Obituary : Gretchen Feldman
Gretchen Feldman died on Sunday, Nov. 9 at her home in Manhattan, surrounded by her family and art, after battling cancer for a year.
Gretchen was born on February 19, 1934 in Philadelphia, Penn., and she grew up in Baltimore, Md. Her father, Ned, was an English teacher at The Park School in Baltimore and worked at a steel mill between jobs during World War II. Her mother, Vera, was a seamstress as well as working as assistant to the principal of The Park School. Gretchen attended The Park School and then Swarthmore College for two years. She transferred to Goucher College in Baltimore after meeting her future husband, Samuel Feldman. Gretchen met Sam on a blind date, and it was love at first sight. They were married in 1955, and were together for over 53 years. They raised their family in Baltimore, and later moved to Martha's Vineyard and New York. They had a wonderfully loving marriage, and shared many interests, such as art, music, politics, and community involvement. They complemented and balanced each other, her quiet unpretentiousness and keen aesthetic sense, with his gregarious personality.
Building on an early career as a textile conservator, Gretchen started painting in 1985, when she and Sam built and moved into their home in Chilmark. She was instantly inspired by the beauty of the Vineyard and found watercolor to be the natural medium with which to express her passion for painting. Two recent showings included works at the Carol Craven Gallery on Martha's Vineyard in August, and a solo exhibition at the Nevin Kelly Gallery in Washington, D.C. entitled "Stitches in Time", this past May. Gretchen's recent work was influenced by images of the past, antique quilt patterns, and the present, microscopic imagery from scientific studies of cancer cells. She enhanced these works of vibrant color with other media, such as iridescent pigment, crayons, colored pencils, and pastels, and collage, through which she achieved her goal of a "balance of shape, form, and powerful color." Her paintings were featured in several Washington, D.C. publications.
In addition to treasuring the solitude necessary for her continuous painting, voracious reading, and love of classical music, Gretchen, with Sam, also nurtured barn owlets in their Chilmark field, and campaigned for John Kerry in Florida in 2004. They were involved in the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, The FARM Institute, The Baltimore Watercolor Society, Martha's Vineyard Art Association, Featherstone Center for the Arts, and the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center, where a painting of Gretchen's hangs in the entrance. Recently they complemented their support for Memorial Sloan Kettering by producing and selling a poster of one of Gretchen's paintings through the Carol Craven Gallery towards the hospital's work and research.
Gretchen was also an energetic gardener, gaining both inspiration for her painting and tremendous pleasure from nurturing, watching, weeding, and walking among the flowers and grasses thriving in great masses around her Chilmark home. In an article in The Boston Globe in August of 2007, Gretchen said her goal in her gardening was to replicate a meadow. She loved the towering grasses because they changed in appearance with each season and were always in motion in accordance with the wind. Said Gretchen, "It's a miraculous garden. It's my best friend. I get up every morning and walk through it to see how it's doing."
Of all her great engagements, the dearest by far to Gretchen was as a mother to Dene and Leigh, and son-in-law to Mike Kelly, and as a grandmother ("Amma") to Nathaniel, Maxwell, and Vera. As a mother to her two girls, Gretchen sewed clothes and costumes, knitted sweaters, attended every school performance and sports event and cooked delicious dinners daily. For her adult daughters, she clipped articles and cartoons and loved to hear stories of her grandchildren's daily lives. She shared with her three grandchildren her love for art and always helped them with their own creations.
Gretchen was an elegant person with great intellect, strength, and kindness as well as a contagious sense of humor. She always said that when she died, in her obituary, to make sure to include the request, "in lieu of flowers, please vote Democratic."
Contributions can be made to Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society, Re: Gretchen Feldman, P.O. Box 4189, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, and/or to The Gretchen V. and Samuel M. Feldman Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Fund, c/o Carol Ausubel Blumenfeld, CFRE, Major Gifts/Development Office, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 633 Third Ave., 28th Fl., New York, NY 10017.