Art inspires us. It moves us. It changes us. It should also honor us. For me, creating art is a way to honor the women in my life who have influenced and shaped me into the woman that I am. In preparation for this Mother's Day, I want to honor two of these women, my grandmothers Lois Lorraine and Jewel Elaine.
As a child, both of my grandmothers were artists. They both painted. One sculpted. When I was born, they were both in their 50's, When I began to pay attention, they were in their 60s. I began to notice that they were always doing something, learning something, engaging in something. Often, that something was art.
My Grandma Jewel was a model 1950s housewife. She filled her role beautifully. She could have been the archetype for any of the popular magazines of the time. She had a hot dinner on the table every night when her husband came home from work with a smile on her face, a clean house and fresh clothing, hair and makeup so he felt warmly loved and wanted when he arrived home. She was active on all sorts of committees at church and in women's groups in her community. She loved her role as a mother and community leader; but her greatest love, other than my grandfather, was her flowers.
Nearly half of Grandma Jewel's yard was filled with flowers, which was impressive since the yard is almost an acre of land. Her gardens were beautiful and well-known around the small Kansas towns just west of Kansas City. More than 10 years after her death, painters still came in the summer from the City just to paint her gardens.
Grandma also painted the flowers in her gardens. She knew the frailty of the flowers and that they came in and out of season. She shared them as often as she could with as many people as possible. She gave them away just to share their beauty and the joy that they brought to others. Grandma knew that the lifespan of flowers is short but that their beauty brought joy that lasted a lot longer in people's hearts and souls. Because she knew their lives were short and that they could not last, she did her best to capture their beauty when they were in full bloom.
Grandma Jewel also cultivated a love for beauty and art in me. Every time, and I mean every. single. time. that I came to visit, she had paper and drawing supplies for me. Sometimes it was crayons, sometimes just pencils, and sometimes markers. She encouraged me to explore my artistic bent and showed joy in my pursuit. She died when I was a teenager and so would never know that I finally did study art and earn a degree in art. I know she would have been so proud to share that with me. She was and is always an inspiration to me.
Grandma Lois had a very different life. She married my Grandfather, a dairy farmer, the son of a dairy farmer who immigrated from Denmark in the early 1900s. I did not find out until after her death how difficult her life had been before marrying and how her dark days haunted her throughout what should have been a happy and full life with a devoted husband and four beautiful daughters. Perhaps this is why she pursued art. Perhaps it gave her an escape into a more beautiful place. I will never know her reasons. All I know is that she never stopped learning.
As a child, I remember her always having her easel up and actively painting some type of pastoral scene or her grandchildren's portraits. She too, cooked and cleaned and helped on the farm, raising those four children to be independent young women. The mason jar of dirty paint water and palette was evidence that she somehow found time to paint in the midst of busy farm life.. Once when I came to visit, there was a sculpture of herself in the living room. She had taken a class at the community college in sculpture and had become quite skilled. The bust was a striking likeness of her. Well into her 60s, she continued to take classes at the community college right alongside other students who were the age of her grandchildren. It never seemed to bother her that she was so much older than the other students. It was just important to her to be able to learn.
Over the years, she and I grew closer. Around the age of 70, she asked me to teach her to play the piano. She picked it up fairly quickly. It always impressed me that she was always striving to learn something new and always encouraged me to do the same. When I moved away to go to college, she gave me another piece of advice. She told me to always find a way to support myself and don't count on a man to do it for me. Her guidance gave me a glimpse into her darker past and a better understanding of why she kept striving and fighting to better herself. Her independence and determination greatly impressed and molded me so that by the time, I was in full bloom as a young women, I was determined to make my own way in the world. I would be strong and independent and achieve my goals with or without a man in my life to do it for me.
It turned out that I met and married a wonderful man who was attracted by my independent spirit and who doesn't want to "do it for me." He just wants to do it with me. I wish my Grandma Lois had felt that bond and partnership and safety. Although she didn't seem to fully grasp how loved she was, she did fully impress on my young mind and heart how important it was to pursue art and to create beauty around me wherever I was and in whatever circumstances I found myself.
So, on this Mother's Day weekend, I dedicate this blog and my latest painting to my grandmothers. These two women continue to inspire and challenge me to be better, to create beauty, and to always, always be learning. With every stroke of my brush, I remember you, I admire you, and I honor you.
Debra Caroline - My desire is to create illustrations that tell a story - illustrations that inspire and engage the viewer. A lot of research goes into each one of my illustrations. This blog is where I will share what I am currently working on and learning about. I hope you enjoy it.