I've been told that my paternal grandmother taught at the Art Institute of Chicago back in the Twenties. She never told me that herself, because two years before I was born, she passed out of this world. Even so, her influence on me was great. I grew up surrounded by her drawings and paintings and hearing from everyone how wonderful an artist, teacher and human being she was.
Not really formal at all. I always loved to draw, but was never any good at it until I was 15 and began working with a neighborhood lady. Isabel Rix smoked like a chimney during studio classes in her basement. The rate was three bucks a week. If you think about it, that's like $30/week now or more, so it wasn't really inexpensive for my parents. Add to that voice and piano lessons, and I wasn't cheap to raise at all!
I really wanted to learn to paint with oils like Grandma Dewey, but Mrs. Rix had me begin with pastels so I could learn the basics about color, value, drawing, composition--all of it. (I have some of my first works still and will unframe them, photograph and post them when I can. I promise!) After a year or so, I did move into oils.
I continued working with Mrs. Rix on and off for a few years after college, while I taught in the Clarkston Community School District, until I got married and moved to Adrian, Michigan. Five years later, we moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where I worked for Pantheon Music Studios as a jingle writer and producer, then taught in the Chandler Unified School District for eleven years.
Over those years, I felt the urge to get out the easel. I tried oil painting but always found myself gravitating back to pastels. They were quick, relatively forgiving and so pure in color! Eventually, I put down my paints altogether to raise my two boys and teach music in the public schools. But I kept my supplies: I had an inkling I might pick them up again some day in my old age, like Grandma Moses.
Sure enough, in 1992, I got them out and went to town. Pastels had changed a lot over those intervening years. With the advent of soft pastels and artist’s sanded paper, I had found my medium. I began selling my matted photography in shops and galleries in Leelanau County a few years prior. In 1993, I brought five paintings to a few local galleries but had no luck. Fortunately, the owner of a new little farmer's market in Glen Arbor said she would display them.
My first works hung over produce in the cute little outside shop all summer long. Glen Arbor had a very short "season" back then. It's much longer now. My boys and I spent our summers in Glen Arbor but lived in Arizona during the rest of the year. At the end of that summer, I approached Cindy Taggart, owner of The Secret Garden in Empire. She agreed to go over to the market to take a look at my pieces. (By this time, I had gone home for the beginning of the school year.) Cindy wrote me and said, "I'll take them."
I may have been living in Arizona, but I painted more of northern Michigan than anything else, especially Leelanau County. (What was wrong with that picture?) In 1995, one of my pastels of Lake Michigan (Click here) won Third Place in the Arizona State Fair. A few years later, no longer teaching school, I was accepted into Scottsdale’s three-month long Celebration of Fine Art, an annual working artist's exhibit. When that 1999 Celebration show closed, I finally moved to the land of my heart's desire and to the Glen Arbor cottage where I had grown up each summer.
For someone so influenced by 1920s painting techniques (and Monet--I LOVE Monet), it was pretty unusual to branch into abstracts, but that's what happened. As I trudged through divorce in the mid-90s, I visited a therapist who had me painting (art therapy) with my non-dominant hand. Together, we worked out a therapeutic technique for solving problems that combines meditation and non-dominant handiwork that I occasionally still teach at the Glen Arbor Art Center!
After relocating to Glen Arbor, I began to write as well as paint. With the success of my first book, “Aaron’s Crossing” in 2005, published by Hampton Roads Publishing, I dedicated myself to writing full-time and wrote two more books. One of them--"The Ghost Who Would Not Die"--was also published by Hampton Roads Publishing. The other, about World War II's Kassel Mission in which my father was a B-24 pilot with the 445th Bomb Group, is still a manuscript. I'm developing that into a stage play.
Back then, I felt I could only dedicate myself to one creative outlet at a time and had put down my art to take up the pen. That's no longer true. I also free-lance for our local paper, the Glen Arbor Sun.
Back at it
After eight years of writing, I re-emerged onto the Leelanau art scene in 2013. Since then, my work has been displayed at many local shows, including Leland's Old Art Building open studio show, the Glen Arbor Art Center Member Show, Leelanau Women Artists shows, the Crooked Tree Art Center and Oliver Art Center. My pieces can be found once again at The Secret Garden in Empire and at Synchronicity Gallery in Glen Arbor. I think I've loosened up quite a bit but find there's always more to learn with each piece I do.