Remembering Zee Zee

Dear Family and Friends of Zee Zee,

Zee Zee was such a beautiful, bright, energetic, and amazing soul and it’s impossible to imagine her presence will not be here for us to delight in anymore. We are holding you close in our hearts as her absence is felt by all of us and we know she had a wide circle of community who loved her so. Her spirt and smile will remain with us forever.

It is difficult to summarize a life so well lived. Zee Zee was a teacher, athlete, equestrian, explorer, hiker, singer, artist, and environmentalist. Perhaps her most important role was the loving wife and mother to two children and the proud grandmother to four grandchildren.

Zee Zee was born in 1938 in Berkeley. Her early influences were important. Zee Zee’s mother, Zenaida Merriam Talbot grew up in Washington DC and her father was a good friend of President Teddy Roosevelt which allowed Zee Zee’s mother to participate in White House pillow fights with the Roosevelt children.  Her mother and her father imbued Zee Zee with the Roosevelt “vigorous outdoor life” and public service values that served her well throughout her life, but she always maintained an impish streak.  Even at a young age she was disciplined by the school principal for bringing her 3-foot pet snake, Alexander, to class and scaring the teacher.

She grew up hiking and backpacking with her family who taught her not only a deep respect for the land and its wildlife but also passed on a sense of responsibility to help preserve them. Her passion for their preservation has been the primary influence on and inspiration for her oil painting.

She graduated from UC Berkeley and Davis and soon married her college sweetheart, Bill Mott, in 1959.  Her active painting career started in Nigeria where Bill was sent by the Ford Foundation/MIT to be a civil servant in the Northern Nigerian government.  Most of her time was occupied with teaching at Kakuri College, the only secondary girls’ school in the Northern part of Nigeria. However, her painting career started when she met Maria Sanchez, an artist married to the Mexico Council General, who asked Zee Zee to join her on daily painting horseback trips, where there was always danger from leopards, snakes, and crocodiles

Zee Zee & Bill lived in Japan for 4 years where her appreciation of art was further nourished.  She studied and collected block prints from famous Japanese artists, attended art classes and even designed unique ceramic dinner ware. Living in Japan also provided the opportunity to explore Asia during a period when few tourists were to be found. Zee Zee learned how to prepare Japanese and Chinese cuisine and even ended up sharing a cooking class with Cary Grant.

Upon returning to the U.S. and settling down in Ross, California, she focused on her family but also made time to pursue and organize programs to support the preservation of whales and to take rigorous scientific training at the Academy of Science in San Francisco where she served as a docent.

Her plein air oil painting career blossomed in the late 1980’s and she participated in painting events and exhibitions in places such as Jackson Hole, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Ansel Adams Gallery, Saint Paul Gallery, Virginia City, NV, and the William Lester Gallery. One of her paintings was selected to be exhibited for a year in the California State Capital. As an award-winning artist, she was featured in leading art magazines such as Plein Air and Art of the West. She participated in over 100 invitational and juried shows and was featured in numerous solo and two and three person exhibits, including featured artist in leading Bay Area art shows such as MarinScapes and Ranches and Rolling Hills. Her painting of the Kirkwood Ski area was used on their first poster. In 2007 she was asked and participated in the “Artists in the Backcountry” event in the Eastern Sierra. Her paintings are primarily landscapes, but her humor was captured in paintings such as “California Cow”, a cow with California poppies in its mouth, and an African painting featuring an elephant’s rear.

Her legacy can be found as a co-founder of the Baywood Artists  25 years ago, a group of Bay Area artists focused on capturing the beauty of the area in paintings, holding exhibits and generating funding for targeted conservation projects. The organization continues and was featured in a popular KRON TV program, “Bay Area Backroads”.  In 2021, she was honored by the Baywood artists for her unwavering guidance and support over the past 25 years.

Her love of the outdoors flourished at the family cabin located at 8,000 ft. in the Sierra on Lake Kirkwood.  Not only was it a summer studio for many painting expeditions but also a place where Zee Zee hosted many unique games, social events and dinner parties for friends and family, whether on the “rock” or sitting around the fire. Zee Zee loved Kirkwood and cherished each moment of her 52 years at the Lake.  She loved watching the trees whistle in the wind, the birds soaring overhead, the ducks raising their young on the lake and the chipmunks playing on the rocks.

Zee Zee was very athletic. She played polo in her early days, later won several paddle and tennis tournaments, and skied into her 60’s until her knees decided that was enough.  But that didn’t keep her from hiking until very recently to her favorite lakes and mountains in the Sierras. Her mind matched her athletic abilities, and she was an avid reader and skilled bridge player.

She was an amazing mom, not only to her own children but also served as “second mom” to many of the neighborhood kids.  She supported the Ross school tirelessly and, when funding was cut for art and history, she helped organize the Patriot Players, a group that interpreted important historical events through drama presentations at the school.

She loved to sing and was a member of a singing group, the Ross Commons. The group frequently participated in school events, produced an album, and toured the Bay Area providing entertainment to various groups, particularly at holiday time.

Her interest in music led to helping bring the musical Peace Child to the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, where her daughter, Larie, performed with the cast. The show then went on tour in the Soviet Union. She also contributed to and supported her son Brian’s participation in the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

She liked to explore and was happiest when finding a new and dramatic landscape to paint. She organized “painting safaris” to such distant and exotic locales as Bhutan and Kenya. She was an amazing planner, starting, at an early age, organizing a summer car camping trip with four of her high school girl friends to visit the Southwest national parks.  Later she organized trips with friends such as river rafting down the Colorado River, a safari in East Africa, and finding an off the beaten track beach local in Mexico to hold a 70th Birthday party. Sharing these adventures with her friends gave her the most joy.

Her explorations and painting led to an invitation to become a member of the Society of Women Geographers; a professional society of women explorers formed around the early exploits of Amelia Earhart, based in Washington DC.

Zee Zee is survived by her loving husband William P Mott, son Brian Mott (Nicole), daughter Larie Flaherty (Jim) & their four adoring grandchildren, Ian & Erika Mott and Andy & Megan Flaherty, sister-in-law Marty Talbot, nephews Lawrence & Russell Talbot, brother-in-law, John Mott (Teresa) & sister-in-law, Marsie Mott and niece, Stephanie and nephew, Adam.  She was predeceased by her parents, Zenaida & Murrell Talbot, and her brother, Dr. Lee M Talbot.

A service will be held in her honor on the afternoon of Saturday, October 23rd in Marin. Please contact the family for more information.

For more information on her painting career, please refer to the March 2004 article in Plein Air Magazine, Zenaida ‘Zee Zee’ Mott, A world of Colorful Adventures”

Gifts: You can honor Zee Zee‘s environmental legacy by contributing to the protection of the entire Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and its diverse and vulnerable natural world which was especially dear to Zee Zee‘s heart, by supporting the OneTam, an initiative of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  Please click here for more information.

In loving memory, the Mott family