Saturday, September 22, 2012


How Life Effects Our Art

My Personal Journey with My Mother and her stroke


Mom in Sepia  
This is my Mother when she was in college,
the insects represent her love of biology and  nature.


We started our journey one day in November when the sunlight was low and Mom was out trimming her gardenias.  I went to get supper and came home, looked out the door to see Mom slumped in her chair with clippers in hand.....she was 90 when her brain suffered a hemorrhage.  Only 20% of people who have this kind of stroke survive, but my Mother was a strong fit person at 90 and she beat the odds......there was intensive care, therapy for months, nursing homes and more therapy...so for 10 years this has been our path.  My Mother and I have learned together and she continues to teach me in the ways she can.  


Lela and Betsy, Mother and Daughter



On the same theme as de Kooning one of the things that has effected my life has been care taking family members who have had strokes and 
working with mentally disabled children.  I never knew one would help me with the other.  I taught in special education for half my career. It would teach me how to deal with the rest of my life, my Grandmother and Mother. 

Griot   by Elizabeth Gordon
drawing of the first buds of trees 

Griot comes from the word for African Story Telling Sticks
My Mother told us stories about insects, animals and people
to help us better understand the world





I never knew that my career and the skills I learned teaching art at all levels were to be just the skills I that would help me help my Grandmother and Mother after they both suffered strokes.  A stroke is a brain injury in some respects.  There a classic symptoms if one has a ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke.  One paralyzes and the other is more like an aneurism.  The effects of a stroke a similar to any brain injury..the cause loss of function depending on what area of the brain is effected, frustration, and emotional outbreaks.  
But in the time I spent observing my Grandmother and Mother in the after period, is that the brain is a very complicated organism.  It isn't as if the whole brain just shuts down or goes dark...part function almost normally and can heal themselves...and other parts may be permanently damaged.  


There are some things I cannot yet process to put in to a work of art, but I know as time goes on I will.  Somethings I can react to now, and other things must gel before I can find a way I want to express them in my art work.  One of the pieces I created that was a reflection of Mothers life, was photo transfers on pottery of Mother as a young woman surrounded by insects and plants to show her interest in biology and nature which she passed on to me and my brother.


detail of low fire clay with ceramic ink and photo transfer
My Mother has been a tremendous influence on my life.  We were close as Mother and Daughter and she was my best friend.  So now her illness, injury and aging have been a major part of my life for the last 15 years or more...10 years since the stroke.  She is now 99 and 5 months. One of the things about being an artist is we are trained to sense and observe everything closely. We use all our senses to do so.  When I walk into Mother's locked area and put in the code to let myself in I know once I enter those  She doors it will be an assault on my senses...noises, yelling, sights of aging people lost in a fog, food on the floor or on them....there is much I won't describe..but it is there. She lives in a dementia/alzheimer's unit.
I have learned from my Mother that the brain is reflective of what ever we have seen or been exposed to since our birth.  Mother repeats thing she heard of saw in a racially prejudiced area of Mississippi, but Mother was a progressive and humanist.  She goes back to speech patterns she had as a child...yes'um, no sir...just like a little Southern girl would do.  She has always been able to read since the stroke..but there isn't always comprehension.  She read a 
sign that said exit and spelled it out..then ask me what does it mean?  She burped and asked me, what do you call that?  Then there was the day she heard one of the nurses say penis and then her brain looped the word over and over...the trees she saw were lovely penises, the sky was a beautiful penis...and so on.  It took about 20 mintues before her mind moved on to other words.  (I could have been shocked, but I knew my Mother was always the scientist and had us use the correct names for body parts!)

How does this effect my art?  I am sure I will do a series on how the brain functions...a conceptual piece that allows a person to experience what it is like to have some brain function and not another.





This is pictures are when Mother was after the stroke and at a point she could still go out with me for a ride or to eat.  But she often was confused about coming back to the nursing home and I would have to cajole her one way or another out of the car.  She would pretend to be asleep or just refuse to go in. 
 All she knew was, she wanted to me with me.  





Mom at 99
my favorite picture it says so much about
her character...strength, unconditional love,
peace...a deep centered peacefulness


Being at teacher never leaves either Mom or me.
This picture says so much about how she feels about being stuck
in a situation where she knows more than she can communicate.
The doctor told me after she had the stroke, she does not have alzheimers
it is a brain injury and she has a communication disorder.


