How two gallery owners found 'Rhoda's Ocean' – an unpublished children's book hiding under a pile of laundry.
Betty Abbott Sheinis was 84 and in the final weeks of her life when we met her. But we were immediately enchanted by her warm personality and peaceful spirit.
Anet James and I are owners of a local art gallery. Sheinis's husband Arnold had invited us to their home to see his artwork. As gallery owners, we often visit artists' studios to consider their work for exhibition. This particular home was packed with hundreds of pieces of artwork. There were stacks of art piled three and four feet high in the basement; many closets were filled to capacity and in virtually every room in the house the walls were covered from floor to ceiling with drawings, paintings, and photographs.
About half of the art on display was Arnold's and the rest was Betty’s. She specialized in beautifully crafted watercolors depicting landscapes, city scenes, and the ocean. Like Arnold, she had been an artist all her life.
But our biggest surprise on this March morning was a beautifully illustrated watercolor which Betty had painted 30 years earlier, found peeping out from underneath a pile of folded laundry in a storage room on the the second floor of the house. It was intended to be the cover art for a stunning children’s book. It featured a rabbit and a woodchuck, sipping tea in a lush forest setting.
"At first glance, we thought it might be an original Beatrice Potter or Tasha Tudor illustration for an unknown book,” Anet remembered later.
It was clearly a project dear to Betty's heart, produced with incredible skill. The mystery was, why had it not been published and where were the missing pages for the book?
“Is this my painting?” Betty asked when we showed her the book cover. She no longer recognized her own beautiful works of art but she accepted our praise with grace and humility.
Since Betty had no memory of producing the painting, we had was little hope of getting her to tell us the location of the missing pages. This was going to be a treasure hunt and, at the same time, a unique opportunity to learn more about this inspiring woman’s creative life. We were also given an insight into her 60-year love affair with her husband Arnold, her loyal friend and fellow artist.