My paternal grandmother coming through – artist, painter, avant guard, Quaker. She was a gift to me – a model of a woman artist and an inquiring mind.
Journal 6/27/95: I wanted to play with the new oils (given to me as a going away present by the Fire Mountain parents) – not go for some deep meaning. So I started out using the colors still on the palette – blending shapes in, blurring edges to see what the paint would do when I didn’t care what it did. No expectation. Then I started thinking of my grandmother – Mary Hitchner deMoll – Polly. She studied at the School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and in 1911 in Paris. Pretty gutsy for that day. Ended up subsumed by family, I guess, though she does have 2 portrait miniatures in the Philadelphia Art Museum. It was she who took my cousin and I on an expedition to art museums in New York City.
As I was working on this painting I could hear her talking about the how-to’s of oils. I thought of painting her and then realized I had a photo of her right behind me! She is young and sweetly innocent looking in the photo. In the painting she looks sadder and more grim. I was thinking, I guess of the pain in her life – losing a baby, her unpredictable depression and temper (rages even) and her lack of recognition as a painter. (Was this a disappointment? I don’t know. She never spoke of it). And finally her long sad decline into senility in my college years, weeping in the nursing home for that long dead baby.
She is small in the painting – the colors bright over her head like a speaking balloon in a cartoon. What is she saying? Something about color, I guess. Her love for me – and her bequest: my ability to see/think/create visually, thwarted as it has been all these years.
It was very satisfying to paint. The greens and yellows around the figure seem soothing somehow. It felt good to think about her – to immortalize her a little and the influence she had on my life. She not only taught me about the Impressionists, she also gave me wonderful books (Rumer Godden!) and dolls. And she taught me about God. She was a Quaker who explained to me about the Quaker sense of God as a light within in a way that I never forgot – and came back to ten years ago with my growing sense of spirituality.
All that for such a little painting.