Shadyside artist's love of people added key dimension
Portrait artist Minnette Bickel equated her success with understanding that she was creating an heirloom designed to be passed down through generations.
And the ultimate test, Mrs. Bickel often explained, was to capture the subject's character, incorporate it with a background that reflected a lifestyle and translate it successfully to the canvas.
Minnette Duffy Bickel, of Shadyside, died on Saturday, March 31, 2007, at UPMC Shadyside Hospital. She was 85.
Her sentiments were best described by her long-time friend Betty Dickey, a resident of Shadyside. "Minnette painted the portraits of six of my grandchildren. I'm so happy to have these portraits."
Mrs. Bickel's clientele included Rachel Carson, Thomas Hilliard, Sen. Jesse Helms, Mildred Posvar and Henry L. Hillman. Her portrait of Mr. Hillman can be viewed in the foyer of the Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside.
"My mother's professional career could be described as 'larger than life,' " said her daughter, Susan Scioli. "And yet, she was modest about her achievements.
"She was truly a people person, who enjoyed conversing with a parking lot attendant as she did with the influential people that she knew," Scioli added.
Born and raised in New Bern, N.C., Minnette Duffy was one of five children in the family of Dr. Richard Nixon and Minnette Chapman Duffy.
Her father was a prominent physician and her mother, a historic preservationist who was instrumental in restoring the Tyron Palace in New Bern, once the residence of the governor in Colonial times.
Upon graduating from New Bern High School, Minnette Duffy studied art at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts at Washington University and with the Art Students League in New York City.
In 1945, while attending a dance at the Trent Pines Club in the New Bern area, she met Marine fighter pilot Capt. William C. Bickel, a Pittsburgher who had just returned from active duty in the Pacific after completing 60 bombing missions. They were married a year later.
In 1947, Mr. Bickel joined the Gulf Oil Corp. as an aviation sales representative, and they began an 11-city odyssey before they settled in Shadyside in 1976. He died in 2002.
It was in this time period that Mrs. Bickel began to make her mark as an artist, said Susan Scioli.
"My mother never complained about the moves that they made," said her daughter, Minnette Boesel. "Every time my father was transferred, my mother would say it was a new adventure and a new opportunity.
"When Dad got the word to move, Mom would say, 'let's get going'. And no matter how many times we moved, my mother always provided my sister, Susan, and me with a beautiful and loving home. It was also an exciting home, where models would come in," her daughter added.
Shortly after the Bickels became members of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Mrs. Bickel was commissioned to do a painting of the apse interior of the church. She studied and used the Trecento paintings in the Frick Art Museum as her guide.
"It didn't take my mother long to call Pittsburgh her home. She loved the city and its people," said Boesel.
"And our father, who was truly bigger than life in everything that he did and truly loved our mother, enjoyed calling himself 'the husband of the artist' after he retired as a vice president of Gulf Oil. "
Mrs. Bickel's friend, Lee C. Gordon, of Squirrel Hill, recalled Minnette Bickel's taste in clothes. "She loved beautiful clothing, especially hats," said Mrs. Gordon. "She designed many of her outfits.
"We recently went to the Heinz History Center to see the First Ladies exhibit. She wanted to see the dresses."
Mrs. Bickel is survived by her daughters, Minnette Bickel Boesel, of Houston, and Susan Bickel Scioli, of Hyannis Port, Mass.; four grandchildren, Louise and Minnette Boesel and Felice and Richard Scioli, and a sister, Sophia Sue Taylor, of Raleigh, N.C.
Arrangements, which will be handled by John A. Freyvogel Inc., Oakland, are incomplete.