Rose Marie Prins is an accomplished mixed-media artist whose paintings, artist’s books, prints and sculptures have been featured in solo and group exhibitions in museums, cultural centers and galleries throughout the United States and in her native South Africa. Her work is in public and private collections worldwide.
In today’s Interview, Rose Marie reveals the story and inspiration behind her new book A Leaf in the Wind: Poems by Jaro Majer, Artwork by Rose Marie Prins.
NV: What is the story behind the book?
The concept of A Leaf in the Wind evolved as follows: early in 2016, I received a grant from Creative Pinellas. On learning of the award, I planned a trip to an artists’ retreat in India. I had, for many years, longed to go to India. I love so much what India has given to the world, including its unique culture, delicious cuisine and, most of all, the spiritual path of yoga in its many forms.
Shortly after my arrival at the Sanskriti Kendra, I took a late evening walk through the retreat grounds. Suddenly, I was struck by the sight of a lone, bright pink lotus blossom emerging from the dark depths of a pond. In the receding light of day, with the first stars appearing in the sky, the bloom glowed as if lighted from within. At this time, three months after my son Jaro’s passing, my grief was profound. The sight of the glowing, pink bloom was a sign of hope and promise; I experienced an epiphany.
After this, I viewed not just the lotus but all the trees on the property as models for a way of being in the world—they thrived in spite of the drought and New Delhi’s suffocating smog that engulfed them daily. I abandoned my original plan for an art project and started collecting, identifying, and cataloging the leaves on the property. The names of the trees, such as Krishna’s Buttercup, Bodhi Tree and Tree of Sadness, were inspirational. Before leaving India, I lovingly pressed the leaves between the pages of a magazine saving them for the next phase of the project.
Since then, the project has undergone several iterations. While at a retreat in Mexico, I experimented with colorful watercolor grounds with tracings and collages of the Indian leaves. Later, during residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and at the Moulin à Nef in Auvillar, France, I added the Indian leaf silhouettes that are included in A Leaf in the Wind. Thus the Indian leaves became part of my grief therapy. They are also a metaphor for my deceased son, who, besides being “a lover and a fighter” for what he loved, was a lover of all things Indian. This was the genesis of the book.
NV: As an artist, if you could pick any medium and form to express your message, why a book?
Not long after my return to Florida from India, I received an enormous envelope full of my son Jaro’s poems from his widow in Canada. I’ve made many artist’s books, so I decided to make a one-of-kind artist’s book using one of his poems. This is the book, “As Each Moon Passes”—the poem, written for a friend on her birthday—is also in A Leaf in the Wind. However, I needed to do more, so I worked for well over two years at artists’ retreats in Virginia, Mexico and France as well as at my St. Petersburg studio on a traditional book that would be accessible to many people. One goal was to make readers aware of the stigma attached to mental illness. My son had suffered from schizophrenia since his mid-twenties. I also wanted his beautiful, devotional poems to reach a broad audience.
NV: What aspect of working on your book was joyful?
Working on A Leaf in the Wind was often extremely painful, as I traveled back in time exploring my memories with Jaro right up until the moment when I heard the words “…your son is dead.” In spite of the pain, there was a strong sense of purpose. This is manifested, I think, in the research into mental illness that I did in preparation for writing the foreword and afterword for the book. Also, I played—and here’s where the joy comes in—with color, primarily watercolors, in a way I hadn’t done before. My oil paints were confiscated by the airlines en route to India, so I learned not to travel with oils—hence watercolors, which I had first learned to use as an adolescent. Placing those Indian leaves on the colorful, watercolor grounds, tracing around them and painting the silhouettes was, as I mentioned earlier, therapeutic.
Jaro’s full name is Jaroslav which, in Czechoslovakian, means “in praise of spring.” Jaro was born in the springtime, the time of the year when nature slowly awakens from her winter slumber; but also a time when the weather goes through dramatic changes. In the same way the process of birthing A Leaf in the Wind encompassed many different, often conflicting, emotions. Joy was just one of them.
NV: How can your book help others? Build awareness?
I’ve heard from many readers since I first published the book in mid 2020. If the sentiments of those who’ve shared their responses with me are universal, and I hope they are, then I’m convinced that our book can help others in a variety of ways, both emotional and practical. I’ll share just a sampling of reader’s responses with you here:
You have taken a heart-wrenching and utterly devastating experience and created something beautiful out of the ashes. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Both your and Jaro’s words will live on to help others. —Gina White, artist and founder, St Pete Art Collective
I liked the background information you provided, as well as the context. There is still so much stigma around mental health. It put me in touch with my own grief and mental health.— D.N., retired social worker
Jaro’s poems will resonate most especially with those who are struggling with “the world.” I sense Jaro’s need to blend into something larger than himself. Your foreword is an important key to understanding the book’s origin and Jaro’s struggles with the “real world”–which he recognizes as an illusion.—Patrick Westcott, PhD, retired university professor
This book is… a compassionate guide to processing grief. —Linda Piper PhD, writer, story teller and theater director
It’s very sad and true how secret and hidden mental illness is kept among families, friends, society, workplaces, etc. and I’m grateful to you, Rose Marie, that you shone a light on this issue in your book.—Christine McNally, licensed masseur, Reiki and Ayurvedic practitioner
I made a donation in Jaro’s name to The Brain and Behavior Foundation that funds research into treatments and cures for mental illnesses and addiction: https://www.bbrfoundation.org/
—Melissa Klafter, nurse
Such a good thing you did, this book. —Timothy Houghton PhD, poet
NV: What would you tell your first time reader? What should she or he expect?
I think the visual and performance artist and mother-survivor, Suzanne Benton sums up A Leaf in the Wind: Poems by Jaro Majer, Artwork by Rose Marie Prins succinctly:
A Leaf in the Wind is a highly moving intertwining of visual art and poetry that artist-mother Rose Marie Prins created after the untimely death of her poet-son Jaro Majer. We must ask, how does a mother grieve? How does she survive? Art alone receives her sorrow and gives shape to this tragic loss. The art that appeared in the wake of his death couple the poet’s eloquent search for peace and balance. His yearning and profound mind struggles no more. She journeyed outward to lands where mourning filled her artwork. His gifted poetry reveals a deep attachment to the spiritual life that gave fleeting solace against the mental health world’s abandonment. Carefully crafted poetry speaks of a valiant search for answers to the profound questions that exceptional youth yearns to solve. The simple elegance of Rose Marie’s art weighs a mighty accompaniment to this poetry. The blackest of leaves, the empty ones, and the blackened tracery sitting atop a vivid palette of color that might tell of past joys or offer future hope that grieving might end, or settle in as a constant livable hush. The son’s equally elegant phrases, his pacing of sentences, final declarations, all shine with a brilliance now gone from the world, to be ever remembered in this elegant memorial to a well loved child.
To this I have nothing to add, other than that my wish is that our gift, born out of love and struggle, be of value to all who come across it.