Frances and Georgia
Our travels began anew for Melanie’s 50th college reunion at Vassar. En route, we stopped in Utica, New York for a two-day visit with Frances Wolfson, the widow of Chancellor Emeritus Lester Wolfson of Indiana University South Bend. And what a splendid visit it was! Frances was waiting for our arrival with grand cheer. At ninety-three, she is still an elegant and gracious lady. A few days earlier, she had telephoned to warn us that she was not her usual self. Obviously, still mourning her recently deceased husband and dear friend, she was feeling listless and out of sorts. She thought perhaps we might want to reconsider our visit. Not a chance! From the beginning of our Vassar planning, we had been looking forward to spending time with her.
Frances characterized our two-day visit as good medicine for her. After an afternoon of good conversation and hors d’oeuvres in the afternoon in her lovely Acacia Village apartment, we went out to dinner at a neighborhood Italian restaurant, Dominique’s Chesterfield. The large clientele on a Tuesday evening was a sure sign that this restaurant is a local favorite. And we were not disappointed; the food was delicious.
The next day we had a late breakfast before getting a veritable historical tour of Utica from Frances as we made our way to the local shopping center to buy a pair of white pants for Melanie and an all-weather jacket for me as a buffer to the unexpected chilly weather. We skipped lunch and made our way to the local museum, the Munson William Proctor Art Institute, for the opening of their summer film series to see Norman with Richard Gere. The movie’s complicated plot of a wheeling and dealing fixer, expertly played by Richard Gere, has a bounty of intrigue and surprises. It definitely merits a second viewing. I missed key components of the plot. And even with my hearing aids, some of dialogue escaped me.
But what is most remarkable about this little museum are the artistic treasures we discovered – tableaux by O’Keefe, Picasso, Feininger, Dali, Glackens, Leger, Mondrian and sculptures by Arp and Barlach. Granted these pieces may not be as important and as numerous as you might find at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre, but to the novice art lover that I am, I was amazed to find such artists in this local museum.
Although we did not have time to explore extensively (and learn more about) the collection, I believe I assume correctly that many of these works came from the estates of generations of Alfred Munson’s families, Helen Elizabeth Munson Williams and Thomas Proctor. Certainly, we will re-visit the museum on our return trip to see Frances.
Before dinner, we took time in the cool afternoon for a pleasant nap. Later, choosing where to dine required discussion among us. Apparently, Utica is a gourmand’s dream as it is home to several good restaurants. We narrowed our choices to a Bosnian and Italian restaurant, and finally settled on Ventura’s, a highly respected restaurant among the locals, and one of Frances’ favorites, specializing in Old World Italian cuisine. As if anticipating our arrival, one of the waiters was already at the door to greet us and helped Frances mount the three stairs into the restaurant. The dinner, impeccably presented and prepared, was delicious. Prior to our leaving, Mr. Ventura, came to our table to greet us and to chat with Frances. The intimate exchange between him and Frances was a sure sign that she is a frequent patron, well-known by the wait staff. Our meal finished, Mr. Ventura escorted Frances to the door, helping her descend the stairs and making sure that she was settled safely in the car that we parked, at his request, on the sidewalk just in front of the steps.
On our way to her apartment, Frances once again thanked us for our visit and repeated what good medicine we were for her. Whatever anxieties or trepidations she may have had about her health, about aging or being alone without a spouse, she now felt revitalized physically and emotionally renewed. That may be so! But she gave us a wonderful gift in return, two happy days in her company.
Now back to the subject of this blog. On our recent road trip to the Southwest, we visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe, walked in O’Keefe’s footsteps at Ghost Ranch, toured her home in Abiquiu and saw breathtaking views of landscape depicted in her paintings. We learned about her strength, her resilience, her independence, her love of nature, her views of humanity. And perhaps, what was more striking for us was Georgia’s exuberance about life — the simplicity of being in the moment. Georgia’s studio and her home extended into exterior spaces; from her window she had expansive views of nature, She lived simply; when not painting she tended her ample gardens. Simplicity in living was her modus operandi. Her home was neat and modest with sparse but functional furnishings.
Similarly, Frances has a depth of character and regal demeanor that reveal an interior strength, resilience and grace. Her telling of Utica’s historical trivia gave us glimpses into her former civic and social engagement with the city. And like Georgia’s, her apartment overlooks a picturesque panorama. Adding to its charm, are works of art by artist friends and her talented artistic children. These two women, whose lives overlapped for a number of years, shared/share an uncommon love of the aesthetic and a joy of the human spirit. Each was/is a grand lady!