Monday, October 15, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #43 - STARTING OVER



Am overwhelmed as I write down this part of my life....in less than four years I gave birth to three babies, caught my husband cheating, moved to New Mexico, took a painting workshop in Cloudcroft, exhibited my work in public for the first time - and decided I could provide a better life for my children alone!

Except for three little ones making their needs known, the house became very quiet.  I was too surprised to be scared.  Secretly I was hoping the shock would bring him to his senses, he would see the error of his ways, get down on bended knee and beg forgiveness. What was I thinking?  I really didn't want him back!  Now that I think of it, he never did say he was sorry for anything!  If nothing changed, we were headed for a divorce.  Nevertheless I was sworn to absolute secrecy.  He didn't want anyone  to know of the separation, especially his mother. He said he might lose his job and in that case I would get no support from him.  Truth his intention was to support us as little as possible. 

Patti, my babysitter lived across the street.  I told her what was happening.  Her father worked at the State Capitol Building and knew of a lawyer who needed a secretary.  I hadn't worked in an office since John was born and didn't know a plaintiff from a defendant.   Putting on my best face, I applied for the job anyway.  They hired me!  Wow!  McKenna, Sommer & Lawler had offices at La Posada right across from the old hospital. The only hitch is that I didn't have a car and I didn't know how to drive! -- remember, one bite at a time.  Patti's dad agreed to take me to work for a week or two.

The fridge was empty.  What to do? It was a warm summer evening when I got home from work.  I put on my tennis shoes. The twins rode in their red wagon.  Holding John's hand, the four of us paraded two blocks to Piggly Wiggly for some groceries. We did this for about two weeks until it was obvious my neighbor's favors were wearing thin. I needed my own car.

Ernie took me to Dick Hughes Volkswagen on Marquez Place and I bought a 1963 green and white VW Bus for $600!  It had a stick shift.  After I signed the papers, the men showed me what the gears meant by making the sign of the "H" - Aargh!  Then they sent me on my merry way on St. Michael's Drive, right into 5:00 traffic. Why were all those angry drivers honking and waving their fists at me?   I was to follow Ernie, but lost him in the first few blocks, I just kept on grinding gears all the way home!  I still had $400 in my pocket for more groceries and the $250 house payment!  I was terrified and absolutely giddy all at once!

One step at a time, one day at a time.....I was almost too busy to notice that once the decision was made to take responsibility for the four of us, things began to fall into place - more than Doers, we are Deciders!

WORD PAINTINGS #42 - "HOW DO YOU EAT AN ELEPHANT?"

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!

WHAT WAS I THINKING?  Truth is I wasn't thinking - I was blinded by rage!  You clueless sonofabitch! How could you threaten your own babies?  I was more than terrified that one day he might lose it and act on his threats! My theory regarding verbal threats, if you say it, you can do it!   The following week I wandered around in a daze.  When I was a child I learned to "numb myself out" in order to escape the threats of violence.   It was really easy for me to not feel anything!   Of course I blamed myself for getting angry - if I hadn't confronted him, life would be a dream wouldn't it?  I began to take stock of my situation and things looked pretty bleak.   Told him I wanted a divorce.  "You are so stupid - you have three children - no man will want you!"  The last thing I wanted was another man!

Here I was - 30 years old, three babies three years of age and under.  I really had no way to make a steady living.  Due to his new car habit, I was never taught to drive lest I harm the car!  Back in my old Polish neighborhood, only "liberated" women drove a car!  I did not know how to drive!!!   

Ernie didn't have any idea what was going on in our house.  He and my husband were best buddies.  With some sculptures which had not sold at the Arts & Crafts Fair, he planned a weekend trip to El Paso to consign that work to Cita Platt's 222 Gallery and invited my husband to go along.  The respite from the tension was a gift - I could have some peace and quiet to think things through.  I didn't have a clue, but I knew I needed to "man up" - put my big girl pants on and put a plan in place to take care of my children.  They deserved better!

