There are many components to my artistic life, and many paths that came together to allow me to embark on this journey in my 50s. Undoubtedly, I’ll be writing about these threads in the future, but today, I want to show you where it began. It began with these two – my parents – who married at the ages of 19 (Ellie) and 25 (Phil). They had practically no worldly goods when they started out together. They demonstrated their values by purchasing property on Bainbridge Island, and building a cabin on it with their own two pairs of hands, before they ever owned a house. Family time was a priority, and family time spent by the sea was the ultimate. And they provided art supplies, even when I was a just toddler.
They valued beauty, though they didn’t preach this. I don’t recall them introducing us to classical music or the art museum – my mother’s parents did this – but I do recall them reading to us, playing with us, and encouraging any artistic pursuit we chose. As we grew, they provided for music lessons and art lessons; they praised and supported our efforts in these areas. My sister, brother and I took private art lessons when I was in elementary school, and then I went on to take private painting lessons during junior high. My parents took some painting lessons, as well.
In the summer of my junior year of high school, I was offered three opportunities to travel overseas. My parents encouraged me to take the trip they felt was best: with People-to-People, where I first experienced the Louvre in Paris, and saw Michelangelo’s work in Florence. I remember being in the presence of his “David,” up close, and feeling its impact on a visceral level.
Though it was summertime, back in 1976 it was still possible to encounter these works of art in a personal way; no one was taking “selfies,” or clamoring in chattering clusters around the masterpieces. There was a feeling of reverence and peace in the museums, and the magnetism of certain works was palpable. I recall feeling as if I was alone in some of these encounters, they were so powerful.
When I decided to major in Fine Art in college, my parents were supportive. When this motivated me to transfer from Pomona College to Principia, though they disagreed with the decision to move, they continued to support me – and to pay for my education. When I told them I wanted to spend a term studying art in England, they were thrilled. On that trip, I had many transformative experiences as a person and as an artist. I did not make huge technical progress, nor did I feel particularly affirmed in my abilities, but aesthetically, I was deeply filled and moved by all that I saw and experienced. The landscape, the people, the accommodations, the daily practice of art, the history of the country and the museums we visited all combined in an unforgettable, enriching whole.
I will always remember the moment I encountered Rodin’s sculpture “The Kiss” in larger-than-life-sized white marble at the Tate Gallery in London. I felt what the French would call a “coup de foudre” – a thunderbolt, or stroke of lightning. Having studied art history for a year at Pomona, I had come to love this piece, but was familiar with it only through a black-and-white photo. Turning a corner in the Tate, and coming face-to-face with this white-hot lovers’ embrace was an experience of power and passion that I had not known existed through the medium of sculpture.
With my parents’ generous support, I graduated with academic honors and a degree in Fine Art. Unfortunately, I suffered from artist’s block for many years after enduring the criticism which is part of a formal art education. Being unable to support myself as an artist, I worked in the field of finance, earning the necessary licenses to sell stocks, bonds and insurance. This paid the bills, but it did not feed my soul, or invite the creative expression I craved.
When I decided to return to art more than 30 years later by enrolling in a workshop with Flora Bowley in Oregon, my parents were again completely enthused and supportive. This is where decades of artist’s block was released, and the joy of painting returned to me. I owe my parents a huge debt of gratitude, from the beginning of my artistic journey to the present moment, and beyond.