|[photo from the Philadelphia Milton Hershey School alumni website]|
|butterfly garden in the Hershey conservatory|
It's been interesting to explore the town in various seasons, especially fall and spring, though I am not usually in tourist mode when I travel there. This last visit, however, brought a sweeter treat, an introduction to a painter whose work still brings amazement to the few people who are lucky enough to view it.
|friends Sadie and Mary|
Mary De Bon and her late husband moved to Pennsylvania when they retired some years ago, and after his death, she eventually left for an apartment at Country Meadows in Hershey, where, as luck would have it, my aunt also moved last summer and soon met her. "I want you to see her work,"Aunt Sadie has been telling me. It isn't the first time my aunt has directed me to art--because of her I found the Print Council of New Jersey, where I fell in love with monoprinting. This time, she arranged for the two of us to visit Mary so I could see what she so admired.
|Mary De Bon, husband and son at lodge|
But, here's the thing...it's been forty years since she's painted. "Before I had children, a friend told me about a group they were starting; they'd go into the city together and take painting lessons from a man they knew about. I thought I'd like to tag along."
|Mary De Bon, early still life|
Join them, she did, and her prolific work began, at first whatever the instructor had them copy, and then, as their technique grew stronger, finding inspiration from their own sources. Mary often chose photographs of people from the National Geographic, whose faces drew her. "Faces are the most difficult things you can paint," her teacher warned. "But I like painting them," she told him. Obviously she followed her own muse.
|Mary De Bon, face|
|Mary De Bon, portrait of a star|
She didn't stop art, however...needlepoint became her medium, and later fabric collages, and you won't be surprised to learn that she brought thread and needle to the complicated images of portraits. "Oh," she demurs, "I was just following the patterns." Well, there are followers, and then there are followers.
|Mary De Bon, needlepoint|
Her art is about as far from mine as mine is to the English portraitists, whom I also admire but could never emulate. What they have in common is their high talent for impressing on us the character of the faces they paint. It's not only the precision of the lines and shadows that matter to them, but the unseen root of the person...that expression at that moment. As much as I sigh over Winslow Homer and his wild skies, I stand back at a piece by Mary and shake my head at the clarity of her vision.
And not only the vision of art. I can understand perfectly the notion that art, of whatever kind, can be useful to us at certain points in our lives, and then we move on to something else, driven by a wholly reformed phase of self we've fallen into. We see the world through changed lenses; we see art through the motions of hands that take to other tools, to other subjects. We don't disparage our former work; far from it. We use it as a foundation for seeing, if not doing, more. Life and art make good tradespeople, lending one another their best experiences to shape and reshape as the conditions and circumstances of life reshape us.
It's really a matter of dedication, not necessarily to art, but to ourselves. I admire that, most of all.