Archive of the Mendocino Heritage Artists
Aunt Dell & Red Roses for Bill
In her 1995 biography of Bill Zacha, The Keeper of Dreams, Beverley Kjeldsen writes:
In 1948 [Bill Zacha] returned to UC Berkeley. His great-aunt Dell Blaine, with whom he had a lasting relationship, lay dying in an Oakland hospital. Zacha had been twelve years old when he first wrote to his mother’s aunt, inviting her to the Texas Centennial planned for 1936. She said she couldn’t make the trip, but invited him to the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco. They continued to correspond throughout the war.
“Aunt Dell was a magnificent and beautiful lady. This lovely woman told me that my future must be in California, and she wanted to get me started. I bought a Jeep and drove over to see my great-aunt. The nurses stopped me saying, ‘Don’t go in. she won’t know you, she’s in a coma.’ I refused to believe them and walked right into her room. Aunt Dell recognized me, asked me to help her sit up in bed, then asked me to draw the plans of my new house. After I drew a picture of the house, she said, ‘OK now, right here, I want you to plant a red, red rose bush. All your life will be like a rose bush with lots of blossoms and just enough thorns to make you careful.'”
Next morning Aunt Dell was dead. She had told Bill she would live until the day he came to settle in California. He planted the rosebush and when he moved to Mendocino the rosebush moved with him. Unfortunately it turned “ragged robin” and soon died.
One day in Mendocino he was walking past Dorr Bothwell’s studio.
“She had this big canvas, an oil, of a Mendocino fence with red roses. I asked Ms. Bothwell how much she would charge for the painting and she said it was not for sale. ‘It will go to an invitational exhibit at the de Young Museum and then it goes to another invitational. It will be listed as from the collection of William Zacha.’ At this point she told me I had undercharged her on rent for so long that this would make up for a little bit of it.
“Those roses and Dorr Bothwell who established the quality of Mendocino – all in one canvas! That is my most precious painting.”