Linda L. McCaffrey died March 29 of this year after struggling with a disease for more than 35 years.
The intricacy and beauty of the artwork she left behind, however, leave one speechless when they hear that disease was Rheumatoid arthritis.
McCaffrey’s work featured at Last Friday Art Walk and is still on display at Professional Hair Design, Church Ave., in downtown Maryville. Her work, from watercolors and oils to quilling, show her talent but don’t tell all of her story. Her son, Eric, and husband, Don, fill in the blanks when they talk about Linda to those interested in her work.
Don McCaffrey of Ozark Ala., said his wife’s arthritis was diagnosed in 1973, and she started her artwork in about 1980. In the 1980s, her work was primarily oil painting. In the 1990s, it was pen and ink and some watercolors. In this decade, she worked with water colors and quilling.
Don said that instead of pursuing mediums that were easier as her arthritis grew worse and she suffered through 20 plus surgeries, his wife did just the opposite.
“The thing about it is, she changed what she did, but instead of progressing to easier things, she progressed to harder things,” he said. “Her rheumatologist doctor told her the reason she was so nimble with her fingers was because of her art work.”
Sitting at Professional Hair Design on Sept. 26 waiting for Last Friday Art Walk patrons to view her work, father and son shared their memories of Linda.
Don said his wife suffered with arthritis in her knees, feet and ankles the first 20 years and then it progressed to her fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders. “At the end, she had no rotator cuff and couldn’t raise her arms to reach up. She had to reach up by pushing her arms,” he said. “I was married to her 40 years. The only thing she ever complained about was birth pain, which I guess any woman has right to do.”
Don said his wife was a very generous in giving her art away. “Almost everything she did was for somebody else,” he said.
After she died, he collected his wife’s art from friends, relatives and customers from six states. The art was lent to the McCaffreys for the display at Art Walk and so digital prints of each work can be produced.
Eric, who lives in Maryville, said he got artwork in the mail from one of his cousins. “Between the stuff the two of us had, we gathered from six states and there is still more. A lot of people loaned us work for this event,” he said.
Don McCaffrey said he drove to Florida, Arkansas and two places in Missouri to collect his late wife’ work. “I have digital images of 198 other watercolors, quilling and pressed flowers (other than what’s here). There’s probably 190 pieces she executed in the last four years,” he said.
Eric said there’s no telling how many oil paintings his mother sold at the Christmas country store in Maryland where his parents lived for more than 20 years.
Eric McCaffrey said this was the first time they had gathered a collection of his mother’s artwork. “It’s neat to see how her art evolved over time,” he said.
Don McCaffrey said when the idea of displaying his late wife’s work came up, he initially had reservations. “I thought it was a good idea, and then I had apprehensions. All this is memories.”
Don said his attitude changed once they started collecting things and talking to people who owned them and putting them all together.
Both father and son said Linda McCaffrey’s talents also extended to the kitchen where she was known for her wedding cakes, award winning carrot cakes and for her baked treats.
“It’s been six months,” Don said. “It’s good to talk to people about who she really was - an artist and mother.
“She made cookies, pies and sweat treats - anything you could image,” said her son. “She had an incredible amount of creativity and was able to do all this with her arthritis. You would never know she had it if you weren’t told.”
Eric said putting up the display made him feel he was honoring his mother. “It’s really cool. This is one way I can do that,” he said of honoring his mother.
Don said he often is surprised by how talented his wife was. “Everyone who comes in and looks at this art says, ‘Wow, look how talented she was.’ I never realized it while I lived with her over the years,” he said.
Eric said he learned a lesson from the situation. “It makes you aware you can take people for granted very easily,” he said.
Eric said Wendy Titsworth of Blount County was a big help in getting digital images of his mother’s work. “She’s putting a book together with samples of all the items and putting a price list together so we can take orders for prints and originals that don’t already belong to someone. All proceeds are going to the Arthritis Foundation,” Eric said.
Professional Hair Designs owner Leann Henry said the artwork reminded her of how strong a mother’s love is. Henry was impressed with the Linda McCaffrey’s quilling. “I’ve never seen quilling, but it was very unique and heartfelt,” she said. “Her art is beautiful. You can definitely tell she was a caring lady.”
To place orders for prints, call Eric McCaffrey at 865-386-7639.