Mary Polon

Mary Polon

Mary Polon was born in 1917 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Her parents were Polish immigrants who came to America seeking the American Dream. After a harrowing journey in steerage, they arrived on Ellis Island with thousands of European immigrants.

Her father had been a baker in Poland, and continued his profession after they settled into their new home, a tenement on Hester St. in the lower east side of New York. He baked bread and rolls all night in a poorly ventilated basement and after school, Mary, who was eight at the time, delivered them to Manny Wolf’s Steak House. Manny put her on his lap and encouraged her to dance for his customers. She loved to dance and they were so delighted with her performance, they gave her many coins, which she gave to her Mother. Her father eventually became ill from inhaling the flour; his lungs were infected and he died, tragically at the age of forty-five.

After the death of her father, her Mother opened “The Ideal Luncheonette.” She did the cooking while Mary waited on tables, collected the money and helped with all the tasks of running the little restaurant. They were so poor that Mary had only one school outfit which she washed and ironed every day! Life was a continuous struggle to survive and as Mary got older, she became eager to marry so that she could escape the depressing situation at home.

When she was eighteen, she met and married a kind and fairly prosperous man who was nine years her senior. They lived in Brooklyn and when she was twenty, she gave birth to a daughter. Six years later, she had a son. After about eleven years, her husband began to earn significant money and the family moved to Rockville Centre, Long Island, where she gave birth to her second daughter.

In the mid fifties, Mary became interested in painting. She and a few artistic friends hired Alexander Dobkin, a respected artist, to teach them in her house. They worked in the basement and her soul was soothed and ignited.
Her passion for painting was intense. She had discovered her calling and pursued her passion at The School of Visual Arts, The Art Student’s League and private classes with renowned artist Frank Kleinholtz. She was a prizewinner at The School of Visual Arts. In the early sixties her personal style began to emerge and from that time forward she was totally committed to her painting.

After her children were grown and on their own, she and her husband divorced and she moved to a small apartment in Long Beach, NY.  She set up her easel in her tiny kitchen, which faced the Atlantic Ocean, and there, she painted every day listening to the opera. Mary had a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera, and every Monday evening she went by herself.  At that time, Monday nights at the opera were black tie and Mary loved getting all dressed up and becoming part of that magical world.  It was there that she met her great love. He was everything that she had been longing for all her life. They spent almost 30 years together but never married.

One day, without telling her his plans, he moved far away.  She collapsed when she discovered this and we feared she might not survive.  She was profoundly heart broken and although they kept in touch, it was an insurmountable loss.  She continued to paint until the late 1990’s and then her mind began to falter.  She developed health issues and began to lose interest in painting.  Over the next few years, she developed full-blown dementia and was unable to care for herself.  She was lost and was admitted to a nursing home. She spent five years there, comfortable, well taken care of but totally out of touch with reality. She no longer recognized her children.

In 2012 during storm Sandy, the nursing home was flooded; she died after being transported to another nursing home.  It was too much for her heart to bear. She was 96. She left nearly 100 paintings.