In high school, History was not appealing to me. Why did we have to memorize names, dates and events from the past, when it didn’t seem to have anything to do with me or the present? At that age, no one helped me understand the story in history. I look back to college, and one particular history professor, with such gratitude because not only did he help me learn how to learn, but he gave me a love for history and the story of us. That one semester I learned more about my interests, my style of learning and how much I could accomplish than I ever had before. It just so happens that my older sister took that class with me, but I’m positive her experience was completely different, and she may not even remember the class. It’s interesting the things that strike a chord in one person and aren’t even heard by another. Not only was that class enlightening for me, it was an enormous challenge. By the end of the class, I was so much richer for the experience.
My main point of telling you this is I started to find history fascinating and inspirational, which changed the course of my work, possibly my life. I’ve taken American and World History courses, many art history courses, I read historical fiction, and I’ve recently become interested in genealogy. One fascinating thought is genetic memory. Several years ago, I came across the idea in a Susanna Kearsley book, which took it into fantasy, but the core idea stuck with me. We inherit physical and biological traits from our ancestors, so it stands to be true that we can also inherit skills, talents and likes, as well. The science and theory go beyond, but for my purposes I’ll stick to that. I’ve never really known where my love for creating comes from. My family, save my brother, have been doctors, nurses, military, scientists, teachers, farmers, etc. I still don’t know if there were artists, such as painters, in our family. I’ve always been able to pick up creative skills quickly: drawing, painting, dancing, photography, these things make sense to me. About three years ago, I started needlepointing, mostly by suggestion from my mom. I wasn’t expecting to be good at it, much less like it, but I immediately found it soothing and a lot like painting. My grandma has been needlepointing for fifty years or so. I don’t think I ever really appreciated the talent, work and time she put into her pieces. I didn’t appreciate it as an art. When I was younger, I half dismissed needlework as old timey and boring. As a kid, who really wants to sit in quiet patience, working on a project that could take days, weeks, or months to complete? I didn’t, but now it’s a whole other story. As I progressed from a simple basket weave, which I learned from a YouTube tutorial, to creating stitch patterns of my own, my grandma commented on how quickly I advanced and that she’d never had a student pick it up that way. She said to my mom one day, “she’s a little of me, Aunt Ruth and Aunt Anna all wrapped in one,” which brought the thought of genetic memory back to me. Even though I had never been interested or learned needlework I discovered that I had the skill for it, it came to me so naturally as if I always knew how it do it. Through research into my grandma’s side of the family I discovered many women before her were accomplished in the skill as well. It’s a wonderful feeling of connection to find out about the lives behind the people in my history who were only names to me before.
Through the exploration of my family history I’ve also come across photos that until now have been a little of a mystery or have been confused through time. One such photo that we assumed was my grandma’s mother turned out to be her grandmother, Clara Mae. These small revelations probably won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it feels like setting a puzzle right when it had missing or misplaced pieces. These discoveries have inspired my needlework and also my paintings. I have started a few paintings of ancestors that I’ve dubbed Gone But Not Forgotten, Clara Mae is the first.
As I mentioned at the start, I’m truly grateful for the professor who took the time to help me learn how to learn and gave me the incredible gift of our story in History. Sometimes opening your mind to something you don’t think you’d like, and have always resisted, can change everything. I can’t imagine how different my life would be if I had never taken that history class.
Thank you to all the teachers who care, who have incredible patience, and who give so much just for the sake of helping someone else learn! Each of you are a gift! Sometimes you don’t know the real impact you make on the lives you touch.
I don’t often feel the desire to meet celebrities. I appreciate good work in all forms of art: visual art, music, acting, etc., but I’ve found sometimes the person I meet is not the person I expected. Have you ever held someone in high regard or had a role model you looked up to just to be let down or disappointed once you’ve met them? I’ve met many artists through lectures, gallery openings, shows and such. When I was just out of school, my experiences in meeting artists was that their character was much different from the perception I had of them through their work. By discovering the people behind artwork the work itself begins to change. The art started to take on a different meaning and attitude after obtaining new knowledge of the artist behind the scenes. Maybe it’s a youthful idea but I always hope artists practice what they preach; that they represent the work they are making.
