FRAN W. – AGE 96

“I was born in Newark Beth Israel Hospital and I had a marvelous young life. I had lots of boyfriends. They used to fight over me because I was so popular and not only that but I made all my own clothes. So when my husband-to-be had to have someone to take to his prom at NY Medical College, someone said to him, ‘Go call Fran W.’ It was during the Depression and no one had evening gowns then except for me since I could sew my own. At that time if you had a boyfriend who was in college they would invite you to their proms where they had famous orchestras like Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw.

I was lucky to marry Milt. We were married for 49 years. Before I had children I went to art school, a small art school right across the street from Bloomingdales. But then I had my children, and it was hard to do artwork when my children were little. I wanted to work but they were a pain in the neck! I was frustrated.

I have sewn all my life. Making my own clothes is my art form. I am wearing something I made maybe 30 years ago. Nothing I made is out of style. But I also went back into the fine arts. You have to marry a doctor if you want to be an artist because you can’t make a living as an artist.

First I did paintings and then I became a printmaker, which I also taught. Then I took up papermaking and I stayed with that for the longest. I still teach papermaking at the New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts. I started teaching after I was 65.

I have a studio on the third floor so it is a little hard for me, but if one of the ladies (during the last few months I fell a few times so I need to have help around the clock) help me walk upstairs I can stay there for about an hour. I get a little tired going up to my studio, but so what if you’re tired? That’s what counters are for. I don’t have that much energy so I do simple types of artwork. I don’t have such good use of my hands for small projects. Threading a needle has become a chore, so I don’t do any creative sewing.

I am a very happy woman. I am very satisfied. I lived a great life. I have wonderful children; I have grandchildren; I have great grandchildren. I have lots of artist friends and the ones who aren’t artists I tolerate. I like that I have more time. But I wish I was busier. However, I don’t feel bad about calling someone and saying, ‘Let’s have lunch.’ But I need them to pick me up because I don’t drive anymore. Friends call me a lot and tell me about a good book to read. Most of my days are spent reading. I go to the library once a week. I love to read everything. I just finished a wonderful biography of Julia Child. She didn’t remember anyone’s name; she called everyone ‘dearie.’

There is a mystery in everything. When the wind blows, there is one window in my bedroom, and I see the trees dance. They get together and they dance together.

When I wake up in the morning I am happy to be alive. Nothing is drastically hurting me. I look forward to breakfast. I think I am the only one who has toast in the morning with slices of tomato on it. I don’t have as much appetite as I used to. I read the NY Times in the morning, but I don’t read the news. I turn to art and fashion. I cannot dwell on the horrible things that are happening in the world.

You ask if I have any regrets about my life. Sometimes I do but I don’t’ remember! You forget that which is not good. Like having a baby, which stunk. I had three natural births and they were horrible.

I think the world is horrible today as opposed to 50 years ago. First of all, I don’t like instant news. When my husband was overseas, I didn’t know where he was. We didn’t know what was going on and if I did it was four days later. The stupid television is enough to drive me crazy. It is mostly junk. Now you can see your family or your children being killed before your eyes. I am a Pollyanna. My head is buried in the ground. I do not want to know bad things.

What advice would I give to young people today? First of all, young girls should stand up straight. You would be surprised how important posture is. When I walk, I walk straight. Also, accept things but don’t dwell on them."

Interview conducted by New Jersey artist Janet Boltax for this exhibition.