Marie Burkitt grew up at Moosehead Lake in Rockwood, Maine as one of seven children in her family. Times were tough and her father, who did carpentry for a living, moved his wife and kids to Marlborough, Connecticut to find more work. Despite the hefty size of her family, she somehow managed to be the fortunate recipient of music lessons at the Connecticut Valley School of Music in Portland and it was there that her love of music began. She took guitar lessons and later taught herself banjo and mandolin, her favorite of the three. She dropped out of high school after one year and ran away from home at the age of 16 heading back up to her grandmother’s house in Maine for refuge. She later returned to Connecticut. Marie is a survivor in many ways and it was her drive for independence that kept her going.
She worked at a chicken farm in Glastonbury for several years, doing whatever needed to be done including cleaning and grading eggs. She even did a stint as a bus driver for a time. But it was her love of music that helped her get through tough times.
“I’ve had a hard life, but I live for music,” says Marie.
Eventually she got married and later divorced but she made a career out of teaching young and not so young folks how to make their own music. Initially, she taught at Connecticut Valley School of Music where she had learned to play, coordinating recitals, costumes, visits to nursing homes for performances and more.
“It was really something I enjoyed,” she says. “I think it’s nice to be able to teach the young ones, and the older ones, well, they think they are too old to learn.” She showed them otherwise. “You feel good when you make somebody happy,” adds Marie.
When she remarried, it was to Garrett, an older man. She gave in to her desire to enjoy the benefits of being her own boss. She gave lessons in her home music studio for 45 years. She doesn’t play any of those beloved string instruments anymore, because at 72 years old, she is concerned it will interfere with a second, somewhat newfound passion for painting.
Marie picked up pastels in 2004 when Garrett became ill. Though he passed away a short time later, she continued to nurture her art. She first started exploring creative art in response to a community listing for a pastels class at the library in Ansonia where she was living. She enjoyed so that when she learned that the mother of one of her music students was an art teacher, she bartered music lessons for art lessons. It was there, that she fine tuned her skills with pastels and was introduced to working with acrylic paints, and later oils. She particularly enjoys painting New England scenery and landscapes. She paints from photos she has taken, improvising here and there as the spirit moves her. Although she enjoys all three mediums, she is particularly fond of oils, appreciating the texture of the paint as well as the end result. With four or five paintings in process all the time, it’s hard to walk away. “You feel it in you. You can actually feel the painting within.”
Garrett often praised her creative efforts and even bragged about her. But she never quite felt worthy of his praise, even after losing 116 pounds through the Take Off Pounds Sensibly program. It was an effort that crowned her TOPS Queen for the state of Connecticut in 2002. Garrett grew less impressed, and as he got older and sicker, he was less affirming. When he passed away, she moved to Middletown to be closer to her son and to her mother.
“I’ve always been very independent. I feel free. I do what I want, when I want, if I want.”
Marie enjoyed being married but enjoys her freedom and independence now too. She is very active and continues to perfect her craft through classes at the senior centers in Middletown and Meriden, where she learns from Doe Bartlett, whom she refers to as, “the best.” “You can always learn more,” says Marie, who also enjoys the camaraderie of being among others. Her memberships in The Art Guild of Middletown and the East Hampton Art Association afforded the opportunity to exhibit her work in various community venues. She had more than two dozen paintings on exhibit at the Durham Public Library earlier this year, as well as a smaller exhibit of oils at the Levi Coe Library in Middlefield. She took it upon herself to go down to the Russell Library, located right in her neighborhood in Middletown, to inquire about showing her work. She was not surprised when they said, “yes.” When she exhibits, her work is for sale. Though she sells an occasional piece, she gives more away to family and friends who are very supportive of her creative endeavors.
“I go wherever I can,” says Marie. “I love to display my work. My home looks like a gallery with my art all over the walls.” She divided her living room into about one third seating space and two thirds art studio. But that’s fine with her. She isn’t really someone who entertains much. She is just too busy painting. She does other things in the morning upon waking, but once she starts painting in the afternoon, she is likely to just keep that brush moving, sometimes into the wee hours of the night.
“I feel so blessed that this (painting) came into my life. I get lost in it. You have to keep going. I love it. I really do.”
She might pick up her music again although she’s in no hurry, with painting being her primary focus right now. Although it’s not true for everyone, she suspects that when people lose a spouse or partner, they often don’t want to marry again. For those folks she has a suggestion.
“Find something you are interested in. Everyone has a hidden talent. Find it. Try things. Go out. Spend time with people who lift you up and find something you love to do.”