Like 42.5 million other Americans I traveled more than 50 miles “home” for Thanksgiving, and like so many, our gathering was in a different house than the one I grew up in. My mother sold the big family home and now lives comfortably in a sunny condo. Luckily, many of the artifacts from my childhood settled in as well as she has, including her collection of Madonnas.
Directly inside my mother’s front foyer, a 13th century Madonna greets all who enter. This carved wood statue had been in our old family home almost my entire life, yet I only just asked my mother where it came from. I heard an elaborate tale about how my father discovered this treasure during a trip to Chicago. While there he walked past an antique shop and saw this Madonna in the window, but each time he passed the store was closed. Due to serendipity, a massive snow storm left him stranded in Chicago for an extra day which allowed for a visit to the store while it was open. A price was negotiated and he had his treasure shipped back to New Jersey where for nearly fifty years she graced our den before moving to her present location.
Along the hallway there are two miniature Madonna’s on the wall, each with their own unique story, and as I ask my mother she revealed all the fascinating details with relish. The short version? The one on the left she bought for herself while visiting Jerusalem in 2002, while the other came from her own childhood home, given to her when her mother downsized.
Heading up the stairs and down the hall to my mother’s room, residing over her bed, is the Venezuelan artist Federico Vegas Chumaceiro’s ethereal and lovely Madonna he created especially for her. The Chumaceiro and Vegas family friendship with mine goes back for decades, crosses generations, borders and languages; this painting stands as a testament from Federico’s heart to my mother’s.
Halfway back down the stairs on a landing is a double fold painting of the angel Gabriel’s visitation to Mary. This gild framed reproduction came from a trip my parents took to Washington D.C. Before my quest to discover the Madonnas in my mother’s home, I’m not sure I ever noticed this one; I certainly didn’t know its origin or pause to have a good look at her but she’s a beauty.
Finally is the Madonna my daughter, marnika weiss, painted while still an art student at MICA in Baltimore. She gave this painting to her grandmother for Christmas when she first moved into this new home, and she found a perfect location for it high above the door. On your way out she looks down to grace your departure in her warm tones and maternal pose; this canvas an example of love granted by the artist for her grandmother.
Listening to the stories and learning about the artifacts that grace your family’s home can make your holiday time together all the more special; knowing the origins grant the object even more meaning and attachment as unique as the family surrounding you. So glad to have had this time with mine.