Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mother, at the End - by HvS (Superseded)

Boissevain Women with Charles. Balcony of Drafna.
Back row (L to R): Olga Emily, Emily, Charles, Hester
(Hessie). Front row: Mary, Hilda, Nella, Teau.
The following autobiographical sketch of her mother was among hand-written papers left behind by Hilda van Stockum when she died in 2006. It was transcribed and is now a ghost-post. 

Olga Boissevain van Stockum was one of the two middle daughters, along with Hilda Boissevain de Booy, of Charles and Emily Boissevain. The two eldest had traditional marriages in which they were housewives and mothers. The two youngest obtained university educations and had modern marriages. The two middle ones were torn between their intellects and the expectations of them that they would be traditional wives and mothers. By prior agreement, they each named their eldest daughter after the other.  

After my mother left Holland with me and her two boys to stay with relatives in Ireland, I lived there till I married, so Ireland is a part of my youth. I was very happy there. Irish people are very natural, full of humor (but with an underlying melancholy) and their defects are endearing rather than off-putting.

My mother was poor. She had to be helped by relatives, but she always saved on necessities and spent her money on luxuries. We went often to the cinema in the sixpenny seats, with a lot of street urchins who loudly cheered the hero and booed the villain. It added style to the picture.

Later, when we made friends with the Dutch consul, we had the best seats and wonderful dinners with six courses. In return he had home-cooked meals in our cottage kitchen, which his homesickness proclaimed “typically Dutch” (which it was not, but we let him think so). He became a real Dutch uncle to us.

Actually we didn’t mind being poor. With Mother it was fun - our exercises in economy were amusing. We got a goat which we learned to milk, and two ducks. But as Mother had only a sitz-bath for their ablutions they soon forsook us for the pond next door, belonging to a farmer, who probably gathered in their eggs along with those legitimately his. So that was not a good idea and only Mother could have thought of it.

I’m prouder of our attempt to make our own Christmas tree by tying living branches to a dead fir tree!

When I went to America I tasted American poverty, which is quite different from the Irish variety. We were in New York, in the depth of the Depression. My husband's health was a bit run down and had to be built up, but the diet he was prescribed would have left me without anything to eat, so he generously compromised. Actually, that was easy as I was getting my first baby and the last thing I wanted was food!

My great joy in those days was to go walking in Central Park and make friends with adorable negro babies. I’m afraid, though I was happy in my marriage and the prospect of my baby, I was very homesick for my mother and wept over the toilet articles (silver brush and comb) she had given me.

Later on, of course, when my husband got a job in the civil service and moved to Washington, life brightened up and we never looked back. [Spike said he never felt so rich as when he had a Government job in the Depression. - JTM]

When I think of Washington I see glittering white buildings amid pink cherry blossoms. Well, I had all my children in Washington, except Olga, who was born in New York. And I remember a very humdrum suburban life with all the ups and downs that would make modern ladies squirm. But I loved it, and by then I had my mother with me. She and my brother Willem came to America in the 1930s and made their home with us.

When Spike had to leave for Europe on account of the war, we took in a lodger. He was one of those sent by the English government to help the war effort in the navy, and he became a great friend of the family. He was more or less my mother’s age and they had long arguments about the war. I think I have described it all in my Mitchells trilogy, which also describes our move after the war to Canada. Mother was very much part of our lives then.

But the Montreal winter was hard for Mother. We lived on the side of the steep hill and she slipped on the ice. It was a fatal fall.

In 1999 I had a dream in which I relived my mother’s death 50 years earlier. Of course what I dreamed was very much what I felt when she was dying. I knew she was dying, but I tried to brush the knowledge aside. I was by her bed. She was leaning against her pillows and her forehead was the only thing to look at.

Death was starting on her forehead.

First, a little area became white and cold and then her face froze. I wanted to leave her, but I saw she was frightened and I knew she wanted me there. Because she was frightened, I could not leave her. I wanted to run away, but I knew that was cowardly – my mother and daughters needed me; I had to stay.

