Featured Artist – In Memory of Marcia Wilson – September 2018
A remembrance by Dan Pacek
When I contacted Marcia and asked her to participate in the Leonia Arts Featured Artist project, she quickly and cheerfully accepted. I explained that our photographer for the project, Matt Dine, would schedule a time to photograph her. Matt’s assignment with each artist: one portrait and one shot of the artist in their environment, engaged with their art.
I knew Marcia had been ill, but it wasn’t until the time was scheduled for Matt to photograph her that I understood the photos would be taken of her in a bed on the first floor of her home. I asked Marcia if she was ok with being photographed in her current environment, and she said yes.
Although I did not know Marcia well, I knew her well enough to be certain that she would be ok with the photoshoot. To reassure the photographer of this, I explained to Matt that Marcia’s youtube channel was famous for its unfiltered sharing of her art and everyday life, including details of her illness, and attracted a large group of followers. A few years ago, her artwork was removed from an exhibit at the Leonia library because the self-portraits depicted herself nude on an exercise bicycle. Marcia was an unabashed artist who believed in showing things as they are.
I accompanied Matt as his assistant. Marcia was working a small canvas on her lap, scraping at the painted surface, while Matt took photos. Within her arm’s reach were brushes, paints, and palette knives. Occasionally, she would let out a loud AY-YI-YI-YI, explaining the yelping increased her creative energy. I am reminded now of what Marcia says in a video clip on the Leonia Arts website, “Art makes my inner child happy.”
Matt was adjusting the lighting when Marcia proudly proclaimed, “I am a failed artist. Enjoying every bit of it.” It was clear she wanted Matt and me, and everyone, to know that she was never a big success, and she was ok with it. It was clear to both of us that by claiming failure, Marcia had liberated herself to make whatever art she wanted to make. Without expectations, her creative expression was uncensored, and honest, and outspoken, as was the artist herself.
Visible in the photo below, there are examples of Marcia’s woodcarvings: small figures standing on a ledge overhead, and a large figure of a woman (I had admired the large woodcarving in an adjacent room, and Marcia gave permission to have it moved into the room and photographed with her).
In pursuit of her art, Marcia explored and championed many art forms, including: painting, etching, printing, books, collage, jewelry, silkscreen, photography, video, dolls, woodcarving and ceramics. She described her artistic process as: “dreamlike, folky, personal, about memories, comforting – I do it to comfort myself always,” and added: “Whatever I do, it’s personal. Maybe I’m a storyteller.” She was also an accomplished writer and illustrator.
As a child in Leonia she studied oil painting with Charles Chapman and new Lynd Ward as well. She called them her “art heroes,” along with many others who influenced her work, including Grant Reynard, Pierre Bonnard, and Alice Neel. Marcia graduated from Vassar College in 1958 with a degree in Art History. She started working as an artist in 1970. She explained, “in the 40’s and 50’s, women couldn’t be artists. My goal was to marry an artist. I never thought I would be the artist.”
I believe Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson never failed as an artist; my claim is supported by a vast legacy of beautiful, whimsical, and provocative works. Having watched Marcia paint that day with such joy, I also believe art never failed her. Even as her life was dimming, her talent, her creativity, her playfulness, and her originality all shone brightly.
A Celebration of the Life of Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson
will take place at Rutgers University
Sunday, September 16th from 2-4PM
in The Pane Room, Alexander Library
169 College Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Special Collections and University Archives has installed a small pop-up exhibition in the lobby of the Alexander Library titled Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson: Thirty Years of Artists’ Books. To read more about the artist and the exhibit at Rutgers University click here.