Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mystery Woman

I wanted to show you this little watercolor that hangs in our tiny den. I was first drawn to it because of the scenery, and because it is small. I love small things. I found it in a consignment shop, and when the man in the shop took it down for me to have a closer look, I turned it over and saw this written on the back:

Painted by Henrietta S. Bostwick at the age of 15 in 1881. Born Jan. 13th, 1866.

Who was Henrietta Bostwick? What was her life like? Did she pursue her art, or get married and raise a family? She has become something of a mystery woman to me.

Lately I've become fascinated by the choices we make in life, and how they affect the way our lives unfold. It's my age, I guess. I feel, at times, as though I've come to a point where my choices have narrowed. And without those choices, I feel just a little lost -- as though I'm not really me anymore. Does anyone else feel this way?

Of course, we make choices, big and small, every day. And they affect our lives, too. Read or watch TV, walk or drive, apple or donut? But it's those major turning points in our lives that define us to ourselves or other people. When I graduated from college, I was no longer the "good student." When I fell in love and got married, I almost felt as though I had betrayed the "feminist" in me. And when I became an exercise instructor, suddenly I was the perky gym rat -- not exactly the smart, idealistic and serious thinker that I believed myself to be inside.

Now, I have given up teaching and training, and I am staring menopause in the face. My body is changing, and sometimes I honestly don't recognize myself in the mirror. I am a mystery woman, too. And I am trying to tell myself that what really matters is that today I made a hot breakfast for my daughter, sent a care package to my son in college or enjoyed a bowl of homemade soup with my husband. It's not what I look like, or what my house looks like, or whoever I think I am inside. It's the person I am to others. Finally, at 50, I get it. It's not about me! Duhh! (I'm sure you all figured this out years ago!)

I remember reading a book when I was growing up called A Lantern in her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich. It told the story of a pioneer woman who was a talented artist and musician, but gave it all up to marry, have children and move to a homestead on the prairie. Her children inherited her talents, and were able to pursue them because of her sacrifice and hard work. My little watercolor somehow reminds me of that book.

What is the story of my mystery woman? Her descendents obviously cherished her painting enough to frame it and write that information on the back. Did it hang on a wall in someone's house, referred to as a dear grandmother's painting? How did it end up in the consignment shop?

Many questions, no answers. But this is part of what I love so much about old things. They fire the imagination. And sometimes, if we're really lucky, they make us realize our little place in the grand scheme of things. Now Henrietta's painting, and the lessons I have learned, will just have to become a part of my family's heritage.


  1. What a beautifully written post. I am 50, too. and it does seem to be an age where we take stock and reevaluate choices. Thanks for sharing the picture and your thoughts......

  2. Fabulous post, my dear!!!
    Did you do a google search on Henrietta just for fun?
    Have a wonderful day.

  3. What a beautiful watercolour painting - so much talent at 15!

  4. I love this post. It is the same feeling I have about this house. You know just a little and your imagination has to fill in the rest. I couldn't have resisted that special painting. What a special thing to have! With regard to the menopause thing, Kari at Just Livin' Large usually has Menopause Mondays- she's a hoot! Take care, Stephanie

  5. I love this post, too! Your painting is exactly why I have been in love with antiquing since my father took me to my first antique store at age 10. I turned 50 this year, and have faced many challenges with health, career, finances, and relationships that have caused me to take a deeper look at myself within and realize my figure, house, and all the outer trappings are not as important as I thought they were. So I am really celebrating being 50!
    BTW, A Lantern in Her Hand was one of my favorite books...I read it over and over.
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts, Mary.

  6. Wow, I am glad Barbara Jacksier reminded me to come back here. I'd been here once before, but I need to add you to my visitation list! Your blog is delightful. I too own a painting from a mystery person, and did lots of research and eventually found he was friends with the likes of Monet! There was precious little info about him, but what fun it was to search and discover a small tidbit!

  7. Hey great post Mary. So you're sayin' that we are more than our outards? I'm still heavily in the gym rat phase. Hopefully, enlightenment is just around the corner.

  8. oh.. I think those questions plague us at any age. I find trouble keeping my indentity straight when I do so much for others and rarely for myself.
    Beautiful post, fabulously written and most thought provoking.
    Thank you,
    And by the way.. that painting is most devine! A true treasure and I'm sure whoever she may have been, she is happy now that her art is being loved so much!

  9. Wonderful post! I was blog hopping and found you somehow and I'm glad I did. Love your About Me blurb! I like to think I'm a cool action mama ala Matrix! Lovely painting you found.


  10. Henrietta S Bostwick (Brown)...born Jan.21 1813 in Lake George, NY. died April 04 1880 in Owego NY. Married a man Martin Bostwick in Arpil 1830. Martin was born June 30 1808 and died Jan. 1876. They had a son Samuel born May 1845 in Owego NY and died at the age of 20 in April of 1866. They also had a daughter Henny (Henrietta). This is all I know so far and have been looking into Henny's life. I believe she would be my great great grandmother. I know she was an artist and she was blind. Henny's daughter Nelly...my great Auntie passed away 2 weeks ago at the age of 97. She too was blind and an artist.
    This painting could be connected..I am not really sure. I am not realy sure how I even found you this morning, but something tells me that I was guided here to give you a note. You have a true treasure there and maybe a little piece of my heritage.

