My mom, wow. What a strong woman.
Born Geraldine Marie Aucoin in 1920, she lost her husband (my father) when she was 48 and then she lost a daughter (my sister) when she was almost 56.
Six years later, she was the victim of an assault, and fortunately, the assailant received a 20-year prison sentence.
For me, and even more so for her, those occurrences were like a massive punch to the gut in which the pain never goes away but only dulls over time — much like (and I’m no scientist) the way radioactive isotopes decay and become harmless decades later.
Yeah. There’s that.
But — aside from the pain she endured — there’s also the beauty that Gerry Abramo added to many people’s lives before she died peacefully at age 88 in 2008. And that beauty is still around in her lasting artwork.
My mom, Gerry Abramo.
Soon after becoming a widow and nearing age 50, Gerry, who had dabbled a little bit with art while raising her five kids, went all out in pursuit of that passion. She studied in France and also with a master, Samuel Rose, at the Fenway Studios in Boston.
It’s worth taking a look at that last paragraph’s link. Rose is considered one of the finest Boston school painters — or so reads that snippet of his life and works.
While growing up, I heard my mom say Samuel Rose’s name many times, and also John Singer Sargent, William Bouguereau, William Paxton and others whose works I really have never taken a super long look at.
Back in those youth and teenage days for me, countless people came over to sit for a portrait or to be a student and learn from her expertise or as a friend to just chit-chat about everything and anything with Gerry.
Daily, I would see all of the artwork she was working on and many times just walk past it. It would be there and then it would be gone, sold on commission or given away to friends. Portraits, still lifes, landscapes, seascapes, reproductions of the masters.
Inevitably, if she caught me at the right time on the way out the door, she would ask for my honest opinion. And she always said she appreciated me being candid. She wanted to know what looked good or right about it and what may have been off.
Haha, like I’m an expert or something. But there was one thing that mattered to her above all when I gave feedback, and it had to do with portraits, which was her favorite thing to do and also the skill that she is most acclaimed for:
“Did I get the likeness?” was how she would put it.
Looking back, that critiquing made me more skilled at looking at the minute details of things in everyday life. I could see if the face she depicted, for instance, was a little too wide. Or if the nose was too small. Or if the eyes did not sit at the right spot.
All little stuff, but it was big to her. It was another set of eyes to see what she may not be able to see herself because she was looking at it for so long and so closely.
She would tell her friends: “He’s my best critic.”
The one thing I did not do is sit for a portrait until completion. I did sit for hours once or twice. It was super boring and I did not have the patience. She would be staring at me so hard, so serious that I think I would break out laughing and she would get mad. Really, just kind of a punk kid, looking back.
But she got everybody to sit except me, pretty much. That half-done portrait of me wearing my Marlboro High hockey jersey might be somewhere now. All I can picture is she had the outlines done and that the face remains fuzzy, not really filled in. I was “the unfinished.”
And so I am lucky that many years later, she decided to do a portrait from a picture (no sitting) of me, my two brothers and niece with surfboards at Hanalei Bay.
She got me!!!! I did not have to suffer the ignominy of being the only child who she did not paint. That may have been a crusher.
Yes, she got me, and that’s what I call love. She also did a portrait of my first-born child from a photo and a seascape of one of my favorite surfing spots to give to me and my wife as a wedding present.
Gerry Abramo’s story is a perfect example of the fact that it’s never too late to do what you love to do.
When I was a kid, before she followed her dream, I would see her doodles with pen and pencil on paper all the time. She would draw things like kids skating on a pond. I remember being thrilled to see the motion of the skaters, their blushed faces, the cuts their blades were making in the ice, and the visible smoke-like breath emanating from their mouths. Often, her doodles would be of a woman’s face, like the cover of a fashion magazine.
But that was before she really did much art at all. There were a few oil paintings, including one — “The Ship Yard” — that was displayed in our dining room at 129 Grace Circle in Marlboro, Mass., throughout the 1960s and early ’70s and probably all the way up until 1984, when she sold the house. My older brother recently told me that “The Ship Yard” was also up on the wall at our previous residence in Waltham, Mass., where I lived for the first one and a half years of my life.
