Aunt Ruthie: Art through the Ages

My Mennonite Aunt Ruthie Longenecker is elderly now. She has always loved art and is still producing beautiful things nearing age 97. Like Mary Delany, known for her exquisite scissors art, age is no hindrance to creativity.

Note the red and teal crayons in Ruthie’s hand here.


My Artist/Aunt/Teacher Ruthie now lives in a retirement community, where she took an art course several months ago. I have no way of knowing whether the instructor suggested the topic or not, but one thing is certain, her images reflect her deep love of plant and animal life.


Bunnies with trees - neon image a reflection of wall date/time reminder
Bunnies with trees – neon image a reflection of Ruthie’s wall date/time reminder
Droopy daisy petals contrast to erect bunny ears
Droopy daisy petals contrast with erect bunny ears


Aunt Ruthie, also my teacher in Grades 1-4 at Rheems Elementary School, splashed art all over our curriculum in addition to construction paper creations most every school child makes:

  • Clay moldings fired in a tiny kiln
  • Finger paints – My favorite, blending red and blue to make purple!
  • Jig-saw cut-outs made into wall hangings
  • Plaster of Paris figures

True, she taught the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. I excelled in reading and was often chosen to read aloud “with expression” when the school superintendent appeared in the classroom. However, arithmetic was a different matter. I can still conjure up an image of her brown, beveled ruler dancing ominously above my hand, white-knuckled while struggling to line up 4-digit numbers vertically so the sums would add up correctly.

One happy pause in the school day came after lunch though: Picking colors from the stadium of crayons standing at attention in my green & gold box of 48 Crayolas. My classmates and I filled in the *purple curves and lines of figures from fairy tales and fables while she read from Uncle Remus or the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

1975 Ruthie-Schoolphoto 3a_small

She took a course in oil painting, probably in her 40s or 50s, her love of nature evident in the works shown here.


(White birch?) Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
White birch tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm
Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker


Aunt Ruthie/Miss Longenecker would likely smile in a self-deprecating way at the notion of linking her artistic flair with the idea of “art as sacred expression” which Melissa Pritchard asserts in an article suggesting that “Art [is] a form of active prayer.” Yet, in retrospect, I recognize that art for Aunt Ruthie was a full expression of her humanity, her creativity, and her spirituality.

On July 16, 2015, the U. S. Senate passed ­­­­by a vote of 81/17 a bi-partisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that “all students—regardless of their socioeconomic status—experience the demonstrable positive impact that [art] and music education has on learning and life.” In other words, the Senate is trying to catch up with what the research has been saying for years, the arts improve and reinforce learning in the full range of academic subjects.

Ruthie would be pleased with that move. In her mind, now addled by memory loss, art never ever left the curriculum. For her, art is ageless.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.  Its loveliness increases/ It will never / Pass into nothingness.                  – John Keats    “Endymion”

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Do you have a family member who excels in art? How do you express your own artistic flair? (Don’t discount the home arts like sewing, baking, making creative tablescapes.)

BIrdVaseFlowersRuthie’s flower arrangement in bird vase


Great Grandpa Sam: A Hoot and a Holler

Samuel Brinser Martin 1863 -1957    Victorians didn't smile for photos!
Samuel Brinser Martin 1863 -1957                Victorians didn’t smile for photos!

Wiry Grandpa Martin, was a jolly little man. He had an Old MacDonald-type farm with chickens, a couple of cows, two horses, and maybe a pig though I never heard an oink-oink-oink either here or there.

Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm
Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
Samuel and Mary Martin
Samuel and Mary Martin

Theirs was a Jack Sprat-type union, with his wife Mary as generous as she was ample. Great Grandma Mary died before I was born, so I never met the big-hearted woman who often invited strangers to the family table.

My Grandma Longenecker’s dad, Great-Grandpa Samuel Brinser Martin, came to live with his daughter Fannie and grand-daughter, my Aunt Ruthie, in his later years. My sisters and I found him curious and amusing.

Great-Grandpa Sam has no teeth to speak of. What he had were rotted and drew his mouth into an O like an old mountaineer’s. After meals, he shook some salt into his hand, threw his head way back, opened up and sucked in the salt. It made a loud POP, his mouth an echo chamber.

He came to Grandma’s house toothless, blind, and deaf but not dumb. He was smart enough to know that we stole candy from his stash below his Emerson radio turned to high volume with static near the kitchen window. When he offered us pink Pepto Bismol-like lozenges, we snuck back and snitched the chocolate covered mints. Both his eyes were blind, but one eye was glass and sometimes rolled out of its socket and onto the green, beige, and brown blocked linoleum floor where it picked it up speed.

There were other sneaky things, too, some not involving us. His minister from Geyers Church near Middletown, Pennsylvania would visit, coming in the door with a Bible under one arm and a long, flat, telltale something or other in a brown bag under the other. As the minutes went by the laughing and talking in the upstairs bedroom got louder and louder, revealing the effects of the liberal libation of liquor the two were imbibing, for medicinal reasons of course. We observed the literal interpretation of the biblical teaching that  “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.”  Obviously, his preacher friend was not a strict Mennonite like us nor in favor of prohibition or abstinence.

Grandpa would tell us often: “There’s no feller quite so yeller like my liver.” Then a guffaw! He could pack a punch too. Asking me to make a fist to show my muscle, he’d pound the little mount of bicep flesh hard enough to make a dent.

When he died, there was a quiet spot near the bay window in Grandma’s kitchen – no candy – no tricks – no loud music. We missed Grandpa Martin.

We all have relatives, past or present, who are curious and interesting. We’d like to hear about yours!

Your comments welcome. I will always reply.