Ideas for my artwork come to me fairly easily. It’s the development of those ideas to fruition, the follow-through to resolve and finish that is the challenge. I’ve learned to stay open to all kinds of inspiration to bring whole projects and individual artworks to completion. I’ve been fortunate to have many good influences. I want to share the impact of one person who not only inspired the realization of a few paintings, but who also showed me how it is possible to mature and stay young at heart and mind.
Florence was a long-standing member of the Rita & Eli Gecht Book Club at my local library. About ten years ago, my husband and I moved back to Fox Point, a North Shore Village of Milwaukee that we love. And I re-established my library membership. I sat in on a meeting of this book club. As I listened to members share their opinions about that month’s book choice, I pondered if I might join – if it would be a good fit for me. At some point, Flo began to share her thoughts and feelings. I strained to hear her soft, raspy voice across the long table in the conference room crowded with readers. I’m fuzzy on the details, but what I detected from her demeanor was a woman with expansive experience, a passion for life, a keen intelligence and sincere kindness. I kept still and paid attention.
The book club has become my continuing education since that day. Flo took an interest in me, inviting me to lunch after the meetings. Sometimes others would join us, but many times it was the two of us building a trusted friendship over time. When we first met she was about eighty-four years old (27 years older than me) but accustomed to hanging with “younger” people. Many of her lifelong companions had either passed away or couldn’t keep up with her energy and interests. I found her stories fascinating, and enjoyed the stylish way she presented herself with colorful jewelry, scarves and bags.
One day she visited my art studio, which is in the lower level of our home. She wanted to see where I spent most of my time. Seeing my workspace through the eyes of another is a revealing experience for me. During this visit, Flo looked across my messy space and said, “I see horses.” I said, “What? Where?” She pointed to a painting on an easel that I’d abandoned, unresolved… Her seeing horses in my abstract expression so delighted me that I laughed out loud! I told her I was naming it “Flo Saw Horses”.
Some time later, as this painting hung in the lounge of The Bottle Shop in Lake Geneva, a man sat with his glass of wine long enough to decide to purchase it. The owner said he told her it spoke to him. (I love that😌)
Three years ago when I was recovering from unexpected heart surgery, Flo brought me a huge pot of her home-made chicken soup (my husband carried it in from her car). She is of the Jewish faith and it always amused her when her gentile doctor referred to chicken soup as the Jewish version of penicillin. True, it was quite healing – along with her generous loving gesture.
One day when I was visiting her home, she asked what I was working on. I told her a triptych of sunsets that needed to be stitched together. She wanted to know what color thread I was going to use, because she had some left over from the crewelwork pillowcase she created to match her new carpeting – Fireball Red! It was perfect. I call this painting “Fireball Triptych”.
I found another use for this thread as I was using my “Three Figures” group in a painting to quote Shakespeare:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more...
In the autumn of 2020, Flo called and asked with urgency in her voice, “Do you still have that painting with the Shakespeare quote?!” Yes, it was still available. “How much? I’ll send you a check tomorrow!” It was a gift for one of her three sons who had seen a photo of it and expressed interest.
I wonder if she told him that the thread winding through it was her gift and inspiration for me.
Over the years I listened and learned about her background, Jewish traditions, education, two wonderful marriages, children, grandchildren, work and community activities, and her passion for the arts (I swear she must have had season tickets to most of Milwaukee’s theaters!). She wanted to know about my life, too, and enjoyed times my husband could join our company. If my grandchildren visited, I made sure they had the opportunity to meet Flo, because she had become such a positive mentor to me.
The Recent calls on my phone list Flo’s name on January 7th, the last time we connected. I haven’t deleted it yet. It was nine days later that my friend died peacefully in her sleep. Not of Covid. But because of Covid, I wonder how many people hold on to little pieces of memory this way. Hanging on by a thread…