Several things happened this past week that contributed to this blog post. The first was while working on getting information on my paintings to add to this website, my husband stopped me to remind me that I had a birthday coming up and what did I want. The second was instead of immediately going back to my website work, I procrastinated by scrolling through social media. While doing this, I stopped at a post made by a friend. She was talking about her loss of a friend, neighbor, mentor. The third was when I did go back to my task at hand, entering paintings and information onto my website, the next painting that came up was this painting, Baby Angels.
All three of these things happening at the same time made me start thinking about mentors, and all the people that have helped to shape my life. Baby Angels came about in a round about way from one of these mentors, and I will come back to that later.
My mentors have been many and way too many to list to this blog. Of course, I have to say that my parents mentored at least 80% of who I am. That is a given and way too much to list, but I am grateful to them in every way. But I want to talk about a few others that did touch me and shape who I am.
When I started re-creating this website, the young girl helping me make it contemporary, told me she needed to create my logo. I thought she meant and image of my paintings to use. No. She wanted to create a website logo of me. So, she started asking me about me. My feelings, my thoughts, my paintings and why I created them. And as I think back on my answers, I realize that my mentors had a lot to do with me, or who I had become. Some were a lifetime part of my life and others have been there for a short time or even a moment in time. Here are a few that fit the title of mentor.
The first was a woman that was my kindergarten teacher. Recently, while cleaning out my childhood home, I came across my kindergarten report card (my mother did not throw much away). This was the only report card that had my name as Cissy, which is a nickname, not my given name of Carolyn. Now, I know that I was thought of as a quiet child, so I must have been forceful in what I wanted to be called. I do remember that she was the one who taught me to spell my name with a C instead of an S. The other thing that caught my attention was that every period of the reports, she talked about how much she enjoyed my drawings. This made me think that I must have been rather passionate about art even at this age for her to mention it every time. Sports were the main passion in my house, not the arts, so it was not something that was happening in my home life. I saved that report card and it is framed and hanging in my studio today.
Fast forward to my first year in high school. Hurricane Camille had hit our community hard and the school year was in an uproar. I was standing quietly with a group in the school library. We were discussing upcoming school events and I said to the group that I thought I would run for a class officer. A coach/teacher was standing with us and offhandedly said that he did not see me running for anything because I was so quiet. Then, coming from outside the circle, a woman steps into our group; she looks at me, then at the other teacher and says, "never mistake quietness for weakness!" She looks back at me and smiles, and then turns and walks away. I was secretary of my class for all three years of high school.
Jump ahead five or six years and I return home from my college experience. I am twentysomething. My mother was a big garden clubber. Her friends were garden clubbers. Therefore, I was introduced to these events as a young girl and so were my friends. So, as we come back home as young adults we are expected to join and participate. Fortunately, I loved gardening and flower arranging was like an art form...sculpture with flowers. There was one woman who had reached the pinnacle of Garden Clubs (i.e.: master gardener, national flower show judge, charter member of the club). She had the answer to any question we had, and she was great at giving instructions on what we needed to do. We loved her, but as we sat and listened to her tell us what to do, we would laugh and murmur that we could not wait to be as old and knowledgeable as her so we could give instructions. Now on the day of the Big annual flower show, I was going to compete for the first time against all these women that I had watched all my life. I was a nervous wreck. As I was taking my arrangement out of the car, I forgot about the strong March winds coming off the Gulf of Mexico. As I turned to exit the car with my arrangement, the wind blew the entire thing onto the sidewalk. It broke all apart all over the sidewalk. I sat down on that sidewalk and started crying and saying to anyone who would hear, "I quit!". About that time a hand come out, takes my arm, and helps me up, picking up my broken flowers as she did. All I could hear her say was, "of course you can't quit! You can't quit a Flower Show!" She walked me into the house, to the place I was to put my arrangement, and as I watched in a stupor, she remade that arrangement. Now, I did not receive an award or a ribbon, but I was not embarrassed by not having something in my assigned place. I feel sure she told the judge that I was not to be judged because she knew the rules and would have followed them. She had made the arrangement. I did not quit. She never spoke of it again. I am still in that garden club and I now am the age of that woman. I now get to be the one that the young girls come to for answers and I feel sure I give instructions. With love as she did.
Another mentor is a woman who is the mother of one of my best friends from childhood. We lived across the street from each other my entire life. This woman was an art teacher, her daughter became an art teacher, and I became an art teacher. Now, I never had a formal art lesson until my junior year of high school. This mentor gave after school art lessons. I wasn't in it but I hung out at her house while playing with her daughter. Her daughter and I would play with the supplies that were available when the class was over. This woman has mentored me my entire life. She is now 91 and she inspires me every day. Last year, with the help of her family, she threw her own 90th birthday party, with all her friends invited. This year, during the pandemic, she redid her bedroom and bath. This past week, she called and told me she was taking me out to lunch for my birthday. We talk about the past and the future, but she lives every day in the present and to the fullest. A great roll model of how to live life.
And last, we come to the mentor that inspired my Baby Angels painting. This is the mother of another of my best friends from childhood. There were three of us that did so much together. This friend and I were even roommates our first year of college. Her mother was quiet and graceful and always ladylike. She taught me my love of birds and the beauty of small everyday things in life. She would put out seeds for her cardinals. She did not need a feeder; she just threw it on the brick patio and the birds would come throughout the day. She set a beautiful table, even for a Saturday lunch for a group of junior high kids. She would make homemade pimento cheese and always put it in a beautiful jar in her refrigerator. Somehow, that pimento cheese just tasted better in that special jar. She always gave me something special for my birthday. Sometimes figurines of baby angels or maybe a pot of shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day, which is my birthday.
We come back to my connection to my painting, Baby Angels. As I said these three things came together to inspire me to want you to connect to this painting. The small porcelain figures were given to me for my sixteenth birthday by my friend's mother. When Hurricane Katrina came, our house went under water. The water destroyed so much of my childhood, yearbooks, photos, artwork, etc. But the water treated glass objects in a rather gentle way. They were survivors. So, when the waters went down and I started going through the mud, I found these little four-inch figurines. The only damage was the tip of one wing was lost. It became one of the first paintings I did after my life got back to "normal". A friend had given me a sketchbook of handmade paper. I thought I would start back to paint with them. They are the first in a series of angels I have painted in the last seventeen years since "the storm". I thought of titling this painting Broken Angels because of the wing. But then I remembered what that mentor said years ago, "don't mistake quietness (or a broken wing) for weakness." These angels are not broken, they are survivors. They are the beginning of an ongoing series of angel paintings. They may be small, but they are strong, just like my mentors that touched my life in such positive ways. I hope this will let you connect with them; I wish everyone positive mentors in their life. Remember, you never know when your small action might be touching someone's life and inspiring them to acknowledge passions, to not quit, to look for the beauty, and to live life to the fullest until the last day of it.
Thank you for connecting,