Rose O’Neill and I—two worlds
by Rose Mary Boehm

You died in 1944, when I was six. Your place was Nebraska,
the US of A, mine an industrial town in bombed-out
Germany. At 13, you took part in the Omaha Herald
Drawing competition, won first prize.
At 13, my art teacher praised my drawings. At 15, you
were illustrating for big magazines. At 15, I walked
with my classmates into an exhibition where
they could also admire my drawings and paintings.
The kinder ones pointed at me and laughed.
Your family relocated to New York. The very big
apple. I painted on the open lid of our second-hand
piano. At 19, you sold all your work. At 19, I moved
to Paris, took occasional sketching classes
at La Grande Chaumière.

Rose O’Neill — you had a great talent
and much courage at a time where you were
deemed eccentric, at best. I allowed
my classmates’ ignorant laughter
to change the course of my life.

PHOTO: Rose O’Neill photographed by Gertrude Käsebier in New York City (1907).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Rose O’Neill (1874-1944) was the creator of the Kewpies cartoon, the Kewpie dolls, illustrator, and artist extraordinaire. O’Neill was in high demand as a talented illustrator with romantic, Pre-Raphaelite leanings — the only woman on the staff of the legendary humor magazine Puck in 1897, when she was just 23. As a painter and sculptor, she studied and showed in Paris and New York. As a well-traveled poet and novelist who published eight books, she explored the Continent with the likes of Booth Tarkington and painted a handsome, brooding portrait of her friend the poet Kahlil Gibran. In post-war Germany there was no money or leisure to indulge in anything that was not immediately necessary for survival. It had almost been “stamped” onto our DNA — at least in a bourgeois family taken to the brink of endurance by WWII. And at 15 I did rather give up on my dream than be considered an oddball by my equally “handicapped” peers. By the way, I am preparing an exhibition.

Rose Mary Boehm 2014

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A German-born U.K. national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of two novels and a full-length poetry collection (TANGENTS) published in 2011 in the U.K., her work has been widely published in U.S. poetry reviews as well as some print anthologies. One of her poems was chosen for Diane Lockward’s The Crafty Poet. She won third prize in the 2009 Margaret Reid Poetry Contest for Traditional Verse’ (US), was semi-finalist in the Naugatuck Poetry Contest 2012/13, and has been a finalist in several Goodreads poetry contests, winning it twice: in October 2014 and January 2016; a new poetry collection is earmarked for U.S. publication in 2016.

PHOTO: The author, Lima, Peru (2014).