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Happy Mother's Day!

May 4, 2010

Her maternal grandfather Max and uncle Julius had been running the Weissglass Dairy farm on Staten Island for 10 years in 1915, when Rita Baumgarten, the third of five children was born in New York City.

(Back Row) Jennie, Oscar, Julius, Frieda, (Front Row) Sylvia, Rita and Michael Baumgarten, Vienna, 1924

When she was five, my mother moved with her family to a suburb of Vienna where her father returned to the prosperous oil business he managed before the first World War. That is, until Hitler invaded Austria in 1938 and the family settled in New York for good.

A short walk to the nearest coffee house was where my grandfather conducted business, daily dinners started with a trip to the baker and butcher, dressmakers made the family wardrobe, and my perfectionist mother got her early start in fashion by re-making her own outfits.

When the town needed a new tennis court and Olympics training pool, they called on locals for financing. But if a patron were Jewish, it didn’t necessarily ensure access to the facilities. Testament to early 20th century engineering, Modling’s mosaic tiled swimming pool, with its avant- garde filtration system was exactly as my mother described it when we visited in 1990.

My first recollection of her voice was listening to the fairy tales of Grimm and Anderson (“Great Claus and Little Claus” was my favorite) but no stories were more interesting than those of the Baumgarten household, with the antics of five mischievous kids, and a steady procession of Dickensian characters that traipsed through its doors. One regular was a chubby young boy who grew up to be investment banker Felix Rohatyn.

Echoing black and white tiled hallways and a creaky caged elevator that always landed on my grandmother's floor, that Washington Heights apartment was the place I was first introduced to the growing clan in the prime of their transplanted lives. (Photo at left, Rita and Kurt Beermann taken in Nice, 1946.)

I came on to this scene in 1953, a year before my father’s throat cancer almost derailed his plans of becoming a college professor.

Thanks to Oscar, my mother’s physician brother, and what was for the time, experimental surgery, my father retained partial use of his vocal cords. Not enough for his voice to project in a lecture hall, but plenty where sign language is the mother tongue.  So my parents moved to Washington and my dad began his teaching career at Gallaudet University, then a college. (Photo below taken on my parent's first trip to DC in 1952.)

Designer dressmaker (for Anne Klein, herself and me), prolific painter, landscape gardener, animal lover (till the day she died, she missed her German shepherd Christel), theatergoer, bridge- player, avid traveler, world-class knitter, reluctant suburbanite, wife and oh yes, mother.  Marrying ‘late’ (31) to a younger man (24) and having me ‘really late’ (38) meant she was delighted to stay home and entertain me. It was easy in the beginning. I was cute.

Many of her dreams were never realized, I think she would agree.  But as a brilliant and devoted caregiver, my mother was unquestionably a star.  A woman of unwavering integrity, she always told the truth and more important, knew what the truth was. Never shy about constructive criticism (I provided a wide variety of topics) she was as talented and intelligent as she was honest.  Simply, very few people really knew her.  I was lucky.

She excelled at whatever she tackled.  A gifted artist who began copying Old Masters at 35 (low confidence precluded early attempts at original work,) she took up nude figure drawing and abstract painting at 65. (Photo at left taken in DC in 1996, four years before she died at 84.)

At 75 she started lifting weights.  A modern spirit who didn’t flinch at her daughter’s escapades, rather, pragmatism kicked in and her focus turned to safety.  On more than one occasion, when I refused to extricate myself from a dicey situation, she warned I could get myself shot ...

She had a knack for assessing the competency of my mentors, the character of my friends, and the wisdom of my passions.  She didn’t mistake my often precocious behavior with readiness. Not blessed with a poker face, she could readily hide her skepticism if it meant an opportunity for me to grow. She never confused her disappointments with mine. Well, except maybe when I stubbornly said I didn’t want a dollhouse.  She desperately wanted me to have the one she never did.  I would have LOVED a dollhouse, especially one she selected.  Only I didn’t know it then.  She should have just bought it instead of listening to a contrary six- year old.  But she respected how I felt and took me at my word.  

At 19, when I wrote her from an extended trip abroad that instead of finishing college, I was moving  to the Cote d’Azur with an English boyfriend, she somehow knew I needed, what is now euphemistically called an intervention. So she met me in Madrid, and brought me home. I was secretly quite relieved.  Not about the France part.

In my thirties, when I won a National Zoo photo contest for a close-up of Ambika, a resident Asian elephant, she said, ”Nice camera!”  It was a comment on a very sharp zoom lens, not a dismissal of her daughter’s talent.  For her, it was a given that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. After all, she never doubted I drew from memory that painting of an elephant at five my teacher was convinced I had traced.  It helped that I always brought my stuffed animals along for inspiration on our visits to the zoo.  (Photo at left taken at the Bronx Zoo, 1955.)

I’d like to think I have her refined eye and sense of beauty, but I’m positive I inherited her respect for nature. Because of her, I know how it feels to have someone who truly, always has your best interests at heart.

Thank you, Mommy!