That was an interesting painting, for sure. I would look at it a lot and I really, really liked it. The added knowledge that it had “Gerry Abramo” signed at the bottom of it made me feel like she was something special as an artist. Already. Even before it actually came to fruition.
She had, as the famous saying goes, “Not yet begun to fight.” And by fight, I mean, the struggles that everyone goes through in this life (such as being a widow with five children!!!) while finding a way to keep on keeping on. Art was that thing for Gerry. Instant happiness to overtake a blue day. Right? She often used this phrase — “a little blue” — when I asked her how she was doing. But her most famous line in answer to that question would be, “Hanging in.” She was a fighter. She didn’t quit.
Gerry also had a wry sense of humor that, as her youngest son, I probably never fully appreciated. Many, many people would talk about how funny she was. To steal a term from Marlboro friend John Winske (from an article I wrote about him recently), my mom was a “hoot and a half.”
And if you think she was not good at getting “the likeness” in her art, let it be know that a pastel portrait she drew of the man who assaulted her helped police find him. Amazing, right?
You didn’t want to cross her, either. Of all her works that I’ve looked at through the years, I never was, until recently, fully impressed with her self portrait. She had that curly and shorter hairstyle for only a little while, so I didn’t really think it made her look like her best self.
But silly me. The last time I saw it, I looked closer. Oh wow!! Take a look at those blazing eyes. Those are the same eyes she would have if someone crossed the line of her patience (as kids often do). It was not a look she had often. It’s a look of: “Don’t mess around with me.”
She had a lot to say with her artwork and I am proud to make her the focus of BedrockSportsMarlboro.com’s and BedrockSportsHawaii.com’s weekly artist spotlight. It will be a spotlight in my head forever anyway.
There are works by Gerry Abramo all over the country (and perhaps the world), some we as her family are aware of and some we’ll never see again.
And if any owners of a Gerry Abramo (or Gerry Aucoin, her maiden name that she sometimes used to sign a work) piece of art would like to share it with us, please do so by contacting me at [email protected]. Maybe we as her family (right Joe, Dave and Marsha?) can make a mini museum. You never know.
I’m no art connoisseur, but everybody I know who has viewed her work tells me it’s great. Art is in the eye of the beholder, and this beholder says it’s great, too. She was a highly accomplished artist.
“Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now
— from “Vincent” by Don McLean
As an exercise to help with the propulsion of this story, I asked my sister and brothers to pick their Top 10 pieces of our mom’s works — the art they like the best or means the most to them for whatever reason
The combined Top 10 follows. Ten points were given for a first-place vote, 9 for second, 8 for third, etc.).
1. “The Ship Yard” (25 points)
2. “Mr. Hannigan” (22)
3. “Davey, Jackie, Joey, Nicky” (17)
4. “Rough Seas” (15)
5. “Pewter Mug And Green Grapes” (13)
6. “Reproduction Of Girl Combing Her Hair” (12)
Originally done by William M. Paxton in 1908
7. “Tip O’Neill” (11)
8. “Reproduction” (10)
9. (tie) “Cynthia Ann” (9)
9. (tie) “Gerry” (self portrait) 9
9. (tie) “Nip and Tuck” (9)
To see more of Gerry’s artwork, go to http://www.the65falcon.com/Gerry.html.
ADDENDUM TO STORY (11/18/20):
Since this story was published Nov. 10, 2020, two people have sent artwork done by my mother. One is of Albert Coppola, sent in by sister Christine Coppola McCarthy, and the other is of Dawn McDonald, sent in by daughter Rhonda (Oram) McNeal. Those paintings are below.
Albert Coppola portrait by Gerry Abramo. (Photo courtesy of Christine Coppola McCarthy).
Photograph of Albert Coppola of which Gerry Abramo used to do his pastel portrat. (Courtesy of Christine Coppola McCarthy.)
Pastel portrait of Dawn McDonald by Gerry Abramo. (Photo courtesy of Rhonda McNeal).
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