essay: Fritzi Morrison

by Ridgely Pierson
submitted January 2010 

Frederica Ann Mohrenstecher Morrison was born on December 8, 1909, (“Feast of the Immaculate Conception!” she would giggle) in the large house on Jersey Street in Quincy, Illinois built earlier that year by her mother and father. Fritzi lived in the house most of the time until she died in March, 2007.


Fritzi was educated in Quincy public schools until she went away to Miss Dow’s School in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Here she worked to make her desire to be a serious artist become a reality. Later, she studied at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and at the Art Department of the University of Chicago. She was also a talented singer and an extraordinarily talented cook. (One must note, however, that at her dinner-parties the food was often hours late in getting on the table.)


In 1933 she married John Morrison, a native of New Hampshire who had cousins in Quincy, in a small ceremony in her parents’ house. John Morrison had a doctorate in Geography, which had taken him to Russia and Turkey. During the Second World War and for some time afterwards, the Morrisons and their son lived mainly in Washington, D.C., where John taught at the National War College. Later on, John and Fritzi lived for several years in Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, Fritzi always considered Quincy to be her home.


To most of the people she came to know – and she was very good at getting to know many people – she was simply “Fritzi.” No last name needed. She took a deep interest in people of all ages, and she saw no reason for anyone to call her Mrs. Morrison. Perhaps she felt, and she was right, that people were interested in her, too.


Although she set out to do portraits, working with several watercolor teachers, particularly Eliot O’Hara, brought Fritzi around to knowing (that is the word she would have used) that she wanted watercolor to be her medium. She worked without preliminary sketches, and most often from visual memory or sheer imagination. In her later years, when she developed macular degeneration, she relied increasingly on her imagination when she painted – and with the help of a friend wrote a book about the experiences she had on a long trip in Turkey with her husband. The book contained reproductions of her watercolors from Turkey, and these reproductions are charming.


From the beginning, but particularly as time went on, Fritzi was fascinated with color, not only in her watercolors but also in the way she dressed. “Hot pink!” she used to giggle. “I love hot pink!” She was also fascinated by music, and very often, at parties, she would regale the guests with operatic arias and popular songs, her clear soprano voice stopping all conversation.


The last time I saw Fritzi, a few weeks before she died, I had gone by her house simply to drop off a box of candy (she loved chocolate). The woman who took care of her in those last years, much to my surprise, asked me to come in and say hello to Fritzi; she was having a “good” day. The “hello” lasted for more than two hours; her memory of the past was utterly clear, and she wanted to share with me many of those memories.


Fritzi was an “original,” a woman of considerable talent and enormous charm. She may not be with us in person anymore, but unlike many of us, she left a legacy which those of us who knew her or knew of her cherish.