The decor in Marion Gray’s apartment reflects her life.
Paintings with outdoor scenes and lamp bases with sculpted figures of rural characters and woodland animals abound in Gray’s Crystal Court apartment in Princeton. She painted the
paintings and created the sculptures from clay, which not only reflect her lifelong passion for creating crafts and artwork, but also her love of nature.
Nearly 90 years old, Gray has also nurtured her eight children in the appreciation of art. She said recently that all of her children have gone into art in some form, whether it be painting or music.
“I mainly wanted my kids to enjoy life … to learn things they can have fun with,” Gray said. “For some kids, their living is their work. You can enjoy life too.”
Gray recently recounted an event long ago that reflected such nurturing. Sometime in the 1960s, in the basement laundry room at the Gray family home in St. Paul, Marion was painting a large mural on the wall. The mural depicted a woman hanging clothes on a line, and while Marion worked on the upper part of the mural, she encouraged her children to paint what they liked on the lower part, such as wild flowers and small animals.
While Gray and the kids painted, a neighbor stopped by and upon seeing what was going on, exclaimed to her, “I should have known. You are the only one I know who would have their kids paint on the walls.”
Gray’s granddaughter Dara Kegler-Gray recently commented on Marion’s love for art.
“She likes to be busy,” Kegler-Gray said. Both Dara Kegler-Gray and Gray’s daughter Beth Kegler-Gray said Gray still wants to continually be creating something.
“As long as she’s living and has breath in her, she’ll be thinking of something to do (and wondering) ‘What’s the next project?’” Beth Kegler-Gray said.
Some of the evidence for that is Gray’s small art painting table in one end of her bedroom and the occasional piece of craft or artwork sitting around her apartment. Gray also seems to have a sense of humor. She positioned a clay pig she sculpted so it is staring into her aquarium and commented that the fish were concerned about it.
Gray’s inclusion of bear figures in her lamp-base sculptures reflects the time she spent in a rural part of northern Minnesota, where bears were among her visitors.
Gray lived in St. Paul in the early part of her life with her husband Leon, a traveling salesman, and their children. The family moved to North Dakota for awhile before moving to Mahtomedi in 1968. After Mahtomedi, she and Leon moved to the west side of St. Paul until about 1993, and then moved to Alexandria. After Leon died in 1996, Gray moved to Beaver Bay on Minnesota’s North Shore to be near her son Clifford. She lived there until moving to Princeton almost two years ago.
Gray said that when she lived “in the woods” at Beaver Bay, little bear cubs would come onto her property.
Beth Kegler-Gray says that her mother fed bears up at Beaver Bay and that a mother bear with cubs would come around to her place.
About Gray’s painting
Gray pointed out that her father made “beautiful paintings,” and that she first tried painting while in kindergarten. She has mainly used acrylics and watercolor over the years and estimates she has made about 50 paintings in her lifetime. She whittled for many years, has crocheted and has made drawings.
And what does she like about painting? “It’s free,” she said. “I put the scenery in the beginning (of the painting) and then whisk, whisk, whisk, the background starts free and then I put in the details after.”
Gray also learned to make clay pottery and has for some time been using a potter’s wheel and kiln at her daughter’s home, located across the street from Gray’s residence. Gray, in her latter years, has also used a polymer material for sculpting and has hardened those sculptures in a little electric toaster oven.
Reflecting on artwork, Gray said, “I think when you get started … when you are young, you just grow on it. But now I am going the other way. My fingers and head no longer work like they used to. It (the painting) is more of a squiggle now.”
She lamented about other declining abilities: “I can’t play in the snow. I discovered that when I tried to make a (snow) angel, I got down and couldn’t get back up. By the time I figured out how to get back up, I ruined the angel.”
Gray continued pondering about her changing condition as she approaches the end of nine decades.
“Actually, I hope I get up to heaven, my new home, and I can do my artwork up there,” she said. She added that when she is struggling with an art project now, she starts to pray. “When I pray about it, I can do it,” she said. “I thank the Lord. He helps me.”
Being active as possible and working on crafts and art “is what’s keeping me alive,” she added. “I enjoy doing something I look forward to.”
Molding clay or polymer into bears and other critters may be helping Gray relive her time at Beaver Bay.
“She loved it up there,” Beth Kegler-Gray said. “She loved the animals. She loved the bears.”
Kegler-Gray also said she doesn’t want to discourage her mother from making things, but sometimes her creative instincts can be a little challenging.
“You can’t go shopping with her,” Beth Kegler-Gray said, explaining that Gray will stop at craft things and say, “I can do that.”
Beth Kegler-Gray said she has been hoping to get Gray out more among people and recently brought her to the Elim Oasis adult day care center in Princeton to see how that would go. Gray didn’t stay there long, explaining that she needed to be more active than she was at Elim Oasis. Elim Oasis Director Darlene Walburg has not given up on getting Gray to come over there more. She recently arranged for her to give a series of art classes to Elim Oasis clients.
But as Gray slows down in her art and craft work, her children and grandchildren may still carry on that those interests. The family legacy was already started some years ago, as the Gray family would have an annual art show in Mahtomedi, featuring their works.
Beth Kegler-Gray notes that her nephew Paul Daniel Gray, who is Gray’s first grandson, made props for the Lord of the Rings movies and was a props department supervisor for the recent “Hobbit” movie.
Gray’s encouragement of her children to paint on a wall inside their home so long ago may have been a hotter spark for appreciating art than she and her children expected.