Tag Archives: oil pastels

Mozambican Odyssey, #13: Sharing One Cup

Tanzanian Queen, 24×18, Oil pastel on pastel paper, by Susan E. Brooks

Sharing One Cup 

One of our early church experiences in Maputo, Mozambique was a stretching one for me.  Having grown up in the protestant churches, we always had lots of individual little cups for the communion service, and those were filled with grape juice and passed around for church members to take, along with the wafers or crackers that represented the body of Christ.

We had not been in Mozambique long when one Sunday we traveled out to the village, out from town a bit, to attend church with other missionaries and locals.  We were honored as special guests and seated on the front rows, which did not thrill introverted me at all, but we did as we were instructed to do.

There was energetic singing, dancing, and preaching which I enjoyed, but when it came time for communion, I started to squirm.  They were passing around one cup of wine, and everyone was watching us on the front row, so we had to take our turn, drinking after a bunch of strangers.

My mind spun with all of the different diseases in Africa that we had never been exposed to before, and one of my greatest fears about going had been one or more of us dying of some exotic illness.  All kinds of tragic scenarios ran through my mind as I sipped, fearing that we would catch something horrible.  I could imagine the headlines:

“Missionary family dies from ebola after drinking communion wine.”

I don’t even know how one gets ebola or if they have ever had it in Mozambique, but you get the idea.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, especially since we didn’t get sick, but back then, it was frightening for me.  I sipped and prayed that we would not become ill, and we didn’t.

God protected us so many times, and he still does.  How often are we exposed to deadly germs?  How many near wrecks do we have?  How many times do we nearly fall, but we are caught just in time as children, or even adults?  How many illnesses do we recover from if we do become ill?

We take countless mercies for granted every day.  God has rescued us from so many terrible fates that might have befallen us.  When I am discouraged, I need to look back at all of the fears that God has delivered us from, and then I can hope and expect that He will do it again.

Mozambican Odyssey, #11: The Witch Doctor’s Drums

Coming into the Light, Oil pastel on paper, 24 x 18 inches by Susan E. Brooks. Available at KORE Art Gallery, Louisville, KY

The Witch Doctor’s Drums

It may not have been the very first night.  I suspect the first night in Maputo we were so exhausted that we didn’t hear a thing after traveling from Chicago to London to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Maputo, Mozambique, with 3 children, 14 tubs, 6 carryons, and countless goodbyes.

But I remember the first night that we heard the drums.  We were told that these were the drums of the witchdoctor.  As I sat on the porch, and listened to the sound in the distance, it felt as though we had traveled back in time or even to another world–which, in a sense, we had done.

I wondered what the drums meant.  What exactly did a witchdoctor do in Maputo, Mozambique in 1996?  Were the drums sending a message?  Was it about us?  Were they beating out,

“Let’s meet to go slaughter the new missionaries at 2am”?

I had no idea, but at the time I was not afraid.  It felt like a mysterious adventure, and I felt that God was with us.

Looking back sometimes I wonder at myself.  I am not a brave person.  I am a shy person afraid of many things. I can only explain going to Mozambique as God’s giving me peace and strength for what I was supposed to do at the time.  I know we made many mistakes, but I would not trade the experience for anything.

Maybe I need to take a lesson from my old self.  If I could survive moving to Mozambique and living there for 3 years, which was both wonderful and extremely difficult, maybe I can face today’s challenges.  I just need to trust.  Maybe you can too.

This Artist’s Life, #6: Is “Normality” the Goal?

Memories of Bernheim, oil pastel, 18 x 24, by Susan E. Brooks, available at KORE Gallery

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Most of the time, if not all of the time, an artist needs to follow her own way.  Of course, we all have a lot to learn, and it’s good to be humble and always listening, but when it comes to art, every human being is creative in his or her unique way.

It is fascinating for me to walk into KORE Gallery, where I am a member artist along with dozens of others, and see how many different styles and perspectives one can have on landscape painting, for example.  There must be something special in man, that every artist can develop his own style, and there seems to be no limit to artistic interpretations and creativity.

Did you ever think about how we can recognize the differences between a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Picasso, ad infinitum?

As an artist, my goal is not just to create a beautiful painting, but to develop my own unique style and to paint something that no one else in the world would ever paint.

There is a clarity, or maybe it’s a desperation, that comes with age.  In the time I have left I want to avoid “normality,” find my own path, and maybe a few creative “flowers” will grow along the way.

 

This Artist’s Life, #5: Purple Trees and Blue Ladies

“Strength in Blue” sold at KORE Gallery back in the spring. Oil Pastel, 20×24 inches by Susan E. Brooks

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” ~ Claude Monet

Someone was looking at my painting the other day and asked,

“Why is the tree purple?”

