I have been teaching art classes off and on since I got out of college, in 1984. Soon after I graduated, Leeward’s (similar to a Hobby Lobby store) hired me to be their art department manager, and I was asked to create a class program.
With every imaginable craft available to me, I began to teach all different forms of art. We had clay and cutout wood forms, blank clothing to be painted on and of course canvases of every shape and size. We even carried cake decorating supplies!
The program was a great success, and like many other craft stores you naturally get a local following. I became friends with many of my students. And some of them were amazing artists…but some of them struggled.
Let me tell you about Mary.
Mary took just about every class I taught. She tried collage, sculpture, cake decorating and wood carving. She was particularly interested in painting. I was very encouraging as a teacher and truly believe that everyone can paint…but Mary was…(I hate to say) the worst student I have ever taught. She didn’t appear to have the slightest bit of talent in any area.
Everything she tried looked as if a small child or a cat had created it. Nothing she made looked like what the other students were making. But she kept coming back.
I teach techniques. Creativity is something I thought you were born with. You can either create or you can copy. I encouraged my students to copy me until creativity comes to them naturally. Drawing for instance is not a natural skill that grows with you as you mature. It takes a lot of practice.
Years go by and Mary is still trying to refine her skills. Watercolors, Acrylics, Oils, Pastels…we tried everything! I created classes just for Mary and her deep desire to be an artist. And every year I hoped she would at least improve a little, but she didn’t. I had never seen anyone work so hard and be so pleasant while she was struggling!
Then Mary stopped coming. I felt terrible. She was always the first person to sign up for my classes and I started to miss her.
Two years later, Mary walks back in. I was overjoyed to see her! She was anxious to show me what she had been up to. Mary had in her hand a ribbon of Merit she had won in an art show! She was also carrying an envelope of pictures to show me the art she had sold since I had last seen her.
Mary hadn’t stopped her desire to paint. The reason she hadn’t been in was because she had plenty of supplies, she had bought over the years and was using barn siding as her canvas. During our Tole Painting days, we would paint on anything that would sit still!
Her art was precious. She had taken all the techniques she had learned and had created little paintings of everyday scenes from around her farm. I don’t think I had ever asked her about her home. But there were geese and sheep and cows and ducks…she included the barn and her house in many of her paintings. She mostly painted the chicken coop in her innocent childlike way and was selling her art as fast as she could paint it! She was filling orders and creating a profitable business for herself selling her art by the roadside in front of her house.
Her beautifully simple, flat, out of perspective, painted in garish colors style is what we now call Folk Art. Grandma Moses was eighty years old when she became famous for the same look. I’m so grateful that Mary didn’t have to wait so long.
The moral of this story is, don’t give up! You may not paint like the artists you share a class with, but deep within you is a unique spark of creativity just waiting…
Still dancing in the sunlight of the Spirit,