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People of NKY: From a family of cars and speed, Marjorie Graham became a prolific, versatile artist

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune reporter

Marjorie Graham is an artist. She originally hails from Newburyport, Massachusetts, about 35 miles northeast of Boston.  

Marjorie Graham with one of her recent paintings. (Photos by Ginger Dawson)

Her parents, in a circuitous route through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, ended up back in the Oxford, Ohio area and ultimately settled in Northern Kentucky.

Marjorie’s dad, Russ, was into cars. In fact, his early career was as a stock car driver on the racing circuit back in the 1950s when NASCAR was in its earliest phases. Stock car racing developed out of rum-running back in the era of prohibition, the country’s experiment involving the eighteenth amendment.  Speed for outrunning the authorities with an illegal load of hooch (moonshine) was an absolute necessity.

By the 1950s, the daredevil racing and the cars had morphed into a uniquely American past time and has since become big business.  

My own dad was a gear head in that era and I remember his stack of magazines that reported on the famous drivers of the era: Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Fireball Roberts, to name a few.

Marjorie’s dad was in the arena! I was impressed!

But, after an accident (fortunately, he was not hurt), with Marjorie’s pregnant mother in the stands as a witness, his career ended with her firm suggestion.

One of a series of small paintings

Each parent went on to jobs in the car industry in Cincinnati at Downtown Lincoln-Mercury and Castrucci Ford.

The family moved to Park Hills and Marjorie, the oldest of six, fulfilled her role as big sister and protector to the Graham tribe.

In 1971, Marjorie graduated from Simon Kenton High School and went on to college at Northern Kentucky University when it was still located in Covington.

Rather than follow the family’s interests in cars and speed, she studied Art and Social Work and continued on there after the college relocated to Highland Heights in 1972.

In addition to her interest in the arts, Marjorie has always been drawn to organizing, whether it be a retail shop, an art show or a neighborhood event. This started early on. At NKU, in addition to classwork, she had a position in the Registrar’s Office and Admissions. Student activities were a part of this.

One of the first events that she helped to organize was a trial by fire, one of those transformative moments that none of us could predict even if our lives depended on it.

Found objects incorporated for texture

She and others convinced the University to hold a series of rock concerts hosting national acts. These were BIG affairs, and this was the Seventies. Things were different in the Seventies.
Sly and the Family Stone was the headlining act for this first concert of a series that also included Loggins & Messina, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Earth, Wind & Fire, to name a few.

It being the Seventies — and Sly, being Sly — things went on just about as well as one could have expected if one can expect wretched excess and the results of it.  It was a special hallmark of the era. Fortunately, or sadly (depending on your level of engagement), we know more about these things now.

With a great deal of warranted speculation as to why, but not proven, Sly and the Family Stone were HOURS late for the engagement.

A lot of anger and disappointment was brewing in the assembled crowd and the situation threatened to get out of hand.

Amazingly, it did not. Sly and company showed up around midnight and gave the concert. Crisis averted.

It is a tribute to all concerned, students and faculty alike, that the series was allowed to continue and other concerts followed.

One of her sample books for cataloguing ideas, images and techniques

It was a good lesson for Marjorie.

Though Marjorie is, by talent and inclination, an artist, her organizational skills and talent for promotion have taken her in different directions and opened doors that she most likely would not have pursued.

In 1980, she accepted a job as an assistant at A.E. Aub, a brokerage firm that later merged with Dean Witter. She looked upon this as simply a job, and not the beginning to a driving career.  In spite of that, her skills took her on to Cowan and Company, another brokerage firm.

A promotion to operations manager put her in charge of the firm’s “cage,” where she was in charge of putting in orders and maintaining the security of stock and bond certificates.

Remember, this is the era before online anything.  It was a job with a lot of responsibility and, as a result, lots of stress.

After about six or seven years, she got out. Enough.

At about the same time she left, a golden opportunity appeared. 

Tall Stacks, a regional festival celebrating the Ohio River Valley’s history with a focus on Steamboats, began in 1988.  With its huge appeal and high attendance, it provided the perfect opportunity for artists and craftspeople to display and sell their wares.

Another sample book

Marjorie was in the right place, at the right time and with the right stuff.  She had been creating massive vessels in clay at that time. Her aesthetic was spot on and she sold like crazy. She cleaned up!

It was a great education, and she had the perfect opportunity to put all of her previous experiences together and understand the game of selling art.

This was the beginning of her REAL career. She has, over the years, participated in many shows and festivals, and sold in many galleries and shops.  

One, which she cites as being one of her most fun experiences, was the Crooked Tree Gallery in Covington’s Mainstrasse in the mid-1990s. As a partner there, she enjoyed meeting new people and making sales.  

She currently has her art for sale at Pique Gallery, 210 W. Pike St. in Covington.

Marjorie is also a gallery attendant at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  She mentors her co-workers (who also tend to be artists, naturally) when they have questions about selling in shows and galleries. She is a valuable resource for them. Boots on the ground.

This job also gives Marjorie the pleasure of interacting with children and art. She loves to see what they notice about paintings and sculptures. She always enjoys being surprised by what they see—“They see things that adults don’t notice”.

Even though Marjorie enjoys selling art, it is the technical process of creating that she loves most.  She is constantly making art. Paintings of all sizes, mixed media collages, reimagined furniture and sample books of visual ideas and mediums are in abundance at her home.

Majorie is very versatile in her style and technique.

Marjorie has a son, Jonathan, who works at UDF, and daughter Juliane, an administrator for an environmental company. She is proud of their successes and their kindnesses.

She also dotes on her granddaughter, Isabella.

In her day to day life, she finds it useful to keep in mind a favorite quote: 

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I went to Marjorie’s house, I noticed a serious, big police car in the driveway.  Radio antennas and all manner of hardware was bristling off of this thing. Hm. 

I asked about it when I left. It turned out to be Marjorie’s car! It is a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor with a 4.6 liter V8 engine!  

This thing can eat the road for breakfast.  

No matter where we go in life, family influence always joins the ride, and never, ever seems to get left behind.

Ginger Dawson writes about the People of NKY — the neighbors you need to know and people you need to meet and understand. The feature appears periodically at the NKyTribune. If you have ideas for subjects please share them with Ginger at ginger@fuse.net.

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One Comment

  1. Rick says:

    A wonderful artist and beautiful human!!

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