In my imagination there was a large cross looming at my right, somewhat out of my sight. If I ran away, I would not only desert my mother, but also the cross and its victim. I could not do it. I kept looking at my mother’s face.

Her forehead was dying – it was starting there – it was getting bluish white. My mother’s eyes were fixed on me with a plea for help – yet what could I do? If I did not watch her, what might happen? Her forehead seemed to be melting and the rest of her face disintegrating – yet this was my mother. What could I do for her – how could I stop this strange melting that changed my mother’s face?

She looked at me. She asked: “Am I dying?” And there was great fear in her face. I knew I had to reassure her. It was not good for her to get into a panic. She asked: “What did the doctor say? Did he say I was going to die?” What was she feeling? The doctor’s words lingered in my ear: “She is dying, she may not reach the morning. I cannot stay – I have other patients. You stay.”

He had given me all the responsibility. I felt very alone – I prayed to God, and yes, now I felt a cross looming over me, with a victim hanging from it. I averted my eyes – I must stay. I could not desert the cross.

My mother’s face became more distorted. She was in agony, but I could not help, nor go away. The invisible cross beside me was commanding me to stay. “Did he say I was going to die?” My mother was panicked.

“No,” I said firmly.

He hadn’t actually said it. My mother’s face was full of fear – she seemed to be slipping away, not wanting to realize that it was really death that was awaiting her with open jaws. She was hanging back, clinging to life.

I felt the cross close to me. A wooden cross, heavy and splintery, reaching to the top of the ceiling. What could I do? I looked at my mother – I looked reassurance, I got behind her and held her shoulders.

“It will be all right,” I murmured. “God is waiting for you. You’re going to Him now.” Suddenly Olga, my daughter and her namesake, was there – I felt immense support. She was praying. She was going to stay through the night, to keep my mother company – I did not have to fear I would be left alone, Olga was good at praying.

Another daughter joined us. The prayers became stronger. Mother listened and joined in too, haltingly, painfully. Cocks crowed outside as dawn wakened threads of light. Mother had calmed down, was even trying to sleep a little. Olga and I kept on praying. Another daughter had quietly joined us, so there were now four of us next Mother.

The doctor came. He felt Mother’s pulse, and nodded: “She’ll be all right,” he said.

But Mother was still anxious. Her eyes pleaded with the doctor, who shook his head. At last he left and following him I asked when he could come back. “I’ll send people who’ll give her the last rites,” he said. “But I can’t stay now.”

I accompanied him to the front door and he said he’d try to return later. I went to the kitchen and told Nora, our Irish servant, that Mother was on the point of dying.

“If she does,” said Nora, “open the windows, so her soul can find the way to Heaven. Don’t cry. That might keep her back.” I hastened to my mother who looked much worse. She really looked as if she had reached the end. I held my mother’s hand and looked at her. She asked again: “Am I dying?” “No,” I said, “not yet.”

She looked relieved. I went on saying the rosary and was glad to see more of my children joining us. Mother became waxen pale.  When death came, I hurried to the kitchen and asked Nora what I must do.

“Open the windows!” she said, “Then her spirit can find its way out.” I did so and I whispered: “Go Mother, go. Don’t stay here. I can manage. You must let your soul free to reach Heaven and the boys. God be with you.” Then, peace came into my soul.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

OBIT | Mar. 13–Evie Hone (Personal Comments)

Portrait of Evie Hone (1894-1955) by HvS.
Collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.
© by HvS Estate–c/o
Eva Sydney (Evie) Hone died this day in 1955. She was born in Mount Merrion, Dublin on April 22, 1894. She won fame as an Irish artist, especially for her work with stained glass. The Hone family dates back to 1632 in Ireland and her artistic ancestors include:
  • Nathaniel Hone (1718-84), a British painter (and founder of the Royal Academy), and
  • Nathaniel Hone the Younger 1831-1917),  great-grandnephew of the better-known Nathaniel, and an Irish painter. 
She was the daughter of Joseph Hone, a distiller and founder of Minch and Co., and a director of the Bank of Ireland. Her mother was the daughter of Sir Henry Robinson, a lawyer.

