‘After six children, I thought I would just like to take a modeling course and feel I was a little more contemporary.’
Raising six children would be more than enough of a job for most women. But Marilyn Pavel, sensing there was something beyond car-pooling and ministering to scraped knees, added to her agenda a career in professional modeling, community volunteerism and world travel. The Point Loma woman has been involved in everything from arranging flowers for Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art to sponsoring a San Ysidro parochial school’s cultural dance program. Most recently, Pavel combined her fashion and travel know-how to write a book, “Emergency Exit: A Travel Wardrobe System,” on the art of packing light. Pavel likens her personal and business accomplishments to a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. She uses a butterfly motif in much of her work as a symbol of learning to fly on her own and reaching for more. Times staff writer Caroline Lemke interviewed Pavel, and Barbara Martin photographed her.
Six children in 10 years was really--I don’t know how I did it now, except that during the time they were little, that was my job. I was attentive to that and just did it all. The car-pooling--we laugh about the car pools where we had 14 children in the car. But I also know that--now that they are grown--during that time I was buying time for myself. It was something I almost didn’t realize, but I was saying: “I’m doing this now. I’m doing it to the best that I really know how, but I’m going to have time for me later.” It was sort of a bargain I made with myself.
I got involved with volunteer work more or less through other women that would be working on committees. At that time in my life, when I had such a big family, that really was my only access to other women that I enjoyed being with. I have recently finished my master’s degree in fine arts, and one of the projects I worked on was quilting. I’ve made a lot of quilts, and one of the things I theorized in the history of quilting was that, if we didn’t have volunteer committees and things now, women would still be doing quilting bees because it’s their chance to get together. It’s their chance to have a community with other women.
I had had the six children, and by the time you have six children, you feel like a drudge. So I thought, for my own self-image, I would just like to take a modeling course and sort of brush up and feel I was a little more contemporary. So I started a modeling course, and I didn’t tell one word to anybody--not my husband, the children, anybody. After about nine months or a year, they sort of began to notice I was starting to perk up. And, about a year later, we went to a professional meeting and somebody saw me at a distance and they said to my husband, “Wow! She really looks great!”
Now, I was in my 40s when I went to modeling school, and of course everybody was half my age. Here I am in these classes, and here are these people that I’m training with that are like my older children. It was a little bit hard in a way because you’re thinking, “Will they wonder why I’m here?” and “Will I be able to walk or do all the things I’m supposed to do as well as these young girls? They seem so spontaneous.” And jobs began dropping in my lap. They were all because I was a mature model, I wasn’t an ingenue.
The book is another outgrowth from my master’s degree. The thesis I did was on travel, and I did a lot of surveys and graphs and a lot of boring things that make it nice and master’s-like. Then someone suggested I write a book. I had a lot of encouragement to go ahead and see it through as a book that would be appealing rather than a master’s-type thing.
I would say I always had artistic hobbies. Even when the kids were little, I always enjoyed keeping something going. I did mosaics and feather things, and all sorts of things that were in-house projects. One of the things that the children remember: I drew pictures on their lunch bags everyday. It didn’t mean anything. I’d be sitting there at breakfast, and I’d draw a picture on every one of their lunch bags. I’d do bunnies looking out of the bushes at Easter and flowers in the spring, and hearts and stuff through the year. I’m a lunch-bag artist. “What’s your medium?” “Brown paper bags and felt pens.”