Mother's art is honored

Exhibit: Son recalls relationship built on letters and small paintings sent over the years.

January 24, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Throughout Nick Vogel's childhood in Romania, his relationship with his mother was primarily built on letters she wrote to him. Paintings she had created were neatly folded and tucked inside the envelopes.

His parents divorced when he was 2 years old, and his mother remarried and moved to another town. His grandparents raised him. He rarely saw his father and saw his mother only on Christmas and Easter.

As the letters and small paintings arrived throughout the years - stopping when his mother died about 30 years ago - Vogel, now 79, stored them away on a shelf until friends persuaded him to display her work.

In Oh! --- my mother the artist at the Slayton House Gallery in Columbia through Feb. 2, about 35 of Anna Vogel's paintings are on exhibit, giving insight into her life and artwork as well as a glimpse of her son's childhood.

"Why not give the old girl an exhibit?" said Vogel, of Columbia. "She sees it from above. I'm sure she's delighted."

Some paintings show crease marks, some are damaged a little, but to Vogel, "It doesn't matter, they're still beautiful."

Vogel estimated his mother sent him more than 100 letters, starting when he was 7 years old, always writing him to "be careful and not catch a cold."

His mother painted with oils, acrylics and watercolors, focusing much of her work on ships, boats and ballerinas. But a number of the paintings are somewhat abstract, leaving Vogel to guess what his mother was trying to portray.

"I don't know for sure what it is," he said as he pointed to a painting, guessing that it was meant to resemble houses with red rooftops near a mountain.

Attempting to interpret the setting of another painting, Vogel said he thought it was set in Romania, but added, "I wouldn't swear, I wouldn't take a loyal oath to it. It's my imagination."

However, Vogel recognized the painting of his mother's parents' home, where he lived until he was 16. He pointed out the fence in the front yard, constructed so the dogs wouldn't run out in the street.

Such paintings evoked Vogel's childhood memories, and others allowed him to follow his mother's travels. He thinks she was once in Austria because of the style of houses she put in some paintings.

"There were segments of my life which I couldn't remember because they were so long ago," he said. "It was a connection to my mother - through her art, I saw how she saw the world."

Vogel said he started to appreciate his mother's struggles only a few years ago, realizing he was insensitive to her problems when he was younger. He said he was too caught up in his own life and into "cars and planes and girls and going to school."

"Boys are not into feelings," he said. "They are into activities and learning and playing and sports."

Vogel saw a little more of his mother after he moved to Montreal in the 1950s and worked as an electrical engineer. She, too, lived there for about a year.

"You adapt to whatever is there. You soak up the feelings and tenderness when it's there," he said. "No matter how old I was, at the end, I was her baby."

In the last few years, Vogel began to appreciate his mother's artwork more and couldn't remember whether she had ever exhibited her paintings.

On seeing Vogel's artwork, Bernice Kish, the Columbia gallery's director, was impressed and told Vogel, "You know, Nick, you should really do something with those." She invited him to exhibit the work at the gallery.

"I was really amazed at the depth they showed," she said.

Vogel said he has inherited some of his mother's artistic skills, shown in his photography. With his mother's art, he is displaying nine photographs that focus on the nature and wildlife around Wilde Lake, which his apartment overlooks. He has lived in the village of Wilde Lake since moving to Columbia in 1986.

"I have my camera on my shoulder every minute of the day," he said.

Vogel said his memory is getting cloudy - he can't remember all the specific details of his childhood - so he is grateful he had the opportunity to share his mother's work with the public. He said he considered the exhibit his homage to his to his mother, whom he called "a complete artist."

"Everything she touched, she made something become beautiful," he said.

The exhibit is on display at the Slayton House Gallery, 10451 Twin Rivers Road, through Feb. 2. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Information: 410-730-3987.

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