Melrose–In her hands Vicky Allen holds a plate with a picture of a woman holding a baby close to her heart.

With these same hands Vicky painted the soothing scene in shades of gold—her favorite of the many works of art she has done during her 94 years.

“It’s beautiful, such a tender moment,” this mother of two said early afternoon on March 5, sitting around the kitchen table with 92-year-old Bill, her witty husband of 66 years. 

Their Melrose home is filled with Vicky’s paintings, most on china plates, trays, bowls, cups, dishes and vases. In a bedroom is a chandelier with Vicky-painted flowers on it.  Hanging on their kitchen wall is a large framed picture that once had shades of pink, which she repainted  yellow. From a kitchen cupboard Bill retrieves a Christmas cup, one of four, with a smiling Santa that Vicky painted. A framed painting of grapes hangs on a wall in their living room with pictures of family below it. 

“They look lovely,” said Vicky about the grapes, with Bill adding, “You could almost eat ‘em.”  

 Long life 

Vicky loves talking about her paintings, but she also enjoys reminiscing about her past. 

“My father was a country school teacher in Spring Hill, and they had a farm across the street from the school,” said Vicky.

She’s  the youngest and “lone survivor” of  Henry and Emma Lembeck’s 10 children. Vicky mentions two sisters, Irene Free who lived in Freeport and Clara Sieben who lived in Melrose. 

“Nobody seems to remember that I came from here,” said Vicky, with Bill, adding, “That’s because they’re all dead.” 

It’s also because after she married Bill they moved to Michigan. 

She graduated from Melrose High School, proudly saying she was a cheerleader, admitting her cheerleading days are over. These days she has a challenging time walking. A walker is her constant companion—along with Bill, who pushes her in the walker when they go places like Coborn’s in Melrose for breakfast every morning; at times having coffee with Vicky’s nephew “David” Sieben, Vicky said. 

“It’s a habit now,” said Bill of their breakfast outings. 

The two met at a ballroom near the Twin Cities.  

“He’s a Michiganer,” said Vicky, an avid dancer.

Chances are she learned to dance in the ballroom her parents owned in Spring Hill.   

They were married on Sept. 27, 1952, by Fr. Hoffman in St. Mary’s Church in Melrose. Bill retrieves their wedding book. Flipping through the pages, Vicky mentions how beautiful the church is and points out family in pictures, like David Sieben, who was their Mass server, and his sister, Maxine, who was their flowergirl. She mentions both are the children of  Clara and husband Omer Sieben of Melrose. 

Bill worked for the Ford Motor Company. They raised two children, John of Michigan, and Ruth from Apple Valley, from which their family grew to include four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

“We didn’t add much to this population,” said Bill, who was one of three children in his family compared to Vicky’s nine siblings. 

After Bill retired in 1983, they moved to Melrose in 1984, purchasing their nephew Russ and wife Mary Sieben’s house in Melrose, along the river, where they still live. 

Bill smiles when saying there are three bedrooms downstairs. It’s “too big for just two people,” he admits, but they don’t have plans to move any time soon, unless it’s their final move, with Bill pointing up, referencing their heavenly home.

 Passion for painting 

“I started with friends,” said Vicky when asked how she got starting painting on china. 

Bill figures that was more than 50 years ago. He estimates she has done close to 100 paintings, many found around their home, which he points out during a walking tour. 

She took painting classes in Michigan and Arizona. 

“They had china painting clubs in Arizona,” said Bill, an artist in his own right. Two ship-themed, tall, stained glass windows Bill designed are at the entrance to their home. 

Vicky’s art room in their basement is still intact, although she hasn’t painted in years because her hand dexterity is decreasing, and she isn’t able to walk down the steps. 

“That phase of my life is over,” said Vicky, with Bill adding, “Life isn’t like it used to be.” 

Memories of her favorite pastime fill her sharp mind. 

Painting projects started with a white china piece that Vicky drew a design on. She painted it using a dust powder mixed with oil paints. Then it was fired. 

Her kiln, where she fired her painted china pieces, sits in the basement.  

“You paint it and paint it and paint it until you get the depth you want,” she explained, with Bill adding, “You cook the hell out of it.” 

It takes about one hour for one firing. 

“This probably has about four or five firings,” said Vicky holding a china piece with flowers on it.  

Each piece is fired at least three times, helping to give the design a natural look, Vicky said. 

Admittedly not a “dreamer,” she does her own version of scenes she chooses to paint. 

“They’re not originals, not like Grandma Moses,” said Vicky.

Easter eggs she painted are her lone original design. 

Her paintings have a true-to-life look. Well, maybe except a specific bird. 

“Cardinals, I just can’t get them right,” she said. 

She has given her painting pieces as gifts and donated a plate with a pheasant on it to the Melrose Area Historical Society. 

Her daughter has a set of eight china plates that Vicky painted fruit on, along with a big platter.

“She painted a hamburger on it with French fries around it,” said Bill, as Vicky laughs. 

Each piece she painted fills her heart with joy, especially the mother and little baby.  

“I enjoy seeing the end results,” said Vicky, “and the beauty of it all.”