Ada's Vase


When the irises come into bloom, Ada's vase comes out of the closet. One of my most precious family heirlooms, this tall vase of opaque glass was hand painted and enameled by my great great grandmother. Born in England in 1831, Ada was the daughter of a sea captain whose voyages took him to India, Australia, and China. She was an adventurer herself, traveling back and forth to the Continent, first with her husband, and occasionally alone with her maid. When cleaning out my mother's house, I found her 1858 passport, a huge sheet of paper signed by the Earl of Malmsbury, Queen Victoria's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. On the back, a jumble of stamps and signatures attest to her travels into France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Her sketchbook always traveled with her, and the ink drawings and pastels that survive attest to her considerable talent. Her life was not an easy one. From the bits of correspondence that remain, it seems her husband was disowned by his wealthy merchant father, and they settled in Switzerland. Their first daughter died, and when their second was still young, her husband's death left Ada a widow. When her daughter married and moved to Paris, Ada followed, living nearby to become "Granny" to the little girl who would eventually become my mother's mother, Carmencita. Ada's life story has many twists and tragedies, but she remained feisty and independent throughout her long life, dying in 1917. Like many artists (including this descendant) she was always developing strategies to earn money. Apparently, the iris vase was a prototype. I'm grateful it never sold, so I can continue to honor her by displaying my irises in her beautiful vase.