That Sunday morning, standing in the middle of the living room,  it was obvious nothing in my marriage would ever get better.. It was an act of futility to keep wishing and hoping he would change.  I was the one who needed to change and take responsibility for my little family!   I knew what I needed to do. Going through the house I gathered up all his belongings- every damned tie, all the expensive pipes and the tweedy sport coats with leather patches at the elbows!.  Much of his guns and expensive fishing gear went into a corner in the garage. I packed everything else in suitcases and put them on the front porch.  When he came home, I told him he was no longer welcome in the house. He needed to leave or I would call the police.  Turning pale, he was too stunned to react.  Picking up his suitcases he quietly drove off with Ernie! 

OMG! What a smart ass! What do I do now?  Once he was gone I felt nine years of "not being good enough" leave my body.  If I got a job and painted to supplement my income.....I had no idea of the path ahead - where to start.  I was really scared!  The next day I put some laundry in the washer, made a pot of soup, put blankets down on the floor in the family room - sat my kidlets in the middle of all their toys and I painted! I still had that $1000 dollars and three beautiful babies!!!  How hard could it be?  I always was a dreamer!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #41 - IF WISHES WERE FISHES


 (My First Albuquerque Arts & Crafts Fair, Summr 1969)

If wishes were fishes, we'd all have a Feast!

Honestly I don't have the courage to describe all of my childhood, except to say that my brother and I had some truly terrible experiences.  Although the rest of the family knew the reality of what our lives were like, they helped when they could, but were relieved when they could go home.  No one saved us.  Years later when my babies were old enough, I bought them the game of Life as a Christmas present.  When we opened the box, they had left out the instructions!  That, in a nutshell, is the story of my life.

The exact sequence of events in 1969/1970 escape me.  I know that my mother-in-law visited from Pennsylvania just in the middle of my preparations for the art fair in Albuquerque.  She didn't have a clue as to the state of my marriage.  I had been sworn to secrecy regarding the babysitter and the real reason for our move to Santa Fe. She knew nothing of her son's true character!  Her mission during this trip was to convince me that pursuing my art was unhealthy for my children.   Early in my marriage she told me that she didn't think I was good enough for her son. Her argument went unchallenged.  Anything I said to defend myself fell on deaf ears. Am certain she believed I squandered all his salary on art supplies.  My anger and resentment toward them both reached new and dangerous heights.

As the date of the fair loomed closer, I wanted to back out - to just stay home with my babies.  I had no self-confidence.  My father's favorite description of me "She's graceful as the bird they call the elephant".  That was the picture I had of myself.  No wonder when I caught my husband in a lie and challenged him, he told me I was crazy like my mother and I believed him!  However the truth was right before my eyes.  The children had outgrown all their clothes, they didn't have shoes, the groceries were stretched thin and I was unable to pay the bills.  We were deeply in debt. If I could sell some paintings and pay some bills, I had no choice - I had to stuff my fears and just show up!

My paintings sold well.  I came home with a little over $1000 which was a fortune at that time!   Wow!  Thought of a million ways I could put the money to good use.  Clothes for the babies, shoes - I felt on top of the world - pure joy!  Would it really be possible to earn a living with my paintings?  All I needed was a little support and encouragement!  

THUD! Sitting in front of the house when I arrived was a brand new Oldsmobile sedan and my pipe-smoking husband smiling at the door.  My heart sank.  There was no way I could contain his out of control spending.   I stood up to him and showed him my anger.  That only lasted a minute - he became a manly man, outraged at my confrontation.  He raised his hands to hit me and I sunk into the corner of the dining room with my arm over my head for protection.  His yelling woke the babies. This time he went too far and threatened to get his shotgun and shoot all four of us.   I knew this was the end of my marriage.

