March 14, 2017
Running on the treadmill of life requires special gear. Somehow, blinders ended up in my gear bag and I never questioned whether or not wearing them was essential. The truth is, I welcomed the blinders. I believed that they shielded me from the truth that I live a selfish life with the hope that someday I will become a proficient enough artist to make a difference in the world and be able to give back the wealth of inspiration, encouragement and support that has been given to me throughout my life. I thought I would achieve this level of expertise during my thirties. My thirties passed as did my forties, fifties and half of my sixties. I love my life, I love my family. I feel that I am the most fortunate woman in the world, and yet, each day I worry that I’ve not given back enough to the world. Those of you who know me well or have spent time with me may be surprised by my words. You have told me that I inspire, that I’ve shifted your lives and opened your eyes to seeing far more beauty in the world. I heard your words and they touched my heart and kept me from feeling totally useless. I believed you, but I didn’t really believe that I was that person you spoke of. With gratitude I thank Dr. Doris Staeudle and Judith Slaughter for grabbing the blinders out of my gear bag and throwing them away.
Yesterday I participated in a lecture at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center in Cambridge, Maryland. The topic was reducing the stigma of mental illness. For the past two years I’ve been invited to teach art workshops to the residents. They suffer from mental illness. The majority of them are felons. I was honored to be asked to speak, to share my experience of working with the residents. For me, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a teacher. I wanted to share that extraordinary relationship of trust that develops between us in the classroom. It is the story of how the blank canvases are transformed into expressive and joyful drawings, paintings and triptychs.
Eighteen triptychs were completed in four, forty-five minute sessions!
One of the first surprises was to see that the Garden Club had interpreted the contour drawing/paintings from the class I taught last year. Both the paintings and the floral interpretations were on display, illustrating a complete cycle of inspiration and creative interpretation. The students had drawn from live plants, not photographs, transforming the 3 dimensional world into a 2 dimensional image. The floral designers had translated the 2 dimensional images back into 3 dimensional forms.
The second surprise, the one that shook my world and my vision of myself was hearing Dr. Doris and Judith introduce me and share with the audience what they had experienced by watching me work with the residents. It was difficult to let their words sink in and to believe they were talking about me. Like a tidal wave, all the words that my friends, loved ones and students have said to me swirled around and funneled into my heart. For the first time, I felt the full force of them and I believed them. I realized that having lived my life as an artist has not been a selfish choice, but a wise choice, enabling me to give back to those around me, extraordinary gifts of vision, belief and tools with which one can survive almost anything. Sitting next to me in the back of the room was Judith’s husband who saw that I was falling apart and scribbled on a piece of paper for me to read, “resilience is empowering”. Thank you, Graham.
I was in Maryland for less than twenty-four hours. Ten minutes of those twenty-four hours changed the way I see myself today and the way that I see myself in the future. Life is so full of amazing surprises!