The first painting I did after trading the bottle for the brush was one for my Mother. In the previous 20 years I had completed maybe 1 painting, and I was totally excited about methodically stretching my canvas, and putting my paints in position around the pallet. There is something about this process that helps clear and focus the mind for me.
My Mom had the misfortune of being born on January 1st. Sure it sounds good, but for those of you who have been born on a holiday know that forever you are sharing your day with something else, and rarely get 100% of what you deserve. Mix in the Christmas holiday, and you are really losing out, let alone being a Mom who always puts everyone else and their needs before her own. So I wanted to do something special for her and a painting of the farmstead where she grew up was what some of my ever so helpful siblings helped me come up with.
The farm had been auctioned off after my Grandmothers death, and many things had changed, the barn torn down, windmill removed, trees replaced, so I set about gathering old photos from my sisters and my Aunts. What I ended up with was a time capsule of photos in all shapes and varieties and here is where the real work begins.
There’s a lot of research involved in doing things such as this, and planning. Much more than what I was used to, but what I ended up with was a painting of what it could have looked like to her as a child. I didn’t know really, grabbing a black & white photo from one angle, and then heavily faded photos from different views you take what you can and hope for the best.
We celebrated my Mom’s birthday on the same day as we celebrated the family Christmas, a day predetermined months in advance when everyone could arrive on the same date from out of town. But after things had settled from the gift exchanges and after the big Christmas dinner we all gathered around in the dining room and had cake and ice cream with my Mom.
I managed to get my gift moved towards the back of the little pile of things for my Mom, most knew what it was, and were in on it in some way or another, but it was finally given to her to open. It was a 16×20″ painting with a good sized frame so it was a bit hard for my Mom to handle. She had suffered a severe stroke in the early 70’s and had almost no use of her left arm, but like she managed to run a household and raise 6 children with my Father gone on the road most of the time, opening a present was child’s play.
This was in the winter of 2002, and I was born in 1957, so in my 45 years I don’t remember my Mom ever breaking down in tears. Through all the pain and trouble that she had gone through in her life, 6 very dysfunctional children, (okay 5, Kathy might be normal) and having to deal with her own and Dads alcoholism that would have I thought brought most people to their knees, and maybe it did, but I don’t remember her ever crying.
But when she ripped away the gift wrap, and saw what was in there she broke down and wept. I could not believe it, this was totally surprising and unexpected. I don’t know what kind of response I had expected, but I nothing like this, and I was so embarrassed, and yet so pleased.
I think she liked it!
I had always loved to paint, and out of college I had begun to enter competitions nationally and internationally and was winning awards, but this was different. To have something I did move my Mom so much. It was unimaginable, and so rewarding.
How many careers are there in this world where what you do stirs up such emotion? Plumber? Dentist? The tears these people cause are from pain or when they hand you the bill! But I’m talking tears of joy.
Actually I guess there are really quite a few professions than can do this, writers, musicians, clergy… politicians?
But I didn’t know that I could do this with my art.
It is not an everyday occurrence for me, and I don’t know if my heart could take it, but I do love to put something into my work, a feel of where I was, or what I saw, maybe what I felt. Rarely does it come across, but when it does there is a overwhelming sense of satisfaction for me.
But the creating of something specifically for another, whether a gift, an act of kindness, or a commissioned work and it reaches into that person and stirs emotions and feelings that only they could know.
That is a reward to me like no other.
Being an artist is great, taking a beautifully empty piece of canvas and turning it into something visually appealing is amazing. But then taking that same talent, and using it to help and benefit others is amazing. Whether teaching, or sharing, just taking the time for another when they need it.
And one of my most favorite quotes is of course from a song, “Wond’ring Aloud” by Jethro Tull, written by Ian Anderson…
“.,. it is only in giving that makes you what you are”