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Mother’s Day: Art Appreciation and Artistic Ability Through the Generations

My mother Joan sketches many charming doodles throughout her diaries.

Joan’s doodle of her listening to the coronation on the radio under blankets

Joan’s doodle of her listening to the coronation on the radio under blankets on Wednesday, May 12th in 1937. She was 14 years old.

December 17, 1938.  Joan doodled different views of her in her costume.

December 17, 1938. Joan doodled different views of her in her costume as the Virgin Mary.  She turned 16 3 days later.

"Me, Just gorgeous of course," she writes sarcastically.

“Me, Just gorgeous of course,” she writes sarcastically on Easter Day, April 9, 1939 when she was 16.

Her granddaughter, Liz Morrison, is the child of Jim and Ruth Morrison (Jim’s my older brother).  She is a brilliant artist.  I think Joan would be the first to admit that Liz’s art far exceeds her own!

After Joan’s death in 2010, Liz created a series of gorgeous illustrations in honor of her beloved grandmother. Here are some of them.

Joan: the Ohio reference is to Bob, her eventual husband and Liz's grandfather (and my dad!)

Joan: the Ohio reference is to Bob, her eventual husband and Liz’s grandfather (and my dad!). He was born in Ohio. By Liz Morrison.

My parents loved to canoe, sharing that passion with their children.

Joan canoeing

Joan canoeing by Liz Morrison.

If you would like to see more of Liz Morrison’s art, please look here.  If you would like to purchase some of her work, check out her ETSY site here.  She is an amazing craftswoman!

This series by Liz also includes a beautiful one of Joan’s granddaughter, Sarah–my daughter!

Sarah has amazing hair.  By Liz Morrison.

Sarah has amazing hair. By Liz Morrison.

Sarah loves art too–her specialty is art history and art conservation and restoration which she is learning about now at college. So Joan’s legacy–art creation and art appreciation–lives on in her granddaughters.

Here is a passage from Joan’s diary where she is puzzling over a piece of “new” art at the Art Institute in Chicago at age 15.

Wednesday, June 22, 1938

I went to the Art Institute for the afternoon. Had a lovely half hour contemplating Chemist Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Cuticle of a Grand Piano. Modern art [Salvador Dalí]. There was a curly blonde fellow sitting next to me. We both considered the picture for a long time. Then I got up to look again to see I wasn’t crazy. I sat down. He got up. Ditto. We looked at each other. A woman came into the room, looked at the picture and started back (it has that effect). Then, thinking we were together, she started to discuss the picture with C.B. [Curly Blonde] and me. No decision, though we nodded solemnly.

"A Chemist Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Cuticle of a Grand Piano," 1936 by Salvador Dali.

“A Chemist Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Cuticle of a Grand Piano,” 1936 by Salvador Dali.

Joan ended up marrying a chemist–but he never lifted the cuticle of a grand piano!

Alan Turing, “The Imitation Game,” and Joan’s math “skills”

Joan’s diaries end before anyone in the public knew about Bletchley Park in England.

There M16 code breakers attempted — and succeeded — in figuring out German code and winning the war.  Well, that’s one way of interpreting history. Certainly no one can deny the importance of this work.

Alan Turing.  Read more about him in this article from The Guardian.

Alan Turing. Read more about him in this article from The Guardian.

A recent Hollywood movie focuses on Alan Turing, brilliant mathematician.

Advertisement for "The Imitation Game"

Advertisement for “The Imitation Game”

His story is also controversial for his being prosecuted for homosexuality after the war in 1952 (he was pardoned in 2013).  Tragically, two years later in 1954, he committed suicide. Here’s the trailer for the film that examines Turing’s life.


During the war, his work was key for England’s ability to resist the Nazi onslaught.

Cypher work during World War II.

Cypher work during World War II.

You can read this article in The New York Times and view its fascinating slide show with images of Turing’s desk and notes.

Enigma Machine.

Enigma Machine.

Follow the links on this page to read more about the secret history at Bletchley Park.

But that was not the only secret work being done during WWII.  My parents say that on their first date, they visited Jackson Park in Chicago and “played spies.”  But I think Joan would be the first to admit that her spy work–if she had been a spy–would not have involved cypher work.  Math was not her best friend.

