My grandmother died in January right in the middle of the big winter market in Atlanta. I was feeling a bit discouraged in the art business…it’s not all rainbows and happy little trees. The warm, fuzzy, new girl-ness had rubbed off and the reality of rejection, deadlines, to-do lists, and time management was setting in. Honestly, I didn’t even want to go to market. I had fallen way behind on licensing images due to the fire and was embarrassed by missed deadlines and bruised by the impersonal nature of big business.
And then my Maw Maw died. She was feisty until the end, hardscrabble, poor, loved roosters, dime store brooches, red blazers and blue hydrangeas. Bought their first house around the time I was born. Painted the cabinets turquoise and put wooden dolphins on them. Had a huge garden and a pecan tree. Made jelly and canned vegetables. Sprinkled the cheese powder on top of the noodles instead of mixing it in when she made Mac-n-cheese. Lived to see four great grandchildren but hated the nursing home. After repeated attempts to escape, they had to put an ankle bracelet on her. When she finally broke free, there wasn’t even a funeral. She was 96 and had few friends and little family left. Her possessions had been sorted years before when she moved into the nursing home. Her life had ebbed away. There was simply nothing to do. No closure and no way to eulogize a life that had meaning, even if few were left to remember. Even the obituary I wrote did not get published since the small Mississippi paper in her hometown had a template and word limit that my remembrances did not fit.
I made a quick appearance at market. I was glad I went because I realized things were not nearly as dire as I thought. I still had a huge presence in the showroom, my holiday lines were getting good reviews and the customers were so encouraging. But my heart wasn’t in it. I left with a vague sense of future trends and no real idea how to translate that into my aesthetic. Then my dad sent me a picture of the only worldly goods left by my grandmother, a collection of roosters and an old dresser. He thought I wanted the dresser, but it was the roosters I needed.
As soon as I got the picture on the phone, my mind started whirring. The blue roosters preened all over my sketchbook. I forgot all the mumbo jumbo about current trends and colors and motifs and started painting chickens. The mental block and self-doubt of the previous few months was replaced with inspiration and joy. I was not a model granddaughter. I didn’t visit or call as I should. I suffer from the selfish problem of retreating when things are difficult or uncomfortable. This became my way of salving the guilt, of honoring a woman whose poverty and lack of education had not prevented her son or grandchildren from achieving college degrees and successful careers. A woman for whom a ceramic rooster or a dimestore brooch were things of tangible beauty.
And so after months of rejected images that I thought met the criteria I had been given, imagine my surprise and giddiness when my roosters were immediately accepted for licensing and more barnyard critters were requested. Instead of painting to please others, I had painted to remember and eulogize my grandmother. Art truly is cathartic.
I just recieved the sneak peeks of some of my new products coming out this summer. Products that are covered in blue roosters, white biddies, and other farm animals. Products that I am proud of and humbled by. Licensing is hard work. Rejection is reality. Profits overrule passion. Licensing is also rewarding work. To walk into someone’s home or by a shop window and see a little e looking back at me is surreal. To be able to stay home with my daughter, paint in my basement in my pjs and leave the selling to the big wigs? Priceless.
You always honor me when you buy a piece of my work. Original or licensed. At an art show or a gift shop. It always makes my day. However, if you stumble across my new line debuting this summer while at market or out shopping, just know that you are not just buying a bucket or a coaster or a tray, you are honoring a life that may not have been big or grand, but one that mattered. So thank you! Maw Maw would be be tickled!
PS. In other news, I completed two shows this spring, Art on the West Side and The Harding Art Show. Both far exceeded my expectations in terms of sales and just overall fun. My current plan is to take the summer and fall to catch up on inventory for stores and galleries, develop new collections for licensing, work on the business end of the art business, and take time to get my house in order (we are in desperate need of real blinds, not sheets) and enjoy my family. My next big big show will be the Fine Art in Brentwood Show in December. My work will be represented by Ron York at a new show in Nashville called Art Fest at the Women’s Club on Hillsboro Road on May 30 and 31. My plate is full but so is my heart!!