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Donna's Canvas

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BC: Donna H. Irwin Died Tuesday, February 26, 2013 in Sarasota, Florida Donna Henwood Irwin, watercolor artist and Buffalo, New York community volunteer, died Tuesday, February 26th in Sarasota, Florida. Mrs. Irwin was 81. The former Donna Virginia Henwood was born in Yonkers, New York on September 11, 1931. Mrs. Irwin served as one of the first presidents of Artpark & Company, a support organization for Artpark. She was a past member of the Board of Directors of the S.P.C.A. of Buffalo & Erie County and the Junior Board of Buffalo General Hospital. Her other affiliations included The Garret Club, where she was a past Board member, and The Society of Daughters of Holland Dames, an organization of women descended from early Dutch settlers in America. Mrs. Irwin was a long time resident of St. Andrew’s Walk and an active member of the Summer Oakland Bryant Homeowners Association where for many years she took on the responsibility of arranging for the Holiday wreaths that festooned the lamp posts. She was a registered stock broker and worked for brokerage firms in Buffalo and New York City, where she met her husband, who once commented that he was the “only man he knew who married his stock broker”. Mrs. Irwin was a talented watercolor artist. Her whimsical Christmas cards were eagerly anticipated by her many friends each year. Her artwork was displayed in a solo exhibit held at the Garret Club shortly before her move to Florida in 2012. In addition to her art, she enjoyed playing bridge and sailing with her husband and children on Lake Ontario. Mrs. Irwin was a woman of exceptional style. She loved fine dining, Manhattan, Boca Grande, sunshine, jewelry (her family nickname was “Sparkle Plenty”), good manners, West Highland White Terriers, her family and her many devoted friends. She was a beautiful person. She certainly sparkled. She is survived by her husband of 46 years Robert J.A. Irwin; sons Ronald Henwood (Jacqueline) of Cape Town, South Africa and Derrick Millett (Marcia) of Wayland, Massachusetts; Stepchildren, William B. (Kathleen) of Rochester, Vermont, Elaine I. Cryer (Arthur) of Buffalo, New York, R. James A. (Karen) of Contoocook, New Hampshire, Elizabeth I. Mitchell of Sarasota, Florida; five grandchildren; six step grandchildren, one step great granddaughter and a sister, Beryl Sirotin of Foster City, California.

FC: Remembering Donna 1931 - 2013

1: Memories from the occasion of a solo exhibition of Donna's art work at the Garret Club. September 8, 2011 Remarks prepared by her husband, Robert Irwin, and delivered by his cousin, Carol Kellogg, on his behalf.

3: For those of you who haven’t quite figured it out, it may seem odd that my lovely wife, Donna Irwin, whose artistry we are honoring today, is not speaking about her own work. I have the privilege of speaking instead. Donna has recently begun to have difficulty speaking. I, on the other hand, have difficulty hearing. Nevertheless, with my not hearing very well, and Donna not speaking very well, it actually makes for a very soothing relationship. I love Donna’s paintings; I love the total dedication and concentration that she employs as she creates these works. I admire the excruciating detail required - that would drive me absolutely crazy. Some of her paintings are taken from photographs that I took at her request; a few others are from subjects that I suggested. The inclusion of poetry on the Christmas card came about when I asked her if I could be a part of her artistic effort at Christmas time. She then gave me the assignment of seeking appropriate poetry to go with her pictures. Finding just the right poem or saying is a wonderful challenge and I suggest to you, that when you see a picture or photograph that inspires you, try to find poetry that goes with it. You will find it challenging and rewarding. Donna is astounded by how many people have complete collections of her cards. As a matter of fact, in trying to prepare for this event, she found that she had only about half of them saved and had to go to her friends to borrow the rest.

