Remembering Theresa: Sara Marks

Sara Marks


I have fond childhood memories of Theresa Bernstein and William Meyerowitz. My mother, Nucie Meyerowitz Ginsberg and William were first cousins. I believe William was just four years younger than Max, my grandfather who was his uncle. William and Theresa would visit my family in Englewood, NJ where we moved in 1949 when I was 8 years old. Theresa gifted me with my first beautiful small silver spoon which I still cherish today and so began my collection of unmatching demitasse spoons and silver flatware. My siblings and I always got lots of attention from my much revered and famous artist cousins. Barbara Meyerowitz’s wedding was held in our home and William and Theresa gave away the bride. Barbara was William and Theresa’s unbelievably musically talented niece, and Keith and Janice’s mom.

It was so exotic and adventurous to visit William and Theresa’s Manhattan studio. I was fascinated by the high ceilings, the many paintings standing against the walls, with the front ones backwards or draped so you couldn’t see them, and so many unmatching chairs lined up for the viewing. There were always bowls of fruit and vases of flowers. I realized much later that they were replicated in many of their paintings. The central easel covered by a velvet draping was waiting to be unveiled. Theresa’s talk about the painting would build-up the level of suspense and excitement, until finally, the painting would be revealed. Theresa’s showmanship was not to be outdone. And, of course, the painting was always remarkable.

Over the years, we also went to many gallery exhibits to see my accomplished cousins’ beautiful works. I once took a friend to visit the 74th St. studio where he told Theresa how much he liked her work. Theresa said “If you like the painting so much, why don’t you buy it?” My friend said he could not afford it because he was still paying off his childrens’ college tuitions. Several years later, we attended Theresa’s show at the Museum of the City of NY and Theresa asked my friend if he had finished paying off the college debt and if he was now ready to buy the painting. She was so sharp and relentless, a major force to be reckoned with and a laser-focused salesperson.

Theresa and William were at my Bat Mitzvah and wedding and Theresa came to my daughters’ Bat Mitzvahs. We spent many second night seders together, first in the Bronx at my grandparents’ apartment and later in Englewood. William and my grandfather Max, who was a part-time cantor, would try to outdo each other and compete for the most complicated trills, the most inventive renditions, the longest held and loudest note. There was much singing and a lot of laughing. We would pick up William and Theresa to drive them to and from the Bronx. The car was crowded and Theresa had to sit on Williams’s lap in the backseat. She would say “Billa, my spine, please Billa” and her voice would gradually soften to a whispery purr, “Oh Billa, Billa…” I was the relative Jerry Jackson mentioned in his memoir about Theresa sitting on William’s lap in the car. Theresa and William set an example for me of a happy, loving couple. We did have many fun family times together.

Theresa loved to tell stories and would recite her clever and often funny poetry. She thought my twin daughters were so cute and I am forever sorry I never accepted her offer to paint them. Theresa was very sympathetic and kind to me during my divorce and encouraged me to get out there and meet people. She even tried to fix-up my single daughter with a talented young writer she knew. Theresa Bernstein had great impact on my life and values. I am so happy I got to know her. I am proud of her lifetime of accomplishments. She was a modern woman, way ahead of her time. Theresa was both a wonderful artist and a wonderful person, and she leaves an outstanding legacy of her art to all of us.