“I feel like most trees should be purple,” I replied, and I don’t really know why this is true.

Experimenting with color is part of the mystery and the magic of creating art for me.   I realize that most trees are gray or brown, but in those grays and browns, I see shades of violet, and blue, and pink, or at least the light seems to suggest those colors to my mind.

I love color, and most of the artists I admire used color in creative ways.  Monet used all kinds of unexpected colors: he painted orange haystacks, blue and orange cathedrals, and if you look at his series of Poplars, even purple trees.  Mary Cassatt used blues and greens and violets in her flesh tones with beautiful effects.  Picasso had his blue period–maybe this is my purple period.

It is fascinating to me to see the unique styles of various artists.  I hope you can come out to the Portland Art and Heritage Fair this Saturday to see the many different interpretations of the the theme, “Life on the River.”  Mine will be the oil pastel painting of the river with the purple trees.

This Artist’s Life, #3: Picasso or Warhol, Striking a Balance

“The Sudanese General” is on display at KORE Gallery until until Sept. 14. Oil pastel on paper, 24×18 inches, by Susan E. Brooks

Maybe I should destroy my art work if I don’t like it.  I heard that Picasso slashed some of his paintings into shreds with his palette knife because they didn’t measure up to his standards for himself (1).

I’m not quite as intense as Picasso, but I’m also not quite as relaxed as Andy Warhol, though I aspire to be.  He’s what he said:

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art” (2).

This month I am showing my art work in two different group exhibitions in Louisville, Kentucky, and it’s always inspiring to me to see the work of so many different artists.

Looking at all of the art work on display, I sometimes wonder how other artists choose what to submit for these invitational juried exhibitions.  (Artists send photos of their work to the gallery and hope to be accepted into the show.)

“An African Madonna” is  on display at the Tim Faulkner Gallery for the month of September.  By Susan E. Brooks, 20 x 30 inches, oil pastel on mat board.

I have three categories of work, at least.  Work that I love, work I’m unsure about, and work that I don’t like.  I have a closet full of such pieces, work that didn’t turn out so great, and you’ll never see it, unless maybe you’re one of my kids sorting my stuff after I die.

Sometimes, I know that a painting or a drawing is bad, and I won’t show it.  Other times I have trouble being objective about my own work.  At those times, I try to think like Warhol.  Let everyone else decide if it’s good.  While they are deciding, I’ll just keep making even more art.

  1. From Steven Pressfield’s book, Turning Pro.

2. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/507023-don-t-think-about-making-art-just-get-it-done-let

Mozambican Odyssey, #8: Celebrate the Toads

 

Joseph was baptized while we were in Mozambique. Baptism in Mozambique, 24×18, Oil pastel, by Susan E. Brooks

“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg.  Soon it will have more eggs.”

–Joseph Brooks, October 21, 1996

Joseph always took care of his little sister.

When we first went to Mozambique, our son Joseph was 6.  As I sort through old emails, I came across a letter that he dictated to Martin to be typed into an email to send to his friends back home. It reads like this:

“Everywhere you walk, there is sand.  Most of the time it does not rain even though there are dark clouds.  We have tall thorns around the whole compound as a fence.

“It’s more exciting here because every day you have friends to play with, and you don’t have to go far to find any.  Most of the time we play marbles or play with a hacky sack or we play soccer which is really called football here.

“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg.  Soon it will have more eggs.

“And also, there was this hole in the flower bed, and I accidentally shot a marble, and it went down the hole.  As I was trying to dig it up to get it, a head popped out of the hole.  I thought it was a snake at first, but then my gardener told me that it was a frog.  So I ran and got a jar and caught it while my gardener watched it.  And I still have the toad and the lizard.  The frog is as tall as my finger and as wide as my fist.”

Joseph always was, and still is, a happy person.  Maybe it’s because he focused on the toads.  Too many times in life we are expecting a snake, and God gives us a toad instead, and it’s wonderful, but I tend to just say, “Whew! That was close.”   I forget about it, and go on looking for the next snake.  Instead, like Joseph, I should run and get a jar, and celebrate the toads!  How many times has God given me a toad when I was expecting a snake, but I just move on, forgetting all of the good times God has given, and all of the times I have been rescued, and I go on looking for the next snake to bite me, instead of being happy about the all of the toads.

