“There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.”
Today's post is dedicated to my mom. We celebrated her birthday a few days ago, and did one of her favorite things; went to the park and picked up hundreds of colorful leaves to iron in between waxed paper. She has always had the rare ability to be present in the moment. Now is no different. I'll never pick up an autumn leaf, an interesting rock, or a beautiful flower without thinking of my mom. Her love of and connection to nature, ability to seek out beauty, and her courage all come from her artist spirit. It defines who she is and how she's lived her life.
Painting and writing have been hard for me this week. My mind is too busy, my son's having his last high school football game, homecoming dance, etc., and I am constantly wondering if I am doing the best I can for my parents. Words have felt stilted, painting difficult, but when I think about how grateful I am for my mom's life and influence, and how she has helped me become an artist, the words have come.
The hardest part about writing this blog post has been to keep it relatively short. I could fill a book with all the ways my mom has shown me how to live the artist's way. How she prepared me to love, be strong, create beauty, seek out good. I hope I am able to convey at least a little of that here
Her first vivid memory is of Enid, Oklahoma , about 1947, when everyone called her by her nickname, Bobby Lou. She would run as far as she could in the fields, then lay down under the big blue sky watching a parade of cloud pictures drift by. She always said that was what real freedom felt like.
She translated that feeling to my brother and I by taking us into the fields behind our house with a new kite from Benjamin Franklin's dime store. After running with it awhile, we would eventually let it go all the way out, until there was no string left, and then a sudden gust would take it up and away. We'd run back to the house, jump in the jeep and chase down the kite on dirt roads until we found it or gave up. The fun was in letting the wind take it, even if we risked losing the kite.
Mom was a graduate student in Colorado in the 1960's who spent a lot of time painting murals on her apartment walls, and drawing sandals on her feet because she didn't like wearing shoes. She would advertise on the student bulletin board that she would trade her car for a jeep on the weekends so she could drive in the mountains. She got her master's degree. She passed at the doctoral level. She just did it having more fun than most.
My mom's art and creativity manifested in her life by teaching children and being a school counselor. She was amazingly gifted at both. She has that spark in her spirit that attracts others and she has always given generously and freely of her time and love. That is the kind of mom she's been as well; loving, creative, generous, present and secure. She was always there for us and being a mom and spending time with my brother and I was her favorite thing in the world.
As we grew up, we would joke about how mom would end up knowing the life story of every person she crossed paths with. In a dentist office or at the grocery store, people were drawn to her warmth and openness. I'm probably more of an introvert to this day because I was always trying to make a fast getaway!
But that is her gift. Not hurrying, not being worried about the next thing on her list. Maybe not having a list at all. She has always maintained the ability to see just like that little kid in Enid. Completely absorbed and connected with this moment in time. Accessible to the spontaneous. Thinking about ideas, and new ways to experience the world around her. And being willing to risk, choosing not the safest way but going wherever there is the most potential for creativity, beauty and love. Because life and art are never without risk. These are all things that make an artist great, no matter where their path takes them.
As an artist and as a woman, the things I've learned from my mom are immeasurable. She taught me how to how to see miracles in the ordinary and to be thankful for what I have. She taught me how to deal with challenges and put energy toward growth. She taught me how to be a loving mom and a grounded human being.
In the end, being a true artist is being able to access that part of you that remembers experiencing the world as a child; noticing a beautiful leaf falling to the ground. Running through a field, feeling your heartbeat pound on the hard ground while you look up at floating clouds. It's the instinct to know when to let the gust of air take the kite up, when to let it dance loosely in the breeze, and when to release it completely to the wind and revel in the joy of it's flight.
I'm thinking of and grateful for these gifts today as my remarkable mom begins her next journey around the sun.
"Through art mysterious bonds of understanding and of knowledge are established among men. They are the bonds of a great Brotherhood. Those who are of the Brotherhood know each other, and time and space cannot separate them.
The Brotherhood is powerful. It has many members. They are of all places and of all times. The members do not die. One is member to the degree that he can be member, no more, no less. And that part of him that is of the Brotherhood does not die." -Robert Henri
This is a painting of Chaco canyon in New Mexico. A mysterious, indescribable place haunted by those who lived there over a thousand years ago. The presence you encounter is palpable as you walk and feel the eye of the Raven watching you from a cliff, and touch the stones embedded by fingerprints of the human beings who made them so long ago.
These ancient Puebl0an people were artists in the purest sense- who elevated their daily lives so that their world was their art. The place on earth they were drawn to live was their clay, and they did whatever it took to shape everything around this energy and beauty they needed to reveal. Their entire civilization was a testament to art, spirit and creativity in it's most distilled form.
My husband Gary, a music professor, took his sabbatical to write a symphony about Chaco canyon. He made it an interdisciplinary experience for all to participate in and I was one of those who became a part of the fabric of this monumental artistic undertaking. I created a series of paintings about it, along with photographers, writers, students, teachers, potters, and musicians who contributed and shared their gifts.
That is how the artist works, I think. When you are exposed to other's inspiration, it ignites something in you that must show itself to the world. It may be a painting, or words, or music or a beautiful mountain pass. Whatever it is, when it touches you deeply and you act on it, it becomes a part of your being. And when you allow that to show itself to the world, art is born.