The next day I called my father and asked for his help - I needed a way to get back to Chicago so that I could support my children.  He said "You made your bed, now lie in it."  There was no going back now - and there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  What to do, what to do?  The upside was the $1000 I had in my purse!
 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #40 - KINDRED SPIRITS!


The time arrived to frame up my paintings and get them ready to exhibit.  The Albuquerque Arts and Crafts show had been held at the State Fair Grounds every summer for about five years. As of this writing, it is now 54 years old.  Ernie had been showing his welded sculptures there for a few years and usually sold out.  This fair was a substantial source of his income.  He had urged me to enter, I was accepted and now I needed to show up.

When the time came I had about 25 framed paintings.  My prices were quite low and my first time out, I sold $1000 worth of work.  I was elated.  As a result of this happy experience, I would continue doing art fairs - sometimes three or four a year...Albuquerque, Laguna Gloria in Austin - some holiday fairs in Santa Fe.  This was a great learning experience for me.  In each city I made new art friends who stayed with me for many years.  They started out as buyers and stayed over to become true friends.  What I loved about selling directly to the public was seeing their response to my work.  Most of it was very positive and encouraging.  I loved it!

An added bonus to selling my paintings was visiting the booths of other artists and talking to them about their work.   I met the now famous Santa Clara Pueblo painter Pablita Velarde.  The fair was also an important part of her income.  We talked about the resistance we faced because we made art.  The elders of her pueblo did not look upon her paintings kindly.  My father and my husband were dead set against me pursuing my art.  I had found a kindred spirit!
 
Basketmaking, c. 1940, by Pablita Velarde
In a 1979 interview she said, "Painting was not considered women's work in my time. A woman was supposed to be just a woman, like a housewife and a mother and chief cook. Those were things I wasn't interested in."

That year I also met another Santa Clara artist, the exquisite Grace Medicine Flower, a now world famous potter! (Grace Medicine Flower was born in 1938 at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico.[1] She is a member of the famous Tafoya pottery family and the niece of Margaret Tafoya. Her pots from 1968 to 1972 were done in collaboration with her father, Camilio Tafoya, and are signed by both of them.) Grace and I talked for a long time and she introduced me to her handsome brother, Joseph Lonewolf.

This was my first experience of being introduced to the Native American culture.  As we laughed and shared our stories, we were women together trying to support our families with our work.  In later years I would cross paths with Pablita - once when she was helping her daughter, Helen Hardin, hang her solo gallery exhibit in Santa Fe. They are both gone now and the world is a much sadder and less colorful place without them.

 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #39 - GHOST TOWNS AND WIDE OPEN SPACES


The light in northern New Mexico is absolutely brilliant.   It was a challenge to adjust my vision.  A sunny day in Chicago is like looking through a gauzy window curtain.   There is no comparison to daylight in the high desert.  It took some time for me to realize the difference.  I thought light was light until day trips with my painting buddy Edda Lynne.  This indeed was a whole new beginning.  It was a good thing that I hadn't established my own way of painting in Chicago.  Everything was falling into place and I could move forward, learning something new almost every day.  The move to Santa Fe, the workshop and now some rather intense field work made me realize I wasn't in Chicago anymore!

The ghost towns fascinated me.  Ernie, my husband and I would explore the villages along the Turquoise Trail - especially Madrid, Cerrillos and Golden.  Some Sundays we would head toward Taos to photograph and explore the abandoned adobe houses along the Rio Grande River.  On a really good day we might meet a "local" who would share stories of life in these places.  Old timers were the greatest and the best story tellers.  I learned to listen and appreciate the history - it was all new and I was enthralled.  It felt like I was falling in love for the first time.

Edda Lynne wanted to paint the old mining shacks in Madrid.  Most of the town had been abandoned after the mine closed. With great anticipation I packed up my paints and lunch for this new adventure.  Plein air painting on location was a first for me.  Ernie decided that we "girls" needed protection.  He put his fully loaded .357 Magnum into my straw tote bag.  I protested.  He said it was "just in case".

