Lauren DelSesto and her sister Sarah think a great way to honor their deceased mother, Carolyn Ditullo, is through an art exhibit at the Warwick Museum of Art (WMOA), as Ditullo enjoyed painting and volunteered at the museum in the 1990s.
The show, “Chroma: The Colors of a Vibrant Life,” opened last week and runs until Jan. 28. It features Ditullo’s art, plus work by her family and friends, including Lauren’s abstract creations.
An opening reception will be held Jan. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m., Ditullo’s birthday. The event is free and open to the public and light refreshments will be served.
“It’s kind of cool to do it on her actual birthday because you don’t know what to do on someone’s birthday to remember them,” said Lauren, a CNA in the oncology unit at Kent Hospital.
In fact, Lauren was working when she was informed her mother had died on Aug. 4, 2009 at age 53 and said she had a “funny feeling” around the time it happened. Ditullo had a sudden asthma attack at home and went into cardiac arrest.
“It was a freak accident,” Lauren said.
But Lauren prefers to focus on the positive memories of her mother, especially her sense of humor, as well as her generous and compassionate nature.
“She was so down to earth, comforting and was always making people laugh,” said Lauren. “She would take her paycheck and buy her students shoes if their parents couldn’t afford to. I hope I can pass that along to people I know.”
As a vision teacher for the blind, Ditullo worked for various teaching facilities in Johnston, West Warwick and Warwick, including the Trudeau Center. Her last job was at the South Coast Collaborative in Swansea, Mass., a school for the developmentally disabled.
“One of her students became too old for the system so she worked for Trudeau and did vision work with him,” Lauren said.
Ditullo often used textile art, which uses plant, animal or synthetic fibers to construct practical or decorative objects. She often instructed her students to feel materials such as flowers, feathers and gravel to provide them with things to feel so they could create visuals in their minds.
She often visited nursing homes and homes for people with developmental disabilities and organized art shows for residents.
“She would bring art to them because she felt they needed art in their lives, too,” said Lauren. “She was a really good artist and gave a lot to the community.”
Not only did she give to the community, Ditullo helped save a life after her passing, as she was an organ donor.
Lauren was friendly with Deanna Gillis, a young woman in the oncology unit at Kent who was dealing with end stage renal failure, or ESRD, a chronic kidney disease.
Like Ditullo, Gillis is fond of art. To help her through her dialysis treatments, Lauren brought her Mandelas to craft, which are colorful, schematized representations of the cosmos, mainly characterized by concentric configurations of geometric shapes and usually incorporate an image of a deity or an attribute of a deity.
Gillis was in need of a transplant. Shortly after her mother’s death, Lauren contacted Gillis and told her she and Sarah wanted her to have one of their mother’s kidneys. Luckily, she was a match to Ditullo.
While she never met Ditullo, Gillis said the news was bittersweet.
“The fact that I was getting a kidney made me feel excited but I also felt bad because Lauren is my friend and her mom had just passed away,” said Gillis. “My mom passed away when I was 13 so I know what it’s like. The fact that they had the presence of mind to think of me and give me her kidney is the ultimate gift. It’s not like getting a necklace for Christmas.”
Unfortunately, Gillis’ body rejected the kidney a year after the transplant and she is now back on dialysis, however, she said she was able to accomplish things she wouldn’t have been able to achieve without it, such as take karate lessons at Oceanside Martial Arts in Exeter and earn a yellow belt, return to nursing school at the Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick, as well as get married.
“It was the first time in my life that I really felt healthy,” Gillis said. “I felt better than ever and I had so much energy. I wanted to do everything. My husband and I were riding our bikes to the beach and doing all kinds of things that I normally wouldn’t have done. I was living my life.”
After her body rejected the kidney, the transplant was removed. Lately she’s been getting sick, as her immune system is weak. During the interview on Thursday, she called from the Kent County Hospital, as she was admitted due to having the flu.
Nevertheless, she plans to attend the event on the 19th.
“I’m excited about it and think it’s a really special way to honor her,” she said. “I’ve seen some of her artwork and it’s awesome.”
Another fond memory Lauren has of her mother was her love of irises. Ditullo would spend an entire day planting them in her yard.
“She’d start at six o’clock in the morning and finish at five that night,” Lauren said. “She’d make the most colorful garden. We also used to come home to her painting the house at crazy hours. We’d walk in at 2 a.m. and the living room would be painted a different color.”
Because she was an artist, Ditullo’s home was filled with paint and she didn’t like it if her children dabbled with it. Of course, they did despite their mother’s request for them to keep their hands off it, especially Lauren.
“That’s how I started painting like her,” said Lauren. “My mother painted mostly abstracts, still life and people without faces. She used to tell me it was because she didn’t like drawing faces.”
In addition to her art, the exhibit at the WMOA will showcase the fiber arts, paintings and sculptures of Jamie Beaudry, Brian Magiera, Jennie Paquin, Kate Paquin, Charles Sprage and Cara McKenney.
McKenney, who met Lauren 10 years ago when they attended Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, was a photography major at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte before studying abroad in Florence and taking up oil painting. While this is her first show, her landscape artwork has been featured in the Mellow Mushroom, a restaurant in Charlotte.
McKenney said she’s impressed with Ditullo’s artwork and feels privileged that Lauren asked her to participate.
“I can’t even imagine how hard it is to lose a parent and this is a nice way to honor her and put her art out there for people to see,” she said.
The idea for the exhibit developed when Lauren and Sarah visited WMOA Program Director Patty Martucci last year. They told Martucci they were interested in featuring their mother’s work in a show and said Martucci welcomed it with open arms.
“We were touched by how they came to us with their idea because their mother had been involved in the WMOA in the past and spent some time here,” said Martucci. “We’re looking forward to a bright and colorful exhibit.”
Lauren is also excited about the exhibit and remembers visiting the museum as a child.
“It still smells the same,” she said. “When I’m there, I feel like I’m five again.”
For more information, visit the website at warwickmuseum.org; e-mail email@example.com; or call the WMOA at 401-737-0010. The museum is located at 3259 Post Road in Apponaug Village. Regular hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m., Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Also, find them on Facebook and Twitter. Donations are gratefully accepted to help fund the museum’s costs.