We aren't as good as the ancients at creating and seeking the deeper most beautiful things because we are not as in touch with the natural world, the beauty, all around us every second of our lives. Still we have the capacity to see and shape our world into something beautiful and meaningful. Simply because were were born to do that.
In this 31 paintings in 31 days group I have been fortunate enough to be a part of, I have found motivation, inspiration, and a comradery with artists from different places working in different mediums. Some are writing western/cowboy poetry, some are painting beautiful birds, some are experimenting with new techniques, some are coloring, or making a daily practice and discipline of saying the rosary.
Art is not about a medium. It is not about a product. Art is the person, the soul, the community with a shared vision. To do art is not a narrowly defined club for a talented few. Art is how each soul experiences the world around them and gives that experience voice.
I believe some of the greatest artists are ones who never endeavored to be "artists", but rather moved through their world in a way that changed it in small or radical ways. Of course, Leonardo Davinci, William Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Louie Armstrong.
But also the fearless Anne Hutchinson, statesman Benjamin Franklin, protestant reformer Martin Luther, inventor George Washington Carver, and scientist Albert Einstein.
All of these people took whatever it was they were doing in life to a new level. They allowed what was unique to their spirit and their soul to emerge. Because they were in touch with that spark inside of them, they changed the world.
We each have the capacity to be artists. Creativity in it's purest sense is our spirit. Our challenge is to uncover the thing we were created for and let it find it's way to the surface
What inspired my writing today was my fellow artist friend participating in our group doing art for 31 days straight.
My friend Rodney "Butch" Bailey", a wonderful writer, wrote about a canyon in New Mexico that reminded me of Chaco canyon. He posted this about Canyon de Chelly.
Canyon de Chelly [pronounced de shay] can be found eternally in the northeast part of Arizona. The Navajo name for the canyon means ‘place within the rock’…a place of refuge, and for those who are broken, a place of strength and healing. The curving lines found on the sandstone there are found too on the tips of our fingers, all this created by the Wind People, who bring breath to us, and with that our ability to speak. All the old stories are still there, on the cliff walls. You don’t have to be able to read, to read them. The Wind People still blow their gentle healing breeze through the broken down walls, and through the broken spirits of those who come there for restoration. The canyon never tells a hurting person ‘no’.
That is art. Living and breathing between time and space, connecting us all . I am so grateful for those people around me who strive to be artists in the truest sense in all of their endeavors in life. Whether they call themselves artists or not. They make the world make more sense, give meaning to the ordinary, and make our lives more whole.
Eva is an artist who lives across the street from my brother in San Antonio, and on my last visit he said he wanted to introduce me to someone he thought I would enjoy meeting. He could not have been more right.
We walked across the street and knocked on the double doors and Eva was gracious enough to invite us into her lovely home. She has a presence about her that is palpable. A firm handshake, strong voice, and penetrating eyes that search the person she is speaking to. She is trim and tan. It is immediately apparent on meeting her that Eva is disciplined, intelligent and a creative powerhouse.
The home she lives in was built in the 1970's in a pretty neighborhood, but the outside does not give away what you are about to step into as you enter.
Walking into the home feels like walking into a different lifetime. A more sophisticated and refined lifetime, when quality, beauty and depth mattered more. Walking into the entrance feels like a combination of European art salon and Georgia O'Keefe's ranch. With beautiful rugs thrown on the Saltillo tile floor, a hearth, wooden beams and her framed artwork on every wall. Her home is filled with light, with simple sheer muslin curtains hung on every window, yet it has a very intimate, cozy feel .
It is very evident that every inch of the home and each item in it is cared for and loved and treated with respect. When I say that, I mean every nook and cranny looks like the set of a movie. or like it's set up for a still life- which we found out, was true. Her beautiful plain mahogany desk sitting in the light of the window with a feather crow quill is rendered in pencil and framed on her wall. Her intimate stone hearth complete with an ancient handmade broom, down-filled cushions and rug is also richly drawn and framed on the wall in her hallway.
I complemented her on how beautiful her home was after she gave us an initial tour. Her response was much like an Elder imparting wisdom to the next generation:
" I am an artist, and that is what artists do. They create beauty in the things that surround them."
Her yard is equally stunning. And I assumed she had hired someone to keep it at this level of perfection. No. I found out that Eva does all of the trimming, mowing, planting, pruning, weeding, watering. Eva does it all herself. In San Antonio summer heat. Probably because no one else could do it to her standards.
Eva is 96 years old.
Eva's story begins in Germany, in the late 1930's when she was an art student in college. The school she attended had a program where the students worked and volunteered in town during the school year as well as summers. Eva's jobs included secretarial and paralegal work in a law office, and in the summers she worked as farm hand on a local farm.
Eva became indispensable to the law offices, and they wanted to keep her on. However, in the 40's as the WWII ended, the town needed a mayor during the transitional years of the American occupation. Because she had been so active in the community, knew many influential people, and spoke English well, a 20 something year old Eva was asked to take the job. And she did, performing her mayoral duties and acting as translator, negotiator and communicator for the town to the American governor of the region. After two years, she met her husband, an American, and came overseas to begin a new life in the United States. She taught art at a university in San Antonio for several years as well as selling her own work around the country before retiring. Eva still draws and paints, although not daily as she used to.
You don't get the opportunity to meet the likes of Eva the artist, my brothers neighbor, every day. A remarkably talented, intelligent, strong and independent woman living fully and creating daily in her 9th decade of life. What a precious gift to cross paths with her.