Mary Fernandes

Mary Fernandes has told her children that when she dies, they should look closely at her hands —they’ll still be going.
At 86 years old, Fernandes is the picture of senior activity. The Tulare, Calif., native who now lives at Wheeler Manor is as busy as they come, quilting, painting, knitting — the list goes on.
“I never just sit,” she said. “Anything to do with my hands, I love to do.”
She has been sewing her whole life, and when her first husband, a farmer, had a heart attack and was told he could not work anymore, she took in sewing to support them.
Fernandes began painting shortly thereafter, when she heard about some free art classes for seniors at the junior college in Tulare. She was 55 at the time.
“It wasn’t too long before the ladies I was sewing for started buying my paintings,” she said. “I got to the point where I was making more money painting.”
Fernandes then supported herself by selling her paintings and going to art shows from Sacramento to Solvang, a high point for both her and her husband, who was diagnosed with cancer, which he battled for 14 years.
“I’d paint like heck all week,” she said. “It really was a neat period in my life.”
While Fernandes, who came to Gilroy about four years ago, does not really have room to paint anymore, she actively quilts and sews, and has even participated in the art classes offered at Wheeler, including a sculpture class, where the students made heads.
“I made mine with great big ears,” she said. “I figured I couldn’t make it look real, so I’d make it look funny.”
Fernandes’ quilts are all over her apartment. She makes them from scraps of materials, the way they used to be made, and she still does some of the work by hand.
“I used to quilt them by hand, but when I hit 80, I thought I don’t have too much time, so I started putting them together on the sewing machine,” she said.
Fernandes has taken to making smaller quilts, seven of which she gave away recently to nieces and nephews. She proudly displays her quilts, a few of which are made entirely of men’s neckties.
“When my first husband died, I gave away all his clothes, but I couldn’t give away his ties,” she said.
Fernandes made quilts of the ties, and then people began giving her more ties, which she has not been able to use up.
She has also made quilts of her five grandchildren’s artwork, which she transferred onto muslin squares and embroidered. She is starting now on her four great-grandchildren’s artwork.
Fernandes remarried and travelled with her second husband, who also died of cancer. She then moved from painting in oils to watercolors, but she still favors oil, she said.
As active as she is, Fernandes has added new endeavors to her repertoire. She started taking guitar lessons when she was 70, and has talked her son into taking lessons as well.
“I was going to do something real exciting when I was 80, but I couldn’t find anything,” she said.
Having a creative outlet is important for people, and Fernandes appreciates the chance to take art classes at Wheeler.
“I’d sure like to continue that,” she said. “It’s just great.”