  11. Terrific post! I am turning (gulp) 54 next month. And I think this is the time of our lifes to re-evaluate once more. I think we grow in stages.

    Love the little painting.

  12. Wonderful post and beautiful painting!

  13. Cathy, I am amazed! I did do a short Google search, but did not get around to checking all the leads I found. However, I am absolutely blown away by the fact that you happened upon my post this morning. The internet is a truly amazing place!

  14. My dear Mary...you should embark on writing a book. You have that special talent with words that would make it a best seller. I love you little painting, and like you, I so wonder how these things end up in a shop, garage sale, flea market. But when you stop and think about it, thru all the generations, sometimes special loves and bonds become lost along the way. Thankfully, someone like you comes along, picks up the special things and includes it into their lives. WONDERFUL POST and very thought-provoking.

  15. Sweet painting! I've found one of those too with a message on the back. Love it when that happens. You never know where those paintings have been.

    And you go, girl, with the red transferware. love all your little finds!


  16. What a lovely post. :)

    It is just what I needed this morning.

  17. Great post! I think that's why I like antiques. I hold something and wonder about the person who owned it before me.

  18. That was such a beautifully written post! I am so happy you started blogging, I'm really enjoying your blog!

  19. The painting is a little treasure...
    Your post today is just wonderful.
    I am turning 51 this month and have found that I too have taken the long road to re-evaluating my life.
    It is no longer about whether my nails are done or if I got the house all dusted...I now must concentrate on my Mother, my children, my husband, pets and the world around me. I still care very much about my home and, yes, even my nails occasionally, *smile* but they take a back seat now.

    I love to come here and always enjoy reading what is on your mind. You are a treasure.


  20. Your blog was truly a treasure to find. I am a huge family history fanatic and was not surprised to see that Cathy found you also! What a fantastic story of the painting and your chance meeting on this blog! LOVE it! You have a wonderful way with words. I will be visiting often. Funny. Thank You for sharing.

  21. What a beautiful, thought inspiring post, Mary! What a gift Henrietta had to paint that at age *15*! It's a pretty little painting and I'm sure you enjoy looking at it and imagining the story of her life. ~ hugs, Lynda ♥

  22. That was a lovely, thoughtful post Mary!! Although I can't erase the mental image of you rolling those stickers now lol!!!

  23. I need to look for that book. My great grandmother was an artist- for one year, then settled down to raise a family and run a farm. I own two of her peices of art and treasure them.

  24. Mary I love the watercolor. How wonderful to find out some history behind the mystery woman.
    It's normal to wonder about the paths not taken. I try to use these reflections to affirm who I am, and to know that the paths I've traveled have helped shape and mold me. That every step I have taken and choice I have made is precious and noteworthy. It feels me with gratitude for my family and friends and the love that surrounds and supports me.

  25. Well I tried googling Henrietta. Guess what comes up. Your blog! HA! It is a lovely painting. You're lucky to have found it.


  26. what a great post. I do think it is age. things like this make me feel this way. When I buy something old my mind wonders who owned this and what they did.
    I am aslo like you about myself..but just haveing fun with the grandbabies,visiting the kids for a cup of coffee or lunch. Making memories that they will one day cherish also.

  27. Amazing that Cathy happened upon your post about the painting. What a neat story!
    I too am facing the 50 mark....as the nest empties. All those years of taking care of others...then bam, nobody needs quite as much. Strange feeling. Thanks for sharing from the heart.

  28. Oh how special...wonderful that you get to be the caretaker of that lovely little painting........
    Life is exactly that way. I am comfortable with my life and my choices as I know that others don't have the luxury of choosing certain things for themselves. I am simple and don't ask for much!

  29. Wonderful post! I agree with some many of the other ladies, you should write a book. I have a picture that I got when my MIL past away. It was a oil painting the my husband's grand mother (99 yrs.old) did with the most beautiful roses on it. There are five generations that have enjoyed that painting. Keep history alive. Kate

  30. OK -- it was a hard choice this week, but this post "talked" to me the most. It was beautifully written and I have even printed a copy to share with some friends. Thanks Mary.

    Your "Dear Friend" Robin

  31. I know this is an old post but I stumbled on your blog just recently and have trying to read as many of your old posts as possible. It's as though you have figured out and written all the things I'm trying to piece together in my own mind. I'm 44, but my children are 10, 10 and 12 and I feel like I had them a little late and have been lamenting that. Your blog, particularly this post, gives me chills and for that I thank you. It also gives me perspective and for that I thank you even more. Blessings to you.

  32. I'm catching up reading earlier posts after having read the Houzz interview today. agree with the comments given above. This is a blog that can add a nurturing/contemplative/entertaining element to the daily sometimes grind experienced by a 50-something (1956-present) person juggling job/cooking/cleaning/shopping/laundry/life mate/dogs/precarious finances/house that needs an aesthetic overhaul.... Thank you. - Bonnie in DC

  33. Welcome Angela and Bonnie! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in having these feelings. I'm still finding my way through all this, and it makes me feel better just to know that others are going through it with me. :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I love to hear what you have to say!