This Artist’s Life, #1: The Gate into the Unknown

 

“The Gate into the Unknown” Oil on canvas panel, 11×14, Plein Air Painting, Anchorage, KY by Susan E. Brooks

When people ask what I am doing, I tell them I quit my teaching job to pursue my art, and they don’t seem to understand my answer.  I get it.  Rarely does one meet a fine artist, as opposed to a commercial artist, who is making a living with her art.  People assume that I have “retired” from teaching to kick back and enjoy the grandkids and dabble in art as a hobby.  The fact is that I do enjoy a little more time for the grandkids, but I have no retirement package, and I’m too young for social security.  I have made a leap into the unknown, and it is yet to be seen whether I can replace my teaching income with income from my art and writing.

So how do I spend my time?  So many different art and writing deadlines are looming that I’ve had to make a spread sheet which I update each week.  The columns are for things that need to be done “this week, this month,” and in the “near future.”  It also has a place for a shopping list.  Here’s a link to the weekly planner I made for those who might like to use it: my one page weekly planner

To keep up with the demands of the two galleries that represent me, KORE Gallery and the Jane Morgan plein air gallery, I need to do at least 2 large oil pastels per month, and go out every Thursday to paint “en plein air,” which means painting outdoors.  In addition to creating work to sell at these galleries, I have juried invitational shows and art fairs for which to create work and a solo show coming up next year.

On the writing front, I am working on a book of stories about our time in Mozambique.  From emails and journals that I wrote while in Mozambique, I publish a devotional blog story every Wednesday, which is a short excerpt from the book. Here’s a link to the first of those posts if you are interested.  Mozambican Odyssey, #1.  I am also sending off articles and stories to publishers each month.

What makes me think I can do all of this and maybe make a little money at it?  I ask myself that all too often, but when I need encouragement, I remember the words of a beloved college professor of mine.  Many years ago, when I studied art in college, the professor in charge of the art department called me into his office one day.  He asked what I wanted to do with my life.  When I told him I wanted to be a fine artist, he said this:  “I tell most of my students that they should go into commercial art because so few can make it as fine artists, but you could make it as a fine artist.  You can do whatever you set your mind to do.”  That dear man died of cancer a couple of years after giving me that encouragement, but I’ve never forgotten it.  It has taken me about thirty years to get around to trying it full-time, but I think that professor is watching from heaven, cheering me on.

 

 

 

Mozambican Odyssey #6: They All Said Yes

A Light Has Dawned, 17×20, pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized, and they all started shaking their heads “Yes”!

“Wait a minute,” I thought, “let me make sure they are saying what I think they are saying.”

You see, I was still learning Portuguese, and Portuguese is also a second language for these children.  They speak Changaan at home, but school is taught in Portuguese because Mozambique had been colonized by the Portuguese.  I had these illustrated Bible story posters with the story written in Portuguese on the back of the big, colorful illustration.  I would practice reading the stories in Portuguese, and the other missionaries told me my pronunciation was good, so they asked me to teach the children on Wednesday nights.  The truth is, I could read the words and pronounce them well,  but at times I didn’t comprehend what my own mouth was saying as I read the story to the children.

Sometimes having good pronunciation can get you into trouble because people think you have better language skills than you actually do.  The other night for example, two babies came to class with their older siblings, who looked to me to be about 6, and just as the class was starting, a baby toddled out into the dark night.  I tried to ask the children to go get her, but in my panic, my high school French popped into my mind instead of Portuguese, and the children all just looked at me blankly!  It’s as if my brain has a foreign language switch, and when I’m panicked, trying to think of a word in the new language I’m learning, instead, my brain supplies the word from a language I haven’t studied for years, sometimes a word that I wouldn’t be able to think of if I were trying!  I’m curious as to whether this happens to other people, or is my brain broken?

After I realized that I had used French instead of Portuguese, I corrected myself, and the big brother went to retrieve the baby.  After the story ended, I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized.

They all started nodding their heads and saying, “Yes!”  I was super excited, but not quite sure they understood.  It would have been great to just baptize them all and report the wonderful results to our supporters; but instead, I questioned them further, finding out that many of them had already been baptized, and things were not exactly as they seemed on the surface.

Most of the time these days, I’m not trying to communicate in a second language, but do I still make the same kind of mistakes?  I make a judgement, based on someone’s brief response, not really taking the time to ask questions and make sure they understood what I meant, and maybe I plow forward based on mistaken assumptions, not taking the time to get to know people or listen to them because I have an agenda for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, took the time to walk, talk, and eat with people.  He didn’t push an agenda, but he asked what they wanted, sometimes even when the answer seemed obvious.  He spent time daily with his disciples, teaching them by example and with stories and conversations.  I need to be reminded to slow down and listen to people.  It’s not all about my agenda for them.  Maybe they don’t need what I think they need, and I won’t know unless I let go of my agenda for them and listen.

