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.
“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.
“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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes–no, all the time–I want be aware of the sacred all around me. We tend to separate life into categories: sacred versus secular, art versus life, one category or discipline versus another, and we seldom connect things in our minds. Yet, in reality, it is all connected. Academic disciplines overlap, art influences life, and all of creation is sacred.
My art grows out of special times when my eyes are opened to beauty, which for me is a gift from God. The above pastel painting was inspired by a time when the sacred danced into my ordinary day, and demanded my attention.
It was one of many summer days that I kept my granddaughters, who, though they look like little angels, do not always behave like angels. We went out into the backyard to play, and the sun was streaming long yellow-green stripes of light across the grass, and these tiny yellow flowers were shooting up straight and thin, up to the blue-violet sky, and the tulip tree was spreading its delicate, pale pink blossoms.
The invitation to bask in the glory of the moment was not lost on the girls, who ran to gather the tiny yellow flowers for their mommy. It struck me that this was a sacred, beautiful moment, and though I was tired, this time I noticed, and I started taking photos.
How many times have I not noticed and just kept pushing through my day? Too many, I’m afraid. This year, open my eyes, God, to more and more of the beautiful and sacred around me, and help me listen and see You at work in all of this painful, yet glorious existence.
I am excited to be a part of the World Refugee Festival in Louisville beginning June 16 – 24! Kentucky Refugee ministries has organized a series of art events in celebration of World Refugee Week. The purpose of the events is to celebrate the refugees that have come to Louisville and the blessings they bring to us as a community. The piece pictured above is fairly large, and it is one thing to view art online, but quite another to stand in front of an original work of art. Online you cannot experience the intensity of colors or the interplay of the various textures and strokes in a drawing or painting as you can seeing it “face to face.” So I hope you come out tomorrow to the Better Block Festival and to the Brown Theatre next Saturday, June 23. See you there!
It was one of the most difficult trips I’ve ever taken. We were traveling through Burkina Faso during our missionary days, and the poverty was overwhelming. I found myself, once again, the spoiled, picky, American girl who had trouble eating what the locals would have been thrilled to have. One time at a restaurant, flies were swarming so thickly upon our plates of chicken and french fries that the only way we could eat was to cover our plates completely with napkins, pulling a fry or a piece of chicken out from under it the best we could. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.
Speaking of flies, the donkey that I painted above had flies crawling all over his eyes that were swollen shut. They looked like two slits– they must have been infected. I had to use my artistic skills to open his eyes and make him look healthy and happy. The boy also was not as healthy and glowing as I painted him to be. The truth is that I had to change the sad realities of this boy’s life in order to create a beautiful painting that people would want to see. I’m not sure what to do with that, and I am ashamed to complain about flies on my fries when so many in that country had so little to eat.
How do we respond to the stark contrasts and overwhelming misery that exist in our world? How can we help? Guilt and shame are not the answer. The answer is probably different for each one of us. If only painting away the infections and the hunger would make them disappear. I don’t know how to fix our broken world, but I do see people helping, one person at a time. Thank you, all of you who are loving, serving, and helping, one person at a time. God sees you.
I discovered oil pastels while studying art in college. I don’t know why I picked them up in the first place, and I remember being frustrated with them in the beginning. One of my early attempts was a ballerina whose face looked like that of an ape, sending my professors into spasms of laughter. It’s a painful memory I’ve probably never shared publicly until now.
In spite of that failure, I kept at it, and I found that if I used a textured board and kept my work large, strikingly colorful portraits began to emerge from the background. The pastels were so intense that I had to mix the colors on the surface of the painting. I’ve found that not having the exact skin colors of pastels forced me to used a mixture of colors that became magic for me, and I developed my own style of portraits using oil pastels. I thought you might enjoy seeing an earlier stage of the work, along with the finished piece.