IT'S MOTHER'S DAY, and Janice Wilson Stridick is relaxing with her husband on the porch of their lovingly restored Victorian home in Merchantville, Camden County, and remembering how she discovered a stunning message from her mother, Cape May artist Alice Steer Wilson, years after Wilson's 2001 death.

An art collector told Stridick that he had been reframing one of Wilson's luminous Cape May watercolors when he saw the artist's handwritten warning on the back:

In case my paintings are ever "discovered" after I'm dead, this is my statement of what I was trying to do. I loved the appearance of things, light particularly, and I tried to copy it as accurately as I could . . .

Why I loved certain sights better than others I never understood, and neither do the people who are explaining it to you now.

The message was dated 1974 - 27 years before Wilson's death. Stridick read it when she was in the midst of a 12-year labor of love: gathering a lifetime of Wilson's art to create a posthumous book.

"My mother was saying, 'Enough of this famous-artist s---,' " Stridick says, smiling.

Her husband, Paul, an architect who is Cherry Hill's community-development director, laughs and says, "Even from beyond the grave, she's still being a mother."

And Janice says, "I thought, 'Well, I'm not listening, Mother! I want your story told!' "

Stridick titled her book, Alice Steer Wilson: Light, Particularly.

"My mother was one of those women born in the '20s who had all this ambition, all this determination to be her own woman," Stridick says, "but also had this ambition to be a mother.

"And I'm one of those daughters born in the '50s who became a feminist and was telling her, like, 'Mom, step into it!' "

Wilson raised four children and painted hundreds of watercolors. "She was painting while nurturing," Janice says. "I celebrate that."

Paul says of his mother-in-law: "She could sit in front of a neglected Victorian Cape May house, where most people would just see the peeling paint and the utility bill . . . "

Janice completes the thought: "And she would make it come alive, capturing its essence in her colors and her sense of light."

The Stridicks give monthly walking tours of the houses depicted in Wilson's radiant Cape May paintings. An exhibit of them is up until Nov. 1 at the Shore town's Emlen Physick Estate.

- Dan Geringer

Chillin' Wit' is a regular Monday feature of the Daily News that spotlights a name in the news
away from the job.