazy ideas together. Later she got married and got her own children, and I didn’t see her much until one day, after running away with a bunch of hippies in 1968, I sheepishly went back to our hometown and landed at her kitchen table with no money, worried my parents were mad. She listened to me babble on about the cultural revolution, never judging, always loving. She understood the need to live adventures in youth, and paved the way back for me to home and start an adult life. Now I call her, and sometimes she calls me. She is 90 but her voice is still young, and she still cheers me on with whatever new crazy idea I have, while humbly sharing some of the wisdom her advanced years afford her. I know I still have a lot to learn. She usually sticks to rules like, “don’t say it unless it's true, necessary, and kind” - a thought I am almost able to follow. I won’t know when our phone call is the last one, but her lilting voice will stay in my ears forever, and every donut I see will bring me back to those days when Donnette embedded in me the idea of choices, as a woman. She studies Near Death Experiences, so I know her passing will be free of fear. Which somehow alleviates my own fears. But I sure hope I can pick up the phone a few hundred more times before she goes.
As he inches closer to 100, Frank Shirley Rose is making the most of his last years on earth. Of the thousands he has touched in this world, most think he’s got a fast track to heaven. He is my mother’s brother, and my favorite uncle (which I can now say since the other seven have passed). When i was little, my other cousins and I would
gather around at family parties to hear his latest Purp stories. Purp was a mischievous little purple man who got in all sorts of jams and we loved the high pitched Purp voice Frank put on. Not until I grew up did I realize he was teaching moral lessons in the most palatable way, since his mission of gently leading others to better behavior began in his own childhood. Probably he was his mother’s favorite, of her twelve, but she did try to hide the fact as best she could. He was a preacher that never preached, only shared thoughts. He led by attraction to goodness, never warning of evil. When his church was failing to reach the next generation in the sixties, he created camps in three countries that cast a wide net for those searching for personal meaning, attracting the lost sheep who needed love more than doctrine. He steered me in the right direction at crucial points in my life, not by giving advice but by listening long enough that I was able to hear the still quiet voice in my soul. This he did for anyone who came close. But he was also my mentor as a painter. Everytime we met he added a new watercolor lesson: usually only half an hour but the right lesson that kept me going. I paint today because of him, at first because I wanted the admiration he received for his landscapes, but then I realized it was Frank they loved, not so much the art. Later I saw painting was not for others, but for my own spiritual development. Through Frank, I was able to see that artist’s eyes that lead to a painting are ways to delve deeper into our own growth. If others like the work, that’s not my concern. My moments with him, often walking up his beloved mountains looking for wildflowers and reflecting on life, will stay with me always. He made me believe I was his favorite niece, as I knew he did for all the other 86 nephews and nieces, and anyone else lucky enough to be in his world.
This image is my grandma and her son Stanley with his WW2 uniform, perhaps returning safely from battle in India. While many of my aunts and uncles were in creative fields, Uncle Stanley was the only one who lived the stereotypical bohemian life, from my vantage point. He gave me hints on how to make commercial art, since he had to do that to supplement his fine arts. “When you do animation cells, don’t waste money on special paint: just use house paint and tint with pigments, it’s the same thing”. His paintings and sculptures were imaginative and realistic at the same time. He never made a living on them. One pictured an “everyman” floating in space, with a series of doors before him on the clouds. Each door led slightly in one direction or the other: up to heaven or down to hell. Surrealist and spiritual at the same time. When I visited him in his studio he taught me to look as an artist: “Trees are not green. Look they have black, white, purple....”. I resonated with Stan’s languid, mysterious aura. He was tall, dark and thin, and often had a cigarette in his mouth as he painted or formed beautiful sculptures in clay. So few people in our small town were real artists, in my mind, although I hoped I would be one once I was 18 and could leave. Eventually I scraped together money to buy an old car and started hunting for the places like Stanley’s studio, places that rang with espresso clatter, and dark corners to sit in and watch the beatniks. All my life I have looked for these sympacato places where I know I fit in. Places like the Blue Parrot in Cambridge, the Wa in New York, the haunts in Woodstock where I felt Bob Dylan vibrating in the walls. The Bay area has them everywhere.
