Rose Alamprese Frigo, 91, walks with a steady, focused gait, and stops at the short hallway that features her art. With a broad gesture and an almost self-conscious smile, she says, “This is my legacy.”
Indeed, her legacy will live on in her art. While she says the purpose of her art was not for fame or money—”It was only a hobby,” she says—her work has the unmistakable air of someone dedicated to improving her craft. In fact, in her portraits and landscapes, in the faces of her painted children and the sweeping grandeur of her version of Italy, she has captured memories, conveying emotions and moments in time far more clearly than a photograph could.
Rose has been a resident at Park Place of Elmhurst’s Health and Wellness Center for a little over a year, allowing her to get assistance with activities of daily living, grown more difficult as she has aged.
“It was getting difficult for her to live alone in her house,” her daughter Gilda says. “This is a good fit for her.”
“I’ve always been here,” Rose says, referring to her life in Elmhurst, as well as her graduation from York High School and training at the Art Institute of Chicago and DePaul University in the 40s. “I studied portraiture,” she says, “and I studied art education. I only knew that I wanted to get better, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that. Just that I wanted to paint.”
Painting continued to occupy a strong center of her life throughout marriage and motherhood. Rose’s daughter and four sons are subjects of some of the paintings on display at Park Place.
“Can you guess who this is?” Rose asks, a playful smile on her lips as she gestures to the portrait of her only daughter, capturing a moment Gilda sat on a desk watching television, an everyday moment seen by many extraordinary mothers.
Another portrait features the busts of four young boys, Rose’s four sons, who she asked to sit quietly (the older boys holding the younger ones still is, of course, not pictured). Her mother and father are also featured in separate portraits, despite their reluctance to be painted. Her father had a mark on his face from an accident, and her mother had an illness that caused her to have a swollen neck. Rose painted them without those blemishes.
“I studied art education. I only knew that I wanted to get better, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that. Just that I wanted to paint.”
“When you paint, you can make whatever you want. I painted the way I see things and the way I remember by heart,” Rose says, and surely her heart is captured through the loving depictions of her family and the Italian countryside where her parents were born.
In another painting, a young boy, her son Mark, sits, staring pensively away from the painter, his face reflecting anxious thoughts. “I was supposed to get eye surgery, and I didn’t want it,” Mark says.
“But I told him I would paint him if he would get the surgery,” Rose said proudly. Mark agreed, and the surgery was a success, but the painting captures the worry the young child was consumed with as he anticipates the procedure.
Rose stops next to a portrait and says, “I don’t call this a self-portrait. It’s a self-inspired portrait.” And in the eyes of the young woman in the portrait, the eyes of 91-year-old Rose shine through, eyes of a woman who has painted the medieval-style architecture of her mother’s hometown of Agnone in Italy, who taught herself to paint abstract art, and who raised five children and watched them grow.
““When you paint, you can make whatever you want. I painted the way I see things and the way I remember by heart,” Rose says of her art.
Rose never placed the value on her art that others did. She disposed of many of her paintings, thinking they weren’t remarkable enough to keep. The rest of her paintings were given as gifts to family and friends in Italy and in the States, and she never expected to see them again.
But now her paintings are featured in a gallery at Park Place that highlights the art of the residents. “I didn’t think my paintings would ever be brought back to me,” she says of the paintings on loan from her loved ones.
Rose no longer paints, as her hands have lost the agility they used to hold. But her art is shared with residents and visitors to the gallery, and her life at Park Place of Elmhurst is rich and full of new relationships.
“Everyone is so nice,” Rose say. “I love meeting all the people.”
Rose pauses for a moment, then says, a little shyly, “I hope they like my pictures. But these were always personal, private. I never knew they would be here.”
Rose looks at her self-inspired portrait for a few moments, then shrugs. “I think it’s pretty good,” she says, laughing. And those who have toured her gallery at Park Place of Elmhurst agree.