In her own words...

“Living to Create: A Memoir”


The times were always right, so right
it was as if they had been waiting
to happen. The places, too, were right
for us. We were four and we were
complete in all these times and places,
they two and we two, together.
Houston. A giant Quonset hut
has traded its military drab for
a mantle of miracle: the colors of
visual art. Could it have forgotten
its purpose, changed its mind about
war's way to change the world?
No bomber lurks in this cathedral
space. Here there is no more war.
War is sad and has no color. These
walls bloom with paintings. Colors
riot, soar, and spin. Sculptures
claim the cement floor. Another
world has entered here. Another
world invites you in.
Two imaginations become as one:
John and Dominique de Menil
have found a way to hold the artists'
vision like a mirror up to the gazers'
eyes that they might see, along with
so much else, themselves not as they
were before. The Menil Collection is
born. This is our south, a little exotic,
a little antebellum, eloquent...
An evening at Miss Ima's, where
sunset's glare competes with lighted
candelabra in all eight windows.
Such times gather us, they two
and we two, four to be complete.
Our Huismes, France, sees Dominique
under wisteria's white clusters—not
unlike Miss lma's candelabra.
In New York, we are again four, they
two and we two to be complete,
John telling us about the big business
world he finds himself sharing with
its tough-talking tycoons. "They don't
paint pictures, carve stone. They
don't even put a bicycle wheel on
a pedestal," he assures us. And in Paris,
at l'Orangerie (did it ever grow oranges?)
John and Dominique have masterminded
a Max Ernst exhibition. How to realize
everything is beautiful when you're in it?

Other times, other places. Provence:
The old chateau eyes red-tiled roofs,
along with our hill, olives, lavender.
They two have come for a pair of days.
Here moments of exhilaration
last for hours. We are still miraculously
four complete, as if forever.
Yet again on San Felipe Road,
John, quiet and knowing so privately
that he will leave us all, not to be
four anymore, or even three
for soon, oh, too soon, Max will be
gone, and we are just two to
continue, each in her own domain.
Finally, in the wide gray nest,
so startling in its unpretentious
elegance, Dominique with her
artists and her architects will have
achieved the ends and permanence
of what they two had begun together.
Always consorting with those who live
to create, so they created their own
masterpiece. It is all here. Spanning
ages, gods, icons, totems, and isms.
(A tribal something made of nothing
is as immediate as this very moment
and as fraught with content...or portent.)
Here she is, easy among her painted
canvases, carvings, marbles, bronzes,
wood, paper, and, yes, even cloth,
transformed by the artist's hand
and eye to reveal what she called
"a truth of sight." Had they two not
sought such truths all their years together?
Drifting away, Dominique left
her starlight to those who are here,
to those who are not here, and
to the ones who will come. Stars
do that: leave trails of themselves
along the way and, you, Dominique,
perhaps, a faint footprint
of your passage.


About this work

“Living to Create: A Memoir” was published in Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil, Josef Helfenstein and Laureen Schipsi, eds. Houston: The Menil Collection, 2010, pp. 18-19.