Later in life Stanley divorced his wife for a younger artist, and was shunned by the community for leaving the conventional life. He paid a price for following his artistic calling, and sometimes I feel I will die alone in my small basement studio. The price artists have to pay is sometimes rejection, or isolation. With so much isolation these days, I am grateful for the artistic life that makes this not only palatable but productive. I will pass these times more happily and quickly than most. I can play Dylan, and French press coffee, in my own beatnik basement. Stanley is in a studio in heaven now where I am sure he is not lonely.
Donald F. Rose
There’s a shadow hanging over me when I write. The specter of my grandfather, called Pop-Pop by his 86 grandchildren when he was alive, hovers and both inspires and intimidates me. His daughter, my mom, also hangs near, offering me advice on writing style and subject. She wanted to live up to her famous father, a published writer and editor, but because of her gender and situation as a mother of four, was never able to realize a career as a writer She encouraged me instead, and her lessons (don’t speak for others, don’t preach, use direct, simple language, cut excess words, and write often and profusely but show little of your work to others) pass through my mind as I write. I have some of her corrected manuscripts by her father, who seemed to respect her as a writer and give her the honest truth. Pop-Pop never read anything I wrote, since he was blind near the end, and also depressed. He never really recovered from visiting the concentration camps after WW2 as a journalist. All this I found out later. I wanted to be a journalist, but lacked the money and encouragement. Instead I got married young and kept writing as a side occupation: a place to figure out my thoughts and express my feelings, sometimes in letters to the editor, other times in self published works. After my kids were older, I went to writers’ workshops to try to improve, but by then I had another career as a teacher and it seemed too late to paper my wall with rejections from publishers until something broke through.
I thank my grandfather for hovering over my shoulder, as he is doing right now. He says, don’t take yourself too seriously - he was a humor writer. He says be humble and prolific, and make deadlines for yourself to keep the faucets running full force. One can become rusty if too much time goes by. I will never write as well as he did, or achieve any measure of his fame, but I am eternally grateful for the shadow he casts over my shoulder as I tap out endless streams of words that help me move to the next safe place in my mind.
Nana and Grandpa
This woman, Hilda, left school at age eleven to become a household servant, and worked every day of her life for the next fifty years as a cook, housekeeper and mother. She found another Swedish immigrant, my grandpa Gustav, and they built a life on the shores of Lake Erie raising five children, my dad at the tail end. Dad far surpassed Nana in education, with several post grad degrees, thanks in part to my Gustav foregoing a career as a fine artist, and instead painting houses. This photo shows my Nana’s triumphant victory of making a good life in the United States, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a new dress, four tiered cake, sparkling jewelry and giant corsage, and I wonder, since there were no photos of their wedding, whether this was also the wedding celebrations they couldn't afford back in the early 1900’s. Nana showed me, with pride,( when I was 11 and definitely not quitting fifth grade to scrub floors) her scrapbook of cards honoring the 50th. I could see how pleased she was of making it to this landmark. While I sat on her wooden porch steps looking at the cards and wondering what was so special about them, Nana was in the kitchen making her famous Swedish circle bread. I could smell the cherry pipe tobacco of Grandpa who sat in his armchair waiting for his supper. He was old school and expected his wife to take care of him. They may not have known me too well, but because they worked so hard to raise my dad’s opportunity in life, I could bask in the freedom that gave me to take up the fine arts career Grandpa never had. Three of his art paintings survive and maybe that's all he ever had time for. I will leave behind thousands of paintings thanks to Grandpa and Nana’s hard work and sacrifices..
I picture him under a shaft of light from a broken space in the clouds, a smile on his face, with delicate features and head bare of hair, gesturing as he explains a joke or some spiritual concept. The youngest of seven brothers, he was the only one that went bald: maybe his mom ran out of genetic material as she got to her last of twelve children. He made up for it in height. Not just physical but he always seemed a few levels above everyone in character and maturity. The jokes were just to show some truth he wanted to convey in a gentle manner. I visited him near the end when he was dying of cancer. His wife insured warnings not to tire him out, because he hid his discomfort and might wear himself out trying to hold conversation. But all I wanted was to have one last dose of the man who inspired me to be a better person. He made it sound easy and desirable to give up petty character flaws, like I could cross over to the other side of the rainbow by following simple rules of kindness. I sent him questions and articles for his magazine from time to time, and always got back one of his famous terse notes. He could really pack a message into a few words and I saved those stick up notes for a long time. “Point well taken but brevity is the soul of good writing” or “Just give it some time and the answer will wake you one morning” He gave many lectures and once I asked him the day before what he was going to talk about. He said he was still thinking about it and was waiting for inspiration. I was shocked and educated that he worked that spontaneously, and have tried since to prepare for performances, but then seek a connection to a flow that can work through. I credit him for making me love the Olympics, something he lived for. I hated competitive sports due to always being the last one chosen in volleyball, but his passion for athletics showed me the value of doing anything to excellence. He was a minor celebrity in the small fish pond of the church, and although I am sure he had his enemies, he managed to stay on the right side of both the rebels and the starched conservatives. His brother Frank, and my father, (all ministers), formed a trio that talked late into the night at my grandma’s, eating icecream and planning their next move in pushing the church politics in one direction or another for the sake of the people. Whenever I could I would listen in the hallway, feeling like an insider to the hierarchy of the organization I was raised in.