In 1905, Hone suffered partial paralysis after a fall while assisting in Easter decoration for her local Church of Ireland parish.  She required extensive medical treatment and never fully recovered. Visiting Europe with her governess in 1911, she was deeply impressed by the basilica (the Papal Basilica) of St. Francis in Assisi, which helped stir her life-long interest in the relationship between art and Christianity.

Evie Hone's early influences were:
- The British artist Walter Sickert, who taught her at the Westminster Technical School in London in 1914.
- Fellow artist and friend for life Mainie Jellett, whom she met at Westminster Technical School.
- Semi-cubist painter and writer Andre Lhote, and then Albert Gleizes, the abstract cubist painter and theorist, both of whom taught Hone and Jellett in 1920 when they went to Paris together.

After these sorties to the Continent, Hone returned to Ireland to become influential in the 1920s in the modern art movement, through the Irish Exhibition of Living Art.

Her later influences include:
- Wilhelmina Geddes, who taught her stained-glass techniques.
- Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006), who was at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin in 1931-32, after having finished her studies in Amsterdam at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunst. HvS expressed admiration for Hone's earliest experiments with stained glass in 1931–and by Hone's report helped convince her to concentrate on this medium.
Crucifixion (top) and Last Supper
(bottom), Eton College Chapel

From 1931 to her death in 1955 Evie Hone produced many windows in Ireland, England and the United States, including:
- The East Window, created 1949-52, in the Eton College chapel, as shown at right.
- The Healing Arts, in the Washington National Cathedral.
- The Holy Family in St. John the Baptist Church, Blackrock.
- The Rose Window in the Holy Family Church in Ardara, Donegal, financed by a New York City resident who came from the area.
- My Four Green Fields in the Government Buildings in Ireland, originally commissioned for the Irish Government's Pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair and located in the CIE Head Office in O'Connell Street 1960-1983.

Originally a devout Anglican, Hone entered an Anglican convent in 1925 but withdrew. She converted to Catholicism in 1937. Evie Hone's religious impulses may have prompted her to try working in stained glass. Initially she worked as a member of the An Túr Gloine stained glass co-operative before setting up a studio of her own in Rathfarnham.

A retrospective 50 years after her death, "Evie Hone - A Pioneering Artist" at the National Gallery of Ireland used one of two well-known portraits of Evie Hone by HvS as the exhibition catalog cover. The other portrait was the subject of a lengthy article by Marie Bourke. Supported by Abbey Stained Glass Studios, the exhibition highlighted the key phases of the artist's career from her early abstract work through to her later stained glass pieces. It brought together some 25 works drawn from public and private collections around Ireland.

The many artists Hone studied with and befriended inform her work–the Continental avant-garde ideas and also Irish Christian art. In the 1930s her style of her compositions became more figurative. Her landscape scenes are noted for their vitality. Her great reputation rests largely on her intense stained-glass creations.


Evie Hone and Hilda van Stockum were very close both in their art and their religious evolution.  HvS's eldest daughter Olga Marlin says that Hone and van Stockum met through an Anglican priest from a Scottish clan, Fr. Colquhoun, of whom HvS painted a portrait that was prominently displayed in the Marlin house when we were growing up.

One year after Hone  converted to Catholicism in 1937, van Stockum followed her into the Catholic church, suggesting Hone's influence on her.  Possibly both Hone and van Stockum consciously turned away from the blandishments of abstract art as part of their embrace of Roman Catholicism, although van Stockum seems to have been little inclined in that direction as a young artist.

Evie Hone was chosen as godmother to Brigid Marlin, born 1936, who is also an artist. When HvS visited Ireland in 1951-1955, she accompanied Hone on a visit to Lourdes, near the end of Hone's life.

For more information about Hilda van Stockum's conversion to Catholicism, see her autobiographical ghost-post My Life and Religious Evolution.