My sculpture dear carol: love ola mae is an homage to an enduring relationship and the possibility of reparation.

First, a little background: Ola Mae Sallie, her sister, and her brother-in-law moved to Fitchburg, MA in 1957 with the Purvin family of Dallas, Texas. They served as maids and handyman. Bob Purvin worked at Foster Grant Plastics where my father was the executive vice-president. He asked my parents if they would like to hire Ola Mae to clean our house. Overnight, our family went from having a cleaning lady who came once a week to having a white uniformed maid who spent six days a week in our home. I was mortified that my working class high school friends would discover we had a maid and were “wealthy”. To make sure no one learned of my secret, I stopped inviting friends over and fumed at my father who insisted on Ola Mae’s answering the phone at dinner time. During the year and a half Ola Mae worked for our family, I hardly spoke to her. Eventually she left to re-join her sister at the Purvin’s, and I stopped thinking about her.

Then in 1982 while living in Santa Monica, CA, I wrote a letter of apology to her. I’m not sure what motivated me except the realization that I had been an unkind and thoughtless teenager and needed to make amends. She responded immediately and for the next twenty-four years, we wrote to each other once a month until she died in 2006. I kept all her letters.

I’ve now turned this correspondence into a sculpture. I’ve laminated Ola Mae’s letters and have strung them together into a nine foot high hanging tower. Each letter is separated by 2 fender washers, a black bead, and at 6 letter intervals cotton string. The completed tower has an aura of mystery and strength, like Ola Mae the person.

Boston City Hall