New works by Marilyn Bogdanffy
Block Island artist Marilyn Bogdanffy has just come out with a new book called “Artists of Block Island.” It is a celebration of both the place and the artists – of all genres, that inhabit and work here.
The book is a collection of watercolor portraits, all painted from photographs of the subjects, during the past year. It was Bogdanffy’s “pandemic project,” started during the shut-down and completed just as restrictions were being lifted.
The Block Island Times sat down with Bogdanffy on Sunday, at her home on the shore of Warden’s Pond on the southwest side of the island for a long conversation. Her elegantly styled hair and wardrobe belie a spark and tenacity that no doubt started at a very young age, was the first thing we learned.
Marilyn’s father was killed in an accident when she was five, and her mother did her best to raise a daughter as a single mother in the waning years of the Great Depression. It was around that age when Marilyn started drawing and painting. “It was always in me,” she says, but despite her passion, a formal training in studio arts was not to be. At the time, women did not commonly attend college, and career choices were extremely limited. “Girls didn’t get very far except in teaching and nursing,” she says, admiring the choices that young women have today. “We were patted on the head. ‘Be a nice girl,’ we were told.”
Marilyn’s mother encouraged her to acquire some secretarial skills. Still, Marilyn wanted to do art, and so she devised a plan: become a secretary at an advertising agency. She became a secretary in the copy department of an advertising agency in Manhattan, not far from her home in Clifton, New Jersey. (That agency was BBDO, which has been in business for over 80 years.) Then she learned that the agencies got their art from studios, not in-house.
In the evenings she studied at the Art Students League, an independent arts school, also still in existence. After she married, Marilyn left the ad agency and had four children. She didn’t have much time for art during this busy time, but when the youngest started school, so did Marilyn, traveling once again into Manhattan in the evenings for art lessons, this time at the National Academy of Design.
In 1978, with three out of the four children out of the house, Marilyn and her late husband George moved to Texas for work with the youngest daughter, then 16. Ten years later, George was ready to retire and the couple discussed where to go next. Marilyn, who says she never really fit in in Texas, was all too happy at the prospect of moving back to the northeast.
But where? The couple had been out to Block Island a couple of times on George’s father’s boat, and they remembered how beautiful it was. They came to visit and met Realtor Cindy Pappas. Pappas showed them a lot where Norris Pike, now deceased,
was in the process of building a home. They bought it.
Over the years on Block Island, Bogdanffy has collaborated on a children’s book and had many shows at galleries both on and off the island. Her murals adorn the interior of the Block Island Airport terminal.
Although she also does still lifes and landscapes, Marilyn has always been most interested in observing people. In one series of watercolors she explores people looking at art. Sneaking her small Canon camera into some of New York’s largest and finest museums, she takes photos of people in the museums. Her subjects have no idea their pictures are being taken, or that eventually their image was captured in a watercolor painting. Usually the viewer of the painting has no idea what the subject is looking at. It’s not important.
Marilyn had the camera turned on herself once, by close friend and fellow painter Peter Gish. The resulting self-portrait is as coolly observant and objective as any other she has done.
Each portrait in “Artists of Block Island” was executed in watercolor, on 16- by 20-inch paper, although Marilyn says that the pencil drawing behind the painting actually takes the most work. Sometimes it takes several times to get it just right, Marilyn said.
One portrait, that of the youngest artist represented, was a last-minute addition. Of Madison Tretheway, who makes grand sculptures out of driftwood, Bogdanffy says she “had to include her. She’s doing something nobody else is doing.”
Signed copies of Bogdanffy’s book may be found at Island Bound Bookstore and other stores and galleries around Block Island.