Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Ah, The Magnolias

I have recently taken up painting some of the photographs I have taken over the years. It is cathartic, relaxing, and each one brings back the memory of the subject. Where I took the picture, how I found it, and what it took to get there all come to mind. But all this aside, my work pales in contrast to my mother's talent. Mama could paint, very well, and in oils. 

My mother had many talents - seriously. She iwa a seamstress. (She made my all my school clothes until I went into total revolt.) She was a great cook. (Unfortunately, she never let me in the kitchen, so I never learned from her.) But most of all she was a very talented artist.  As I was growing up she would dabble in oils, a camellia here, a sea scene there, but her pes des resistance was a project she undertook as a present to my father in celebration of their 15th wedding anniversary. This mission of hers took a year to complete and turned our dining room into her private studio for that entire time. According to her - the light was right. Knowing her proclivity for the bottle, it was close to the liquor cabinet and the ice in the refrigerator.

The subject of the picture was Magnolias and it was large - 3 feet by 5 feet. So for a year she would go in and out of the dining room carrying various magazine articles on Magnolia grandiflora. The dining room table was covered with an oil cloth and she had an assortment of different tubes of paints and linseed oil. She would bring leaves and branches in to make sure she had the texture correct and in June the room had the delightful fragrance of the blossoms themselves as she refreshed her vases daily.

This was all behind closed doors - we were not allowed in. Once I crept in to survey her progress. There it was, this huge canvas, the background in dark gray with the beginnings of the leaves and branches. This was going to take a while. And it did. But eventually it was completed. On the back, she wrote in pencil, "To My Husband, Happy 15th Anniversary, With Love" and presented it to him. He was touched by the gift, she was proud of her work, I was thrilled the ordeal was over and we could have our dining room back. The picture went on the living room wall and our life went on.

Fast forward 20 years - during their divorce (our most recent unpleasantness). In one of her moments of non-sense, my mother demanded the Magnolia painting. She said it was her work and she was entitled to it. My father reminded her that it was a gift from her and he had her hand writing on the back to prove it. The Magnolia went to him. That very afternoon, he showed up at my front door with the painting. "I never want to see this again", he said as he handed it to me and left. I always liked the painting, so I put in on my dining room wall.

As many times as she was in and out of my house, my mother never commented on the painting. It was hard to miss. Most people don't have an original oil painting of that size hanging in their dining room. Then one day, she stopped and looked at it, and then looked at me. "When did you get that?" she asked.With that I knew her battle was over, my mother was back, and I was thrilled.

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