There was an old film we used to watch and now it’s gone, of Don when he was just a teenager, chasing ducks all over his parent’s lawn, which brought the house down at family Christmas parties: Donald and the Ducks. The grandchildren just saw him as one of the uncles but to his siblings he was the baby, playing with ducks in the garden. They were perpetually surprised, I think, that he turned out so well, but maybe it was because he was partly raised by the other eleven, learning lessons by watching them trip and fall. When he died, I think he just vaporized into that golden shaft of light I see even today, like a mist above me. Don has left behind a sunlite path for others to follow, as they remember his gentle humor and bids to live the good life.
We lived hours away from my hometown when I was young, but my mom wanted me to feel close to her siblings, so she had me write a postcard to Uncle Kenny with questions about the stars. From a distance he got me interested in the milky way and the Seven Sisters, with a chart of the skies. Every time I look up on a clear night, I think of him: that he cared enough about the stars and a niece far away to connect me to the universe. He must have seen me as a child of a beloved sister who probably was put in charge of him when she was five, keeping him from falling off rocks in the backyard, and making him jelly sandwiches. Love once removed. That love of the sky stays with me now and I seek out open vistas for comfort in crazy times. Last week I saw a sliver of a moon next to some bright planet over a burgeoning dawn in the east. So pure and bright, so clean and unconcerned with our earthly debacles, the sight of it calmed my heart. It’s memory got me through yesterday when the sun never rose and the sky was dark red all day. Later Ken was my calculus teacher in boarding school, and he wrote on my report card: “Wendy will do much better in class if she focuses on the lesson instead of the boys sitting nearby: she has potential” But by then, I saw little need for math in my future since we girls were encouraged to focus on marriage and having a family. Yet, the fact that he believed in me makes me wonder, could I have been one of those ladies who figured out how to go to the moon? I will never know but the moon still shines for me as if my personal possession. And will again when the sky clears
This little girl grew up to have 15 kids, many grand and great grandchildren, worked hard at many jobs all her life, survived several operations, and died in her 90’s. Since her mom, my grandma, had twelve children, there were many grand and great grandchildren from the original couple. In the days past, population explosion was not a big issue, but it has become and brings up the subject of whether big families are a good idea. This girl, Tryn, was highly intelligent and married a smart man, so all her kids were the smartest ones in the class. No one resented them since they were all so easy going and never flaunted their brilliance. So is it better to fill the world with kind smart people who might make things better? The more of such people the more we progress and prosper? Aunt Tryn was a workhorse, I never saw her at rest. She had a catering business and hired many of her offspring to help. We all got to love her cheese horderves made from wonder bread with the crusts cut off, shaped into little boats. Family parties and weddings usually hired her since she never overcharged, and in fact probably barely made a profit. Now I keep touch with some of her children and a few grandchildren, and hear about others. They are still spreading kindness and intelligence around the world.
There was an unspoken conviction in my small religious hometown that having lots of kids was good for the church. It would keep the numbers up. Tryn did her part to keep the private church school filled. The idea was that the community would grow and thrive, a fairy tale like retreat from the world. It was and is still that Great America conservatives love: safe, beautiful, God fearing, and protected from the evils of big city life. Most of my mom’s siblings stayed to keep the town going, raising their kids there when their professions allowed. My generation didn’t follow suit in droves, though, with only about ten percent staying and raising families, but it was enough to keep the population steady. Now people live there not so much for religious reasons but because it still seems safe and is still beautiful, due to town building restrictions. For many, safety and the comfort of knowing the church protects them from danger and evil, is enough to build a life. But for me and most of my generation, that comfort felt more like restriction. The homogeneous, isolated life, is not enough. A great place to grow up, but I wanted diversity and opportunity. The comfort of a happy safe childhood makes that possible.
