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Bella

A Miniature by Bella Goldman
Sometimes a name fits a person and Bella is most definitely a Bella, inside and out. I first met her in the elevator of our building—we live on the same floor—as she was returning from a rendezvous with her Russian women friends in Bennett Park. She said she was feeling bored with these women friends, she liked men, and all the women talked about was their aches and pains and grandchildren. Bella has two sons, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, and she adores them all, but she is also an artist and she likes talking about art and how she makes art. Did I mention she is 91, has had six eye operations, injections in her hip, and so on, the usual old-age complaints. She doesn’t lament, she gets back to work. Four days a week, she has an attendant, and she is fortunate to have the money to hire someone to help her, but it is the three days a week she is on her own—widowed but not bereft—that she feels most happy and free. Why? She is still making art.

“Aren’t we lucky,” she said, when I began to talk about being a writer and writing every day no matter what else is going on in my life. Aren’t we lucky, indeed.

One day, I met Bella in front of the building. It was cold, but she was outside getting some fresh air. She was wearing a knitted Russian hat and sitting on her walker reading a book—a Russian detective mystery. “I usually read literature,” she said in her heavily accented English. “So when are you coming to see my gallery?” she asked.

I hadn’t yet been to her apartment. Now it was time. “Come over after dinner. I eat at 6.”

And so I went.

In her apartment, Bella uses two canes to get around, and she is in pain. But the enthusiasm of showing me her work, her husband’s work, the work of friends—cameos, oils, watercolors—trumped discomfort. Every canvas had a story—about the artist and the subject. And the apartment gallery was immaculate, every inch curated by Bella. But it was her work that was most impressive; she’s a miniaturist. Trained as a costume and fashion designer, she began painting miniatures around 1970 when she was still living in Russia. She sold many; others are in museums. Now she gives them away. And she has fun: a series of opera stars in costume, another of French and British royalty, movie stars, whatever occurs to her. Her collection of brushes is scattered in thick jars all over the apartment and she has two desks where she works with her still smooth-skinned only slightly arthritic hands.


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