Sunday, August 30, 2015

Always an Artist

I recently spent a week beginning the disposition of the belongings of my late parents. It is an odd project to dispose of a lifetime of things, things that conjure the two people who were central figures in my world for much of my life. What to discard, what to keep? One thing I don't plan to discard is my mother's creative work.

I've written of my mother's collaging, or as that former first grade teacher termed it, "cutting and pasting". She began this activity in the fall of 2013 and concluded it a few weeks before her death in 2015. With roughly one a month she left 20 albums, a "legacy" she termed it. She began this project when Alzheimers robbed her of the ability to pursue her favorite activity of reading. Each morning she eagerly awaited her newspaper so she could begin to cut it up and paste it in her notebook. At the time we were just glad she had found something that seemed to engage her, but as I carefully perused her albums I was struck by how her style evolved. I could see her mind working and felt her presence surround me.

Carefully I went through each one, page by page. I put them in date order so I could better see their evolution and took photos of those that struck me the most. My plan is to frame some of them and perhaps show them along with my painting of her cutting and pasting. They clearly underscore the fact that creativity can be sustained, perhaps even enhanced, as memory fades. With this perusal, I found myself analyzing her composition, her juxtapositions and repetition of forms. Often I felt as if she was perched on my shoulder, especially as I read her little notes jotted amidst her collages.

I was touched and intrigued and thought I'd share some of her efforts with you.

Her albums began in October 2013 with a few pages recapping her life, her children, her teaching career, my father and how long she had lived in her home. Then she began with her first effort. Her early work was very simple, she took images that appealed to her and pasted them on a page with white space surrounding them. You can tell from the content that it was fall and she was already beginning to paste leaves in as well (1).

Soon that morphed into a more overlapping style and this is where I began to notice some interesting things. She clearly had a fascination for faces and repetition of forms. Notice the upside down burger mimicking the pumpkin face (2) ? You can see how she was using grapes to create a sense of flow in the image, drawing your eye along with it. Now her work was beginning to overlap creating a denser image.

At the end of that first book was a note that she had sung Happy Birthday to my sister and my sister told her that it made her day. I felt a surge of satisfaction. I talked to my mother each morning and my sister spoke to her in the evening. She was no longer able to remember birthdays, but I had reminded her of my sister's birthday. She had said, "But I don't have anything for her!" I had suggested she sing to my sister and the suggestion had stayed with her all day, a long time in Alzheimer time.

She often included newspaper articles, sometimes about sports; she was an avid basketball fan. She told me she included anything she saw about Obama who she firmly supported. A newspaper article might find itself enhanced by visuals, often with repetition of form, notice the hands of the M&M guy and the basketball players (3).

Mom was drawn to images of families and it appears that she had a fondness for William and Kate. Here they are adorned with a gingerbread house and Tinkerbell, filling out their world with sweetness (4).

While she had begun to overlap images, she hadn't firmly shifted from individual images yet. She was often conscious of the relationship between opposing pages and might divide images to get some repetition (5). She often used her pages as a notebook, noting important things like her breakfast or the fact that her paper hadn't come yet. This was the high point of her day and if it hadn't arrived by our morning phone call, I immediately called the paper to urge them onward.

Her work often had a bit of whimsy in how she separated images. Notice the child reaching for a tidbit just out of reach (6).


About six months into this activity she began to overlap imagery in earnest and make use of full page spreads (7, 8).

Now she was hitting her stride turning out imagery which merged black and white and color (9) and using swatches of color like mosaics (10).
I've been teaching classes in family history collage and on one visit I brought in printouts of family pictures and decorative papers. She did a collage while I was there, but then I left her with a bunch of family images out of which she did my favorite creations - the crowns of strawberries for her mother and my sister. It made me regret leaving images of me out of the batch I provided her.
She continued her work for another ten months and while not everything worked, the ones that did made me take a second look. She always had an artist's eye and I admire not only her sense of purpose, but the creations that came out of it. Here is a sampling from the remaining months of some of my favorites.


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