Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Mom, The Artist

My mother was an artist. You'll never see her work in a gallery or museum, but our home is full of her creations.

She went through periods - as all artists do. At one point it was decoupage, then the "Gold Spray-Paint" era. We'd come home from school and find gold spray-painted wreathes, vases and furniture. I had to hide my favorite dolls - I knew she was lusting to spray them - and we were just damn lucky not to wake up in the morning to find she's sprayed the family members during our sleep. Everything, to her, looked new, rich and wonderful with just a hit from the gold spray-paint can.

"Isn't it beautiful now," she'd exclaim? Some eras are best moved through and then left deeply buried.

The past 20 years or so, stained glass was Mom's passion. She started with simple pieces, and worked her way to intricate designs. When she didn't have a big project to work on, she set about making night lights for everyone she knew. But, Mom was never really about the details. There were a fair number of post-operative installation issues. I still have a beautiful blue bird night light that plugs directly into a wall power outlet. As it only plugs in one direction, the bird is a bit disorienting as he clings to the wall, hanging upside down like a bat.

Some of her more recent works are in her front window. There is the dog who looks a lot like a pit bull. I'd have some problems with this guy, but instead of a vicious killer-dog expression, he's got googly eyes glued on his face. You know the kind - the plastic white dots with black circles that spin around and around when you shake them. Spaced widely apart, he looks like he got into the spiked punch bowl and is stoned out of his mind - permanently stunned and confused. Frankly, exactly the way I like my pit bulls to look!

Then, there is the cat. A big fluffy yellow cat - it has seams across its face that give it a furrowed brow-scowl and green glass eyes that are really ticked off. If it weren't glass, it would jump from its window and claw your couch to shreds just for the fun of it.

Mom's most memorable piece was created during her felt period. Never one to go out and buy something when she could make it herself for less, I recall her painstaking work on a Nativity scene.

Felt figures stood beneath a felt star, taking shelter in a felt stable. Felt Mary and Joseph gazed lovingly upon a little felt manger, in which a felt baby Jesus rested. And, there he was, wrapped in felt swaddling clothes, Jesus was the center of attention. To finish off her creation, Mom cut out a felt round circle and glued it to the shoulders of the babe, then out came her blue pen and Jesus had eyes, a nose, a couple strands of blue ink hair and a goofy crooked grin.

The result was that Jesus looked like a bald 80 year old man who'd tied one on and was laying in that manger, watching the stable spin around him! I mentioned that something was amiss with Jesus, but Mom just smiled that smile of hers and walked off. For years, that felt nativity scene with its old-man drunken Jesus had a prominent place in our holiday home.

As I paw through closets and drawers, closing out Mom's estate, I'm watching for the Nativity Scene. Hopefully someone in the family with a sense of humor will cherish it.


  1. "Loved your new story. I have a felt nativity my mom did during her felt period. However, i've never looked that closely at the faces so I couldn't tell you what their expressions are. Love to you while you're cleaning out the house."

  2. I laughed so hard especially about her "Felt Period" I almost wet my pants

  3. I REMEMBER THAT BABY JESUS!!!!!!! I'd love to have the nativity scene if no one else has more claim on it! When we'd come over for Christmas during those years, I'd always go find the nativity scene to check for baby Jesus' smile... Annie.

  4. Annie - that felt Nativity is yours if it surfaces. It will go well with Joe's flea-market finds!

    I always thought that Jesus looked like a cartoon where a truck ran over his head, flattening it like a pancake and fixing this really goofy expression in place.

  5. What wonderful memories you are sharing with us!! I will never be able to look at a felt piece nor a gold sprayed item that I don't think of your story. My mother, too, had a gold spray period, only it was large purple wildflowers (weeds) that always decorated our house during the holidays. Ugh!!

  6. Karyn, what great memories of your mom! Now I'm wondering if that green and red felt Christmas wreath my mom acquired at a Junior Women's Club Xmas gift exchange in Oswego was one of your mom's creations. Your mom also had a great oatmeal/orange slice cookie recipe that she passed on to me at my wedding shower. It's still a favorite with my friends and family. She'll be greatly missed.

    Becky (Bowman) McHugh

  7. Karyn! My mom was similar, only with her it was oil painting -> furniture 'antiquing' with those gawd awful kits -> ceramics *shudder* -> and then in her late years she made clothes for teddy bears for the Salvation Army to give out.

  8. HA! I wouldn't be at all surprised if that wreath was a Janet Original. Now, if you run across a gold sprayed thing that your mom also got at the Arts Club, you'll KNOW where that came from! :-)

    Do tell on the oatmeal/orange cookie recipe. I don't know that she ever made those for us.