Woman’s own creation chosen as company’s Christmas card

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2006

With sweeping strokes of a paintbrush, and shades of red, green, blue and white, Mary Virginia Brown created a holiday painting called &uot;Holly and Snow.&uot;

The artwork has a simple, more traditional holiday feel with delicate holly leaves and berries. Brown, a 95-year-old resident at Hillcrest Retirement Center, painted the piece during one of her regular activities. A picture in a catalog was her inspiration.

To her, it was a simple picture, but a group of judges saw more. Brown’s card was selected to grace the cover of the company’s Christmas card.

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Each year the center’s parent company, Kindred Healthcare Operating Inc., holds an Art and Poetry Contest to help showcase the individual talents of the company’s residents and patients. Brown won last year’s contest, too, making her the first resident at Hillcrest Retirement Center to win the contest.

She was quite surprised to learn her work had been chosen for the second year in a row.

&uot;Whoo! You don’t mean that!&uot; was her initial reaction. She never dreamed her holly would be chosen over other Hillcrest residents’ works, some of whom painted lovely landscapes, she said.

But it was, and it was selected from more than just a few other applicants. David O’Brien, executive director of the center, said Kindred has 280 facilities across the country, and each one is invited to submit works from its residents. Of the hundreds of submissions, only two are selected, he said. The cards are sent out to some 55,000 employees and others, so Brown’s painting could touch as many as 100,000 people this holiday season, he said.

Judy Smith, Brown’s daughter, said her mother was excited about the recognition, and Smith was impressed, too.

&uot;I thought it was unreal.&uot;

Brown first dipped a brush into paint when she was a student at Holland Grammar School. Brown remembered an assignment in her 11th grade biology class at Holland High School that required her to draw a fly. She did, and once her classmates saw it, they wanted her to draw theirs, too.

She took a painting-correspondence course some 60 or 70 years ago, but has only really started the art again five years ago as an activity to keep her busy. Still, Brown insists she does not paint regularly, and she has no secrets about how she produces such beautiful works of art. It is a touch of natural talent, she supposes.

Brown has two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She has enjoyed sewing, playing basketball and gardening throughout her life. Set to turn 96 in February, Brown is the oldest living member of the Holland Christian Church.