Once upon a time—well, about three decades ago—a blond, beautiful and headstrong girl named Anne-Marie Rasmussen lived on a tiny North Sea island off Norway and dreamed of a place called America. At 18 and by herself, she arrived in New York and found a job as a kitchen maid for one of the world’s richest families. Among the “Rockenfelleres,” as Anne-Marie first spelled the name, was a son called Steven. Yes, the scion and the servant fell in love. They were married in 1959 with the rapturous attention of the world focused on them. And then…
“Ever after” turned out to be 10 years. The breakup of her marriage to Steven Rockefeller, Nelson’s second son, left her, Anne-Marie says, “quite bitter and angry. But,” she adds, “sadness disappears with time.”
The stresses that shattered her fairy tale were manifold, she says, and she does not absolve herself. “For years I had this problem of depression,” Anne-Marie, now 40, admits. “It became worse as I grew older. It got so bad two years ago that I couldn’t be with my three children, and they went to live with Steven.”
In all she has suffered three nervous breakdowns. Though she consulted “the best doctors and psychiatrists,” she says incredulously, “nobody diagnosed me right”—at least not until the past year when a doctor linked her emotional problems to a chemical imbalance and prescribed lithium. Now, Anne-Marie says, “my whole life has been totally changed.”
With new confidence, she is emerging as an artist whose work ranges from pen-and-ink drawings to collages and some photography, all of which she signs “Mia,” her nickname. From her strikingly modern home on another tiny island (this one in New Canaan, Conn.), she toils 10 to 13 hours daily preparing for a series of gallery showings beginning this week. “I’m doing what I always wanted to do but was afraid I couldn’t do,” she says.
Her art often reveals a biting humor. One collage is made entirely from bras, another of discarded Rockefeller and Rasmussen wallets. Ironically, she recalls, it was her “honest face and happy smile” that won her the job in the kitchen of Nelson Rockefeller’s 27-room New York apartment. She and Steven soon began “dating and hiding—I was so afraid I’d lose my job.” How did the Rockefeller family feel about the courtship? “I don’t think they had much of a choice about accepting me,” she says.
In her 1975 autobiography, There Was Once a Time, Anne-Marie (who resumed using the name “Rasmussen” after the divorce) comes off as a woman craving affection who married into a family that was proper and purposeful to the point of joylessness. “Maybe,” she wrote, “they had so much time left over to feel responsible for humanity in general because so many of us took care of their daily comforts.”
Anne-Marie was married briefly to a Norwegian-American businessman after her divorce. She continues to share parental responsibilities with Steven. One daughter, Ingrid, 15, attends school in Washington, D.C., while another, Jennifer, 14, lives with her father, who is now remarried and a professor of philosophy and the history of religion at Vermont’s Middlebury College.
Anne-Marie is especially pleased these days that her 18-year-old son, Steven Jr., has decided to postpone college for a year to assist her career. (Her life also includes a man, but she will describe him only as “someone in my heart.”) Steven takes his mother’s work, whose prices range from $200 to $700, to private showings and has already made a sale to one of America’s foremost collectors. The buyer in this case, it could be said, took a very grandfatherly interest in the young art salesman.