Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014)

Slyvia Sleigh, A portrait of Rosemary Mayer, 1978, postcard of an oil on canvas painting, 36 x 24”.

ROSEMARY MAYER has been part of my life since I was born. There weren’t many books in our house, so we went to the library and attempted to introduce our parents to Greek mythology. Though this was before Conceptual art, Rosemary carved her initials in the furniture and then changed them to mine so I’d get blamed. It worked.

Because we went to Saint Matthias grammar school on Catalpa Avenue where the school sisters of Notre Dame taught, we got scholarships to Saint Saviour High School of Brooklyn, which was more like a college. Recently I got a condolence note from a friend from there who identified Rosemary as an upperclassman. I wondered why she didn’t say woman.

Rosemary eventually married Vito Acconci in Saint Matthias Church: I don’t know why. She helped Vito and me produce the magazine 0 To 9 and was in some of the issues. We made them at my boyfriend’s father’s office in Newark, New Jersey, which had a mimeograph machine. We did it while the office was closed for the night.

Rosemary turned down an offer to study classics at Harvard so she could pursue visual art, going on to make sculptures and watercolors. My favorite work of hers was her snow sculptures of women made at the library yard in Lenox, Mass. I loved the evanescence of her work.

Rosemary Mayer, Some Days in April, 1978, advertising balloons, inks, helium, fabrics, dimensions variable. Installation view, Hartwick, New York.

Rosemary translated and published Pontormo’s Diary (Out of London Press, 1979), wrote Surroundings, an issue of Art-Rite, and appeared in the anthology Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America (1977) edited by Alan Sondheim.

Rosemary created a beautiful cover for United Artists Magazine No. 18. She designed the covers of my books Moving (1971) and Poetry (1976). For Poetry, she made a great drawing of our house in Ridgewood, Brooklyn/Queens, New York. Rosemary went on to illustrate Beowulf, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the history of the women of the Roman Empire.

She lived for forty years in a loft on Leonard Street in Manhattan, where she had seven desks, each for a different purpose. She had great dinner parties and made a book outlining the foods served and the people attending. In that loft Rosemary also grew a garden, mostly from avocado pits. But the landlord wanted to get everyone out, so he made things difficult for the tenants.

Rosemary Mayer, Noise Drawings, 2011, pastel on paper, 26 x 40”.

Rosemary was nothing if not astute. A student said to listen to her speak about color and paper was staggering. She was a professor of art at LaGuardia Community College, where she taught for twenty years, and of writing at Long Island University Brooklyn.

My house is now filled with her works including one of her Amphorae sculptures. I am grateful to Rosemary for making the Hesiod volume of the Loeb Classics fall from the shelves, enabling me to make the title for my next book Works and Days. And also for turning my gingko tree yellow for the first time.

Hail and farewell Rosemary
I’m drinking the last of the wine
In a toast to you
The trees are looking cold and leafless
As if somebody has died

Bernadette Mayer is a poet based in upstate New York.