At age 14, Joan expresses antagonism towards math.

Monday, November 22, 1937

Geometry is awful!

Phooey to Euclid—(he invented it)

Phooey to Mrs. Uhlir—(she thinks she teaches it)

Phooey to me—(I don’t know it)

Well—Good Night.

A few days later, she continues her lament.

Sunday, November 28, 1937

I came home and said, “Don’t disturb me—I’m going to do Geometry,” and proceeded to read a Conan Doyle[1] book—(not on Geometry). I guess I’ll do the Geometry tomorrow—maybe—I hope, I hope. Well, Geometry we have always with us. .

[1] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes.  Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Alan Turing in "The Imitation Game," also plays Sherlock Holmes in the t.v. series.

Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game,” also plays Sherlock Holmes in the t.v. series. Sherlock.

Geometry just won’t go away.

Now at the elderly age of 15, Joan writes,

Tuesday, January 4, 1938

We’re doing circle theorems in Geometry and Burton, who sits behind me, hums music from Wagner’s operas all through it—it’s very bad for my concentration which isn’t so strong naturally anyhow.

Miracles do happen.

Tuesday, January 25, 1938

Hello! To all awful things there must come an end—test week is over! Hooray! We had a Geometry test yesterday—et[1] surprise (!) I got 94!—which is marvelous for me!!!

[1] Joan often uses Latin for simple words, such as “and” in this sentence.

The math adventures continue.

Wednesday, February 2, 1938

There was the handsomest boy(s) in my Latin class and most of the kids in Geometry are even dimmer than me—goody.

Joan jokes about her math skills — or lack of them — but she’s clearly very bright.

Monday, May 16, 1938

I’ve won the Scholarship for the University of Chicago Jr. College.[1] Am I thrilled! Whoopee!!!!!

University of Chicago Junior College, known as U-High.

University of Chicago Junior College, known as U-High, and today the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

Today a girl, Shirley Schuerman, asked me to tutor her in Geometry! Whew! Was I surprised! However, she seemed serious and I like her so I said I would. She asked me if I’d start tonight at her house, adding that she had a nice brother (do I look like that kind of girl?). So I went over tonight and we did Geometry for 1½ hours. The brother was in some vague upper portion of the house writing a thesis for a Master’s degree—he’s already completed four yrs at Northwestern—whew! These sweet brothers. I feel awfully inferior. I didn’t see him but I saw his picture—he’s got grey eyes—!! But the main point is that someone asked me to tutor [her] in Geometry! Whoopee!

[1] Now called the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

The next day, the news about her scholarship hits the school rumor mill.

Tuesday, May 17, 1938

Of course it got around school that I had won it and everyone congratulated me and so forth. But they all seemed so awfully surprised—do I really seem that dumb? And my Geometry teacher, Mrs. Jarvis, heard about it and asked me about it in class. She seemed so dubious about it that I had to laugh. I’m afraid she hasn’t a very good impression of me for she went away shaking her head and saying, “I can’t understand it.” Evidently my Geometry record is not so hot. . . . Mrs. Hellman made me read my letter in class—I blushed so sweetly. . . .

Well, I’m slowly realizing that I’ve won the scholarship! Do I feel queer. All day people were making cracks. You see, I don’t look like the smart type, I’m afraid.

Thankfully, the end of the year comes.

Wednesday, June 15, 1938

When Mrs. Uhlir was bragging about me to the class, she looked at Lorraine who had been standing sorta in background and said, “What are you getting in Geometry?” Lorraine said she was promised an S. Then to me, “And you,” confidently. Oh did I feel terrible when I said G. Of course, I may get an E but G is a surer guess.[1] Anyhow, Mrs. Uhlir looked quite shocked. And the class grinned its head off (query: does a class have a head?).


Joan saying “This is the way to win a scholarship–burn the midnight oil (true) and work (false) like me.” The class says, “Oh!”

[1] The grades seem to have been E (excellent), G (good), and S (satisfactory).

Math doesn’t disappear from her life.  As she writes at age 18,

Friday, October 10, 1941

Hello, well, I should be speaking French to you after a week of that delightful language, but unfortunately (or fortunately) all we’re having is pronunciation. Lord help us all. It’s fun—though—I like all my classes—fairly well though I get rather bored in MVC[1] although it’s an intermediate course.

