For the last few days I have found myself with tears welling up in my eyes unexpectedly. You see, I have been in the process of moving into and setting up my new art studio. I have chosen what I want in the space, I have had a hanging system installed, and I have made the difficult decisions of what to show and what to not show. I then decided how to group the paintings in an effort to show them off to their best effect. All of these are happy activities. So why the tears? Because I know how proud my mom and dad would be.
Like everyone else, my parents had their strengths and weaknesses. However, I always felt completely supported in my artistic endeavors. When I was in first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Mann, pulled my mother aside to tell her how talented she thought I was. I had done a self-portrait in clay and I had included features that most children of that age do not include.
From that point on, my parents enrolled me in every art class they could find. I remember taking art classes in summer school for many summers. I was exposed to the local art museum, The Nelson Art Gallery at an early age and although it seemed far away at the time, I was enrolled in children’s classes there whenever it fit into everyone’s schedule. In high school my mother found teen classes at the Kansas City Art Institute to enroll me in. She and the mother of an artistic friend of mine took turns driving the two of us to classes on weekends.
My parents encouraged me to spend time at the Art Gallery as a teenager. I have vivid memories of haunting that establishment as a teenager, roaming the halls to see what the artists of the past had created. There were other times when I would just sit in front of a piece I liked and get lost in imagining what inspired it and how it was produced.
My parents had friends who were writers and artists. I was welcomed into the studios of the artists and on more than one occasion I was able to sit in on an adult art lesson by agreeing to become the model. I am amazed now at what a wonderful opportunity that was.
For all of their encouragement, no one saw me being an artist for my profession. My parents were children of the depression and the fear of going hungry or not paying bills was large in their psyche’s. A constant theme of discussions with my parents about “what do you want to be when you grow up?” included lots of questions including, “How will you support yourself?” or, “How will you pay your bills?”
Those questions influenced my decision to give up my art for forty years, but they were certainly not the deciding factor. The biggest reason I gave up was, well, because I gave up. Instead of powering through a frustrating period in my artistic growth, I just threw up my hands and quit. Yes, there were period in the forty-year break when I would sketch or paint, but they were short-lived and my art was never a priority in my life during those years.
My parents never said a word about my abandoning my artwork. They supported my life decisions and cheered me on when things went well. When things didn’t go so well, they were there to help me back up.
In October of 2014, only two and a half years ago, I returned to painting. It felt so good to revive that part of me that had been so essential when I was growing up. By that time, my father had passed away, but my mother was my biggest fan. She had two of my early works displayed prominently in her apartment and encouraged me every step of the way. Being my mother, she was unerringly honest in her assessment of my efforts. She let me know when she loved a piece and she let me know when she didn’t.
When Mom passed away in December of 2015, I had already exhibited my work a number of times. She had been too frail to attend any of them, but she was so proud of what I was achieving. It amazed me that even after all those years she had never lost sight of what I was capable of.
I wish with all my heart my parents could be there tonight when I have my work displayed in my studio, and in the exhibition space, at InterUrban ArtHouse. I have a strong suspicion there will be more tears today as I make this next, exciting, step in my journey. I also know that both my parents will be there in spirit, cheering me on every step of the way. I love and miss you Mom and Daddy.