mrs. kivisild, a face of islip

Mrs. Kivisild, final, low rez

When I first came up with the idea of painting various portraits of individuals from Islip, Margaret and I both immediately agreed on Mrs. Kivisild.  And when I asked Mrs. Kivisild, she responded with great enthusiasm, so much so that she was in my studio posing for the painting that very week.

As she sat down, we decided on a simple, natural pose, and we began to talk.  What struck me about her conversation was that her spare moments away from the nursery school were still occupied with talk of the children, of the quality of education that they receive, of the vision of the school in general.  And when she spoke about the school, her vocabulary was devoid of hyperbolic description that oftentimes surround children's education.  In fact, I came to learn that Mrs. Kivisild frowned on distracting trends.  What I always most appreciated about the Islip Community Nursery school was that they didn't make sales pitches with pretentious claims- everywhere I turn these days, somebody is telling me that my three year old can learn to speak French, or learn computer skills, or to get a head start on science, or this or that.  In nursery school, this strikes me as ridiculous, and even coercive capitalistic conditioning.  Mark Twain's young mind was formed amidst wild turkeys and raw pine board floors, but nowadays it seems people believe that iPad navigation skills are more important than knowing how to write a limerick.  And at Islip Community, the children laugh, they build, they come home with paint on their hands, they pet the resident rabbit, they learn independence, they are proud of themselves, and they return home filled with wonder.  The nursery has a vision for character development, rather than just setting a child on an assembly belt en route to their career.  And so, Islip Community Nursery is a special place, and Mrs. Kivisild's vision was at the heart of that.

As a young woman, after years of performing as a vocalist in various venues in the New York area, Mrs. Kivisild married a fellow musician and settled in the Islip area.  She longingly describes the years that passed, her five children all about her, the first home that she and her husband bought.  Before long, an opportunity arose to become the director at the Islip Community Nursery School, and she took the spot.  It was a perfect fit, as she loved working with children, and had a strong idea of what children's education should be.  As director of the nursery school for several decades, she saw several generations of children walked through the doors, among them my wife, and now my sons.

Perhaps my favorite thing about painting Mrs. Kivisild was watching her and her husband interact.  People, like grapes, can only go two ways with age- we either grow sour, or we ferment into fragrant wine.  As Mrs. Kivisild sat for the portrait, her husband tenderly looked on for several hours, grabbing her hand securely as she ascended and descended from the model stand, bringing her water and coffee, asking her if she were warm enough.  Over the next few sittings, it was my hope to imbue her portrait with the vision of how her husband must see her, because he was right.

Mrs. Kiviseld, face, low rez

my wife, a face of islip

margaret, smile, on easel

I regularly listen to Bach as I paint, in particular his violin sonatas, and I usually find myself reflecting on the same thought.  No, I am not reflecting on the polyphonic structure of contrapuntal composition in Baroque violin concertos.  I wonder how the heck Bach had twenty children.

And then I think of my wife.

While I am at the easel, smearing paint on pieces of linen all day long, my wife is scouring the top of our Chambers oven, she is picking up kids from nursery, she is spraying nasal medicine in baby Quinlan's nose, she is powerwashing English Ivy entrails off the back wall of our home, she is singing Liam to sleep, she is buying car seats from Target, she is reading about controlling children's temper tantrums in parenting books, she is folding laundry, she is creating brochures for my portrait paintings, she is laughing at Evan as he runs out the front door wearing nothing but a diaper on his head, she is sweeping, she is plucking ripe tomatoes out of the back garden, she is making Syrian kibbe, she is crying because Quinlan is sick, she is arranging babysitters in the evening so that she and I can go for a walk, she comes to my studio to pose for a painting, she runs to the office to check on an order of linen that is coming in.

That's how Bach had twenty kids, and managed to scribble out a few tunes here and there, as well.

margaret, smile, 2

margaret, eyes


One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
"Vain man," said she, "that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise."
"Not so," (quod I) "let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew."
- Spenser, Amoretti LXXV
ONE day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washèd it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide and made my pains his prey.
Vain man (said she) that dost in vain assay         5
A mortal thing so to immortalise;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wipèd out likewise.
Not so (quod I); let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame;         10
My verse your virtues rare shall eternise,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
  Where, when as Death shall all the world subdue,
  Our love shall live, and later life renew.