Marnice Richmond from Artistry on Glass was sitting at the Maui Bake Shop in Wailuku with a croissant sandwich and her laptop when I walked in. Over the phone her voice was a little shaky which made her sound older. But the woman who smiled at me around a mouth full of breakfast looked way younger than she sounded—in fact she looked like she was in her late thirties.
I was expecting a stereotypical Maui artist–earthy, making a lot of references to nature and the universe. After saying hello, I got the feeling that Richmond, though possessing a hip and funky style about her, doesn’t quite fit that mold.
She’s a good looking lady, with strong features framed by strawberry blond hair and accented by an adorable sprinkle of freckles. When she spoke, I could picture her kicking ass in the corporate world, but really fell for her when she would suddenly drop an F-bomb.
Richmond has spent most of her adult life in places like London, New York, Seattle and Hawai‘i. She’s worked in theater, as a right hand to big name people like Donna Karen and has etched glass on Maui for the past six years.
“Back in June, I was asked to do this incredibly unique and extremely large scale project, that very few artists on the island would be given the opportunity to tackle, of creating island images and glass-etching them on a glass roof on a custom home in Kuau near Mama’s Fish House,” she said. “It’s 17 panes of glass that are nine feet by three feet. I was extremely anxious about taking on this project, not only for its large scale, but I’ve been battling cancer for the past three years.”
Cancer. She found out when she was nearing 40, at a time when she and her husband decided they wanted to have a baby. But at the time she was feeling tired and rundown. Assuming it was just “what it felt like to turn forty,” she went to her doctor, who ran some tests.
“When I went back in for the test results, the doctor looked at me and said, ‘You feel like crap don’t you?’” she said. “Then he told me that he was surprised that I was actually walking, functioning and not in a coma.”
She had thyroid cancer that had spread into her lungs. Doctors told her that there are four basic types of cancer–two that are fatal and two that are not. They said it was probable that she had the fatal kind.
“My initial reaction was that I wasn’t prepared,” Richmond said. “I didn’t have a will or anything. I went into business mode, because that’s what I’m good at. It was a way of dealing. I tried to work for a while, but I was just so stressed out. And then I was like, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my time?’”
When faced with the idea of death, Richmond said every thing boiled down to its simplest form and she “learned what it means to really live in the moment. It was all the little stuff that sounds cliche,” she said.
Sunsets. Reconnecting with her husband Ash. Spending time with family and learning to accept help from friends, and most of all, art.
“There was a point during the radiation, surgeries and recovery periods that I got so sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. “So I got to the point where I was like, ‘Fuck this. I’m going to go and do art… I want to make everything around me beautiful.’”
The large project she just finished in Kuau took her about 250 hours to complete. “I’m usually an uber-perfectionist but I just let that go,” she said. “When it was done I stepped back and it was like someone else did it through me. It was weird. You hear that right? It was just so great to do because it’s a rare project. Ginormous.”
A few days before completing the project, Richmond went back to the doctor for another series of treatments. “I found out that I have a clean bill of health and have beaten the cancer,” she said. “[I want] to let people know that even in the most serious of circumstances that we can rise up and still create a beautiful life and beautiful things.” MTW