My Bay City Family Tree: Artist Rosemary Kavanagh

Rosemary Kavanagh: My Bay City Family Tree

Solo Exhibit extended until March 10, 2021. Thursday or Friday appointments between 11am - 5pm are needed during the art center maintenance month of January 2021. Thank you!

Now thru March 10, we invite you  to Rosemary Kavanagh’s solo exhibition titled “My Bay City Family Tree”.  Please note that during the month of January, Thursday or Friday appointments will be needed as January is our maintenance month.

Rosemary has delved into her ancestry and created a series of portraits painted in rich oil tones. She is known for her oil paintings created en plein air as well as studio works created in her historic home in the Eastside of Bay City. Rosemary is the featured artist for our 2020 Black & White Affair.

My Bay City Family Tree by Rosemary Kavanagh

I started painting the Bay City portraits after reading my father’s World War II letters that he mailed to and received from all of the different families. All of the characters that I painted are mentioned in the letters. My cousins helped me with photos to work from. Genetic behaviors, health, and looks are all passed on – so we can go back in time if we let ourselves! And forgive those who emulate our ancestors. When an artist paints or draws or sculpts, that moment in time is captured in the work. We can experience the concept of survival and hope and share it with others. 

My great-grandmother Mary Lewis Daily was an artist, as was my mom. My mother was a fashion illustrator in the 1940s for newspapers.

Rosemary Kavanagh is a painter and paper-dress sculptor. She started painting when she was 4. She lives in Bay City, Michigan. Kavanagh has exhibited in juried and solo shows in museums and galleries in Mexico; Rome; Dublin and Tralee, Ireland; New York City; Chicago; Newport, Rhode Island; Lowell, Massachusetts; New Jersey; Lansing; Saginaw; and Bay City. 

Here is the video of the November 28, 2020 virtual tour of her exhibit. Rosemary is joined with her cousin, Liz Schwedler as they tell fascinating stories of the portraits painted in  oil paint and the fashions Rosemary crafted using historical dress patterns.

Here is a poem by Rosemary Kavanagh inspired by this exhibition.


Here is the story of the collaboration between architect Azedah Bidar and Rosemary Kavanagh.


The Persian designs painted on this antique wedding dress represent various symbols and patterns derived from Persian art and architecture.

On front of the dress, the skirt is adorned with a magnificent bird and flower (in Farsi, gol va morgh) design, which in ancient times was frequently used to decorate religious books but nowadays can be seen on mirror frames, facade tiles, book covers, carpets, and as paintings. Gol va morgh is the symbol of divine love and the delicate manifestation of the Creator.

On the sides of the skirt, the design is derived from the beautiful tilework (kashikary) on the domes and ceilings of Persian mosques. The vivid blue of the background represents the sky (asemaan) and divinity.

On the upper part, geometric patterns, also inspired by tilework on the facades of ancient historic buildings, beautify the dress.

On the back of the skirt, three motifs depict symbols from ancient Persia. The central figure shows the Faravahar, the emblem of divine royal glory in ancient Persia; it was later associated with Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world, which was the official religion in Persia before the invasion of Muslim Arab armies. In Zoroastrianism, Faravahar is the symbol of the holy guardian angel. The image is also found on ancient Egyptian and Assyrian discs.

The nude figure is Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess representing love, beauty, sex, and war who dates back to 2000 B.C. She was later depicted as Anahita, the Persian goddess of fertility, healing, and wisdom.

The third figure is a crowned man, a king (Shah), standing on a lion (shir). The king has wings, showing that he is the representative of God on earth. The figure is derived from stone carvings in Persepolis, the ancient royal site in central Iran.

The lion is the symbol of power, courage, and honor in Persian culture. The motif of the lion is depicted in architecture, art, and even hand-woven carpets of nomad tribes in Iran. It was also part of the Iranian flag before the Islamic Revolution. In ancient Persian mythology, humans and animals had close connections.

Between these three magnificent paintings, the artists has inserted more designs inspired by tilework patterns.

Written by Azedah Bidar, architect


My Bay City Family Tree Online Gallery

Paintings by Rosemary Kavanagh