If asked by an interviewer or student, when I knew I was an Artist, I see a box of Crayola crayons. Not the pack of fat eight we used in kindergarten, especially not the ones that were flat on one side for babies. It is that first box of 64 brilliant colors. It was 1965*. I was wearing my favorite dress, a dropped waist number with a flippy pleated skirt. It was totally groovy made from patterned material, loud yellow and blue, scattered with daisies. The silky cotton shift included a scarf tie around the neck that flowed behind me when I sprinted around the playground. I was small and brave with an energy level that annoyed as many as it amazed.
We stopped by Hodel’s Drug store to pick up sundries on the way home from school that day. The local pharmacy stood on the corner of a small suburban shopping center; one of many such places that popped up next to acres of cracker box houses thrown up after WWII. So many interesting things lined the metal shelves in Mr. Hodel’s place, greeting cards, wrapping paper, curling ribbon, candy bars and office/art supplies. It was a time before real shopping malls when any new item stood out, novel and enticing.
The new yellow and green box was unique in size, shape and features. The top had a special design that made a clever hatch which stayed attached after opening. When folded back it served as a smart display for the new expanded collection. It was a shock for my young artist heart. I had never seen so many different colors arranged in such a compact, dramatic display. Small fingers could peruse the colorful arrangement then select the perfect match to complete a child sized masterpiece. I was enchanted; no bewitched.
The little peaks stood perfectly aligned in an organized chaos of hues. I immediately spotted new colors that soon would be worn down to nubby ends in my grasp. Sky blue, forest green, and even copper! On the back was a built-in sharpener, amazing! I coveted that box, in lust like a hormonal teenager. I do not remember if I had to wait for Christmas or birthday before I had my own set, but I knew I would have to find a way. It was beyond wanting, it was destiny. Today a similar rush slips in me when an art supply catalog peeps out from the mail pile. It is possibility in print, only a phone call away. It is paint, pastels, watercolors and grown-up gear.
In grade school, art was always my favorite subject. But like many adolescents my ardor began eroding. Some combination of the lack of quality teachers, over-crowded schools, limited budgets and the misguided fears of our families who discouraged the lifestyle of a “starving artist”. Our dreams faded, replaced with other distractions. Acquiring practical skills trumped creative energy; boys turned my head not pigments. By the final semester of undergraduate, only a single art course had made the cut during four years of college. My artist was tucked away while I learned how to take care of myself as an adult on my own.
But the artist soul never dies. It is there asserting its eternal presence. For almost two decades I diverted my creative spirit. I learned to cook, creating with food. When restoring an old bungalow, painting it, recovering comfortable chairs, sewing pillows for the porch swing, I kept that quiet artist engaged during those brushless years.
And gardening, color palettes were nurtured as I coaxed forms and fragrances from the flora. The permanent residents of the cultivated plot took it upon themselves to multiply in sassy random ways, to my delight. These messy English cottage gardens stoked my creative embers, keeping the promise of passion alive. The rambling success of my early gardens fascinates and inspires still in the garden I tend and paint today. Even as I earned my keep as an executive and later a student writing to complete course work for advanced degrees, the artistic heart beat, waiting to be fully aroused.
I was once told “your paintings are an outward sign of your inward goodness.” I believe the images of still life included on these pages are a testament or at least, an expression of the connection between the quiet artist soul that was present but outside my conscience awareness those many years.
Grandma Moses sold her first painting when she was 80. She is one of my heroes. Matisse, when he was old and blind and could no longer paint, picked up scissors and began cutting out shapes of color, arranging them in some of his most enduring artwork. It is never too late to chase down a dream. I started over at 40, caught a second wind. It was enough force to lead me back to that Artist who knew looking at the box of crayons. It has been 10 years now.
*Crayola crayons introduced the box of 64 in 1958. It must have taken some extra time before they reached our little corner of America.