“Grace builds on nature.”
As a child in the 1950s, I loved to color. I had coloring books of every size and description. One of my favorites was a coloring book of Peter Pan and Wendy and Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys of Neverland. Alice in Wonderland was a close second. I had a box of crayons with 72 different colors in it, and I spent hours coloring very neatly within the lines, lost in a world of fantasy and richness and beauty. My mother thought I was going to be an artist. My most vivid memory of first grade in 1951 was making magical orange construction paper pumpkin figures with glued-on arms and legs of purples and greens and reds and blues. To this day the thought of those pumpkin figures brings joy to my heart!
Our elementary and high school in Patterson, Louisiana, had no art classes, and my world of color got lost amid a study of English, science, math, music and basketball. In college in the 1960s I loved the smell of oil paints that accompanied some of my art friends, but by that time I thought being an artist was a gift other people had, not me. I envied them a little, but I was caught up in my history and English and philosophy books. I thought I wanted to be a writer. I ended up with a liberal arts degree. After an undirected year in grad school, I went back to get another undergraduate degree in secondary education. I got married and taught high school for a few years. Then we started a family and I became a stay-at-home mom.
In 1976, my younger daughter was in morning 4-year-old nursery school, and I saw an ad in the local newspaper for painting classes. I arranged with a friend to trade off afternoon childcare one day a week, and I began the weekly classes. We were doing tole painting, which is decorative painting on pieces of wood—apples, oranges, carrots, daisies. I had never held a paintbrush in my hand before, and my first attempts were rough—but I loved the smell of the oil paint!
Through my teacher, I subscribed to a decorative painting magazine. I learned that there was a whole world of decorative painters developing around the country, organized as the NSTDP—the National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters. After a year, my local teacher stopped teaching. I realized that if I wanted more instruction, I would have to travel for it. I began studying with Priscilla Hauser, who taught summer seminars in Destin, Florida. My mother would take care of my two daughters for a week or two in the summer, and I would go to paint in Florida. Life was good! I would come home and paint for the rest of the year with what I had learned in the summer workshops.
The more I painted, the better I painted—a valuable life lesson! In 1981 I taught my first decorative painting class—six students around my kitchen table. I loved painting, and I loved teaching. We moved an old shotgun house into our back yard, and it became my painting studio. My classes grew, and I used the money I earned to continue taking workshops myself.
I began attending the annual national decorative painting conventions and studying with other teachers. I traveled to Nebraska to learn fine-art color theory from Ann Kingslan, and I began going to Eureka, California, once or twice a year to study folk art with JoSonja Jansen. By the mid 1980s, my painting medium had transitioned from oil paints to acrylics—much more convenient for painting in South Louisiana, where oil paints took forever and a day to dry! JoSonja was a master at teaching folk art in acrylics, and she became my mentor and my inspiration. I treasure the years I studied with JoSonja, and my best work in decorative painting was done under her instruction.
From 1990 to1992, I experienced a number of major changes in my life. I closed my decorative painting business; we sold our family home; my children went away to college; my 22-year marriage ended in divorce; and my mother died. I moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1992 and began a new life. I brought with me my decorative painting skills, my love of art and music, and my Roman Catholic faith. In 1993 I discovered icons.