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updated: 8/19/2011 4:36 PM

Wheaton College mourns artist, alum

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  • Marjorie "Marge" Gieser

    Marjorie "Marge" Gieser


Their parents called them crazy; "Hippies who had lost their bearings."

But Marjorie "Marge" and Richard "Dick" Gieser didn't care. They were spending a year in New York in the late 1960s and wanted to give their home a different look.

A front seat of a Chevy and the front seat of a Renault found at an auto wreckage yard were transformed into a couch. A truck bumper was turned into a headboard. A potbelly stove became a coffee table. Truck springs cased in cement? Those were stools, of course.

Richard said the ideas came from Marjorie and they indicated an adventurous creativity that defined her life.

"She was wildly creative," he said of his wife of 51 years. "The neighbors thought we were nuts."

On Aug. 12, Marjorie suffered a seizure and died, nearly 11 months after doctors discovered a brain tumor that attacked the part of her brain that controls speech.

She was 74 years old.

After that episode in New York in 1969 and 1970, during which both Newsweek and The New York Times featured the Giesers' junkyard furniture, Marjorie never stopped creating.

Today, her liturgical banners leave a mark on the world. From Iraq to Mongolia, Bolivia to India, her banners hang in medical facilities.

Much closer to home in Wheaton, where the Giesers have resided since 1970, Marjorie's banners are featured prominently at her alma mater, Wheaton College, including Edman Chapel.

Although religion was a huge part of her life, Richard stresses her passion for creativity bled through all facets of her life.

"She was just an artist and part of her work was religious art," Richard Gieser said. "She believed in serving the Lord through her art. Some was religious. Some wasn't."

Marjorie rarely turned down an opportunity to create. She loved painting big cats and also enjoyed bronze sculpture. She finished a sculpture for each of her grandchildren.

She frequently was commissioned by churches in the area for sculpture and created several banners for College Church in Wheaton. Her husband said he was ecstatic when he saw how much joy she took out of her work.

"I think all husbands like to see their wives doing things they love and the satisfaction they get when they accomplish something," he said.

While at Wheaton College, Marjorie met Richard and they dated for three years until they married in 1959.

Ever since their return to Wheaton, they have remained active with the school.

"They have been ardent supporters of the arts at Wheaton (College)," said the director of the school's music conservatory, Tony Payne. "She is a beloved friend here. She is so earnest and available to help and it showed in so many loving ways."

Born in Egypt, Marjorie traveled frequently with her husband to medical facilities across the world. It was on those trips that she created banners that now adorn hospitals and churches everywhere.

"She would be my idea of a model Christian women, model Christian citizen," Payne said. "(Because of) the imagination, the openness and availability to other people."

The Giesers often cleared their furniture -- much more conventional nowadays -- and hosted music concerts in their home. They attended as many Olympics as they could and took their three children on wilderness adventures.

When he was 12, Marjorie's son, Stephen, says one of his friends dropped by with a broken go-cart. Marjorie fired up her welding unit and fixed it, instantly earning her esteem among Stephen's pals.

"I was as proud as any 12-year-old could be," he said. "I had the coolest mom."

Although she did not speak for the last five months of her life, Stephen said knowing about the tumor in advance gave his family a chance to come together and rally around her.

"It was a special time for the whole family to really show our love for her and honor her; say what you need to say," he said. "It was a special time."

A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Aug. 28, at College Church, 332 E. Seminary Ave. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that gifts be sent to Wheaton Academy, 900 Prince Crossing Road in West Chicago, or Soli Deo Gloria, 800 Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn.