Press, News, Reviews

New Gift book, Passing Shadows, features photos and haiku poems

Passing Shadows, a collection of poignant three-line haiku poems illustrated with surprising photos and watercolor paintings, is the third of a series of joy-centered books by Old Saybrook author and artist Mary O’Connor. Reflective and at times amusing, this latest book illustrates how to uncover unexpected moments of calmness through musings on ordinary, everyday objects.

Finding a measure of quietude is what this book is all about. A total of 72 full-color photographic as well as painted images, including four pet portraits, are offered as meditative stopping points, reasons to pause and to think of the subject’s lure. Accompanying each visual image is a verbal reflection expressed in the ancient Japanese poetic haiku format.

Haikus use the barest minimum of words, structured in three lines of five-seven-five syllables, to depict a single moment in time through colorful mental imagery and natural world reference. Hallmark of a haiku is its delivery in just one breath of an unexpected sense of illumination. It is this ability to inspire fresh thought, to provide moments of ahhh!, that the author seeks to deliver in Passing Shadows.

O’Connor enjoys living along the Connecticut shoreline, source of inspiration for much of her creative work, and typically turns to nature for vision. As seen throughout the book, she has a way of finding sunlight in the ordinary and drawing it out in surprising, thought-provoking observations.

Take for example, the 15-word haiku “Birth.” Illustrated with the warm pink petal of a tulip lit by a shaft of sunlight, she simply writes “life gives birth to spring/little trace of winter stress/just stretch marks of light.”

Or, with a wry sense of humor, she shows a seagull pecking at a broken clam shell and comments, “the half-eaten dish/to be served tomorrow/blessed leftovers.” Or, when she catches the stare of a bad-humored grackle, she chides, “blinded by temper/ability to laugh gone/better to calm down.”

It is this focus on finding the lessons of the commonplace and expressing them in words that deliver insight, amusement, peace and calm that defines this book.

A popular public speaker, Mary offers Haiku writing workshops, serves as a docent at the Florence Griswold Museum, has taught poetry writing to inmates at the Connecticut state prison for women, and held numerous nonprofit Board and volunteer positions in the community arena.   Her watercolor and acrylics paintings have been exhibited by the Lyme Art Association, Clinton Art Society and Essex Art Association and her animal portraits are treasured by numerous individual pet owners.

All proceeds from the sale of Passing Shadows will be donated to the nonprofit Warrior Expeditions (www.warriorexpeditions.org) in support of its therapeutic programs that help veterans transition from their wartime experiences through long distance outdoor expeditions. Founded in 2013 as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, Warrior Expeditions sends returning servicemen and women on extended forays into the wild as a way of decompressing and reintegrating into society.

Outings take anywhere from three to six months and include eight trails, plus a Mississippi River kayak voyage, and a cross-country bicycle trek. Warrior Expeditions provides the gear, clothing, supplies, a small monthly stipend, and skills training needed to complete expeditions and for readjustment to civilian life after a combat zone. The camaraderie experienced with other veterans helps restore faith in humanity and build an important network of life-long friendships and relationships.

Other books by O’Connor are “Life Is Full of Sweet Spots – An Exploration of Joy,” (© 2013 Abbott Press, Bloomington, Ind.) as well as “Dreams of a Wingless Child” (© 2007, Wheatmark, Tuscon, Ariz.), a collection of award-winning nature and inspirational verses. Published by Station Square Media, New York, NY, Passing Shadows is expected to be available late-September on selected online sites, including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, as well as in selected community retail outlets.


Rising Egret, an 18”x12.5” watercolor painting by Mary O’Connor, shown in the Clinton Art Society 72nd Annual Summer Juried Exhibition, July 13 – August 15, at the Andrews Memorial Town Hall, Clinton, Conn.


Surprise!! Acrylic on wood palette, Mary O’Connor, Miss Florence’s Artist Tree, 2018

An annual highlight of the Florence Griswold Museum’s holiday celebration is the creation of “Miss Florence’s Artist Tree.” The tradition of the signature artist’s tree began in 2004 with a 12-foot tree decorated with artists’ palettes, each painted by professional artists from Southeastern Connecticut and beyond.

The idea of the tree, as explained by Director of Education and Outreach David Rau, relates to the museum’s core story. Because many of the artists who stayed at Miss Florence’s boarding house over one hundred years ago painted directly on its doors and wall panels, the thought was to invite selected artists to once again leave their mark on the Museum through their use of wooden palettes, a traditional artist tool used to hold and mix paints.

Today, oils, acrylics, watercolors, ceramics, and collage are used to transform the palettes, provided by the Museum to the artists, into traditional holiday scenes, delightful landscapes, and more than a few surprises, many of which depict scenes or items specific to the Florence Griswold house.

With new artists adding their works each year, the popular display has grown to multiple trees covered with an accumulation of some 200 palettes. Miss Florence’s Artist Trees – Celebrating a Tradition of Painted Palettes, published in 2019, tells the story of Miss Florence and showcases each of those 200 palettes that decorate the Museum’s trees today.

The annual holiday celebration with its Artist’s trees was on hiatus during the 2020 Covid year, but is expected to resume in 2021.

 


POET AND PAINTER COMPILES UNIQUE BOOK
By Amy J. Barr, GRACE Magazine, The Day, August/September 2013, photo by Peter M. Weber

“Mary O’Connor has a mission — to spread more joy in the world. But it is a mission as gentle and unassuming as the Old Lyme resident. The writer, poet, painter, and nature lover doesn’t lecture or insist that there is any one way to live a more joyful life, but instead, she stresses how important it is “for all of us to have our minds open to joy and all the beauty that’s out there.”

• To read the complete article that appeared in GRACE: A MAGAZINE FOR WOMEN, click here.


AUTHOR’S ART ON COVER OF NEWSPAPER MAGAZINE
Painting is another of Mary O’Connor’s favorite pastimes. Her watercolor of an American bison was featured by The Hartford Courant as its September 26, 2010 iTowns cover art.

• Click here to see more of Mary’s paintings.


“BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF READERS” EVENT AT TRINITY COLLEGE FOCUSES ON LITERACY AND PARTNERSHIPS

Old Lyme Author Presents Literacy Program Award
More than 100 members of the Greater Hartford community gathered November 29, 2009 at Trinity College for “Building a Community of Readers,” an event celebrating literacy and local volunteers making a difference in Hartford through literacy outreach. Elementary school children and their parents, college students, faculty, and staff, literacy advocates and volunteers, and other interested members of the Hartford community attended. The event was made even more timely, as many in the audience noted, because of the recent release by the National Endowment for the Arts of a new study showing “startling declines in how much and how well Americans read.”The idea for the celebration of literacy and literacy volunteers at Trinity was suggested by Old Lyme poet and painter Mary O’Connor, former director of communications at Trinity.  A champion of literacy, O’Connor is donating all proceeds from the sale of her recently published book, Dreams of a Wingless Child, to the Freedom Writers, the group whose story was told in the movie of the same name, starring Hilary Swank. In so doing, as with the November 29th event, O’Connor hopes to reinforce the power of writing for youngsters to achieve their dreams and to decrease high school dropout rates.


PRESS ARCHIVES

Giving Wings to a Voice Inside: Old Lyme Woman’s Poetry to benefit Freedom Writers
“For a woman who is good with words, who has made them her life, Mary O’Connor is at a loss for them when talking about Maria Reyes. “I can’t describe her – because you can’t.” She looks down at the floor, out her window of her Old Lyme home to the marshes and the sea beyond, and finally finds the right way to describe Reyes, one of the Freedom Writers, a former student in a struggling California school system who turned her life around through journal writing.” (Lyme Times, by Sharma Howard, Times Arts Editor, May 24, 2007.)

Old Lyme Author’s Book Recognizes the Power of Writing to Achieve Dreams
“Writing,” says O’Connor, “has always provided me with a means of channeling thoughts and observations in ways that open my mind to new possibilities and connections. My hope in dedicating Dreams of a Wingless Child to the Freedom Writers is to reinforce their recognition of the power of writing to deal with adversities faced in daily life, and in so doing, to support them in their goal of achieving dreams for themselves and the world.” All proceeds from the sale of the book are being contributed to the Freedom Writers Foundation, which seeks to decrease high school dropout rates throughout the United States through the replication and enhancement of the Freedom Writers teaching method. (The Post Road Review, June 2007) Read the complete article (PDF).

A Time To Write
“Mary O’Connor has more time for writing poetry these days. She’s retired from her career in public relations and advertising for ConnectiCare, Trinity College, and writing for the Hartford Times…Her latest poetry collection, Dreams of a Wingless Child, is published by Wheatmark ($11.95). Profits from the book are going to Freedom Writers, the group founded by Erin Gruwell, whose story was told in the movie of the same name, starring Hilary Swank. Gruwell and Maria Reyes, one of the original student writers from the group begun in Los Angeles, spoke at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts about the writing experience.” (Hartford Courant, Donna Larcen, April 22, 2007)

Freedom Writers New Release
“The Freedom Writers Foundation is happy to announce the release of Dreams of a Wingless Child by Mary O’Connor. Ms. O’Connor has dedicated the book to the Freedom Writers and will donate all the proceeds of her book to the Freedom Writers Foundation. An award-winning poet, O’Connor draws on the rhythms and forces of the New England shoreline and turns them into metaphors for the emotions and milestones of life. Written with whimsy, playfulness and clarity of observation, each piece looks at ordinary encounters in unexpected ways.” (Freedom Writers Foundation, April 2007 Newsletter)