Merrily Orsini's Thought Leadership

Passions

Spring Woodland Wildflowers

Although fleeting in beauty, there is nothing more spectacular than watching the forest come alive after the winter to a wide variety of native woodland wildflowers. In the 70’s and 80’s when my children were young, I led springtime walks for the Louisville Science Center in the forests outside Louisville, and in local backyard wildflower gardens. I also spent many spring weekends for several years utilizing the Girl Scouts and local developers to transplant native wildflowers that were set to be demolished by construction. Those wildflowers were transplanted into an area behind the Louisville Science Center for preservation. I have “cultivated” native wildflower gardens wherever I have lived, and continue that practice. My recent Louisville home has one of (if not THE) the best woodland wildflower gardens in the city, and I am working on spreading wildflowers to my new North Carolina home.

Contemporary Art Glass

Before I married my husband, Frederick G. “Rick” Heath in 1997, we jointly purchased a Stephen Rolfe Powell blown glass vessel. We laugh in saying that we had to get married as we could not decide how to separate that art object. Soon afterward we started exploring and educating ourselves in the contemporary art glass world, and have amassed a sizable collection of contemporary art glass.

Currently, I serve on the board of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, and the North Carolina Glass Center, and am a past board member of the Creative Glass Center of America. In 2010 I co-chaired the Glass Art Society Conference which was held in Louisville, KY. From a more general arts perspective, I recently served on two boards, one serving the nine southern states and one serving the Louisville arts community: South Arts and the Speed Museum Board of Governors.

Travel

In 2012 my husband and I succeeded in visiting our 7th continent, Antarctica. When we married in 1997, we promised each other that we would work hard and travel in between. Oftentimes our work is 7 days a week for several weeks and then we take a week to 10 days off to travel as we cross off those locations on our bucket list. Venice is a treasured spot, and we have returned there often. Visiting glass artists and collectors is usually a component of our travels, and we have explored many exotic and out of the way places in search of remote artists in the hinterlands.

Many of our trips have been memorable, but the trip to Rwanda as one of the first tourist groups post-genocide was one of the most poignant. We visited Dian Fossey’s gravesite, saw the grave of her beloved Digit, outside of Kinigi, and then traveled back to Kigali to spend the evening dancing with the President Paul Kagame to the music of the Kigali Rotary Club President’s band. Complete with pigmy warrior dancers, we experienced both the joy of a newly reborn society and then later on the devastating sadness of the ravages of the genocide with a guide who had lost his wife and daughter to the slaughter.

Cooking

With a mother as a gourmet cook, one would think that I started cooking as a child. However, the truth is that I always told Mother that I would grow up with a cook and a housecleaner, so there was no need for me to learn those skills. Living in near poverty in my first marriage turned me into a gardener of food we could consume and save for winter. Learning how to cook became a pleasure, and to this day, I still like nothing better than whipping up an impromptu dinner for 8 out of what is on hand, or picking fresh vegetables from my garden and creating a colorful and healthy meal from garden to table.

Gardening

My creative landscape is, indeed, just that. From my first home of my own on Glenmary Avenue in Louisville, to my current residence in Asheville, North Carolina, I “paint” outside. Visual is so important to me, and the landscape provides an ever changing palette that lives and changes with each season. Spring woodland wildflowers have always been a component, but so have meandering paths and constant blooms and splashes of color mixed with a variety of textures.

The Issues of Aging that Are Taboo in the Telling

Serving as a private care manager for clients in Louisville, KY from 1981 through 1998, I became fully integrated into the lives of my clients. A care manager becomes a “surrogate daughter” to the clients, and very involved in their personal and family lives and events. This “up close and personal” experience teaches first-hand about dementia and its ravages, and its progression/digression. Family dynamics are also highly experiential when involved in the advocacy of a client against the ill-intended wishes of some family members. Understanding how one can age in place, and how to best make that happen, comes with the hands-on experience of living with and caring for many people in the many stages of frailty to death.

Now married to a man 12 years my senior for 20 years, I have also lived through and assisted in several hospitalizations and near death experiences. Although still working full time, this giant of a man in spirit and energy is living with multiple chronic illnesses, and a wife who is really not a sympathetic caregiver. It is in this ongoing learning Petri dish as well as my own aging body that makes me want to shout out to all how aging can be a wonderful experience, or with denial of reality, an ongoing living nightmare. Also, I did provide the on-location assistance with my mother from her illness, a move to a nursing home, and her death which occurred with me by her side; not in the peace that she had requested, but rather in a hospital ER “cubicle”: with the curtain screen as our only privacy for that cherished moment.