Sunday, August 16, 2009

How do you raise an artist?

You never know when memories of life will take on new meaning and perhaps shift into deeper understanding of yourself – or someone else. I have just finished reading Sunrise Sister’s recent post about an obscure artist – Orren Mixer. It is a story about art and her mother – who happens to also be my mother.

Art and my mother. Somehow the two pieces do not seem to fit, yet after reading SS’s post, I am filled with an overwhelming sadness and grief. Perhaps it is in the lack of understanding I have for my mother (who died in May, 2004) or possibly I understand in this moment more than I ever have before. I seem to feel the deeper sadness of my mother and renewed compassion. She never showed her sadness through tears. It was disguised in her perfect appearance, her critical nature and her adamant statements about good & bad, right and wrong. Was she covering a broken heart? Vanquished dreams? I have often wondered who stamped the joy out of her. Her mother? Her mother’s mother? Her children?

As I think of those women, I see scraps of fabric. Pieces of quilts and remnants of cloth cut from McCall’s patterns. I have a flash of thought. Did I pick up my love of art from these women - women who never spoke the word art with anything but scorn? For years I knew I wanted to quilt – needed to quilt even. Sunbonnet Sue –the little girl with the hidden face - called to me. Could I relate to her? I have never made my own Sunbonnet Sue, but when I began to quilt I found something that had been missing deep inside. I was passionate about it and spent hours on end precisely cutting squares and piecing them together. I love the feel of the fabric between my fingers and arranging colors like the rainbow. No one taught me how to do that. It came from an instinctive place inside.

Ah, but my mother taught me how to sew. One of my favorite places at my grandmother’s house was underneath her old pedal sewing machine. I felt safe there. I have fond memories of Mother sewing for me. Lovingly piecing together multiple patterns to create the dress of our vision. Was this her craft? Her art? Did she come alive when she created? (I am sorry to say I don't recall that joy about her.) If she was joyful, why did she stop? Why the staunch refusal to support any career for her children that was not practical? Rumor had it, our mother wanted to be an English teacher, but she married the day she graduated high school and began a family shortly thereafter. I considered a degree in Fashion Merchandising, but ultimately graduated in accounting, pushing aside a dulled vision of anything more creative.

I have been told I have a strong sense of style. I don’t know from where it came. No one taught me. I have a good eye with a camera. No one taught or encouraged that either. I am a decent writer even though the art was nearly pounded out of me with demands for perfect sentence structure and footnotes to reference “real” writer’s work. So, I wonder who pounded the art out of my mother. Because as I read my sister’s post, I know it was there. I’m not even sure my mother knew it was there. 'Fabric Arts' was not in vogue in her lifetime. It was simply sewing – something often done out of necessity. Does necessity take the fun or beauty out of our craft(s)? If my writing becomes work will I love it less?

The stakes are low as I post a few words here on a blog; and they are very high, because writing brings me joy. My soul is at stake here. My life breath depends on doing what I am called to do. So what was my mother called to do? Perhaps it was to raise three brilliant children. I wonder though if a little piece of her didn’t die somewhere along the way. Was there a spark inside her that needed air and instead got suffocated? We weren’t raised to appreciate art, but there are traces of it all throughout our lives. Tiny little seeds planted somewhere along the way, sprouting now in the children she inadvertently raised to be artists. Along with those seeds comes my hope for growing compassion and understanding of a woman who was an artist in her very own way.

You never know when a memory of your life will take on new meaning.

my mother and sister
sunbonnet sue
"reading at an early age" - me

15 comments:

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Oh to say that I love this post would be so underwhelming considering the great emotion that you have invoked in me. Perhaps the more we reach for the remembrances the more we will learn what we "thought" we knew was not true at all. There was something greater at work in our Mother and she seems to have given it over to us. Perhaps we are only beginning to uncover the fruit of the childhood seeds we thought had gone unnourished....perhaps. Thank you for your reflection on the creative nature spawned in all of our lives - the three of us -

xoxoxoox

azure said...

I have found this true many times...that when I compare memories with my siblings, we have very different interpretations about the same events. And that things we 'knew' about our parents really didn't hold up at all.

How's this for a pedestrian example. Justa a few weeks ago my sister declares that she has no family history of diabetes. Now, I still the role of 'know it all' big sister'. I say "What? My brother, father and both grandmothers suffered from late onset diabetes. And they share ALL of these relatives!"

I've written several times about the Girl Scout gene. My mother has always been a huge girl scout. She loved scouting, was a camp director, leader, etc etc. I would not have a thing to do with it. My two genetic daughters, they both love girl scouts. My attitude had been "well I guess you can be in girl scouts if you want". They both stayed in all the way through high school. They've both been camp staff. Ilana ran Campus Girl Scouts at UW, more etc etc.

There IS a girl scout gene that skipped a generation

kigen said...

Lucy, linked my user name to a celebration of Art and Motherhood, called HEART TO HEART. It had been hidden for a while, and I had just put it back online before I read your post. I think you'll love it. It combines Japanese poetry with paintings by Mary Cassatt, one of the haiku included says:

The tiny child
shown a flower
opens its mouth.

Seifu-jo (Enomoto Seifu-jo) (1731-1814)

kigen said...

Lucy, sending a link sounds maybe like I didn't appreciate this beautiful post, but it is so tender and personal, I wasn't sure how to respond. You are an excellent writer, but it is your sweet soul that makes your blog a place I keep wanting to return to.

