For Christmas in 1962 I got an oil painting set that contained narrow tubes of Grumbacher oil paint, brushes, turpentine and linseed oil, a canvas, an easel and a pallette that had disposable papers. I wanted to start right away, and did, but my mom didn’t really like me setting up a “studio” on the dining room table, so at some point I had to pack it all up and take it to the basement. Based on this photo, sometime in the summer I got back on it.

I remember really liking oil paints. Acrylics had been invented but weren’t available easily. My dad had painted in oils at some point in his life and he gave me some instruction. He explained that I cleaned my brushes with turpentine and thinned my paint with linseed oil. I didn’t enjoy watercolor back then because no one in my house had been initiated to the wonders of watercolor paper on which watercolors DON’T pool up and bleed into each other (unless you want them to).

There was a big tree in the middle of the big meadow at The Mission — a mission of Columbian Fathers that was essentially across the street from our house. Their land was mostly untouched deciduous forest, the kind you find along the Missouri River in Nebraska. I decided to paint that. The tree in the painting doesn’t look anything like that ancient oak tree, but a 10 year old painting half-way from her imagination using a new medium is probably not going to be the soul of accuracy. Besides, even though they appear static, trees AREN’T static and I never found them particularly easy to paint.

Finding this painting yesterday, my heart went out to this little girl, painting in her basement, at night, so earnestly, while her dad pointed his 35mm Kodak camera at her. I don’t even know if she’s really painting or if her dad posed her because, in all the pictures of her and her brother in the basement, she’s wearing the same shirt.

When I scanned ALL the slides that were in my house last year, I found the “cycle” of striped t-shirt photos. Thinking about the little collection of photos, I wonder if my dad hadn’t been inspired to take pictures of his kids and their ordinary life. He knew he wouldn’t be around for us later on and maybe he wanted to show us something later, when he was gone and we were grown up.

Photos were a lot more complicated in 1962 than they are now. They involved film — which no one ever remembered to buy — and then the whole thing of developing the film which, at that time, where I lived, meant taking the film to the drugstore and handing it to the person working the “film” counter. Since that was also the cashier, it could involve a long wait. Then, it took forever for the film to come back. Polaroid cameras eliminated some of this, but the photos just weren’t that great, the film was expensive and you still had to remember to buy it.

What struck me about the painting I’m doing in this photo is that I finally succeeded at it this year.

The tree is in the same spot. There is a road (path) not that visible in the 1962 painting, and this year’s painting, too, depicts sunset, though more in the metaphorical than pink-cloud sense.

The coolest thing about this, though, to me, is how well my dad knew what I would like to see in a photo some 60 years later. I love the little girl in this photo and I’m grateful to my dad. It’s not all glittery, but neither am I.

28 thoughts on “Consistency

  1. I love this post! The comparison of the two paintings is striking, and emphasizes the maturation of character that we all go through. I wonder how many people can compare their childhood and their aging psyche in such a dramatic way!

    • It’s kind of bizarre. I have another example of this. Maybe I should add it to this post or write another post sometime. I think for most of us there is a “self” that just endures throughout our lives. I also think this explains why I don’t want to sell this painting. ❀

      • I absolutely agree that we are born with a personality, a self, that endures throughout our lives. Smart parents recognize this and emphasize the good traits, downplaying the less good, as they bring their children to maturity. I hope you have a wall large enough for your tree painting, and I’d love to read about your other example!

  2. I love it. Its great you have this photo as a memory. I remember getting oil paints when I was about 14. I had no canvas and painted on the insides of large card boxes (that contained huge old greetings cards). I went to art college eventually for. When I came home one Easter I found out my sister had thrown out all my old oil paintings and they were rotting by the bin!

  3. How cool is that to revisit a painting you did all those years ago. By the looks of it you were then and are now a very talented artists. Wonderful, post Martha! Merry Christmas!

  4. Oh, Martha–if your dad could see you now… Some things are just meant to be, and posed or not, the outcome of this photo is pretty darn remarkable. And pretty darn eerie, too.

  5. I love this reflection – it’s so incredible to get a peek into the person we were when we were younger. I recently came across my diary from elementary school – and it was such a trip to read the earnest entries. I remember that girl, even though I don’t remember writing any of it. And I also remember the emotion I felt about that diary and its little key and the secrets I could impart, even if all the words scrawled so carefully are foreign.

    • I have always been THIS person. I realized not all that long ago that life has been a long process of becoming. an integrated self. That is precisely why I’m so careful around this virus. I feel very fiercely, “No. You cannot have THIS Martha. No fucking way.” Strange, but true. It seems you were thrilled at the sense of a private, Cara Sue life held between the covers and closed with the key. I love that.

  6. I remember the smell of turpentine, and how the linseed would coat your fingers if you didn’t pay attention. A lot of my memories of painting are about the smell and the feel, the tactile sense of paint as you layer it. I’m not surprised that an image can stay with you your whole life until it finds the right form: words or paint or light.

    • It’s like, “Martha Ann, you’re going to paint this so you’d better start practicing now.” I love the smell of linseed oil. I don’t use turpentine.

  7. I don’t know how this got buried in my feed… I love this post and of course the seeming destiny of you and painting! Perhaps there are moments of inspiration in the people around us that set us on a path toward ourselves. Merry Christmas Martha!

  8. That photo, that girl, and that woman and her companion on the road by the tree in the Big Empty….I’m sure your Dad can see this. Merry Christmas πŸŽ„ love, Finn and me πŸŽ„β€οΈπŸ’šπŸΆ

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