“Just finish it!” my ninth grade art instructor said with clenched teeth as he stood behind me breathing down my neck as I worked on a sketch of a chair. If only I had more time, I’d get the perspective right. There was no more time, my teacher was impatient, and a ninth grader is very sensitive. “Just finish it” meant I didn’t have a natural gift to draw and paint. I was already creating stories and poems to entertain my neighborhood with, for writing was a natural inclination and I dreamed of becoming a writer like Jo in Little Women. And that I did through years of rejection and perseverance! But as the years went by, the mere mention of an empty canvas and paint stirred something deep within me.
One of my favorite authors, Willa Cather, said simply, Every artist makes himself born! I knew the hard labor involved in writing, but was I willing to struggle with paint on canvas? No, I wasn’t. I was already engaged in losing and finding myself in the process of novel writing. And still, I dreamed of an empty canvas, colors, and Monet’s shimmering colors and light. The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides ~ Barbara Kingsolver
As an adult, I went to Vermont College to study with authors as mentors. It was there I was introduced to Charlotte Hastings, an installation artist and writer. She became one of my art midwives and I began to play with texture and expression in collage, expressing myself on canvas for the first time since ninth grade. Her favorite poet was Mary Oliver and after Charlotte left this earth much too early, in my estimation, she spoke to me one day as I was flipping through magazines at Barnes & Noble – Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)
I was already inside that hope Barbara Kingsolver spoke of, and as I ran down hope’s hallways to dig for the truth of the past, resurrecting history and putting flesh on the bones of my characters, I learned my great grandmother, Grace Matilda Stevens, was one of the first women to graduate from Mansfield State College in Pennsylvania. She rode her horse each day in the late 1800s to Mansfield State so she could study art. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? My mentor, Charlotte, was with me, and so was my great-grandmother, cheering me on.
And the next woman to become an art midwife was Alyson Stoddard Thompson from Artist Proof Art Gallery in Hampstead, New Hampshire. Alyson’s extraordinary keen eye, patience, and belief in my ability guided me in creating the paintings exhibited here. No, I do not have the natural gift to draw and paint, but I have colors parading through my head that nature gives me and perhaps, as in my writing, I possess the courage to follow a little talent to the dark places in this hallway of hope, touching the walls on both sides.
A Little Art Exhibit is currently at Beantown Cafe in Hampstead, NH.
Thank you, Cynthia, for making those connections, for putting it all together, so beautifully.