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After a bit of a break, I am back to writing and encouraging creative projects to grow. I have been on an interior journey of my own personal garden these last few years. Illness and age draw you along deeper paths that demand exploration and attention. They also help you see how valuable the precious moment is and which dreams require energy and devotion.
A college memory helps to rekindle my present and future work. In my early twenties, I was taking a painting class at Wittenberg University, and even considering becoming an art teacher. A group of us were asked to describe our favorite artist and why we were drawn to them. Artists such as Rembrandt, Manet, Monet, Picasso were mentioned. When it was my turn, I proudly announced “Grandma Moses”, Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1860-1961). The class and the professor burst out laughing. I recall, while smirking, the professor asking why in the world would I say something like that? I stated a simplified version of the following.
Grandma Moses raised her family in the beauty of the natural world in Virginia and New York, near the Vermont border. When she finished that most important work, she went on to teach us about her life by remembering all of those years through her paintings. She did not need the approval of anyone, nor did she require a formal art education. She felt led to memorialize her times, her days with a paintbrush. She captured stories, not just of the landscape, but all of the people she knew at work on the farm. Everyday folks found them charming and beautiful.
Anna was encouraged to be creative as a child, drawing on large sheets of paper her father provided. She made paints from natural items, and when she ran out of wallpaper in a room--- finished it with her own mural. She turned to painting when it became too painful to do embroidery work with her hands. Anna tried unsuccessfully to sell her paintings in a nearby drugstore. They seemed to just collect dust. She was later discovered by an art dealer when she was 78 years old and continued to paint after she turned 100 years old--- more than 1,500 canvasses.
Years later, I would visit the Bennington Museum in Vermont that houses the largest public collection of Grandma Moses’ works. I could feel her love of landscape, of seasons, of weather and light. She understood how creativity and community were essential to a good life. She knew hard work as the wife of a farmer, of the loss of five out of ten of her children either stillborn or in infancy. Yet, a real optimism shone forth from her paintings, as if she understood how to take the bitter with sweet and make something good from it.
Without knowing these details, I had loved her work as a college student. She was an ordinary hard working woman who told stories through the artistic endeavors that were available to her. That seemed so laudable, so worth celebrating, so important to honor in all of us.
Illness can cause depression and hopelessness, and yet somehow engender new life. We look to others to stir life within us. I recalled a conversation with a sort of psychic healer I had when I was in my thirties. A single Mother, I was feeling lost, adrift and unclear about the next step. The elderly woman I came to vist lived in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She attended mass every morning and took communion. “When you go the rail to take the bread and wine, stay there and take a few deep breaths”, she began. “The energy there is healing, and will benefit you.” She read my palm, among other sorts of tasks that gave her clues into my life. “You will live a long life, working into old age, doing what you love to do.” She smiled warmly at me.
I’d never visited such a woman before, and might be the first to negate the advice of such a person. However, her words have stayed with me even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on any longer. I go to the communion rail, and take my three deep breaths just as she advised, and now I find hope in what she “read’ on my own hand.
I think of my 22 year old self choosing Grandma Moses as a sort of hero, a kind of person to emulate. She loved her farm, I love my garden. She used a paintbrush, I use words. So I hope you will join me once again as I hope to bring new life to my own creative endeavors: a book to be published, and a CD to be recorded. Here is a taste of those two projects. Our own Cincinnati Art Museum is highlighting an exhibition of folk art through September 2, 2017. For more information: http://www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/art/exhibitions/a-shared-legacy/