“You’re a painter, Martha.”

The opening of the Christmas show at the museum was lovely. Not a lot of people other than the artists were there, but I think that’s only to be expected given the reality of our times. On the little table as you entered the museum, Louise had set up the guest book, hand-sanitizer, and a small pile of masks one of the artists had made. In lieu of a pretty table of treats, Louise had filled brown paper bags with goodies and red and green tissue paper. We all talked to each other through layers of cloth and spoke about our lives since we saw each other last.

I saw from this how fortunate I am to love nature and find companionship — friendship — there. I thanked the Scarlet Emperor beans and the cranes and the wind and the mountains for being there for me and saving me from the kind of alienation and loneliness that many are feeling right now. Even the sense of ephemera I felt in those rooms filled with other older people in cotton masks has been eased this whole time by the constant push and pull in nature between permanence and ephemera. It’s true that everything in nature is ephemeral, but everything is on widely difference schedules. My valley was once a lake. My mountains were volcanoes. The individual cranes I see now may not be here next year, but as a species they’ve endured millions of years.

During the opening of the show, I found myself in a heart-to-heart with one of the women who was outright mean to me, publicly yelling at me more than once, 5 years ago when I “launched” my little artistic identity here in the San Luis Valley. It was bizarre. Outside the Post Office she harangued me one winter day for a window painting I had done on the art co-op of which she wasn’t even a member. She carried it on a couple of weeks later when an art guild to which we both belonged opened a Christmas show in a local B & B. Time passed, of course, as it does, and I have mostly kept my distance, though this big valley is a small valley and we have mutual contacts and friends.

She has joined a Toastmasters group and was telling me yesterday how good it has been for her. “I’ve learned that we might think someone is in our way, but they’re not in our way.” She said more and I realized she was apologizing and reaching out.

I guess the trick is surviving through it and still painting, but her behavior and that of another really put the kibosh on me as an artist for a while. We don’t — well I don’t — think of others being “in my way” but, in fact, they can be, physically and psychically. We are liberated by each other, too.

The artistic jam I was in for a few years, artistic immobility, after being publicly abused by this woman was broken open by a friend with whom I (back in normal times) went to Taos from time to time. She always took me to a gallery near the shop where the amazing clothing and fabrics she made were for sale. One day at this gallery, looking at a painting, I said, “I can do that.”

She said, “Si. Puedes.” You can. When I did a painting of that caliber, she was the first to tell me. I have her words printed out and on my wall in my studio.

“Lo hiciste.” You did it.

I don’t know against whom we struggle. I don’t think my long period of not painting was caused by this woman’s words, but they affected me. She seemed to think I was threatening her livelihood, and I wasn’t. Wouldn’t.

Competition between artists is no new thing; my brother competed against me. Still it’s true that the words of others can have a big effect on us, even when the real struggle is against ourselves. It’s a lovely thing to have one’s work validated by another artist and that happened to me yesterday, too.

I didn’t take as many photos of the show as I should have, but here is a little peek into it. It’s very eclectic. I sold a little painting and many Christmas cards. πŸ™‚


53 thoughts on ““You’re a painter, Martha.”

  1. What a lovely museum and layout for the Christmas show. Such a variety of art. Your paintings fit right in perfectly. That fantastic painting of the tree by the road (not sure what the title is) totally deserved the wall to itself too. How nice you could have an in-person opening. Virtual ones are not the same (I was part of one recently and it was odd). Congratulations and how interesting that woman round-about apologized. Too bad she didn’t do that sooner. People’s words do matter. ❀️

    • I didn’t expect to write this post about a conversation, but it happened. Words do matter. As I listened to her, I thought how vulnerable we all are and how, for some people, fear leads them to attack and for others, like me, it leads them to retreat. During the opening I found myself in two more deep conversations, and I thought that the semi-quarantine (some of us more than others) has left people to themselves and their thoughts with no where else to go. It made me grateful for many, many, many things in my life and personality, one that I’ve always been introspective. I learned a lot yesterday.

  2. Being left alone with one’s thoughts can be quite revealing. Yes, I notice more and more how we all have that soft underbelly – with fear stoking attack or retreat. I lean more to the retreat. (fight or flight?)
    I think that fear explains much of what has been going on in this country as well.

    • Me too and, like that woman’s fear of me, a lot of the fear that’s driving people right now is irrational. I’m definitely a retreat person. If pushed, I will fight, but I’ll go pretty far to avoid being pushed. I’ve pretty much avoided that person for the last five years. Why go there? I couldn’t see any reason. I still will probably not go there, but I’m happy to be able to view her with compassion rather than fear.