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The Rose Clan from which I come, all 12 of my mom’s generation and 86 of mine, are known for having funny noses, intelligence, humor and creativity. With all that, you’d think they would be successful, and many are, but not financially. They tend to drift towards low paying work in the creative field, teaching or preaching. Roses are not known for having money. Mom lived through the depression, but said she didn’t notice even though she had few toys and fewer dresses, because money was not a big topic at the family dinner table. One of my uncles, Roy did go into business, but he never lived in a mansion with his seven kids. I guess he didn’t climb the corporate ladder to the top since he spent so much time helping the community and being with his kids. This laissez faire attitude about income filtered down to me so much that whenever I had the chance to take a job in a potentially lucrative field, I constantly chose instead something more interesting or fun. I could have had a pension from Massachusetts if I had taken a job in a public school. I refused gigs running birthday art parties for big bucks since the work was grueling: spoiled kids running around enclaves of drinking parents. Early on, I quit a high paying commercial art job when teaching kids art seemed more satisfying. Now I pay the price by having to keep working through my seventies, due to no pension or much social security because of so much gig working. But what would I do if I wasn't teaching and making art? As all those who love their work know, I would still be doing it even if I didn't need the money. Funny thing is, I find I need less money than others since my job requires no fancy clothes, and a vacation to me is anywhere I can paint and write the day away. I look around at my generation of Roses and see so many of them followed the family tradition of looking for job satisfaction over money: plenty of teachers and musicians, and lots of public servants, and this seems to have carried another tradition with it along with funny noses: long and healthy life. We seem to live longer and healthier than the average person, in spite of the other love we all share for butter and ice cream. Uncle Roy could have bought the mansion on the hill if he wanted, but instead he made just enough, sharing his knowledge of the stock market with the half interested ears of his siblings and nephews.
Stories for the following to come soon:
Christmas morning, 1960. We were living with widowed Uncle Leon, while my dad went back to school. The big box covered with red and green paper and a curly ribbon had my name on it. It was from my Uncle Leon, and I had high hopes since my sister’s present was a magnificent doll I coveted, and my brother just opened a truck high on his Santa list. My turn. At age 11, my mother had taught me well enough that I was able to hide my disappointment and thank him with a kiss when I saw the clay molding kit. It was years later that I was able to look back and see, he was not trying to kick me out of childhood, as I felt at the time, but that he saw in me a prodege, a young artist that might follow in his footsteps. At age 15 he was already mentoring me in his basement office in the use of a rapidograph pen and how to splice film. I assisted him in his many projects, both professional and for his community. He even paid me when I got good at filling in the easy parts of his illustrations or could edit films without help.
Leon remarried, and throughout my teen years, I could never quite figure out why my new aunt, who I never knew before, bestowed gifts and favors on me: a trip to Europe, invitations to family events, graduation and Christmas gifts, but now I think the impetus came from Uncle Leon. Leon pulled strings and got me my first real job in Philadelphia, doing animation work, which launched me on a commercial art career that lasted decades. But he was my mentor in so many other ways. I watched him run a newsletter for his community, create sets for local theater, rally his 11 siblings for family events, write songs for parties, and never missing a chance to infuse creativity into the lives around him. When I later became a set designer for my kids’ school, wrote for community newsletters, and created wild original parties for the neighborhood, it was his example that built that capacity in me. When he heard my son was into magic, he sent his old silk top hat to him to augment his rabbit tricks. Later in life when I went to visit Leon, he sat in his living room armchair sipping tea, his voice wavered with age, but I listened to every word, as he reminisced about his creative life. I wanted every last drop of my dear Uncle before he left earth. Looking back, I think I was one of his favorite nieces of his dozens, as we had that bond of art, especially art that was a way to share with others. This baby Leon in my grandma’s arms was easily identifiable as Leon: the eyes, the nose, the chin, the long fingers of my beloved Uncle who made so much of my better self, encouraging me on paths before I even know they were the right ones for me. Like the Christmas present in 1960, I knew he believed in me which makes it more possible for me to believe in my students and young friends.