Phy Sci[2] turns out to be rather unboring so far but I fear I am no genius in math. We have Dean Smith and he’s just swell, you know, but I just don’t know square root!

Germans say Russia is conquered[3] and they appear to be getting on to Moscow.

[1] Methods, Values, and Concepts.

[2] Physical science.

[3] Hitler told Germans on October 3, 1941, that the Russians were vitually defeated.

Fortunately, the Germans were wrong.

Little over a month later, Joan writes,

Thursday, November 13, 1941

. . . Just think, I’ll be 19 in a month, getting old, gramma! I got the highest mark in our last French test—94—but we have another tomorrow so woe be unto me—also highest in Poetry on Milton. I don’t like him—and Mr. Bond had me read my paper aloud. I was quite embarrassed. . . . Passed Math in Phy Sci too—with the lowest C. Was quite happy! Whee! . . . We’re on astronomy now. . . .

So, Joan was not a math whiz like Alan Turing.  But she was an astute and subtle writer.  For which we are all grateful!


“Greater Love Hath No Man Than This” — Part 5 and Conclusion

Five years passed; England had entered the war; her men enlisted; a March offensive was being pushed along the front; several companies were sent out. The drive succeeded, but not a few English “Tommies” lay dying on the field when it was deserted by the victors. Two lay near each other, waiting for the dawn. One was grey-eyed and in the mist of early morning he seemed very pale. The other was blond and blue-eyed and white with pain. The only color to him was a gradually spreading red stain over his chest. They looked at each other and the grey eyed one spoke painfully.

Paul tries to comfort his dying friend in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

Paul tries to comfort his dying friend in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

“Hello, fella,” the words shot out, “nice – day, isn’t it.”

“Yes,” said the other, as though his lungs would burst, — “lovely.”

“Oh, you too. I’m sorry; I didn’t know,” replied the other seeing the red stain. “I hope I — we — don’t — uh — go — before dawn. I should hate to – uh – go – without the sun.”

“Yes,” said the other, “so should I. It’s odd you know – like this, I mean. I was going to do so much while I lived – and here I am – dying in this –!” He coughed painfully and could not go on.

The grey-eyed one watched the bright-haired one sympathetically. Then:

“You know, if I live till the sun comes up I’ll be exactly 23 years old. It’s my birthday. Funny – dying on your birthday.”

The bright haired one controlled his coughing and looked with wonder at the other as he groped haltingly for words, “That’s funny. I’ll be 23, too, if I live. I was ….   I was born at dawn. I hope, “– a spasmodic cough — “I live to see….. the sun.”

A few minutes passed. Then:

“You know,” this from the grey-eyed one, “I seem to know you. What’s your name?”

“Charlie,” said the blue-eyed one between coughs.

“Guess I was wrong,” said the other, “I can’t know you. Mine’s Tommy.”

“H’dy’a do, Tommy,” said the bright haired one reaching out a blood-stained hand.

“Very well, thank you, “ said the grey-eyed one, taking it.

Silence then.

Statue honoring American Expeditionary Force in World War I

Statue honoring American Expeditionary Force in World War I.  Here an American doughboy shakes hands with a French soldier.  Read about WWI monuments like this one here.

“D’ya know, now, we’re dying,” gulped the bright-haired one.

“Yes,” said Tommy.

            An interval of a few minutes, then, “Man, look,” cried Tommy, “here comes the sun! Look at ‘er, man. Red as blood!”

“Yes, said Charlie, “red as blood.”

The bloody sun came up through the mist and cast long blue shadows as it looked at the two, lying side by side, even as they had lain twenty three years ago, side by side, the fair-haired and the dark, beneath the same sun. And as they lay, their faces seemed to become the same again, and their countenances were those that had been, and it might have been before, instead of this twenty three years later. And then the mist closed in upon them.

The End

To read earlier parts of this story written by Joan when she was 13 years old, click here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, and here for part four.

