Woman in Blue
The beautiful woman in this painting by Diego Rivera is Regina Rubinoff Tomars (1909-1993). I am related to her but please pay close attention as I explain the connection. Her mother, Elizabeth and my paternal grandmother, Rose were half-sisters, daughters of Samuel Silverquit (my great grandfather) by different wives. In fact, Sam had four wives (that we know of) during his lifetime, wedding them in Russia, New York City, and Philadelphia. He passed away of lung cancer in 1926 at the age of 65.
My interest in ancestry raised the curtain to reveal a drama about the life and times of Sam. But wait, I want to tell you about this portrait by Rivera, one of Mexico’s most well known artists.
After their marriage in 1932, Regina and her husband, Adolph Tomars (1908-1985) enjoyed summer road trips across the country from New York City to California and Mexico while he was on vacation from his teaching responsibilities at the City College of New York. Adolph was a sociologist and professor. They especially loved visiting national parks. The couple purchased art in Mexico and sold it in NYC to fund their annual trips. He published Introduction to the Sociology of Art in Mexico City in 1940. They had become acquainted with Rivera and his wife, artist Frida Kahlo while visiting the studio to acquire art. Over a period of several years he painted a few portraits of Regina.
After Regina passed away in California in 1993, Adrea, an only child, traveled to New York to settle the estate. At an appointment at the bank she was escorted to a safe deposit box. Among expected paperwork Adrea found a box containing a red velvet pouch. She was surprised to discover an elaborate silver necklace inside the pouch. Even though she knew her mother had always preferred silver jewelry, Adrea imagined it must be special. Why else would she place such a necklace in a safe deposit box?
About a year later while going through her mother’s things, Adrea came across a small photo of a full portrait of her mother. Immediately, she recognized the necklace Regina was wearing. As a way to preserve it, she arranged for the piece of jewelry to be hand sewn onto a square of silk fabric and mounted together with the photo. The memory was tastefully framed and hung on her living room wall for years.
Adrea dreamed of locating the original painting. She worked with an art dealer who tracked down records reflecting it had last been seen in New York City for restoration in the late 1990s. The large painting, measuring nearly 40 inches by 30 inches, was sold to an art collector— maybe located in Chicago? The trail went cold.
Adrea and I have been connected for about two years. I found out about her while searching on Ancestry to uncover Sam’s numerous wives, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I took a chance and contacted her on Facebook. The rest is history as we have enjoyed our connection as cousins even with a separation of almost 2500 miles.
Recently the portrait came up in our conversation. Adrea explained the details and I was fascinated. After our call, I Googled her mother’s name along with Diego Rivera. Instantly the painting of a vibrant Regina in a stunning blue dress with deep folds, wearing the majestic silver necklace, bracelet, earrings, and rings appeared on the screen along with a curator’s description of the rich historic background of the painting and artist.
It was painted in Rivera’s studio in San Angel, Mexico City in 1941. You may notice a similarity of Regina to Frida Kahlo — hairstyle, eyebrows, and expression. Adrea mentioned that during those years her mother had become friends with Frida and learned to do her hair braided with coloured wool. Regina then wore it that way for most of her life. Rivera may also have been inspired by Regina’s extraordinary career as a music, piano, and composition instructor at the Julliard School in New York. It was pointed out by the curator that Rivera loved to explore his “sitter’s psyche in order to capture with a few details in the painting the personality and mood of his subject.”
Even though it was by phone and in messages to me, Adrea’s joyful reaction to seeing the portrait in full colour was priceless.
Lois Perch Villemaire
Lois Perch Villemaire resides in Annapolis, MD where she is inspired by the charm of a colonial town and the glorious Chesapeake Bay. After retirement from a career in local government, she concentrated on her love of writing. Dabbling in family research led to memoir and creative nonfiction. Her prose and poetry have appeared in a number of journals such as The Ekphrastic Review, Flora Fiction, and One Art: A Journal of Poetry, and included in several anthologies. Lois was a finalist in the 2021 Prime Number Magazine Award for Poetry. She enjoys yoga practice, amateur photography, and raising African violets.
The Ekphrastic Review
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