A Life: Margaret McCracken, 1952 to 2019; ‘Everything she did, she did with an artistic bent’

  • Margaret McCracken and her husband Tim Turner, who died in 2014, ride on Lake Champlain in a circa. 2005 photograph. (Family phootograph) family photograph

  • Margaret McCracken pauses from landscaping and gardening work at her home in Bridgewater, Vt., in the early 1990s. (Family photograph) family photograph

  • This work of stained glass by Margaret McCracken is part of an ongoing exhibition of work at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center gallery in South Pomfret, Vt., by McCracken and two other artists who continued to createe after developing dementia. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/7/2019 10:16:45 PM
Modified: 7/7/2019 10:16:43 PM

BRIDGEWATER — The day he joined dozens of relatives and friends in remembering Margaret McCracken, Caleb Turner couldn’t resist revealing the one, well, not weakness, exactly, that he and his younger brother observed in their mother’s aesthetic instincts.

Call it, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, one of those cracks in things, one of many through which McCracken let the light in during her 66 years.

“Fred and I grew up surrounded by her creations,” Turner recalled in his eulogy. “Stained glass, photos, drawings, watercolors, the villa ceiling, extensive flower gardens and stone walls, a mosaic stone patio, beaded earrings, glasses cases, her Yankee gift-exchange invitations, the save-the-date cards for my wedding, and on and on.

“Aside from our hairstyles as children, she created a tremendous amount of beauty in the world.”

The ensuing laughter, Turner recalled a few months later, leavened the mud-season gloom and the sadness over the ailments that McCracken endured for most of her adulthood before she died on March 10.

“Everything she did, she did with an artistic bent,” said Turner, a 1999 graduate of Woodstock Union High School and a lawyer practicing in Pittsburgh. “She had this will to create.”

The will and the skill sprouted through McCracken’s childhood and adolescence in suburban Cleveland, and later at college in greater Boston, then blossomed after she followed the elder of her two sisters, Adelaide McCracken, to central Vermont in 1975.

“She was just an amazing artist,” said Adelaide McCracken, who lives in Barnard. “She drew beautifully, painted beautifully, could do just about anything.”

For her next act, Margaret learned how to work with stained glass at Linda Ethier’s studio in West Woodstock. Eventually, she started creating custom pieces of her own, examples of which the ArtisTree Community Arts Center is exhibiting at its gallery in South Pomfret.

She also was creating a home and a family with Tim Turner, a friend of Adelaide and Adelaide’s husband and a transplant from Connecticut who was blowing glass and making cabinets. They married in 1978, and after briefly living in downtown Bridgewater, built a house in nearby Curtis Hollow.

“Both of them loved Vermont,” Caleb Turner recalled. “The outdoors, the natural beauty, the clean air. And there was an artistic community that drew both of them.”

As Caleb and Fred grew, Margaret juggled their activities and her stained-glass work with the crafting of beaded jewelry, with the landscaping around the house — and with the many symptoms of fibromyalgia, particularly musculoskeletal pain and fatigue.

“She still worked all day until sundown on her stone walls and gardens,” Caleb Turner said in his eulogy. “I remember Mom sitting in her gardens at dusk, in a tank top and shorts, covered in dirt, wearing magnets on her arms in an effort to minimize the pain.”

And she radiated love of all the life around her.

“Even when her energy was sapped, she went to every single event her children were involved in,” Pomfret artist Murray Ngoima said last week. “I remember us bringing Caleb and my son to a birthday party that another friend of Margaret’s was hosting for (the friend’s) daughter, where there were all these kids running all over the place. Margaret came in and pulled everything together. She had this gift of organizing, not in an overbearing way, but a very cheerful way. She had such a positivity.

“When I think of Margaret, I think of her smile.”

Margaret McCracken beamed — and cheered and photographed and videotaped — through Caleb and Fred’s athletic careers at Woodstock High, including the Wasps’ back-to-back championships in Vermont Division II boys basketball in 1998 and 1999, as well as through her nieces’ and nephews’ musical and theatrical endeavors.

“All her life, she made things interesting and fun,” Adelaide McCracken said. “It would be great if somebody did a movie about her, or maybe a Netflix series. Somebody like Maggie Gyllenhaal could play her.”

If so, Gyllenhaal would need to summon all the grit in her thespian arsenal to depict the final years. In 2013, Tim Turner developed bleeding around his brain and spinal cord, a condition that paralyzed him from the waist down before he died of a stroke in 2014.

Shortly thereafter, doctors diagnosed Margaret with progressive supra-nuclear palsy, which robbed the once-tireless storyteller of the power of speech. Before it disappeared completely, Margaret’s niece, Barnard musician Chloe Powell, visited her at the Woodstock Terrace nursing home.

“Her words were very slow and deliberate and few and far between,” Powell recalled last week. “But when I said goodbye, she said, ‘You’re.... so.... cool.’ She was still able to make me feel good even though she could barely communicate. Her smile remained until the end.”

The smile prevailed even while her condition eroded her ability to draw, to paint, and to create other forms of art. For friends and family alike, the exhibition at ArtisTree is helping to ease the memory of that loss.

“There’s a perspective to it that’s larger than, ‘Here’s a professional artist,’ ” Ngoima said. “Art has a larger meaning, a larger importance in the human story. It’s not just these conventional forms that we get with fine art. It’s a reminder of Margaret’s project of raising her children, caring for everything they embraced, and embracing everyone around her.

“The way she moved through the world created beauty wherever she went.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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