The International Encaustic Artists group recently put out a call for entry into their spring exhibition, entitled, “In Flawed Abundance”. The title was inspired by this quote by poet and philosopher, Mark Nepo.
Stripped of causes and plans and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything I could need or ask for
is right here, in flawed abundance.
from “Accepting This” by Mark Nepo
These words struck a deep chord in me, having done much contemplating on my own life’s path and that of my mother and many loved ones who have gone on before me. I have been especially thoughtful about my maternal grandmother, Ida Fuss Klee. My mother was very close to her, and I feel like I can now better understand the deep ache that remained with my mother as she missed her own. As I have reflected about my grandmother, I have deeply wondered about her life as an artist. She grew up a child of German immigrants and modest means, in a family rich with artistic abilities and full of knowledge about how to fully live. She took correspondence art courses through Chicago. She was fundamentally a self-taught artist, and had abundant talent in drawing and painting, (as well as in daily living skills like resourcefulness, inventiveness, and ingenuity, per my mama, and much like my mama!).
In the 1920’s, she rented an art studio in downtown Indianapolis—a daring thing to do as a female artist in that era. She began working professionally as an illustrator, gained recognition for her talent and hard work, and was offered full-time employment in NYC. However, she did not feel that this path was an option that she could accept, and chose to stay in Indianapolis and marry and raise a family. I can only imagine the complexity of needing to make a choice like that, and feel incredible gratitude for being able to work as an artist while raising my family, and to have the emotional and societal support to do so.
This bit of history was recently shared with me, and it helped me to get perhaps a glimpse of understanding about my grandmother’s very limited expression of art after starting her family life. I often tried to engage her in discussion about her artwork, what inspired her, how it was to be a female artist in a male-dominated field… being met with few words and eyes that looked away. How I wish I would have known more, to have been able to talk more freely and to listen to her story, and certainly to have been able to ask to make art alongside her…
So the first piece I made for this series of “In Flawed Abundance” was in homage to my grandmother, to honor her life force, and how she raised herself up out of poverty with fierce determination to live and create. It is in reverence to her tremendous hard work and talent, and the parts of her that did not feel valued, nor had the chance to be appreciated more fully by the world. It is symbolic of how these breaks in her spirit did not diminish her beauty or her artistic contributions, and to reinforce the fact that her art did, in fact, live on… both through my mother and her brothers’ artistic talents, and the passing down of this gene to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Although I got to know only a small part of her when she was living, I feel her spirit very much alive now in my heart and hands…
In these past many months, I have been feeling the inevitable void related to the loss of my mother. Nepo’s words remind me that acceptance of the feelings of loss enables me to return to the fullness of that which she left with me-- her love, nurturing, humor, and artistic self, as well as the things she taught me in dealing with the hardship and pain that is part of life. My mama remained a compassionate and strong woman throughout her challenges, and showed much determination and stamina. She was a queen role model of embracing flawed abundance (and I mean that in the most respectful way… she could see the positive in every single thing she encountered, and taught deep mindfulness for abiding gratitude by this example). Thankfully, these gifts remain with me as I continue to grieve her absence…
The second piece I submitted for review is of my mother’s Blue Willow dishes, which held the food she so lovingly and dedicatedly prepared for her large family of eight children and spouse (always pointing out how beautiful the vegetables and fruit looked against the cobalt blue… an observation which I find myself often pointing out repeatedly with my own children as we use a few of these plates, still). In addition to the beauty of the pattern and color, there is the obvious brokenness that comes in families as difficult things are experienced. It has taken me a long time to share the pieces, and to see the beauty and healing that bringing them out into the light can bring. This piece is in homage to the integrity of my mother, and to the amazing artist that she was, as well as to her lifetime of sharing this gift with those she loved. She exemplified creating for the sheer joy of it. And mostly, my mother taught me to see…
Nepo’s words also speak directly to me as I continue to dedicate the time and work needed to express myself as an artist while balancing the task of raising and homeschooling of my children. It has been quite a process for me to give myself permission to make art a priority, not guilting myself for nolonger actively working as a social worker. I continue to explore what it means for me to do my part in contributing to the social good of the world, a question which is there for all of us. And I have ever so slowly come to accept that I have things to say and to express through my art, as well as to accept that the amount of time I have available to make art may not be the same as if I had started younger, or in that field rather than social work. As I age, I am aware that each part of my path has its importance and lesson, and is all part of the bigger whole. There are a multitude of gratitudes every day, no matter what that day happens to bring.
This compilation of my own shards, new and old, reflects piecing together the many fragments of my life... tenderly exploring the sharp edges, while appreciating the depth of color, shape, glaze and history that each remnant contains... realizing that a deeper whole has emerged from this experience and the integration into my being, creating space as I continue on my path.
Whether or not these pieces get juried into the exhibition, I am deeply grateful for the introspection and growth that has transpired as a result of these inspiring words by Mark Nepo. The timing could not have been better, and I feel more at peace having done both the emotional and physical work involved in the making of these sculptures. Tis a gift to be able to see this thread that runs through the fabric of our lives, and the interconnectedness of us all. May we all greet ourselves and each other with more tenderness for our wholeness.