To be honest I know I am scrupulous in many ways and sometimes set high standards. That being said, I have met many artists who have embodied not only the spirit of their work, but have surpassed many expectations. One such artist I had the great pleasure of meeting in early 2011. My older sister and I went to Omaha to see a symphony that was accompanied by photographs of Thomas D Mangelsen and then we attend an opening at his gallery. My sister could even tell you that I don’t normally get outwardly excited or nervous when meeting people, most times I become more reserved. In this case I was both ecstatic and nervous to meet Mangelsen. My perception of him was a fiercely passionate photographer whose main focus in his work is to photograph nature and wildlife in order to promote preservation of them.
Side note: My first major influence in photography was Ansel Adams’ black & white work, as, I’m sure, many photographers would agree. He represented an incredible talent and was an outstanding support to the National Parks through his work. Tom Mangelsen was the second photographer to influence my work, especially when I began to photograph in color and digital. I was introduced to his work through my grandparents. They loved traveling and had visited his gallery in Jackson a number of times before they took me with them in ‘08. By that point I had developed a love for history and with it, the admiration for those who take great care and have a passion for preservation and conservation.
So, to my sister’s surprise, I waited in the gallery to meet Tom Mangelsen like a child who was about to meet a sports hero, nervous excitement. I’m happy to tell you that he is the spirit of his work. He is a conservationist to the core, has an amazing eye for detail, cares about the work and encourages others to help in those causes. So, you see, people can surprise you in the good ways you hope for. Meeting an artist like that is refreshing. I am truly grateful to have a role model such as Tom. Not only is he kind and humble, but he knows firsthand the work and time necessary to achieve your goals in the arts. He encourages big dreams, creative minds and processes that are different from his own. He doesn’t see other photographers as a threat or beneath him, but as other contributors to the preservation of this beautiful world. I’ve learned a lot over the years from Tom, the biggest lesson being patience and persistence. Sometimes you have to wait for the chance for a great shot, but if you don’t work at it every day, if you give up, you’ll never succeed in that big dream of your’s and never get the great photos.
I will always look back fondly at this memory and be grateful for the lesson that not only does your work affect others but the person you are will too.
2013 seminar - Art Wolfe, Me, Fans Lanting & Tom Mangelsen
Last week I was in NYC. It was a wonderful chance to get out of Texas, spend time with my sister for a few days and then my husband and a few friends joined us. There are some people who have a marvelous ability to inspire you! I have the great privilege of knowing a few of these people and four of them sat around a table with me in Brooklyn. It was a simple thing. We ate, we shared stories and ideas, and we laughed. It was a short visit but so very meaningful. Each person is on a different road, some coming, some going, and some just passing through, but each path brought us to that little restaurant in New York. I am inspired today by their journeys.
The first of these beautiful souls is my sister. She is in the midst of finding a new, or shall I say adjusted, path. She has always had a strong and steadfast will, and she has been a little rough around the edges at times. I have seen a change in her as of late by the way of a calming. An ease in her that allows a little more of her brightness to show through. It’s not easy for most of us to be vulnerable, we think of it as weakness but in reality, it takes so much strength and confidence.
The second, a new face and my sister’s friend. She had a layover in NY, a happy accident. She was on her way to Spain from Portland. She told us about her recently found love for backpacking and hiking. She said she wanted to live life as fully as possible while she could. That idea is something that I think many of us say we want but we rarely take action. We only have one life and it’s encouraging to see someone making things happen and doing good with it. Work hard, Play hard. Many people play hard by partying, but I’ve found that playing hard can be fulfilled with hiking, traveling, dancing, laughing and spending time in quality conversation. What feeds your soul?
The third person at the table is a guy who has an enormously brilliant light and kind soul. A truly happy person, it’s contagious. His goal was to move to NY, it was a calling but there had been a few obstacles. Many of us hit moments like that and decide it’s not meant to be, so we give up the effort. There is something to be said for “things that are truly worth it, aren’t always easy”. My friend decided to say NO to all the no’s that were being said to him and make it happen. I was overjoyed to hear that he is now living in his dream. Only you can make your dreams come true, no one else will do that for you. Don’t take no for an answer. And sometimes you just need to find a different way to go.
The fourth person at the table was my husband. Mostly listening but he was the reason we were all there in that place at the same time. His band was playing in the city last weekend and we made it an excuse to have a vacation. He has been my encouragement and inspiration for eighteen years and more so now than ever. He is a drummer, able to do what he loves for a living and works so hard to make our life together the best it can be. With his help I had a career change last year and he has been encouraging me to pursue my dreams, art and traveling being two of those. Dream Big!
So, at the end of that short but sweet time together I have come away inspired and grateful! I am honored to have these and many more people in my life that bring so much joy, love and light into it! I hope you all have people who inspire you and I hope you let them know it!