4: I have a few comments about life with Donna. We have been married for 45 years and I have practically never washed a dish. Any attempt on my part to wash dishes seems to trigger some nesting instinct in Donna and she becomes hostile. Her instructions to me in the evening are, “You sit there, smoke your cigar and leave the dishes to me.” My lunch friends at the Saturn Club Grill can’t believe it. Due to her artistic sensibility, Donna can spot details others wouldn’t notice. She can walk into a room she has never entered before and note a slight indentation in the carpet that shows that a piece of furniture has recently been moved. A bread crumb on the kitchen floor, which I would not notice, can cause Donna to run for a broom. Although we have cleaning ladies each week and our house is impeccably neat and clean, Donna insists on what she calls “cleaning for the cleaning ladies.” Living with an Artist is indeed interesting and challenging. Donna was instrumental in my receiving a coveted award at my 50th reunion at Colgate when I was elected by the class as “the man who brought back to his reunion the most beautiful wife.” Donna was a stock broker on Wall Street at a time when few women were. Once I commented that I was the only man I know who married his stockbroker. A man standing nearby asked if I could please introduce him to my tailor. I never realized Donna was an artist, until several years after we were married.

5: Returning from a visit to Tookie and E.B. Jewett's house in the Bahamas, I mentioned that we must send them a “thank you gift” for such a wonderful time. At that, Donna said, “maybe I will paint them a nice picture.” I said, “You mean buy them a painting?” She said, “No, I’ll paint one myself.” I said, “Can you paint?” She said, “Yes I can.” Donna then proceeded to compose a beautiful painting of the public stairs in the Village of Harbor Island in the Bahamas. I was astonished and asked her, “Donna, did you really paint this? I think you bought it somewhere.” “Oh no,” she said, “I just thought I would take up painting again.” It may seem odd to you to think of Christmas today when September has just begun. On the other hand, to me, it seems very appropriate as I believe we should try to keep the spirit and fun of Christmas within us throughout the year. We spent many delightful winters on a small island off the west coast of Florida, called Boca Grande. I was originally attracted to that island during a visit with my daughter, Betsy, who lived there about 18 years ago. One day she took me to a restaurant above a busy marina that sold bait. Fisherman and millionaires came here with their boats, and water taxis docked here. The restaurant always seemed to be jammed with all kinds of people munching on grouper sandwiches and key lime pie. The theme of the restaurant's décor was Christmas, and no matter the time of year, it was gaily decorated with multi-colored lights and wreaths which gave the old restaurant a jovial atmosphere. The help was always friendly and very informal. But most of all,

6: the all-year-round Christmas atmosphere caused the restaurant to have an ambiance that uplifted your spirits as you walked in the door. Unfortunately, the health department closed this restaurant down some years ago, and its owner was jailed for selling counterfeit alligator hunting licenses. It has been replaced by an upscale gourmet restaurant. The happy, colorful customers are gone now. Today, I am going to speak about Donna’s Christmas Cards, the originals of which hang here among other examples of her work. Cards: In no particular order: (1) Holly with ornaments (2006) The holly came from Bess Kittinger's garden, next door to our townhouse at 6 St. Andrew’s Walk. I have this picture hanging in my dressing room. The poem came from my memories of English carols sung by the Ridley Choir and was adapted from Sir Walter Scott.

7: Then drink to the hollyberry, with hey down, hey down derry! The mistletoe we'll pledge also, And at Christmas all be merry, At Christmas all be merry! adapted from Sir Walter Scott

8: (2) The Mouse, Angel & Snowman (2007) This is a favorite of Donna’s. The background of the painting was inspired by frost on our window. The angel came from Neo, a store that has moved to Elmwood near Utica. The Snowman is an idea from Donna’s imagination. The mouse and the angel were given to our grandchildren in South Africa. ‘Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, This bird of dawning singeth all night long; And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad, The nights are wholesome, then no planet strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.’ William Shakespeare

10: (3) The Doll and the Teddy Bear. The rabbit was a gift from my sister, Susie. The Teddy was a favorite of our son, Derrick, when he was very little. The soldier came from a store in Ellicottville where, like the long gone bar in Boca Grande, they celebrate Christmas year round.

