Monday, October 01, 2007
A 205 page book called Art Have Fun: Foundations of Art is published on this site at the very beginning, which is at the end!
I searched for a place to stay in Jacksonville when I moved there in 1986 to become a chaplain resident at Baptist Medical Center. I went to the Mega church FBC down town and asked for a widow to live with for a while, and they didn't know any in the church offices. So I traveled and got lost in Avondale where I saw a Avondale Baptist Church sign and followed it until I saw a sign that said church office.
I had no idea there were two churches covering the block, and the office I went into was United Methodist. So they told me her address and gave directions and gave a phone number and I went to her door. She used to say I went to her private door, and she was right. I went to the door that did not face the front of the building. She answered and I went in, and five minutes later I was singing and she was playing the piano. I was 26 and she was 82. She hadn't painted in a year, and I don't think she had done much singing, either. But five minutes after meeting me we were singing, and she told me I was like her daughter who had had a heart attack in her early 40's.
So she asked if I had a painting to hang in my new office as a chaplain, and I told her no. So she gave me roses and said it was the last painting she painted before her husband died. A watercolor. I lived with her a month, and she gave me food after I tried to make it with a sack of pears my parents had given me. I didn't have money for food until my first payday. The second payday I moved into a much cheaper appartment than she offered, much closer to the hospital, but I stayed in touch, meaning I visited and called offen.
I kept encouraging her to paint. She had stopped when her husband died of Alzheimers. I asked her to paint me, so she did two watercolors of me. One with my natural color hair, looking like me, and the other I told her to make me look thinner and give me red hair. I told her to do it for fun. She did, and I look like some ancestor. The eyes are mine, but that is about it. I framed these at a frame shop myself, and later bought acid free mats and my own core board (?) so that they would last, and so they look like they aren't professionally framed, but at least they are acid free.
The next painting she gave to me was a watercolor of an acrylic painting she had that I admired of hydrangeas. I kept trying to get her into having fun with painting again. So she did one with a purple vase, and I did not admire purple at the time, and I told her how very mixed I felt about the painting. She did not shed tears. She did not argue, and I do not think it crushed her. She talked about the spectrum and that I should lighten up, I believe.
Then an insurance man came calling. I have his business card and will add that to this story. She had several angels she had been painting, and I asked her to do a watercolor of a blond angel for me, with some rhododendron and a yellow day lily with some blue sky. So she gave the nude cherub a harp and some flowers, and blue skies. I fancy the baby looks like one of mine would have looked. The hydrangeas and the cherub are framed with acid free mats and Michael's frames. Very few of the paintings I have were on her walls. They were paintings I got her to paint so that she could keep her interest in life. She then started teaching classes again. She taught at least two full classes for watercolor at some churches while I knew her. She was so surprised she could still do it and that people would accept her. And then she started dancing. When I first met her, she had been taking care of a (Russell Seymour) husband with Alzheimer's Diease for years, and had dropped out of many activities.
I would visit her and she was working on a portrait, or a painting/sketch of houses people wanted. She became very active in projects that were commissioned as well as competing with dancing. I saw her dance twice in competition. Once at the Southern Women's Center and the other at the Jewish Educational building on San Jose. I drove her home from the Jewish Educational building because she was driving home late at night, and I was married, but I wanted her to cross the bridge and get home in one piece. She argued but she allowed me to drive her car with my husband following.
Then she had a boarder in her house. She did this with a few people, but when she accepted a man who was 30 years younger and some of her paintings started being sold or disappearing, I asked to buy the painting that gave me peace when i visited. It was in the corner by her desk until he came, and then she moved it. She told me that it was not missing, just in a new place. So I came to an agreement that I would pay on a monthly basis until it was all paid. She said, "I can sell you that painting," as though she wouldn't have sold it to anyone else. I knew that she would have given it to me, because she always offered me paintings, and I always told her to sell them and make money. She had a washing machine that was 48 years old. She used to stand on the porch and raise the lid of the GE washer so that the cycles would change. I really thought she was truly struggling and didn't have the resources to buy a new washer.
She visited my apartment with Rita, her very long known friend. She saw the first painting I painted, and told me I was very spiritual, because my arrowhead looked like an angel. Then she visited my home after I was married years later, and saw my house with the paintings she had done for me. When I visited her, I took food that she liked, a chandelier she would have nothing to do with because she was sentimental about the florescent light her husband had installed over her dining room table (yes).
