When Marion got married — almost

April 30, 2017 § 3 Comments

From remarks by Thomas Reynolds at a memorial on April 30, 2017.


Marion Seawell (1928-2017)

I CAME TO KNOW Marion Seawell 25 years ago when I opened a gallery in San Francisco. One of the first people I met was her great friend — and later mine — the art historian William Whitney, who lived two blocks away.

In 2008, with Marion sometimes kicking and screaming, we published a book of her work, This Has Certainly Been a Lot of Fun — a truly remarkable and brutally honest statement by an artist. To celebrate its publication, we had a small exhibition of her paintings at my gallery, and she gave a talk.

We kept in touch as she was finding a mostly happy home for her final years at the Redwoods in Mill Valley. Sometimes she would call on Friday afternoons and laugh about the horns honking in the background. Her fellow seniors were holding their weekly antiwar protest outside. It was clear she had found the right home.

But let’s cut to the chase. Marion made it clear she did not want a memorial. Yet here we are. And I think that’s great. So while we’re misbehaving, let me tell you about the time Marion almost got married. These are her own words, from a letter — with show and tell — she wrote to us on January 8, 2005.

I was a normal girl from Walla Walla, Washington, until age 19, when, in Big Sur, California, I was transformed into a wild Bohemian. I lived for a time with the Fassett family and helped them build their fabulous Nepenthe restaurant. Dan Harris (aka Zev), the most imaginative artist I have ever known, was often there. His wife, Gertrude, ran the best art gallery in Monterey at that time and they were in the process of building an incredible home called Crazy Crescent.

It was my good fortune that Dan and Gertrude happened to be in New York for three months when I arrived there two years after meeting them in Big Sur. They had grown up in New York and knew all the most interesting things for me to see and do in the short time I could afford to stay. (It turned out that I got a job and stayed two years.)

One day Dan said: “We must take Marion to meet Oronzo.”

“Oh yes,” Gertrude replied, “Oronzo must meet Marion.”

Oronzo Gasparo, they told me, was very active in the New York art scene. I was thrilled when they arranged to take me to his studio on East 115th Street. The year was 1950 and that was not a smart address.

When we entered his studio I was flabbergasted to see the walls covered with oil paintings of someone who looked just like me. Straight dark hair with bangs, dark eyes, the face almost identical, as was the shape. Some were nude. Some in exotic dress. Sitting, lounging, bending — pictures of me all over the place.

Oronzo was beside himself. His dear friends Dan and Gertrude had brought him his dream girl in real life! All those paintings were from his imagination. I looked just like the female he had made up.


We all laughed and drank wine and marveled at the incredible similarity. Oronzo sat next to me, held my hand and gazed up into my eyes. I was about eight inches taller than he. He had a funny little raspy voice, unlike any Italian I had known — and he was much older than I. I was definitely not attracted to him physically, but it was kind of fun to be looked at in such an adoring way.

OronzoWe had dates. He brought me ethnic jewelry that made me look like a gypsy. He took me to art openings where everyone thought I was his model. He sent me adoring cards and photos of himself. My favorite was taken when he was a professional flamenco dancer. It was inscribed: “May our transposed taught meet.”

When the day came that he was getting ready to propose, I realized I had to bring all this to an end.

I had learned something important about Oronzo. When it came to selling his paintings, he was very businesslike and shrewd about the payment arrangements. Not all of his paintings were portraits like me. He had one I specially liked that he had done in Santa Fe, New Mexico — a street scene in bold colors. I told him I’d like to buy that painting if he would let me pay him $10 per month.

Everything changed. Yes, he agreed to the terms. Yes, I could take it to my fifth floor walk-up on 14th Street. And yes, I made all the payments when due. But the romance was over. From the moment I owed him money, Oronzo fell out of love with me.


RIP, Marion. This has certainly been a lot of fun.

§ 3 Responses to When Marion got married — almost

  • Diana Arsham says:

    Thank you for introducing us to Marion AND for her remembrance.

  • Kay Roberts says:

    Lucky Marion! After a long and interesting life she left behind good stories, good friends, and lovely art. Thank you for introducing me to her, finding a home for my cat poster, and publishing my story on that.

    Kay Roberts

  • Marian Seawell says:

    Thank you for telling a part of my Aunt’s story. It is very amusing.

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