Mary Frances Millet sees Schenectady in living color.
There might be purple and blue paving stones on Jay Street ... an old-fashioned wooden radio in black and gold ... the famous “GE” light sign in crimson and silver.
All things are possible through art — and coloring books.
Millet, 59, a longtime artist who lives in Schenectady, has secured bunches of green through sales of her “History of Schenectady” coloring book. Copies of the 60-page book, which includes famous Schenectadians of the past and celebrated places from the city’s present, were popular purchases at the city’s Open Door Bookstore and the New York Folklore Society during the holiday season. They were also on sale at Mike’s Hot Dogs on Erie Boulevard, Villa Italia on Broadway and Civitello’s on North Jay Street, places that were represented in the book.
Personally, I have not received coloring books for Christmas since about 1962 or 1963, when members of the Hanna-Barbara and Warner Bros. cartoon factories became candidates for my Crayola masterpieces. I thought everyone stopped coloring picnic basket-stealing bears and talking alley cats after about 7 or 8.
Millet’s business model says coloring — with colored pencils, not crayons — is now cool for both kids and adults.
“It’s not going away,” she said. “I’m hearing a lot of people getting into it more and more and more, people I never thought would have. It’s therapeutic, it’s very soothing, relaxing and people do it just to calm down. I went looking for a coloring book on Schenectady and I didn’t find one. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll fix that.’ ”
She fixed it by researching Schenectady’s past, with help from miSci curator and Schenectady history sage Chris Hunter, and Larry Hart’s collection of Schenectady history books.
She hand-drew the pieces that appeared in the book, which includes logos from former Schenectady stores such as The Carl Co., Two Guys and Barney’s, the statue of Lawrence the Indian and an Alco-built locomotive in full charge on railroad tracks. Charles Steinmetz, Elizabeth Gillette and Thomas Edison are also on pages.
The city’s newest big deal, Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, does not have a place in the book. By law, Millet said, a casino cannot be marketed to children.
She worked with Guilderland graphic designer Kerry Endres to put the book together, used Niskayuna’s Nott Street Office for printing, and distributed 200 books priced at $14.95 each.
“As an artist I never expected it to take off, a fad, a flash in the pan,” Millet said. “Now I’m getting requests for more coloring books and different subjects.”
Because the Schenectady drawings all come with facts about the place or person, Millet believes it could be an educational boost for Schenectady schools. She also thinks the book could find a place in nursing homes, where coloring familiar places could help memory-impaired residents.
People have noticed Millet’s project: On Dec. 27, Schenectady’s City Council passed a resolution recognizing the artist and her work. Other people noticed her work long before 2016.
“My parents [Jeanne and Robert Millet] put me in art lessons when I was very young, like 8,” said Millet, who works full-time as an occupational therapist. “I was one of those people who was given complete creative freedom when I was younger, so murals and all kinds of stuff went on the walls of my parents’ house. My bedroom got a giant rose, the garage got a big banana on the inside wall. I just never had any kind of fear about creativity — they always let me do whatever I wanted to do.”
She has history and art in her past — grandfather Gus Flynn used to be the manager of the old Roosevelt Hotel, once located on the site of the Schenectady Armory on Washington Avenue. And two of her uncles, Bill and Roland Landry, worked as illustrators during the 1920s.
Millet has worked in acrylics and oils and water colors. Her latest gag is hand-painted scarves sold through her web site, www.maryfrances.faso.com.
Millet has ordered 100 more copies of the book, and is considering other projects for communities such as Troy and Ballston Spa. One woman has asked her to put together a coloring book full of local churches. A sequel to the Schenectady coloring collection is also a possibility.
“There’s so much history here,” Millet said. “I call it the ‘town of firsts.’ There were so many firsts here, movies, television, Edison. Incredible contributions. I thought, 'Why don’t more people know about this?’ ”
Millet loves the health benefits. I talked to three doctors about three different health issues in 2016, and they were all talking about exercise. Maybe some of those exercises can be with arms, wrists and fingers.
“When I went to my doctor last time and he took my blood pressure he said, ‘Your blood pressure is fantastic! What are you taking?’ I said, ‘I don’t take any medication.’ He goes, ‘What are you doing to keep your blood pressure down?’ I said, 'I’m an artist,’ and he said, 'Oh yes ....’
“So it’s healthy. There has to be a reason everybody’s doing it. It gets them off their phones, it gets them talking, it gets them relaxed. It’s just what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.