  3. It’s impossible to hide in a small town, and maybe that’s a good thing. Eventually wrongs gets sorted and hurt feelings soothed. It’s challenging, but necessary.

    More difficult for me is what you alluded to: that we become our own barrier, doubting ourselves and our “place” in our community, holding ourselves back, not creating as we otherwise would because of something someone else says or does.

    I’m glad you’ve broken through at least one such barrier, in part because the woman realized her fears of you weren’t justified and reached out in her fashion.

    Congrats on your sales so far, I’m sure there will be more in the days to come!

    • I had to learn to live here and I think that was part of it. Yesterday she was looking at my painting of the Refuge at the en of day after a storm and said, “I’ve always lived here, but once I was driving for this company and I was out west of Center and I saw something like this. I guess if you’ve always lived somewhere you don’t see it.”

      I think there’s something to what she said but I also think that I’m tuned to nature. I’m going to see it. I also realized that she might think I’ve been privileged in ways I actually haven’t been. I thought about how a lot of life is just chance and the part that isn’t is the perspective we develop in ourselves. I am lucky that I never had to earn a living here. That would definitely have changed my perspective on the San Luis Valley, I think.

  4. Loved the photos – so many talented artists in your little valley!! I’m so happy that your abilities as an artist have been validated. I had a boss that said “praise is for the weak” and refused to let me (and many others) know when we had done a good job and only criticized and berated when something wasn’t to her liking. I especially like the painting in the very first picture – the light seems to emanate from the sky!

  5. I am glad your show went so well. And for that awful woman – I will never understand why people behave so badly. I have been obsessing about your Aspen leaves painting ever since I saw it on your post.I love Aspens so much and I bet they are/ were beautiful this year.
    Again, congratulations on your show – what an accomplishment!

  6. I read this last night with tears in my eyes. I spent a long day at work and wanted to read this again when I got home and settled to relax. I’ve said it to my notes. It wasn’t just the pre ious pics of the art. Everything you described from the relationships with nature~to others ~and the freedom of feeling your worth again your art. You are indeed an artist Martha~and definitely a writer (which we already knew). Love, Karla and Finn❣️🐢

  7. The words of others, even in this case the words of someone nearly a stranger, can linger in our hearts for far longer than they should. The problem is, they become part of our own inner voice, that naysaying little bugger who holds us back. I’m so glad that you finally put her words aside, and that your friend gave you others to replace them. I know that I should feel forgiveness for the woman’s unkindness, or chalk it up to her own insecurities, but in today’s world where so many people thoughtlessly judge each other or “flame” people on social media or rant in public, I think it’s important to call them out. I’m only just learning to do that as I tend to be very conflict averse. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you then, as a newcomer and a person of sensitivity.

    • Thank you — it was hard and it was shocking. I fought back, but it left me bewildered. I’d just left a career that had ended in confrontations like that and I didn’t want any more. I guess I really felt, “Wow. Is this just the way it is no matter what?” And, I realized that as a new person in a place where people don’t move TO I stuck out like a sore thumb and a threat. I guess that was one of the moments when I determined to take Rumi’s advice to “Turn toward kindness.” I appreciated having the luxury of doing that, but I didn’t really paint for two years afterwards.

  8. It’s discouraging to hear about the show’s outcome. Planning and putting together a show takes a lot of effort and a lot of love. And there is an communal excitement felt in the room between participants as the hour of opening grows near. Our last show had a similar outcome; it was sad to see artists packing up. We all knew it was just another result of the pandemic. But as the saying goes, Good things come to those who wait. The pandemic will pass. There will be new shows. Artists will paint and people will come. And as our excitement returns once again, our reflection of shows that weren’t (outcome) successful will be a thing of the past, to be remembered and or simply dropped. The choice is ours.

    • All true. The opening party was a little intense because in my small community we all know each other pretty well. Some of the artists have known each other all their lives. It took some courage on the part of the museum director even to hold a show, but she did it. I sold a painting and a few small things. I was pleased with the outcome for me, but as you describe, because of the virus, the show couldn’t pull in many people and no one could feel the excitement. There were no “let’s go out to lunch!” or anything. BUT this past year I’ve painted like never before, braver and more. One of my friends said of her work that it had been similar for her this past year.

      What an intense moment we’ve been living in and hopefully through. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Your welcome. And good to hear you have made sales and are painting more bravely. Who knows, perhaps by venturing out of your comfort zone you might discover a new techniques or maybe a new style. (smiling)

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