My partner Ann with me looking after Mom
I will do work on aging and the helplessness of it.  I will draw her hands and feet...and  color her feet purple as they are now with hardening of the arteries.  I have already started to produce work that is an homage to her....a form of pre-grieving I think..but also to honor an amazing woman.  I will do work on losing parts of a person, but not the whole person.  They are before you, but not the person they were.  I have taken photo's and photo's about our journey together through this path.  Those will find there way into art pieces also. 

I tried man things through the years to stimulate Mom's mind and memory
we drove out to a near by pond and I am bringing a baby duck for her to hold.
Mom has leaned a teasing game with Ann,
when she sees Ann she immediately wags her
tounge at her.




I tried to interest Mom in books, she would look
and enjoy the pictures.  She could read, but not always  understand the meaning.
This is not a path I wanted to go down, after watching my Grandmother have a stroke and the care afterwards.  I was scared to death I Mother would have a stroke and she did.  But I have cherished my time with my Mother and I have learned a lot...hopefully to be stronger.  It has also taken a huge toll, as care taking, does on any person.  It will be interesting to see how all of this comes out in my art.  Our lives are not separate from our art, what we learn and experience venture over!



In the first years after the stroke I could still bring Mom to her home.
Her attention would last only so long and then she would fall asleep.

She had pets all her life, so holding the Vinci and Grayc were natural therapy 






Some days Mom looks older, some days younger, some days
child like, some days clear and present, some days she just
sleeps 


This series with the dress form above and experiments of transferring insect photo's to a white body clay that is low fire
was inspired by Mother as a seamstress extradonaire...she was actually on the level of a talented tailor.  She needed no pattern
she could look at a person and make her own patters.  But every evening was Mom sewing, in the back room while the rest of watched tv..she had no use for tv when we were growing up.  After a day of teaching came cooking, cleaning, ironing, and sewing and yard work and helping us with home work...she had no time for non practical things. Again I harken back to Mom'slove of nature and biology.  She instilled that love in us with a variety of activities...from insect identification, to fossil and geode hunting, to putting together a skull of an ancient indian we found where they were building a road, to walks in the woods identify birds and  

plants alike. 
Dress shape cut out of low fire white clay
with ceramic ink photo transfer

This piece also in reflection was a homage to my Mother
It is a sculptural raku pot that speaks of nature in form and color





A love of all God's creatures was a part of
her basic character..no animal in need was turned away.

Moms eyes, so kind and compassionate.  Mothers eyes have always
had a language of their own.  We knew as children from one look
if we had done the right thing or were going to get in trouble later
words were never necessary!


Her hands began to hold the same pose almost like a sculpture
that I could mold and cast in bronze.

These are my eyes, so similar to hers.  I have thought of doing
a peace of art work just with eyes.  I did use a photo of her
eyes in a mixed media piece called Alternate Universe
about Einstein's theory of relativity
detail of mixed media piece on relativity and the string theory

The affection and warmth is constant, an unspoken bond.
There is much in the human experience that is complicated
almost abstract, that reaches beyond basic senses.

A Mother is always a Mother
thought my Mother achieved much in her life, the role she was most
proud of was being a Mother.



As Mom ages her face becomes more simple and less
complex somehow.  It is like a clay bust smoothing
out the details to the essence of the spirit.
A detail of the mixed media piece Alternate Universe
showing Mother in her twenties, WWII planes, and palm trees
symbolizing the time my Father was away in Guam in the Pacific


If you look at her face she you see peace and love,
she is the most centered person I have ever know.

A portrait                           My Mothers hand in my Brothers

I think My Mothers hands are beautiful, etched with life, molded
with love and hard work, much life has been shaped by these hands








Sometimes one dessert is just not enough

Mom talking to my brother in South Carolina
she always knows us children, thought I can ask her
if I am her daughter and she will say no...but then she calls
me darling and baby like always.


Dessert for Mom is paramount..the taste of sweet is the strongest



This series of photos I call the Blue Madonna.  The show a tenderness, love and yet a vulnerability that is deeply touching.  I think of my Mother as the embodiment of unconditional love.






as people age...but then she always loved dessert best.
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