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Dan Treado's Work Crystallizes at Addison/Ripley

May 1, 2010

A process painter, Dan Treado finds his inspiration in evolutionary biology. The artist explained, “Random mutations and adaptations that drive evolution, those invisible things” are the subjects he borrows from film and photography, physics and biology textbooks, and electron microscope images. Employing unique tools, such as squeegees and scrapers, Dan manipulates solvent and oil paint into luminous, richly surfaced paintings.

Karen Rice, Dan Treado and Peter Earnest

The exhibtion of 19 interpretive works, many of them multi-paneled canvases resembling crystalline and atomic models, opened Saturday, May 1st and runs through June 5th at Addison/Ripley Fine Art. This is Dan's third show at Addison/Ripley. A Washington DC native, Dan attended Georgetown University before earning his MFA at Pratt.

Dan Treado and Amanda Abrell

The gallery is no longer there, but Dan had his first show in Georgetown in 1986, a few blocks away at Susan Neuhaus Collection on 35th Street. When he’s not painting, Dan creates exhibits for the International Spy Museum, where he met his wife (and co-worker), Amanda Abrell.

Christopher Addison and Sylvia Ripley

Since 1981, partners Sylvia Ripley and Christopher Addison have featured contemporary work of leading area and internationally recognized artists. Artists themselves, Sylvia says, “Yes, we were artists but we knew we weren’t going to be terrific artists, so we had this idea …”

Their “idea,” an eclectic collection of paintings, sculpture, photography, fine art prints, and video, also includes providing investment quality artwork to private collectors. For both the seasoned and novice collector, the gallery assists with acquisition, framing, and installation.

Helena Johnson and Laura Hicken

Kristin Treado and Lucy

Kristin Magee and Lori Moltz

Joe Di Gangi and Chris Addison

Trent and Melissa Flood

"Ow, My Leg", 2010, oil on canvas, Dan Treado

Addison/Ripley Fine Art is at 1670 Wisconsin Avenue Tel. 202.338.5180

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Forever Lily Debuts at Apres Peau

April 28, 2010

Inspired by her unexpected journey to motherhood, Beth Nonte Russell created the fragrance line, “Forever Lily” (recently nominated for a ‘Fifi’, the fragrance industry’s answer to Oscar) and wrote a book. Wednesday night she came to Apres Peau to introduce her remarkable family, fragrance and memoir to Washington.

When I asked Beth whether “Forever Lily” was her first fragrance, she nodded. “I was a psychologist,” she said, “when I brought Lily home.” Ten years ago, all Beth had on her mind was lending support to her friend Alex when she accompanied her to a Chinese orphanage to adopt the baby girl that been abandoned at a railway station. The last thing Beth expected was that the new mother would be her. After all, she and husband Randy already had three children (from his previous marriage) and their family felt complete. But when Alex changed her mind in the last minute, and it would have meant returning a frail and neglected 13 month old to the orphanage, the decision was easy for Beth who had instantly bonded with baby Lily. And what did Randy say when you told him, I asked. “He was immediately supportive and told me to bring her home!”

Beth and Randy Russell

Since her friend had already completed the adoption process, all that remained was for the Russells to legally adopt Lily in Virginia after a brief role as her foster parents.  When Lily wanted a sister, the family returned to China for Jaden (shown below).

Motivated by the plight of orphaned children in China and elsewhere, Beth and Randy Russell founded the Golden Phoenix Foundation in 2006. The mission of the foundation is to end child abandonment worldwide. Ten percent of the proceeds of sale of the fragrance benefit the foundation.

It’s always fun and fashionable when “The Face of Georgetown” hosts a party. Dr. Tina Alster opened Apres Peau (French for “after skin”) to make the experience of finding the apropos gift easy and stylish. This world renowned cosmetic dermatologist and lecturer, is founding director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.

Dr. Tina Alster and Lily Russell

Jessica Freedman, Apres Peau’s manager (shown above) told me, “There’s great energy here. By embracing the unique, we offer a true boutique experience.” What better place to launch a fragrance created to “aid the wearer in opening the heart and reaching for the highest … An enveloping Oriental blend, whose top note is dominated by clove and sweet accents of lemon and fresh lychee, middle note of fig and stargazer lily, and base note comprised of cedar wood, vanilla, amber and sandalwood."  Just add love.

Kathy Neal and Courtnay Hamilton

Paul Nonte and Lou Fisher

Lily and Jaden Russell

Ralph Linden, Molly Weaver, Ramsey Perron, John Bettinger


Janet Freedman, Dr. Jennifer Mac Gregor and Jessica Freedman


Lily Russell and Emily Hamilton

Beth Nonte Russell and David T. Crow

Dr. Tina Alster and husband, Paul Frazier


Lily and Dad

Elisabeth and Craig Wine

Dr. Jennifer Mac Gregor

Evan and Pierre Rahal


Lou Fisher, Paul Nonte and Randy Russell

No Washington party is complete without a Georgetown Cupcake. Right, Jaden?

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