I am currently completing my 48th trip around the Sun. While 48 doesn’t sound like much of a birthday milestone, in my family, it is. See, we lost our mother to cancer when she was just 48. Five children, ages 9 to 27, motherless too soon. I was the 9 year old.
For several years, I have thought about becoming the same age as Mother when she died. And here I am. Over the seasons of this, my 48th year, I caught my glance in the bathroom mirror on many occasions, and found myself stunned by how young 48 looked to me. And I wondered each time, how did it feel for my mom, knowing she was dying, to look at her youth in the mirror during her 48th, and final, year?
Each of my siblings has marked their 48th year in their own way, either publicly or privately. I am the last of the five of us to experience 48. As an artist, it feels natural to honor my mother and my milestone year with a special art series.
I originally intended to paint my way through my 48th year with a 12-month series of emotionally-based abstract works about growing up motherless. I began this series with tremendous enthusiasm and completed five large-scale works, four of which still exist in their original form. After the fifth painting, I stopped. There was nothing left; the well was empty. How could this be? This topic was important; more important than anything that I had ever explored, I told myself. This was very confusing to me.
So I got quiet, worked on other projects, and waited (and waited some more.) My team of inner-critics was working overtime, going for my weakest parts, and really making a mess of things inside my head. I watched the calendar tick away the days of my 48th year, feeling guilty, uninspired, and artistically-barren that I did not have what I thought it took to create something to honor the woman who allowed me to lick the cake-batter-covered-beaters, introduced me to The Velveteen Rabbit, and made me silver-dollar pancakes.
This summer of my 48th year came, and so did a vacation with my husband to the mountains of north-central Pennsylvania. And Towards Joy was born: Born from the lush, leafy peace and the eery-yet-comforting quiet; from the stepping-out of the everyday grind; from the dawn-to-dusk singing of the mountain birds; from the deep sleep so easily achieved in Mother Nature’s majestic mountain cradle.
Consistent with all my previous painting series, clarity regarding the topic and its lesson has arrived at the completion of the undertaking. Towards Joy is a mystical gift from beyond my earthly world. Mother did not want me to paint about pain, which is why I was unable to complete the series I originally intended to present this September. Towards Joy is her gift to me, her voice of joy and hope threaded through the mountain bird songs that echoed between the gorges and danced in the treetops:
Paint the joy I want - I’ve always wanted - for you. Don’t let the pain of motherlessness or the world render you weary or angry or invisible. Share joy, not pain, through your art.
I am rapidly approaching the end of my 48th year. If I have done the math correctly, I have officially outlived my mother. I am turning 49 in just a couple of short weeks. Three days after my 49th birthday, I will present Towards Joy at LSJ Studios in Lancaster. In Mother’s memory, may today, and everyday, be joy-full.