Ed Fraga Remembers

When I first met Mary Ann we were both in our early 20’s. We were studio neighbors in the Cary building in downtown Detroit from 1982-1986. Mary Ann was shy and amazingly secretive about her paintings. I vividly remember knocking on her paint stained door once to see if she would show me her work. She always made an excuse why she needed more time and would apologize how her small closet size studio was such a mess. I have this searing image of her to this day standing in the doorway.
She wore this cream colored robe that was just covered in paint. Emanating from the room was the sweet perfume smell of wet oil paint. As we spoke I would sneak a peak through the crack of the door and what I saw was so beautiful. There were paintings everywhere casually propped against the wall.
She would spend months layering canvasses with paint. She was like a modern day alchemist,
painting at times on anything she could get her hands on; a piece of floor tile, a plank of discarded wood from a door, even shards of broken glass would find its way into the paintings. They were like relics from a lost ancient civilization, but they were of our time. She was recording her place in the world by these personally moving icons.

She loved the Cass Corridor movement that was going on in Detroit at the time. Her humility kept her from thinking she too could be a part of this. The good news is that soon many will see the breadth of her place in this movement she so cherished. Finally, she too will be added as a member of this elite community. In fact, while she was still alive she got to she her painting, “Figure in a Red Room” hanging in a place of distinct honor in the office of the President of Wayne State University. Her painting share the walls with her heros in the art world of Detroit, like Gordon Newton, John Egner, Bob Sestok, and Jim Chatelain. I am pleased she got to see her painting in this permanent home during her lifetime.

Mary Ann leaves behind a legacy of a grace, tenacity, and an indomitable spirit. I have never seen such strength and willingness to fight to live as Mary Ann showed all of us who knew her. She never complained. I never heard “why me.” She seemed to gain spiritual strength as her body weakened. The suffering she had to endure is unimaginable – to not eat solid foods for months. In fact, when I came over to the Aitkens’ in December 2011 for Christmas, as I have for the past several years, I was struck how Mary Ann seemed to be directing the events of the evening – when to open the gifts – when we would eat. As we ate, she sat in her chair next to the fireplace warming her frail body and drank water from a straw. When I left that night I couldn’t help but think of the image of her sitting in this lofty chair. It was more like a throne. She sat opposite the Christmas tree (which at the Aitkens is never a modest size tree). It always dominates the living room. Not this Christmas. It was Mary Ann who was the central focus. The image of her sitting on a throne seemed a haunting one I couldn’t get out of my mind as I left that evening. I knew it would be the last time I would see her. She would leave this world as she lived – directing her life as she wanted it to be. As I looked into her piercing blue eyes for the last time, which seemed bluer then I ever remember them being, I saw the soul of a beautiful woman and friend. Her eyes weren’t pitiful or sad but they resonated joy and a peace of mind. She was tired. She did everything humanly possible to fight for her life and she knew it was time to give in and rest.
We live with the memories of her tenacious life. Her art, the token reminder of who she was, show us all the vision of a woman who saw beauty in everything. Her subjects varied from nature, to the figure, to the mundane. It is her gift to us.

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