12: (4) Christmas and the Circus This one sprang from Donna’s imagination and is another one of my favorites; it also hangs in my dressing room. Santa, a trapeze artist, clowns, a guinea fowl from Africa where we were spending a great deal of time - what could be more fun? This painting gives me a cheerful laugh every day. (Donna also included Eloise of The Plaza in remembrance of our wedding night at that great New York hotel. The rest of our Honeymoon was spent in the woods of northern Ontario. I think Donna liked the Plaza better. Very strange, these New York City girls.) The saying on the card came from Kin Hubbard, an American folk writer from the turn of the century. ‘... next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas Spirit.’

14: (5) The non-Christmas Card Donna walked into Sage Florist when the proprietor was creating a similar arrangement for The Mansion on Delaware Avenue, and said “I have got to have it. I will put it front of a Japanese folding screen, alongside a Chinese dog on a reflecting glass table." Everything in this painting came from stores on Elmwood Avenue.

16: (6) Doll with pictures of a snowman and Santa Portrays remembering Christmas. This picture hangs in Donna’s dressing room, and I often hear her laughter as she passes it – she says it somehow reminds her of me.

17: ‘Visions of Christmastime Danced in his head.’

18: (7) With this card Donna wished to share many happy memories. Most of you have seen the statue many times but probably don’t recall it. Donna has always thought it was so beautiful. Here is a question for you. Where is this statue located???? [Answer: The Rue Franklin]

19: ‘Hail! Great parent of us all, Light and Comfort of the Earth; Before your Shrine the Seasons fall, Thou who givest all Nature Birth.’ The Fairy Queen, A Masque by Henry Purcell.

20: (8) Ornaments Up until recent years Donna took her Christmas tree very seriously, with ornaments coming from Harrods in London, The Christmas store in Ellicottville, and a store in Cape Town. The Angel came from Lord and Taylors in New York City. The little Muslim doll gives character to the Christmas tree and, I think, shows Donna’s sense of fairness and diversity.

22: (9) The Owl An owl sitting on the wall of our courtyard at St. Andrew’s Walk. I love this one, and again, I laugh each time I look at it. Donna asked our neighbor Ruth Stovroff if she recognized the wall. Ruth, now preparing for her 100th birthday, said she recognized the wall, but not the owl. I have decided to read the sentiment in the card, and must warn you it is part of a very powerful Wiccan spell celebrating the advent of the winter solstice. If there are any wiccans or witches in the room, please depart quietly and unobtrusively, as you may find this recitation disturbing. The late Terry Griggs called Donna and told her, after opening her card, she laughed and laughed at the solemn owl. We love to think of wonderful Terry laughing. ‘Baying hounds and hooting owl - Sparkling stars and snow is crisp – Noel is here. Bring forth the bowl.’

24: (10) Poinsettia This was Donna’s first Christmas card, 12 years ago. Donna received a poinsettia as a gift and was inspired to paint it. She said, “I just have to paint it.” I guess that is how painters are; you never know what will inspire them. At the last minute Donna threw in the Angel which still guards over us in our bedroom. We didn’t add a special message with this one.

26: (11) The Statue of Liberty, Santa and the Flag This was painted after the 9/11 tragedy, and was inspired by citizens coming together as Americans, expressing their feelings for our beloved country.

28: (12) Wreath on the Gate. This is not really our gate, which is very plain and boring. It is Bess Kittinger’s gate. Bess thinks Hugh Perry found it in a pile of junk in a back yard on 17th Street on our West Side. I believe it came from a house that once stood there and was designed by Buffalonian Louise Bethune, America’s first female architect, in 1903. As long as we borrowed Bess’ gate, we thought we might as well borrow Calvin Rand’s very rare Japanese cedar, otherwise known by the late Marns Osborn (Calvin’s neighbor) - as “That dirty tree” because it shed into her courtyard. Donna did not hesitate to remind Marns that all trees are beautiful and shedding is what they do. Donna reminded me that while painting this picture she sang, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” How fortunate we are to have had wonderful neighbors at St. Andrew’s Walk like Calvin, Marns and Bess. *** There is something about the spirit of Christmas that brings not only a remembrance of its original meaning to Christians, but a feeling of joy and happiness, a feeling of memories of our childhood and happy times gone by with our friends and loved ones. I think Donna’s cards provoke this spirit. They never fail to brighten my day, and I hope they have brightened yours.

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