Mozambican Odyssey: Babies Carrying Babies (Excerpt #4)

In Mozambique, it was not unusual to see toddlers carrying babies on their backs.

Lately I’ve been going through old photos from our time in Mozambique.  The photo that this artwork is based on reminded me of an eye-opening experience I had after we first moved to Mozambique, when my daughter was only 3 or 4 years old.  We had hired a young mother to help me with the housework and with learning the language and culture.  One day she needed to bring her children to work with her, and she brought her little daughter who was the same age as ours, 3 or 4, but strapped onto the little one’s back was a baby!  That little one, very much a baby herself, I thought, was expected to bounce that baby and keep her happy while her mommy worked.  I couldn’t believe it.  I watched as she entered my house, carrying that heavy load, and I worried about the little head bobbing up and down as big sis–tiny big sis– carried her around.  The little girl walked through the kitchen, and then she caught sight of my daughter’s bedroom.

At this point I feel the need to say that my kids left so many of their toys behind in the states, and there was very little around Maputo that we could afford to buy for them, or even that they would want when we first moved there.   Hannah did not have very many toys compared to her friends back in the states.  But when that little toddler entered her room, still with the baby on her back, her eyes got huge!  It was as if she had walked into Disneyland.  She had apparently never seen so many little girl toys, baby dolls, etc., and she just wanted to play in there all day.  That she did, as I recall, occasionally stopping to comfort her in-the-flesh baby sister on her back, as she played with the dolls.

It was another of many such moments in which I realized that I was the rich white American, and my employee’s kids could not imagine living like we did, despite the fact that we felt we had given up so much to move to Mozambique.

I’ve been processing this stuff for years, and I still don’t have many answers.  Being ashamed of having more than someone else is not helpful, but I do think we need to struggle with what can be done about income inequality and find ways to be compassionate.

Micah 6 : 8 comes to mind.  “And what  does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

I need to be concerned with justice, mercy, and humility.  These three are so needed, now more than ever.

Mozambican Odyssey, #1: Culture Shock and Stress

“All the World” by Susan E. Brooks, 20 x 30 inches, oil pastel on mat board

 

Every day is filled with incredible stress, guilt, and fear.  My husband nearly died from an unidentified illness, and I fear for the health and safety of my kids almost all day, every day.  It’s easier just to stay on the compound with the other American missionaries, but that’s not why I came.  God, help me get through this.

The women here are so strong and persevering.  They work incredibly hard everyday, many with absent husbands, caring for children in addition to working a job if they can find one.  Most prepare their food over a fire and carry water some distance from a pump.  Their lives seem like constant struggle and pain to me, and yet they sing and smile and are so beautiful in their laughter.

I am a pampered child who cannot handle much stress, apparently.  Many days I wonder what it would be like to have a nervous breakdown.  How can you tell if you’re about to lose it?  What are the signs?  I can’t talk to anyone about this because they’re all stressed too, and I’m supposed to be a hero to the people back home.  What a crock!  I’m a wreck.  The kids are the only ones who seem to be okay, most of the time.  I try to hold it together for them.  I keep my  inner turmoil  hidden.  God does help me and carry me through, but I wonder if He will keep us safe.  I wonder if all 5 of us will make it back home to Kentucky.

I know that God is good.  I see it in nature and in the beauty of children and in the Mozambican people all around me.  How can the creator of such beauty not be good?  But I also see the suffering around me.  Children are dying from cholera all around.  I saw my 20 year old brother suffer and die of cancer within a few months.  My dad died at age 63, just before retirement, as a result of a car wreck.  Life is suffering, beauty, and glory, all mixed together.  Sometimes I could hide from that back in Kentucky, but not here in Mozambique.  Extreme poverty slaps you in the face as children beg for bread every day; but at night, the stars crowding the sky seem so close you could throw a rock at one and send it crashing down to earth.   This beauty is also undeniable.

Looking back in 2019, I did survive 3 years in Mozambique, but one of my teammates did not.  He was shot and killed by armed robbers that entered our compound one night.  I did not feel free to write about how difficult it was for me back then, but now I am free of the pedestal and the expectations that were put upon me at the time.  I don’t know why I am safely back home, and my friend is not.  God allows suffering, and He is is good.  These truths I have to hold in tension, and probably always will.  I hope I can live in such a way as to celebrate the beauty and goodness, and at the same time, maybe I can alleviate a little of the suffering, or at least, stand in solidarity with those who suffer, as Jesus does.