Grace Louise Bowen died March 3, 2014 in Bozeman, just shy of her 82nd birthday. She had lived in Bozeman for several years with her daughter, Marnie and family.
The daughter of Clifton and Dorothy Lyon, Grace was raised on a farm in North Woodstock. She graduated from Woodstock Academy in 1950 and took art courses at the Rhode Island School of Design before marrying Russell Bowen in 1951. She joined her husband in Baltimore as he completed his undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University and then moved to southern California, where Russell pursued graduate studies at UCLA
. It was during that first stay in California, the young couple developed a lifelong attachment to the American West. Over their life together, they returned many times to California and other parts of the western United States, including extended stays in California and New Mexico in the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s.
The couple returned to Connecticut in the late 1950s, living briefly in Hartford as Russell started his teaching career before building a house in Tolland where they settled to raise their five children. With its warm rooms and abundant gardens, the house on Lakeview Heights served for nearly 45 years as the bustling center of life for their family and a wide circle of devoted friends and relatives. In 1981, at the age of 49, Grace contracted a debilitating case of chicken pox and for the rest of her life suffered vision loss and a number of complications from the illness. Despite these complications, Grace continued to live a full active life and endured her serious health challenges with extraordinary dignity, strength, and uncomplaining resilience. A year after her illness, Grace and Russell moved to northern California for a brief period and then to Albuquerque and ultimately Santa Fe, N.M. Returning to New England, they opened "East by Southwest" in Sturbridge, Mass., a shop specializing in Indian pottery and Mexican art and crafts, as well as Grace's masterfully-crafted Shaker baskets. During the 14 years they operated the shop, Grace and Russell made regular trips to the Southwest to purchase artisan wares for the shop.
Grace regained some of her vision after an operation on her eyes in 2001. For the first time in 20 years, she was able to read for herself. The first book she read was "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." At her 70th birthday celebration, for the first time since the onset of her illness, she could see all of her children. It was one of many ironies of her life that after suffering many years with minimal vision, Grace ended up reading to her husband as his sight declined in the last few years of his life.
A woman of considerable energy, intelligence and creative talent, she devoted herself completely for many years to the formidable job of raising a large family. Her illness struck at the point in her life when, for the first time since she was very young, she had the opportunity to pursue single-mindedly her own artistic and creative passions. Despite her impaired vision, she continued to work at East by Southwest, weave exquisite baskets, entertain and cook for her many friends and family guests, pay frequent visits to her children, grandchildren and friends dispersed around the country, and tour with her husband the western and southwestern landscapes to which they both were so attached. In 2005, the couple sold their home in Connecticut and moved to Chapel Hill to be near their daughter, Natasha. Russell died the following year after a brief illness, and Grace moved eventually to a retirement home. Several years later, she moved to Bozeman. She loved the skies and mountains of Montana and even with diminished sight spent many hours drawing the expansive landscape around her. Despite declining health and memory loss, Grace remained irrepressibly positive, touching everyone around her with her gentle spirit and kindness.
She is survived by her sister, Catherine Irene Landon of Woodstock, and five children, Grace Marnie (Greg) Johnson of Belgrade, Mont.; Natasha Katherine (Daniel Gauthier) of Chapel Hill, N.C.; Nicholas Lyon (Karen) of Woodstock Valley; Margaret Kim (Anthony) Basile of Carlsbad, Calif.; and Clifton Oliver (Naomi Feger) of San Francisco, Calif. She also leaves many nieces and nephews and six beloved grandchildren, Simon Harwood of Bozeman; Nicole Grace of Woodstock Valley; Leo Leavitt of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; Suzy Leah of Boston, Mass.; Tatum Louise of Billings, Mont.; and, Aaron Benjamin of Denver, Colo.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Grace Bowen to the Bearcreek Respite Center, 1002 E Kagy Blvd, Bozeman, MT 59715 or the Massachusetts Eye and Ear / Massachusetts General, Department of Ophthalmology, 100 Cambridge Street, Suite 1300, Boston MA, 02114.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.dahlcares.com.