Kel said...

what a heartfelt journey you are on
awakening to a new understanding of another's life lived in their skin

perhaps as your question suggests, necessity took the fun or beauty out of her life/craft

something happened with my mum this week that knocked the stuffing out of my perception of her as a person . . . and it occurs to me that prior generations were never given the freedom to "choose their own mantra" or "follow their calling"

and they never had blogland to discover a world of women they could relate to - a world that celebrates achievements other than the ability to bear children, put clothes on their back and food on their table - a world that sees creativity to be as necessary as the air we breathe

tinkerbell the bipolar faery said...

A beautiful and poignant post. As we grow older, we learn the people that have lain, hidden behind the mask of parenthood, for all our lives. I have recentl discovered many things about my mother that were kept hidden from me. Perhaps I'd failed to fully appreciate the depth of vulnerabilities in her.

I recall my grandmother as sullen and incredibly unhappy, though trying her best to hide it with all her beauty and grace. Indeed, I've learned since then that she had to give up what she loved for her all-consuming family duties. I like to say she was a woman before her time.

How sad.

lucy said...

SS--love you. let's keep fertilizing each other's seeds, ok? xoxoxo

azure--i agree so much that no two children grow up with the "same" parents. however, if you happened to read my sister's post, i think you might notice she was just as surprised by our mother's artistry as i. i am still smiling about that "girl scout jean" and trying to imagine you in a brownie uniform :-)
it's good to hear from you.

kigen--i adore the link you offered and did not feel dismissed whatsoever! the haiku speaks volumes as those distilled poems do so often. i continue to be blessed by your presence here and hope you keep coming back for more! xoxo

kel--so very very true about the past generations and their lack of opportunity to fly free...it was a different time and i continue to ponder the price paid by the women of our mother's generation. i hope your "stuffing" wasn't knocked too far out of whack... wishing you well.

tinkerbell--my hope is that my own daughter will not believe i have hidden who i truly am behind a mask of parenthood. there are so many layers in every one of us. thank you for sharing the glimpses of your ancestry here.

i am deeply touched by each response received today. wishing you peace and contentment and fulfillment of your dreams!

Kate Iredale said...

This is such a beautiful post Kayce. Although I had a fairly good relationship with my mother, there always seemed to be a part of her hidden from both me and the rest of the world...the young girl who set aside her own dreams of education, a career and a deeper exploration into the arts for the traditional pursuits of supporting a husband, looking after a home and raising a family.

It wasn't until I put together a book of our family history a few years before she died, that I began to get a sense of that missing person. I stared for hours at photographs that I had scanned and enlarged on my computer screen and saw something there that she never spoke of. I was able to get a glimpse of a young girl, a teenager and a woman who had hopes and dreams and fears, just like me at that age. I felt sad that I never knew that person but in the end I felt that I had come to better understand who she really was.

I appreciate your openess in sharing your own history here.

lucy said...

kate--so nice to hear from you. i recall the book you put together for your mother and experiencing the impact of that process with you. one of the biggest shifts i had in recent times with my mother was when my sister sent me a picture of mother at about age 5. i looked into those young eyes and saw something entirely different from the woman i had come to believe i knew.

there is no doubt in my mind that we all have dreams and disappointments. whether or not we are able to articulate them is a whole other matter.

thank you for your kind words and sharing.

mermaid musings said...

this post was so so close to me.
it touched me deeply.
it made me come and leave you this comment (i have been reading your blog forever)

lucy said...

MM--i am always so grateful when a reader steps into my space and says hello. thank you for your words. i hope you will come again! peace.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Wasn't this wonderful to hear so many strong women comment about "the discovery" and/or forgiveness they've felt for their mothers - well done!

lucy said...

SS--yep, lots of energy in these posts!! xoxoox

Tess said...

Coming late to this after a brief online - perhaps that should be offline - break, nonetheless I can't resist commenting on this beautiful post. I didn't know you quilted.

My mother and my aunt, sisters, were quite different.

My mother: after she died, I found something she wrote when she was still at school which was beautiful and moving and full of yearning for a creative life that working-class women of her generation (she was born in 1917) usually didn't have access to.

She went on to marry and have five children, one of them with Down's syndrome (as you know) and have precious little time for anything creative, although later on she started quilting.

She was a warm, compassionate tolerant woman who was mostly very happy.

My aunt: a couple of years younger than my mother, she was independent-minded, never married and made a good living by teaching art. She was a talented artist and pianist with an eye for what was beautiful, a love of poetry and the means to enjoy these things.

And yet in later life she was a bitter, negative and largely unhappy woman who clung to the rigidity of pre-Vatican II Catholicism with a frightened hand. (Going to mass with her was strange - she would pray with you but say the Latin words and sit and kneel at different times...)

I don't know what makes us who we are. I wonder how these two sisters turned out so differently, how my sister and I in turn are very different.

I with I'd known both my mother and my aunt better. Somehow I never managed to translate my childhood's relationship with them into an honest, adult model.

lucy said...

tess--i am so glad you came (even late) to this little party. your last paragraph is what really resonated with me...wishing for more understanding and translating those relationships into something we can healthily hold onto as adults. i'm definitely still working on that one. this post (& the leading up to and following) continue to help me process who my mother was. namaste.