1981

I made an assemblage of the pictures I’d taken at the time of our wedding, the ones with me stuck in the foreground, four rectangles of nine pictures each. They were unexpected and funny, and they evoked the psychological progression from being single, to thinking about settling down, through to getting married. I called it “The Wedding of Narcissus.”

That grid of photos unexpectedly connected to my mother’s habit of looking down at the world, which I discovered was deep inside me and could surface in destructive ways. I showed the assemblage to a friend who got a mischievous look on his face and excitedly said that it would make a cool centerfold in the SOHO Weekly News, a hip alternative downtown weekly. Nice idea, right? Wrong. With no thought, and no control, I said something that I knew was condescending and disdainful and couldn’t shut off even as it curdled my stomach and made the blood rush from my head. My friend worked for the SOHO Weekly; what was the matter with me? I tried right away to make amends, but forget it—the damage was done. I knew that Mary Ann was brash and opinionated, and that people could find her pushy and offensive. I thought of myself as more cultured than that, yet here was upper-crust snobbery having just about the same effect.

—Rock In A Landslide

 
 
 

I don’t remember when the do-we-have-a-child conversation started. I do remember talking about it before we got married and went to Peru. It was part of the do-we-get-married conversation.

Child yes or no—the decision was made in the midst of the political currents of that moment. There were feminist artists who were intent on wresting control of their careers from the men who dominated decision-making in galleries and museums, and Mary Ann believed in their cause. She admired and later joined the Guerilla Girls, who used humor, wit, and provocation to call out art world gender and racial inequities. The more orthodox feminists, including some of our friends, were opposed to marriage and children—why get bogged down by the demands of a nuclear family? There was more important work to do.

Mary Ann was in a particularly macho niche, sculptors who work large scale, and she did worry that child rearing would swamp her career. My stance—maybe because I was five years younger, or because I was a man—was that we could balance making art and having a family.

Mary Ann liked her nest to be neat and comfortable; she was a wonderful cook; she could sew and enjoyed making clothes. Her second brother, Chris not Richard, was enough younger so she’d had a taste of what being a parent might be like. For all of her toughness and urgency to succeed, she relished the traditional female roles, and she found herself pulled in opposing directions. She thought of herself as a forceful negotiator and had made having a child a bargaining chip in our agreement to get married. Even with that commitment in place, there was still a lot of back and forth before we decided to go ahead. I think in her heart of hearts, she wanted a family all along.

—Rock In A Landslide

 
... she did worry that child rearing would swamp her career.
 

Mary Ann took on the have-a-child project like everything else in her life: envision, strategize, execute. She quit smoking. She was diligent about tracking her cycle so we could take advantage of when she was most fertile; she had us try positions that she said were most likely to result in pregnancy. And when I was away photographing farm country basketball, in a small town in Indiana, she told me over the phone that she was pregnant, and the writer and I shared a small bottle of champagne.

—Rock In A Landslide

 
 
 
 
Kelly Nowels