Welcome to My Red Cape. Long ago in another time my husband Jack and I lived in a little old red house. It was the stuff of dreams to us for the few years that we were there. I live there still a number of hours every day in imagination, with old dolls and paintings and fabrics and feather trees. I draw inspiration and happiness from the memories of that space in time and share some of it here with friends who remember how to step with Alice through the looking glass and take delight in whimsies and antiquities.

For more than sixty years I have studied, collected, repaired, and bought and sold antique dolls. They have been back ground music in my life at every stage, sometimes louder, sometimes subdued, but always there with me. To see only the posts about dolls on this blog, click the banner on the right titled Dolls for My Red Cape. Keep clicking “Older Posts” to see more. Some of the posts featuring rug hooking are gathered under the banner For Cathy. From time to time items are offered for sale under the banner “O’Neill’s Antiques” which was our shop name for many years. ~Edyth O’Neill

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Art is such an expressive language
















My beautiful little mother in law, Lillian O’Neill, was an artist all of her long life. She lived in beauty with every thing she chose to wear or furnish a home with or paint with her endlessly talented fingers. As a child she sketched a lot and her artwork was an integral part of her personality always.

As a bride, she went from Illinois to Houston Texas with the tall broad shouldered man she would be married to for 75 years. . A stay at home wife and mother in Houston and then in Chicago again, Lillian sought out classic early American antiques in second hand stores and estate auctions, drawn to the honesty and merit of these pieces. She always loved fine windsors, even had a writing arm one. Beautiful furniture could be purchased needing some repair or touch ups, which John, a craftstman all of his life, could restore to beauty and function. Early on, her own joy in creating art was expressed mostly in portraiture.

It was not long until the young O’Neills became part time dealers, befriending many collectors and small dealers where ever they moved. Later, during the 1950’s she was a fixture in the Louisville auctions, and recognized many treasures sneaking through. Lillian also began to paint things to add to their antique sales, and left a string of fans in each place they lived. The family moved a lot. Her work is collected mostly in clusters near Chicago, Ft Worth, Vicksburg, and Southern Indiana.

John was good at his trade, always connected with wood and cabinetmaking, He was foreman of A Brandt, maker of Ranch Oak furniture in FT Worth for a time, and of American Handicraft’s wood shop later. But John was and is a man of mercurial temperament, and would find the grass greener across the country.

Lillian’s bountiful painting made the O’Neill home a fairy land, which I first experienced nearly 40 years ago in east Ft Worth. I met my future parents-in-law by way of common interests in art and antiques. We lived in the same tree-shaded pleasant neighborhood and were surely destined to find each other.

When I was invited to visit I discovered a stairwell painted completely in blue delft designs on off white woodwork. The paneled doors and the door facings were covered in amazing complexity, little scenes with windmills and sail boats and barns and chickens and on and on, all blues and white.

Then I stepped into the living room itself, filled with John’s beautiful handmade furniture and a nice collection of old windsors, set off by a great collection of mostly antique English ceramics, but with some continental things too, like Meissen patterned pieces. One cupboard held only Quimper. Staffordshire figures of children and dogs and hens were everywhere. The blue transfer printed Staffordshire was Lillian’s joy. The windows showed off John’s wooden paneled shutters, painted by Lillian in her own amazing style, mostly birds and fruit in that room. Entering the Kitchen I found a wonderland of Pennsylvania Dutch tulips and distlefinks and hearts. The cabinets and other doors and facings were all painted a light mustard and covered in these designs. Meissen Onion pattern dishes and accessories were everywhere!

Only on a subsequent visit did I see her own bathroom, where it was painted from floor to ceiling with Quimper like designs on a light blue green back ground. A lovely blue room filled with little French boys and girls in the charming and innocent scenes of Quimper ware.

As I came to know Lillian and later became her daughter-in-law, I marveled at the way she painted: the endless variation, no two borders or motifs alike, just flowing free hand from her own mind. The charming little children, in settings with barns and farm houses and flowers and chickens, came from her brush in a never ending stream. Her Fruit designs were much sought after. She would paint a batch of things and John would drive to Vicksburg once a year to sell at a craft show where their offerings were eagerly purchased. Some of the items she decorated were antique tin or wooden pieces and some were small wooden things John made for her. He painted the background colors and antiqued the pieces and let her do the decoration. Then he sprayed them with a gloss finish.

What a wonderful team they were! Several magazine articles celebrated their work and one showed their Ft Worth house in detail. Hundreds and hundreds of examples of their work were sold, and our very large family has managed to retain a good many. I will show a few photos of some of these, and perhaps add a slide show of more of them to this site later. I am assembling a tribute to Lillian’s lovely art. Let me assure you she was even more loved and precious in person. She left us last year at 91 years of life still blowing us kisses off those wonderful little fingers almost to the last of her time with us. A card she sent me one birthday said “ I looked to find a friend, and found a daughter.”

4 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute, Edyth, to Lillian. Her work is amazing!

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  2. Yes She was So special Edyth, and lives on, her spirit in each and every piece she painted :) I love the corner cupboard, with the farm scenes! Hope all is quieting down a little for you there, am thinking of you & Jack & John
    xoxoxoxo rachael

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  3. Thank you for sharing the photos of Lillian's wonderful painting. You must have thought you walked into a fairy land to see all that beautiful painting on the walls and furniture. Wish I could have seen it. Hope to see you at Star.

    Sondra

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  4. Such a lovely, heartfelt tribute. You and your dear mother-in-law were truly kindred spirits. I will be eagerly awaiting to see more of her beautiful art.

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