Scipio, Ruby and Mary

Published on 15 December 2023 at 15:57

Medium: Graphite

Date: 1979


In my studio one afternoon in 1979, I found myself immersed in the delicate task of sketching Easter lilies when my dear friend Scipio paid an unexpected visit.

 “Draw my portrait. I want you to do it right now,” he said. I was really focused on my lily. He insisted his portrait be done right away. Somewhat irritated, I just turned the lily to the bottom of the paper and began his portrait on the same paper. I did it quickly. He liked his image. He only said, “I don’t have such thin lips.” He took the pencil and changed the lips. I was surprised. I expected him to say everything was slightly wrong. He was an extremely particular person when judging art and especially anything done for him. He had studied fresco painting in Florence for a year some years ago. He seemed relieved that his picture was finished. He did not insist that I perfect the drawing further. He seemed to be OK with the flower on the same page as his portrait. I thought that was odd. He turned and left the studio without taking the picture. More odd behavior. His unexpected satisfaction and the peculiar circumstances surrounding his portrait marked the beginning of a story filled with intrigue and wonder.

Ruby, his mother from Trinidad, living in West Harlem, loved lilies. She wanted lilies at her funeral. However, she had joined a church which forbade flowers at funerals. The church would only have flowers on the altar at Easter. Those flowers would always be lilies. In the backdrop of this intriguing circumstance, we can begin to fathom why this particular portrait held profound significance. His mother died at the time I was drawing his portrait. Scipio had not seen her for over a year.  Scipio was very highly intuitive, very intelligent, and a professional astrologer on the side. He could feel something needed to be done right away. The time was the day after Easter. Ruby had lilies at her funeral. The flowers were kept in the church until the Sunday after Easter. She had a strong sense of intuition, too. Scipio was in touch with his mother Ruby at the time of her death.

Scipio’s power of intuition always amazed me. A day or two prior to Ruby’s passing, he told me about the life of another woman he loved.

The day before the funeral I attended a meeting of the New York public relations club. There I met a very attractive tiny woman dressed in black carrying two red roses. I caught her eye. “Oh, where did you get those roses?” I asked. “A young man gave them to me on the subway coming here,” she replied. An hour later I met her coming to the bus stop where I was waiting. We boarded. The bus was full, but we happened to find seats together. She began to tell me some amusing anecdotes about her life in response to comments I was making. After about 30 minutes, “You are Mary Cooperfield!” I exclaimed excitedly. She had been talking to me in a very cagey way some sophisticated women I had met had conversed with me. She never guessed that I would guess, in New York City nonetheless, and how I could put these scraps of identifying material together. Mary was a very private person. However, she had been Scipio’s lover 30 years ago. He had just this week enthusiastically described to me these details about her life.

I did not tell her how I knew her name. She had been very involved in dance and headed Dance in America in the late 60s. Working for Sol Hurok, she had been able to get her friend Merce Cunningham invited to perform at the World's Fair in Belgium in 1958. It put him on the dance map. Scipio’s first wife was a Martha Graham dancer. Mary had been a Graham dancer, too. Scipio was a sensational dancer himself and his mother Ruby was a very great classical opera singer, a black opera singer recorded circa 1940.

The correspondence between these important events in the same week of Scipio’s life intrigued me. First, his portrait done at the time of his mother’s death and with her favorite flower on the portrait of her only child. Second, his compulsive telling of the story of a favorite woman in his life in the week before his mother’s death. I feel there is a connection between these two women drawn together under the umbrella of his intuition.

This is the only portrait I ever drew of him. I did become a very good friend of Mary. She invited me to join her in her freelance business doing special projects for law firms. When I was working for the Federal Civic Court in Las Vegas, Mary and Scipio met in New York in the hallway of the law firm where Mary and I were working. Neither one spoke. They recognized each other. They were so disappointed in how much they had changed from their earlier glamorous selves. Later, I asked her what she remembered about him from years ago. She said, “Scipio was always very polite. He always had perfect manners.” He said to me, “She could make herself look so beautiful, so simple and unusual she could astonish a massive crowd.”

For me, this blog is a chronicle of the transformative journeys not only within the lives of Scipio and Mary but also within our own lives. It's a testament to the profound shifts, both subtle and seismic, that we all undergo as we navigate the complexities of existence. Through the lens of Scipio, Ruby's only child, this blog becomes a canvas that vividly portrays the intricate tapestry of dreams, aspirations, and ultimately the somber reality of Ruby's passing. It captures the essence of the human experience—the ebb and flow of relationships, the dance of intuition, and the ever-present specter of change that weaves its threads through our lives. In honoring Ruby's memory and celebrating the connections that bind us, this blog serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility and beauty of our shared human journey.


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