“Greater Love Hath No Man Than This” — Part 4

Then again in 1910, a youth lay desperately ill in a London hospital. A call went out for a blood donor and a blond student of eighteen presented himself. A transfusion was made, but when the hospital asked for the donor’s name he said, “Oh, forget about it.” And when they persisted he said, “Oh, just say “Charlie!” The youth, who was ill, recovered but when he asked for his savior’s name they could not tell him. He seemed awed, his grey eyes perplexed as he said, “Golly, he saved my life and I don’t even know his name.   I never even saw him.”

Was it imagination or did the red sun really smile more broadly as it observed his wondering face?


To be continued….

To read earlier parts of this story written by Joan when she was 13 years old, click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

“Greater Love Hath No Man Than This” — Part 3

Ten years later, in 1904, on the same beach the same sun looked down on a bright haired twelve-year-old struggling in the water off the almost deserted beach. Another boy, dark and grey-eyed, came down to the beach for a swim and, seeing the struggling boy, dove in to save a life. As he dragged the boy back to shore, a crowd gathered from seemingly nowhere and watched his progress eagerly. When he finally landed on the beach and pulled the boy ashore, a cheer arose from the throng.

The blond boy, who seemed rather dazed, stood up haltingly and addressed his rescuer. “Thanks a lot – I suppose I should’ve drowned if it weren’t for you. Guess I was out too long. Legs got weak, you know.”  The other boy nodded as if embarrassed and hurriedly disappeared through the crowd. The rescued boy looked after him and said huskily, “Gosh, he saved my life, and I don’t even know his name.”

3970061324_e7d99929f7_mTo be continued….

To read earlier parts of this story written by Joan when she was 13 years old, click here for part one and here for part two.

“Greater Love Hath No Man Than This” — Part 2

Some two years later the same sun looked down upon the popular English summer resort of Breaksford-on-the-sea. Two boy-toddlers — one blue-eyed and blond, the other grey-eyed and dark — met and took hands as young strangers will and wandered hand-in-hand through the shrubbery beyond the beach. They passed through the green brushwood to the tall trees beyond, till the dark one thought of something and spoke, “What’s your name?”

“Charlie,” said the fair-haired boy. “What’s yours?”

“Tommy,” lisped the other and they wandered on through the grass. Then:

“Look at the shiny stick,” said the grey-eyed one who called himself “Tommy.” He picked up a thin, sinuous thing with hard red eyes and a red tongue that shot forth like fire.

“Tha’s not a stick. ‘S a snake. Drop it — ugh — bad thing!” And the other toddler stamped on the harmless looking adder till even its poisonous fangs could do no harm to them or anyone.

The young innocents rejoined hands and toddled back to the beach to be swooped down upon and carried off by their respective parents.


To be continued….

To read part 1 of this story that Joan wrote at age 13, click here.

To read part 3 of this story, click here.



“Greater Love Hath No Man Than This” — Part 1

Joan kept poetry notebook starting in 1932 when she was only 9 years old.  Later, she kept a daily journal and a poetry/creative writing journal.

Joan age 4 with her mother, Neva Wehlen (maiden name:  Levish).

Joan age 4 with her mother, Neva Wehlen.

In honor of the centenary of the 2nd year of World War I–1915–I wanted to begin this year with a short story of Joan’s.  One thing I learned from her WWII diaries was how potent the imagery of WWI was for her generation. She was born late in 1922 and grew up hearing about the “Great War” and seeing countless silent movies honoring that bloody conflagration.  You can read more about such films here.

Here is part 1 of 5 parts of her short story, “Greater Love Hath No Man,” written when she was 13 years old. I will be posting the subsequent parts of the story over the coming weeks.

Autumn 1936

Early on a March morning, two boy babies were laid in cribs at St. Mary’s hospital in London. Being very newly born, there was no noticeable difference between the two and the red sun, peering through the window, thought they looked very much alike, the only difference being that one had grey eyes and the other blue. Otherwise they were both round and pink and very, very small. The babies looked at each other and gurgled as babies will and straightaway fell asleep.

After a while the babies were taken to their respective homes by their respective parents and were duly admired, and christened by the same.

To be continued…..

From the film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).

From the film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).

Here is a famous movie from the silent era.  Click here to see The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Read other parts of this story as it continues….

Part Two

Part Three



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