I never knew my grandfather. My mother never knew her father.
His name was Marius Riou. That’s him in the picture above with his hands on his hips. He came from France to America around the turn-of-the-century. Marius Riou was an artist. When he arrived in America, he had nothing more than an easel and the desire to be a great artist in America. He had a simple dream in a land filled with such great opportunity. By way of ship, he landed in the ports of New York City and soon found his way to Connecticut, his new home. He took a job in a shop painting detail stripes on automobiles and Horse buggies. It wasn’t long before he met and fell in love with my grandmother Barbara and after a short courtship they were married.
In 1913 my mother Frances was born. Marius worked long hard hours to support his family. Constant exposure to paint fumes began to take their toll and eventually caused the death of Grandfather Marius. He was barely 28.
The detail brushes that are shown in this picture were his personal brushes he had clenched in his hands when he died on the cold floor of the shop. Marius’s boss took them from his hand and gave them to my Grandmother with sad regrets. My mother was barely 5 years old when her father passed. Her only recollection was how her Father would carry her on his broad shoulders. My Mother never knew her father.
My mother was given his easel and the detail brushes that he owned along with the only known painting he ever did in America. It was a simple painting of a man and his ox in a lush mountainous valley. She was barely 5 years old, but she knew the importance of saving these personal treasures. As she grew older, she developed an interest in art. Like her father before her, she too, began to paint on that easel. Over the years, it was quite evident that she had developed a talent just like her father.
Growing up as a child I can vividly remember the easel sitting in the back of the closet. I began to take an interest in art around five years old by copying cartoons out of the Family Circle Magazine. My very first painting was in first grade. I can remember as if it were yesterday. I remember sitting in that classroom well after the bell had rang to go home mesmerized by my finger paint creation. I can remember looking out the window at pitch black skies threatening to rain, and the bright red taillights parked along the street of parents waiting to pick up their children. It was just me and my teacher as she sat patiently waiting for me to finish. My very first painting was the side profile of a man smiling painted in rusty red finger paint. This was my proudest moment! I can remember weeks later taking this painting home and showing my mother and father. My father named the painting “Smiley”. My mother gave me such encouragement that I knew at a tender age that Art was my calling.
I’ll never forget one Christmas when I was around 10 years old receiving my first oil paint set. My mother went to the closet and gave me that magic easel which changed my life. I can remember painting all Christmas day. My sister who lived across the street always cooked Christmas dinner and it was a family ritual for all to attend. I can remember being so enthralled with the oil painting that I did not wish to go. I just wanted to stay home and paint.
My first paintings were somewhat primitive, but my mother was always encouraging. One day she took me into the bedroom and we sat on her bed. She opened up her dresser drawer and pulled out a small box. Inside the box were small detail brushes. She told me the story of how her father died with these detail brushes in his hand and that she so cherished them. On that special day, she gave me the brushes and told me to go be a great artist. She also gave me his easel and his only known painting.
As the years went by, mom passed away. The only piece of art that I had of my grandfathers was taken by a thief who had broken into my home and stole it from my dresser drawer. I can still remember that painting vividly. It was painted on a piece of leather and was somewhat primitive but in true essence it was a masterpiece. It is etched in my mind so clearly I could never forget. Even though I do not have the original piece, the thief may have stolen the painting, but he could never steal the beautiful memory.
I painted my whole life on that magic easel. I have always felt my grandfather’s presence looking over my shoulder and guiding my hand. When I paint on that easel, I can feel my mother’s presence always encouraging. I do believe that magic easel changed my life. My art has taken on new dimensions. Sometimes when I look at a blank canvas not knowing what to paint, I will take those fragile detail brushes in my hand and close my eyes. I can feel the aura of my grandfather and my mother and with that I begin to paint. A spiritual experience awakes my inner soul and with brush in hand, I am once again alive.
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