Thursday, November 12, 2009

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Art in Giving

Flowers for Hope

Debbie Ray writer

Eliane markoff is a name I first heard in Wellesley some years ago—years when my then Upham School kindergartener came home, pulled a laminated, spiral book out of her backpack, and literally hugged it to her chest. My daughter cherished the book, a collection of poems, drawings, and stories that schoolmates had contributed in the memory of Rachel Molly Markoff. Rachel and her twin sister, Audrey, were students at the Upham School when Rachel, one week short of her ninth birthday, died of a brain tumor.

I remember all of this, and I recall later buying striking note cards printed with watercolor images of Eliane Markoff’s art. Having never met Eliane, there were only two things I knew about her: that she had suffered a terrible loss and that she created beautiful, uplifting paintings that brought me joy. What I didn’t know about Eliane was how she has used her own pain to bring beauty and hope to others through the Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation and one of its primary fund-raising sources, the Art in Giving program. Rather than allowing her sadness to define her, she has used it to brighten the lives of countless others by providing resources to families who are caring for a child with cancer and by funding research programs dedicated to finding a cure.

Spring Delight

Eliane, a resident of Wellesley for thirty years, was born in Cairo. During the Six Day War, her family left Egypt and moved to France before later relocating to the United States. Fluent in both French and Arabic, Eliane is clearly a world citizen; nevertheless, conversing with her leaves you feeling she has lived next door for years. She speaks in a calm, focused manner reflecting the business consultant she has been for the past ten years. At the same time, the creative energy of her artistic side is apparent as she chats about her life, her family, and her studio in the SOWA artist district of Boston.

Eliane began painting several years after Rachel’s death, using it as a therapeutic way to express herself. As people noticed her work, close friend and former Wellesley resident Susan Whitehead encouraged Eliane to exhibit her first show at Quebrada Bakery in Wellesley. Eliane prefers cheerful colors, and her paintings of flowers, fruit bowls, and bird baths in appealing tones of blue, pink, purple, and yellow flew off the walls as customers became familiar with her work. Note cards printed with her watercolor designs soon appeared.

Since its start in 1999, the Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation has made significant progress in the search for a cure for childhood cancer. When Eliane’s second painting, hanging in husband Gary’s office, was admired by one of his clients, Elaine offered to do a painting for him, suggesting that in lieu of a commission, he make a donation to the Foundation. The client agreed, and with that first donation, the Art in Giving program was created. Empowered by this experience, Eliane continued to create art for the Foundation using this vehicle until early 2009 when she acquired a studio in the SOWA artist district of Boston. Soon after meeting Eliane and learning about Art in Giving, ten other SOWA artists joined with her to expand on the concept and create the Art in Giving Client Appreciation and Reward Program. An innovative corporate reward and recognition program, Art in Giving, now eleven artists strong, encourages corporations to use art to recognize outstanding achievements within the ranks of their company, clients, and volunteers.

Peaceful View

So how do these eleven artists come together with innovative corporations to make this concept work? Eliane’s articulate explanation makes this process sound so simple that one has to wonder why foundations and corporations haven’t already implemented similar programs. Eliane is passionate as she explains how an employer chooses to honor an individual with a painting or some other form of art offered by one of the participating artists. From their selections, fifty percent of the proceeds of the sale are earmarked for the Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation. Employees are honored with a significant, unique gift, and employers have created good will and value for both their employees and a Foundation that seeks to find a cure for pediatric cancer.

The participating corporations are equally passionate about their involvement. Eliane’s signature piece, Flowers for Hope, is a colorful field of flowers and grass with tulips facing all directions. Hanging in the main lobby of Newton Wellesley Hospital, it is a familiar sight to many local residents. In 2004, Boston Private Bank purchased fifty prints of Flowers for Hope to present as appreciation gifts to clients. Their continued support of Art in Giving is best expressed by Jennifer Willis, Senior Vice President: “Having had the opportunity to meet the artists and see their work first hand, I think the Art in Giving program is a great way to recognize clients or employees, while supporting the work of local artists and a great cause.” Karen Glowacki, Executive Director of the Boston law firm Sherin and Lodgen LLP adds, “Art in Giving gives Sherin and Lodgen the opportunity to express appreciation to guest speakers, clients, partners, referral sources, and employees in a meaningful way. Art in Giving combines art, philanthropy, and corporate appreciation in a very creative approach. We are delighted to be one of the first firms to sponsor this program.”

Blue Passion

The participating SOWA artists echo the positive feelings about Eliane and extol the opportunity to participate in the Art in Giving program. Debby Krim says, “We all enjoy Eliane’s energy. It’s great to contribute to a cause to help families and find a cure for pediatric cancer. Artists are often asked to donate work to charitable causes, but this is innovative, a shared thing. It just feels right. “ This sentiment is echoed by Ellen Rolli who feels “honored to be part of this group.” Ellen describes herself as an abstract realist who loves strong color and often does work in a series, most notably her fabulous shoe series. Ellen feels that Art in Giving is a good way for artists’ work to be seen but “more importantly, a good way to give back.” Prior to painting full time, artist JoAnne Tarlin Franklin worked with non-profits and struggled with her decision to give up philanthropic work to paint. She feels that the Art in Giving concept is a “double win because you get the gratification of having somebody fall in love with your work while also helping a worthy cause.” (Look for JoAnne’s environmental oil paintings in March at the Wellesley Free Library.)

Feather of Flowers

Surrounded by the creativity in SOWA, Eliane has seen her work continue to evolve. Though still partial to watercolor florals, she has added abstracts and oils to her repertoire. As she reflects on her painting, she feels she has finally come to accept herself as an artist and gives herself credit for her creative accomplishments. Eliane usually paints alone in her studio but is especially happy when she is joined by Audrey, a talented artist in her own right, who works in the mediums of yarn and mosaics.

The Markoff family has experienced great sadness, but through that sadness brought hope to other families. Eliane has used her art for healing herself as well as countless other families who are affected by childhood cancer. “It gives me pleasure to use creativity for healing purposes and to encourage people to express themselves through art. The creative process of a piece of art could be a masterpiece for the soul.” Eliane certainly seems to have created a masterpiece with The Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation Art in Giving program by using outstanding art to reward outstanding staff and clients and give outstanding support in the fight against pediatric cancer. In the words of participating artist Debby Krim: “Who wouldn’t want to participate?”

For more information on the Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation Art in Giving Program, visit

SOWA Artist Guild is located at 450 Harrison Avenue in Boston. For open studio times visit



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