When UMKC art student Alexa Rose Di Trolio was 19 years old, her best friend Abbey Felton died unexpectedly from multiple sclerosis, a devastating autoimmune disorder in which damage impacts the brain and spinal cord. Di Trolio’s tribute to her friend and senior thesis, Stop and Smell the Roses Man, now hangs in the Miller Nichols Library. The brightly-colored canvasses of roses overflow with energy and stand out strikingly against the steely grays of the lobby.
Now 21 years old, Di Trolio knows from her experiences with death and from her best friend’s outlook on life that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Anything can happen at any time.
“[Abbey] told me one day that the moment you stop caring what people think about you is the moment you start living,” said Di Trolio, who has short red hair, a pierced nose, and a ring on nearly every finger. “Start living for the people that matter and just genuinely be happy. Be courteous and loving to people.”
Di Trolio was raised on a dairy farm in Buffalo, Missouri, a small town near Springfield, and found that the isolation expanded her imagination.
“I made friends with the animals,” she said. “It was like a Disney movie.”
Life as a college student at the Kansas City Art Institute and then at UMKC has been a shocking contrast to Di Trolio’s life in small town southwestern Missouri, where her parents taught her a life of frugality and caring about others.
“I try to put my heart out on the line… and my parents are very much like that as well,” said Di Trolio. “So I learned from them—they gave everything they could to people. Right now they’re going back and forth to St. Louis to take my uncle to chemo. And I don’t think anyone ever thanks them or appreciates them. They’re in their 50s and they work 50 [or] 60 hours a week. They are my biggest mentors honestly. I look up to my parents. They are so strong, and I just want to be like my parents one day.”
She sees tragedy in how most people live their busy lives these days, selfish and unconcerned for others. Stop and Smell the Roses Man is her hopeful message to UMKC students, faculty, and employees to take a moment for themselves and realize that everything is going to be alright in this life.
“The roses are a symbol of love, togetherness and timeless beauty that eventually dies,” said Di Trolio. “On Valentine’s Day, you give your loved ones roses, and those eventually die. It’s this temporary beauty that lives upon this planet… and it’s just this instant of life that we need to not think about things, instead of rush, rush, rush and instead of being so down on ourselves.”
In the midst of an especially chaotic past year of taking herself off of anti-depressants and fighting through panic attacks and life events, Di Trolio found solace in sorting out her senior thesis in her canvasses.
“In the last six months to a year, I’ve been a mess,” said Di Trolio. “I haven’t had time to process any of those things. I hyperventilate. I can’t get my breath. I don’t really know how to explain it. I’m scared of people. It’s like one day you’re on top of the world and 100%, but in one second, things can change.”
Di Trolio hopes Stop and Smell the Roses Man will bring others joy and remind them to care about life’s gifts.
“My role as an artist is to make the world smile,” said Di Trolio. “I don’t want to be political.”
“We need to change our ways,” said Di Trolio, who often feels bothered about how inconsiderate others are. “We’re just down on our phones. We’re selfish.”
The day she spoke about her work, Di Trolio saw a woman at McDonald’s throw her trash out the window.
“I pulled up and cut her off,” said Di Trolio. When she called the woman out for littering, the woman denied it.
“Come on, guys,” said Di Trolio. “We can do so much better. Let’s start treating this planet and life as if it is our only one.”
To see more of Alexa Rose Di Trolio’s work, visit www.stopandsmelltherosesman.com or visit her Instagram @stopandsmelltherosesman.