Late artist's life was one of 'beauty'

Earlier this year, the town of Wilton lost not only an artist; it lost a 65-year member of its community.

Maria Jarreau Heller died Jan. 6 at the age of 89, after years of battling metastatic breast cancer.

A frequent visitor to the Wilton Library, as well as a featured artist in the library’s summer shows, Ms. Jarreau Heller’s life and artwork will be remembered and honored in a retrospective — Beauty by Maria Jarreau Heller — at the library.

Beginning with a 6 p.m. opening reception Friday, April 11, 70 pieces from Ms. Jarreau Heller’s vast collection of artwork will be displayed through April 29.

“Ever since I can remember, she’s been creative,” said Ms. Jarreau Heller’s son, Julien Jarreau. “Painting was later in life, but I can remember in the 60s, she was doing mosaics, cut glass, tiles — she always made her own clothing. She was always creating.”

Mr. Jarreau said most of the pieces featured in the retrospective will be botanical paintings his mother created using colored pencils on mylar and vellum.

“She just loved the way the colors blended together on it and the smoothness of it,” said Mr. Jarreau. “She did lots and lots of work with that.”

Mr. Jarreau said his mother was also trained in Oriental brush painting.

“Asian artists trained her in this technique. It’s very minimalistic,” said Mr. Jarreau. “My mom did minimalistic, but she also did detailed work with Oriental brushwork.”

Mr. Jarreau said his mother’s two-foot-by-three-foot botanical mylar pieces were big sellers.

“She loved selling her work,” he said. “When people actually bought her work, she would become delighted.”

Mr. Jarreau said his mother was a very inventive person.

“She would take this Oriental brushwork technique and she would cut it out,” he said. “She would actually take a pair of scissors and cut parts of the flowers out, and recreate them three-dimensionally on the page.”

Even old eyeglasses became works of art.

“She would take glasses — clear, prescription lenses from the optometrist — and she would make things,” he said. “She would make butterflies and fish, and things like that.”

In addition to Oriental brush painting on paper and silk, colored pencil on vellum and mylar, and 3-D cutout watercolor on paper, Ms. Jarreau Heller was also active in stained glass art, fine embroidery, leather tooling, portrait painting, decoupage, and sculpting.

“My mom created a lot of sculptures, and she used shells a lot in her sculpture work,” said Mr. Jarreau, but because they are fragile and too difficult to move, they will not be part of the retrospective. “My mom would get incredibly excited about starting projects,” Mr. Jarreau said. “The anticipation of starting a project was almost as important as completing it.”

Mr. Jarreau said he believes his mother’s favorite piece of art was the last project she worked on, “because it was new and it was fresh and it was available for everyone to see.”

“It’s a dancing woman made out of shells in this octagon-shaped frame,” he explained. “It’s a three-dimensional, very whimsical and very interesting piece — a little on the crude side, but it’s pretty cool.”

Ms. Jarreau Heller was passionate about her work.

“She was extremely driven to create. I mean, to the point where in the last three to four years of her life she would go through creative spurts of energy and forget to eat,” said Mr. Jarreau. “There were often times when she was dehydrated and had difficulty breathing, and we’d have to take her to the hospital because she wasn’t drinking or eating. That’s how driven she was.”

Mr. Jarreau said there were times when his mother wouldn’t feel well enough to create, but those occasions were rare.

“Her illness got in the way,” Mr. Jarreau said. “It was an annoyance for her, but it never stopped her.”

Mr. Jarreau said Beauty by Maria Jarreau Heller will be more than just a retrospective.

“It’s honoring her and her legacy. It’s the community she lived in, celebrating her life and her artwork as an expression of beauty,” he said.

Mr. Jarreau said his mother was “always observing and looking at what she called ‘the creatures and things that God created.’”

“My mom was relentless in her pursuit of beauty,” said Mr. Jarreau.

The majority of the works displayed at the Beauty by Maria Jarreau Heller retrospective will be available for purchase, with a portion of proceeds benefiting Wilton Library.

For information, visit wiltonlibrary.org or call 203-762-3950, ext. 213.