I have two paintings she had on her walls. One day she offered a painting to me, and it was after I had taken her to see the Titanic movie. She was 10 when it sank, and Rita had finally called me because neighbors thought maybe she wasn't well since her lights weren't on. I have a painting of sunflowers from Des Moines travels, and a romantic red boat on the St. Johns' River at sunset. Don't ask me why I accepted them. She always wanted to give me paintings, and she wasn't painting so much, because perhaps she didn't have room for the paintings that were on the walls. Some in the hallways of her apartments she managed were missing from time to time. Florence never took pictures or wrote descriptions of her paintings or counted how many. She told me I had more than anyone, and I only have 8, not counting the last she sketched and one from a Guidepost. I had given her a Guidepost subscription, and she had loved one of the stories called "Lost at Sea." She gave me a photocopy of Michael, and the dragon, a beautiful sketch. The original was quite light and not much to look at because she might have used a #2 pencil. But she had it enlarged and darkened, and made very many copies, so she just handed me one.
I think the Sunflower painting she gave to me was one of her favorites. She told me she would love a photo of it, so I took a picture and gave it to her. I kept offering to give it back, and she wouldn't take it.
On Mother's Day, the month before she turned 100, I went to visit to help clean up. She would not allow people to get rid of her surplus magazines, and I wanted to sing to her. She wanted me to sing when I called, and I did quite often. So I spent a lot of time with her and spent two nights with her. I took half her magazines off her little table, and sang to her until she said she was sleepy. Then I went to bed with the night light on, could not sleep and went to get a book. I like gardening, so I chose a book of gardening and inside was a Mother's Day card from the daughter who had died that I reminded her of. So I read that book and a couple of other books. I stayed up reading for only an hour or two. Florence went to bed at 8:00 pm, before I had gotten the books to read. The next morning, she dressed up, and we had breakfast and I gave her the card from her daughter and told her Happy Mother's Day, and look what I had found. She looked at me with the same love, and a little sadness. I told her I loved her. Then she got flowers and phone calls from her family and visits from people from church and the apartments and some neighbors during the day.
I left as late as I could. Florence had stopped painting. She did a little drawing but she had people staying with her during the day. She had checked on me several times during the night for the two nights I spent there. She had oxygen she breathed from a machine and a very long tube, and she had parakeets.
The Christmas, almost two years later, I saw her on the 26th, she drew a ceramic centerpiece for me and talked of her youth with the ladies who took care of her. They were amazed. They thought she was normal and everyday like the other people they knew, but she wasn't. She was quite adventurous and braver than most women with the risks she took driving across country, studying art in New York, and painting nudes. She dated Jimmy Stewart and said he wanted to marry her. She dated Lee Marvin in New York at least once for a play. They were amazed at this page of history they were taking such good care of. But she didn't enjoy anything but independence and self reliance.
So then she died, and I thought I would be left out of the loop and not even know she had died for weeks if not months. So I was surprised when two family members told me she had died, and then after some discussion, I was asked to officiate the service, and I agreed. I did all right until I sang the song I always sang to her about the "I come to the Garden alone," song. Then I had to ask for help and people joined in. The next day at the graveside, I sang Amazing Grace to Eidlewies, and got some giggles because people didn't expect that tune, and it was much more cheerful. But this was not like the funeral of a 2 year old, but a 102 year old with a full and complete life of much success and to be admired and celebrated. So we didn't do that much sad reflection, but we celebrated her life. We talked about some of her flaws later, but the thing is, even the flaws were meaningful. It brought more bonding, maybe.
A year after her funeral, I decided that before I die, I would like to sell or donate a painting to The Cummer Art Museum. When I get the money for the painting to be appraised, maybe after November, I will take it down this December. The only stipulation that I would give is that it is to be viewed. I don't want to know that it is in storage and I cannot see it. They probably won't like that stipulation. Why give something away so that others can see it only to have it in storage while you are alive and cannot see it? If they bought it, I would not mind if they put it in storage, but if I give it, that is what I would like. At least until my death, because I am the one who gets security by thinking I can see it again! It would not hurt me to share all of my paintings she gave to me, as well as this one I purchased in a show of Florida artists/teachers.