Constable: At 96, lifelong painter gets her first art show
When World War II messed with her senior year at Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst, Mary Maurer of Glen Ellyn drew upon her talents to make things right.
"We didn't have a yearbook because of the war," she remembers. "So I cut out the pictures and put this together."
The talented artist designed and made her own personal yearbook, complete with photographs pasted onto pages and hand-drawn illustrations. The bound book is a history lesson come to life, with black-and-white photos such as one featuring her and other members of the Business Club staffing a booth selling war bonds.
At age 96 and married to Andy Marchese, the 98-year-old legendary band director retired from Benet Academy in Lisle, Mary Marchese finally is getting some recognition for her artwork. The Glen Ellyn Public Library is featuring 50 of her oil paintings on its Gallery Wall. The paintings feature portraits of four generations of her family, "the people I love," Marchese says.
She took an interest in art in 1934 when she was in the fourth grade at St. Petronille School in Glen Ellyn. During her three years at Glenbard Township High School (which became Glenbard West), she earned art awards and was named the official artist for the Girl Reserves service club. Her parents insisted she attend Immaculate Conception for her senior year, where she continued as an artist, drawing the "Isn't It The Truth" comic strip for the school newspaper.
With money tight and rationing to help the war effort, she did get one perk for being the oldest of eight children born to Charles and Roma Maurer. "I got new clothes," she says. "Everybody else got hand-me-downs."
She went to Marycrest College, a former Catholic women's college in Davenport, Iowa, to study art. But another skill took her away after her freshman year.
"My sisters and I sang in a quartet and we got a job," Marchese says. Singing with jazz groups and big bands throughout Chicago and beyond, she and sisters, Trudy, Carol and Joan, made a name for themselves.
"We called ourselves the Holly Sisters and that was before Buddy Holly," Marchese says, explaining how the Holly Sisters was catchier and easier to pronounce than the Maurer Sisters. The Holly Sisters were featured in DownBeat magazine, the premier publication devoted to jazz and blues. Singing as Mary Holly, she performed with band leader Frankie Masters, whose bands played popular venues in New York City, Chicago's Palmer House and the Boulevard Room at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, and elsewhere.
"I've been all over the country, but I only saw the dance hall and the hotel," she says. While singing with Masters' bands, she met the trumpet player she would marry, and when he struck out on his own as Andy Marchese and His Orchestra, she was his main singer. They married in 1947, and had children Lynne, Frank, Julie, Andy, Maryanne, Jack, Rosemary and Paul.
Andy Marchese and his orchestra played at the Chez Paree, a popular Chicago night club, where they accompanied performers such as Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Tony Bennet, Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr. He left showbiz in 1958 to be the band director at Benet Academy, where he still in fondly remembered as "Coach."
His wife painted the backdrops for all his high school band concerts and even made the coverings for the tubas in the marching band. While she gave up her singing career, Marchese somehow found time to rekindle her visual arts, doing oil paintings of her children. When the kids needed money for college, Marchese worked in human relations for the postal service.
Marchese has painted portraits of most of her 39 grandchildren and has requests to do paintings of all her 41 great-grandchildren.
"I'm not going to live long enough to do that," she says with a chuckle. She's currently working on a portrait of granddaughter Sophia with her horse, Chester.
"Horses are hard. Dogs and cats are easier," Marchese says. "I like to have a prop, like a dog or flowers."
She sets up her easel at her kitchen table and generally works off a photograph. "Kids can't stand still that long," Marchese says.
"All of them are mediocre photos, but they are great paintings," says daughter Rosemary Orbegoso, a special-education teacher at Glenbard East High School who has become a "painting buddy" for her mom. In addition to portraits, Marchese has done series of paintings of houses in four seasons for her kids and friends.
"I painted so many I can't remember them all," she says. She's given away almost all of the 200 or so paintings she has done to relatives and friends.
She's never made a dime with her paintings. She worked on commission once, but threw away the painting when her client didn't like it. When the client changed her mind, the painting was gone and Marchese decided she didn't want to paint for money, just for the fun of it.
"You have to concentrate. If there's something you really want to do, you need privacy," she says. "You like to see something that you do, and you're glad to do it."