We headed out Highway 14.  Edda parked the car on a secondary road in full view of some crumbling old shacks up on a hill.  Once our easels and paints were set up we both went to work.  It was a beautiful day - the sky was a bright New Mexico blue and the only sound was the flutter of an occasional bird as it flew past.  In spite of being surrounded by goatheads (sharp little hazards), I took off my shoes.  I was oblivious to everything but the canvas right in front of me.

Suddenly I heard someone approaching.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a tall man coming toward us.  I looked over his shoulder toward the road and he had blocked our car. I began to feel danger.  He was staggering and in no way appeared friendly.  Now this sounds crazy, but I shouted to him "Don't come any further, I have a gun!"  As he came nearer I realized that he was either drunk or on drugs.  I reached into my tote and grabbed the gun.  Standing up I first held the weapon down at my side.  This was not a friendly approach and I was frightened.  I warned him off again; he pretended not to hear.  When he was quite near I lifted the gun and pointed it right at him.  "If you come any closer, I will shoot!"  He turned, walked to his car and drove off.  We put on our shoes and packed up our paints. We worried that he could be waiting for us at the end of the road.  All was clear and we headed for home.  My first field day of painting in the wild, wild West!

Annie Oakley I am not.  Did Ernie have a premonition when he put the gun in my bag?  Were we in real danger?  Did I over react?   I will never know.  Fifty years ago these abandoned places were much different than they are now.  Actually I have done field painting and photography in some very isolated places since that experience and never again felt the need to carry a weapon. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #38 - BECOMING AN ARTIST!


 (Note: "Toby, A Time of Flowers" - One of my earliest paintings after moving to New Mexico.)

SANTA FE WINTER 1969 -  After the move from Alegre Street and the Jan Herring Workshop, life became quiet and very enjoyable. The babies were really babies no more.  When they were awake there was constant movement and mischief like the day they decided to make a crayon mural on the stuccoed wall in the hallway. It took a week of scrubbing to clean it up.  One girl dreamed up all the schemes and directed her sister to do the dirty work. Now I think I should have left it there to be celebrated and enjoyed.  We played in the backyard and made snowmen.  The four of us had some good fun. My husband seemed to enjoy teaching at the college. Ernie had purchased a ridgetop lot on the north end of town and stopped over often for dinner.  With great excitement he showed us the blueprints for the house he planned to build. There was no drama or chaos.  Money was tight but I felt new energy and believed that some brighter days were ahead for all of us.

My routine was simple - cooking, cleaning and a lot of painting.  My little "studio" in the corner of family room worked well.  There were blankets on the floor - big pads of paper and crayons for the troops. A load of laundry in the washer, and a big pot of vegetable soup on the stove - it was my version of a wonderful life! We were all cozied in that winter and I was inspired!  I had made about twenty new paintings.  Some of them were quite good.  Ernie had encouraged me to send in my application to the Albuquerque Arts and Crafts Fair to get a booth and exhibit that summer.  It seemed such a distant dream that I put it out of my mind and just painted.  

We went to openings at Margaret's gallery - Fritz Scholder, Kevin Redstar, Gaspard, Fechin.  This was my new world.  I was no longer an observer, I was "in it"!  I met new people who talked art, lived art - all they thought about every day was making art!!!   The environment was alive with creativity.  No more musty museums.  This was where it all happened.  Suddenly I knew who I wanted to become....an imaginary door opened and I entered a new way of seeing and being.  I was hooked.

Jan Herring was a generous teacher.  In those five short days of the workshop she taught us the basics...color compostion, negative space, lights and darks - a thousand elements of painting.  I learned that painting was a discipline - a life long learning process.  For me it was magic.  I had no idea where to start - I knew what I wanted, but didn't know how to get there.  I bought books on color and composition and studied after the children went to bed.  Progress, not perfection - never perfection.  One step at a time - one painting at a time. How did I get so lucky?

