Saint Louis Suburban Journals
Perched in a wheelchair in her Webster Groves back yard, Ethel Koeppe, 92, looked on as the final piece went into her artistic piece de resistance.
"It makes me happy looking at it," Koeppe said quietly. "These folks are very nice people and were good helpers."
Those "helpers," Mary Bournstein-Duban of South St. Louis and Kathy Rickermann of Hillsboro, could only smile as they helped Koeppe install a tile image of a sea horse to complete her "Heavenly Bodies" mosaic mural project.
In the making for about 40 years, the mural spans an expanse of garage wall in Koeppe's back yard.
Tiles, stones, pieces of mirror, broken plates and mugs, costume jewelry, sea shells, marbles, and even "found objects" from various vacation destinations surround molded ceramic images of a gold sun and a blue moon, made by Koeppe from clay that was fire-glazed in her home kiln.
"It was so exciting to see Ethel help put the last piece in," Bournstein-Duban said.
Rickermann agreed, "It wasn't hard to help Ethel finish, it was fun."
Koeppe had worked on the mural for almost 30 years, but quit work when her husband, Ralph, died at the age of 88 in 2000, said Jo Ellen Rosenkoetter, Koeppe's daughter. The couple had been married since 1942.
A mosaicist tried to complete the mural, but the effort fell apart, she said.
Completion of the mural came about almost by accident when Koeppe fell ill in February and became a home hospice patient through Crossroads Hospice of Maryland Heights, said Rosenkoetter, who lives in University City.
Bournstein-Duban became involved in the mural through Crossroads' Art of Living Program, which she started.
Art of Living recruits area artists to display their work at an art show at Crossroads. In exchange, the artists donate their time as volunteers during the three-month span of the show.
One of the hospice workers told Bournstein-Duban that Koeppe had lots of artwork at her home, and she asked whether some of the items could go into this year's show, which starts this month and runs through June 15 at Crossroads, 2380 Schuetz Road.
Bournstein-Duban, who is Crossroads' volunteer coordinator and an artist, went to visit Koeppe and discovered not only a house filled with art, but the mural in the backyard.
"I'm very grateful that Mary and Kathy got involved to pop the mural to life," Rosenkoetter said.
The mural might not have come into existence except for a room that was added at the same level as the house and the garage below it, said Rosenkoetter, a music teacher at Forsyth School in Clayton.
"My mother ended up looking at a gray concrete wall facing on to her beautiful backyard. And she wasn't going to live with that!"
Koeppe, who was born Ethel Meyer in Brooklyn, N.Y., admits "it bothered me that wall was so empty, and it seemed to me it needed something on it."
After arranging to have some of Koeppe artworks exhibited at the show, Bournstein-Duban then recruited Rickermann to help work on the mural.
Bournstein-Duban dubs the mural "awesome."
"Ethel had it about 85 percent finished before her husband passed away, and we were determined to help her finish," she said. "As an artist, I know what it's like to have that large of a project to work on and not to have it finished. I felt it was the right thing to do."
She found a butterfly windchime among Ethel's things and put the butterfly into the mural. Rickermann pointed out tiny blue tile buildings in the mural, possible representing New York skyscrapers.
"Ethel was the first patient I got to visit through the Art of Living program, which started in February," Rickermann said. "Ethel's cute and funny and very talented. When I saw her mural, I was amazed."
Ethel is just happy the mural's done.
"Somebody had to finish it," she said. "Anything a person does can get to be a lot of work, but, if you want it, you do it."