A couple of years ago, I assisted Linda Novick when she taught a program at Kripalu called Unmasking Your Soul. The mixed media piece I created in memory of my mother, shown on the left, was done at the end of that program. I had brought xeroxes of several family pictures with me in hopes that I would use them in some artwork. This particular photograph of my mother is one of my favorites. She’s a young woman, recently graduated from high school, and probably working at her first job. That string of pearls is so elegant. The way she crosses her arms and smiles is very self-assured. I wanted to surround that picture with things that my mother loved: the beach, butterflies, flowers, and the color purple.
The backgrounds represent the beach, one of her favorite places. Each summer, all through my childhood, my parents packed up our family and took us to live in a small cottage they owned in Hull. My brothers and I, along with mom, spent our days lounging and playing at Nantasket Beach. Dad commuted to Brookline to work each day. He actually didn’t like the beach very much, and spent most of his free time fixing things around the house. For mom, going to the beach was a daily ritual: we got into our bathing suits, made lunch, gathered together the towels, chairs, and boogie boards, walked the 3 blocks to the Adams St. beach, and found a suitable location to “park” ourselves for the day. We’d be joined by many friends.
While the kids were busy throwing frisbees, playing various kinds of ballgames, burying each other in the sand, or body surfing, our parents were relaxing in the sun and playing scrabble or cards. I’m sure my older brother, Paul, was a big help to mom in watching over me and my twin brother, Carl. Louise lathered her body with suntan oil. It was her own mixture of oil and Ban de Soleil suntan lotion. She wore a cotton hat, sat on a webbed chaise lounge chair, and baked in the sun, exposing her front and back equally to get an even tan. We didn’t know about skin cancer in those days. When it was time to cool off, one of the adults would call out “Let’s go to the pool!” Mom and her friends would then saunter down to the water’s edge to dip their toes into the usually freezing cold ocean. After acclimating to the temperature, mom would venture in up to her hips and dunk her whole body.
Lunchtime was a chance to replenish our bodies and check in with our parents. Tunafish sandwiches, potato chips, and lemonade, followed with a nectarine or peach, were standard fare. Apply more suntan lotion and off we went to our repertoire of games. Mid-afternoon brought our second culinary treat when Bennie “the ice cream man” arrived. We’d run through the hot white sand and bring the ice cream back to mom, so we could all enjoy our goodies together. Those beach days are embedded in me with great fondness and affection. I met some of my best friends during that time. Our tight-knit community of multiple generations shared many adventures.
Even as I created this artwork, a flood of memories came streaming back: mom doing collages with me and my brother, Carl; the feeling of the white glue coagulating on my fingertips and peeling off. While painting the abstract acrylic backgrounds on this collage with a sgraffito technique, I remembered when I would use a popsicle stick to shape the edges of a wet mound of sand into a castle. The rubberstamp butterflies reminded me of how much insects, especially mosquitos, tickle my skin.
The flowers brought back another vivid memory. Mom was a very good seamstress and sewed many of my childhood clothes. The skill rubbed off on me, and I became a quilter. Later in her life, mom worked at a furniture store and brought home fabric samples which she shared with me. The flowers are cut out from one of those fabric swatches.
I never anticipated that I would ever show this artwork to anyone outside of my family and friends. It was too personal. The piece stood on my studio’s storage table, leaning against some stuff, unmatted and unframed. Mom was with me in my workspace, and that brought me comfort.
When the Family Ties Call for Entries arrived from the Belmont Gallery of Art, I thought at first that I didn’t have anything appropriate to submit. Most of my subject matter is landscapes or florals. I surveyed the art on my studio walls and saw the collage. There was my answer. I ordered the frame and glass. When the time came to mat the piece, I realized I had miscalculated and didn’t have enough matting board to accommodate its size. With a bit of anxiety, I searched through my drawers. I found a large portion of a purple mat board ready and waiting to be used. Fortunately, it was just the right purple, matching almost exactly the fabric flowers! As my cousin, Libby, said, “Your mother orchestrated that scenario.”
Visit the Family Ties Art Exhibit
Family Ties – One Book One Belmont
All artwork is inspired by Anita Diamont’s novel “The Boston Girl”, the book selected for the library’s 2016 One Book, One Belmont town-wide event. The novel’s central theme is family and family relationships.
When: April 3 to May 8, 2016
Reception: April 8, 2016; 6-8pm
Where: Belmont Gallery of Art, Homer Municipal Building * 19 Moore St. * Belmont Center, MA 02478.
More details on the BGA website