The heartache and turmoil of the past two years began to fade.  All I had to have was a willing spirit.  A path forward had begun to appear and I was becoming aware of opportunities.  A lot of questions.    To my mind,  Jan's life was perfect. She took good care of her husband and children.  While her husband was working on the ranch and her children were in school she painted.  All her efforts had paid off.  She taught her workshops and sold her paintings.  She did what she loved and at the same time contributed in large measure to the financial well being of the family.  I wanted to be her!  Where do I begin?

My husband was becoming concerned.  He didn't recognize the person he had married.  I was all NEW!!  Realizing that I was serious about my painting, he told me it was okay for me to do it as a hobby; as long as it didn't interfere with my duties to the family. 

An envelope arrived in the mail addressed to me. I had been accepted as an exhibitor in that summer's Arts and Crafts Fair!  Information regarding my booth number and instructions would follow shortly.
This was unbelievable. I had my new beginning and never once looked back!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #37 - 10/6/2018 - Taos, New Mexico

10/6/2018 Taos, New Mexico - Have been up most of the night. My Thursday post was amended in an attempt to be more honest.  And then yesterday happened.  Judge Kavanaugh is to be confirmed to the Supreme Court today, when in reality he needs a good 12 Step Treatment Program.  I can't forget the picture of his wife's face during his wild testimony and I knew the truth of her marriage.  Sadness and disbelief at her husband's out of control rant.  I am her - she is me.  She has the look of every woman who keeps the family secrets.

Starting this blog in early August I tried to keep it light - my wayshowers, my painting workshop, my early history with New Mexico.  I left hints, but was determined not to go too deep. And then I listened to Professor Ford's testimony and knew I wasn't being completely honest.  I wrote my Thursday post and my best friend called to tell me that she thought it seemed hurried through the hard parts and had not adequately described what really happened.  I rewrote it and honestly felt as though I had revealed too much.  Not even my children know the truth about my marriage to their father.  Rigorous honesty is very uncomfortable.  I fantasized about deleting the blog.  Instead I have decided to continue this conversation one day at a time.

Watching Prof. Ford I realized what courage it took for her to raise her hand and swear to tell the truth.  Then I heard Amy Klobuchar reveal that she had lived in a house with an alcoholic father who is now 90 years old and in recovery.  Last night I thought of Betty Ford telling of her recovery from alcoholism and breast cancer.  She saved thousands of women's lives by coming forward with her truthtelling - I am one of those women.  Think of the women who came forward and revealed being horribly abused by Bill Cosby.  Every day the truth comes out somewhere and the list of perpetrators grows just because another woman comes forward and tells her story.  She may never know that by sharing her experience, strength and hope another woman gains enough courage to leave an abusive marriage or confront her abuser.

We are as sick as our secrets.  In my family no one would admit that my father was an alcoholic and my mother suffered from a severe mental illness.  Instead we made up stories.  We made up excuses in order to look and hopefully feel sane.  We covered up and tried to make ugly reality go away.  We stumbled around in hurt and confusion.  At least we could lie to ourselves that everything would get better if we just wore the right clothes, earned enough money, cooked the right meals, put on lots of makeup and whistled a happy tune.  We covered up our shame for not having a perfect life.  

There is hope for us yet.  I am a firm believer that there are no accidents.  I thought of all the women who have come out these last two weeks and told their experiences of being abused.  Am sure they feel belittled and shamed by sharing their stories only to have Judge Kavanaugh confirmed anyway.  They have spoken their truth and hopefully are now on a path to healing.  It might take some time, but once our stories are told, we will never be the same.

What I know for sure is that even in my darkest times another person shared their experiences with me and I lived to paint another day!

 

WORD PAINTINGS #43 - STARTING OVER

  Am overwhelmed as I write down this part of my life....in less than four years I gave birth to three babies, caught my husband cheat...