Missing Mary Engelbreit

By , August 19, 2011

Each family member has his/her own favorite artists, all of which combine to complement our home. We have framed prints from one or two artists, but most add to our home through wall calendars and decorated items. Michelle likes Mary Engelbreit.

Her interest in this artist’s work is hardly surprising. Ms. Engelbreit uses bold, bright colors, whimsical, nostalgic subjects, and homey touches. Looking at one of her pieces, one can be drawn in, finding subtle jokes in the details, rewards for the attentive viewer. Her subjects of interest are Michelle’s: gardening, cooking, homemaking, children, curiosity, adventure.

I have had a long association with Engelbreit’s work through long association with my wife, her fan. I appreciate that so many of her products are inexpensive and practical, home accents that add a touch of color while fulfilling a task in the home. They make good gifts, even in our small, frugal home. Over the years I’ve been able to delight Michelle with a tea cup and saucer set, or mug, or set of potholders. I’ve come to know her work well. I can differentiate between her earlier and later work; I can recognize her self portraits when they appear; I can spot her work even when it’s a highly stylized fabric pattern. My primary Christmas mug is a Mary Engelbreit. I’ve become a fan myself, apparently.

Michelle often chooses a Mary Engelbreit calendar. Her favorite is the page-a-day. Leaves from these calendars fill our home, preserved until they become too faded to enjoy further. They paper the greenhouse and kitchen shelves. We have a file of larger ones saved from the subscription to Mary Engelbreit Home Companion that Michelle had in Juneau, waiting to be revolved through a picture frame through the changing seasons.

The joy of the page-a-day calendar came from a moment of sharing they provided each day. “Did you see today’s page?” used to be a common morning question. Engelbreit’s style is simple and evocative enough to allow a viewer to color the work with his or her own perceptions. Her round cheeked, short-haired toddlers remind Michelle and me of Aly as a small child. One of her favorite character types strongly resembles Michelle. I would swear that one of a pair of young women in a particular piece was modeled on my mother at that age.

This year, Michelle chose to hang a free calendar from a local business. I find that I’m missing Mary Engelbreit. I only realized this today as Michelle and I shared a quiet moment at the table over hot drinks. Michelle drank tea from one of her Engelbreit mugs (“If you pray for rain, be prepared to deal with some mud” warns a young gardener, up to her ankles in a muddy garden). I found myself musing that I would like a Mary Engelbreit mug for every day use. I realized how much I missed the daily ritual of appreciating, as a family, the day’s offering.

Silly, right? We’re supposed to be austere, frugal, fiercely dedicated to simple living, free from any consumeristic desires. We have no need of or interest in trendy fripperies.

But no, our primary motivation is happiness, contentment, enjoyment. If we can find any of that in the items with which we surround ourselves, we should do so. Some of them may seem like personal, individual indulgences, but when one of us chooses to forgo one, the others often miss it.

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