My mom began oil painting when I was about five years old, and when I would return from school in the afternoons, she would be in the process of finishing a piece and arranging her makeshift kitchen table/studio back into its usual red or blue gingham tablecloth-covered self. The smell of the turpentine she used to clean her paintbrushes instantly transports me to those afternoons, as do the voices of painting show hosts Bill Alexander and Bob Ross. Their "happy little trees" were such a part of my childhood. I can still hear the whippa-whippa-whippa as Mom's wide brush slapped back and forth against the canvases with the oils. And how many times did I hear her comment that the only thing about oil was, it took the paintings forever to dry. . . .
Mom painted mountains and rivers and forest scenes and bodies of water. Much later, by the time I was in high school, she would prefer painting in acrylics and would be selling her artwork--mostly landscapes and wildlife--in local shops and in both Farmington and Mystic, Connecticut, as well.
While home a few months ago, I lamented that I hadn't saved any of her old paintings. She had always sold them or given them as gifts, and it seemed such a loss that we had none of them--and not even pictures of any of them. "Oh," she said looking pleased to have been asked, "I still have one canvas somewhere in the basement. I don't know if it's in your colors, but you can have it if you want it." She rummaged around downstairs for a few minutes before handing me this orange sunset.
I treasure it, of course.
Mom's paintings were beautiful, both in what they captured and in what they represent to me now: My young mother--just-turned thirty--only thirty! almost a decade younger than I am now--became
interested in something, set out to learn how to do it, did it, and
managed to do it without a proper or permanent work-space and while busy raising three young children. My younger brother was only a newborn when she started,
I was in kindergarten, and our older brother was around eight years
old. I think of my mom, getting us off to school, taking care of my
then-baby brother, doing everything that needed to be done around the
house, and still carving out the time to set up easel and paints in our little kitchen,
only to disassemble it all each afternoon so she could be ready for us
by the time we got home--and simply because it made her happy and she
loved it. It mattered to her, and so, she made the time. Beautiful.