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Artist assigned to portray 'a great lady'


When the new $28 million Rebecca M. Clatanoff Pavilion opens this afternoon in Annapolis, the building won't be the only tribute to a woman who gave more than 50 years of her life to volunteer work at the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

A 30-by-20-inch oil painting of Mrs. Clatanoff will hang on the walls of the hospital's women's health center. The painting is the work of Anne-Marie Esson, a Severna Park artist and graphics designer.

"It was quite a project. I loved working on it," said Ms. Esson, 34. She often got up at 4 a.m. to work on the painting. "She was special. You could tell by how everyone held onto her. She was a great lady."

The portrait of the elegant, smiling woman is Ms. Esson's way of honoring a tireless volunteer. Mrs. Clatanoff was the first -- and only -- lifetime member on the hospital's board of directors.

"It's amazing how much the memory of her dominates people's minds still," said Ms. Esson. "People still say, 'Oh, Becky would like that.' Or 'Becky wouldn't like that.' . . . She wasn't a rich lady. Just a normal person like you and me."

Hospital officials didn't stint their praise when talking about Mrs. Clatanoff.

"There's no one else who represented the unselfish dedication she showed to this hospital," said Lisa Hillman, vice president for development and community affairs. She knew Mrs. Clatanoff for about 25 years. "She championed all sorts of causes on every front. Whatever the challenges were, she was on the forefront of the fight. . . . There was a universal feeling across the board that this was the best way to remember her."

The portrait will be set against a 57-inch-by-51-inch marble slab in an alcove next to the pavilion's main elevators. Another marble slab measuring 20-inches by 15-inches has a 23-karat gold leaf inscription recounting Mrs. Clatanoff's life. She died in July 1992 from pancreatic cancer when she was 77.

Ms. Esson started working for the hospital a couple of months after Mrs. Clatanoff's death. She had been hired to produce "Vital Signs," a four-color, 16-page quarterly magazine.

Ms. Esson has spent her life painting and designing. As a young girl growing up in St. Louis, she painted flowers and people on pieces of wood, then nail them together to create a three-dimensional effect.

She took up a career similar to that of her father, a graphics designer. She graduated from the Washington University School of Fine Art in St. Louis in 1984 and went on to design annual reports, logos and newsletters for Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the San Antonio Museum of Art.

In 1990, she moved to Severna Park and established a base at a cozy rancher. The house has two computer studios and a painting studio. She has already released four prints and note cards with a nautical theme and is planning to produce more.

When hospital officials approached her eight months ago to do the Clatanoff project, Ms. Esson realized she would have to model the painting on 3-by-5-inch photographs of Mrs. Clatanoff.

"The pictures are very small, and people's heads are in the way," Ms. Esson said with a laugh. 'Her head was no bigger than a nickel. Maybe a quarter."

Diane Clatanoff White, Mrs. Clatanoff's daughter, said the portrait was "fine," considering the circumstances under which Ms. Esson had to work.

"I think it was difficult for her to work from a photograph and never having met her," said Mrs. White, a 53-year-old insurance agent. "She did a good job. We're a little prejudiced, but I think it's a fine portrait."

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