The Passing of the Torch
My aunt’s closet had become just one more of many storage places. For many years she had been the keeper of stuff when relatives died. Her two bedroom apartment now housed relics and remnants of four family members in addition to her own. It was nearly impossible for her to get to her own clothes and I was determined to organize her closet, to at least arrange things so that she could walk in and get her clothes.
With the help of my sister we pulled all the paintings, frames and boxes out of the closet. This was my family history…the paintings of my grandparents…the records of my grandfather’s investments…grandmother’s letters…and in one very large box, my grandmother’s art supplies. I even found an old aluminum table easel that had remnants of paint from earlier projects. I told my aunt that I would love to be the keeper of the easel one day and she said that I could take all of the supplies since I was now the painter in the family. I must admit, I was thrilled to be referred to as the painter in the family, though I knew I was still a novice at best.
The box had been in the closet so long it bust its seems pulling it out and dust wafted off the top of it causing us to cough. I couldn’t help but feel just a bit excited as we opened disintegrating tape and peered inside. Everything had been wrapped in newspaper and we unwrapped the bundles one by one. On the top were her brushes, wrapped in Saran Wrap to protect them. They were still supple and soft, made of natural hair and bristle. Then there were her tools, the ones she used while painting and I could imagine her deftly applying paint to the hardboard. I felt shivers realizing that I was holding a piece of my grandmother’s being…in my hands.
The next bundle of packages contained her paint samplers and pastels. I was surprised that many of her paint tubes were still soft and pliable even after being stored for about fifteen years. As I held them in my fingers I thought how wonderful it would be to create something with my grandmother’s paints.
Underneath the paints we found spiral notebooks which contained her lesson notes and diagrams from the classes she took. There’s hope for me yet! My grandmother took classes! One of the things I did notice when pulling out all of the paintings from the closet is that my grandmother and grandfather had very basic beginner paintings. For some reason I had never imagined that their talent wasn’t something they just possessed…that they actual learned it!
The remainder of the box contained art books and calendars. Some were instructional some were for ideas and some were collections from known artists of the world.
I did find one special book amongst the others. It was a large collection of abstract paintings. When I opened the inside cover I read the note inscribed and another piece of the family history puzzle snapped into place. The inscription was from a grand niece, Marty. A few years ago I had been doing my genealogy work and uncovered a living relative from my grandmother’s side, Marty. She happened to be living in the same state and town as my daughter and her son lived in the same state as I. He had just had his first child and she was coming to see the baby. While she was in Florida we arranged to have lunch at her father’s house…who was still alive! Somehow, eating lunch with her father seemed especially cool because I knew my grandmother and grandfather had eaten with him, too.We exchanges photos and reminisced about our families. Looking at the inscription on the book made me happy to know that my grandmother had also known Marty. In sharing the discovery with my aunt, we noticed the date the book was given was about the time my grandmother switched from contemporary painting to abstracts. A style which eventually won her an award at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. I wondered if Marty ever knew that the book she purchased, most likely inspired my grandmother to change direction and I wondered if Marty had any idea how prolific a painter she became as a result.
After looking through our box of treasure my sister and I packed up our spoils and began putting back everything that we had taken out of the closet. We were successful in being able to create enough space so that my aunt could walk into the closet completely and easily reach her own things.
I have since returned home and been able to unpack my boxes. As you can imagine, I have been very happy with my new found treasures. I wanted to initiate these tools by creating a painting symbolic of my grandmother. Whenever I thought of my grandmother, I thought of cookies and ice cream and beach trips. A plate of cookies and ice cream seemed silly and I didn’t quite think I was ready to do a painting of our family on the beach. I am a far ways from being able to do people. Then I remembered that my grandmother always had a Christmas cactus around the holidays and it was the holidays…so that fit perfectly.
As I continue to explore painting I’ve decided to take some more classes and hopefully, I will find my own place in this world as an artist. But for now, I do it because it brings me pleasure…I think that is as good a reason as any.