My Mother, My Model
My mother loved everything I did. Henri Matisse
Working with our hands is a skill that often begins in childhood. If you interviewed a group of visual artists, you'd find that most grew up making things, all kinds of things, just for the fun of it.
They nailed together toy furniture, glued model airplanes, cut paper dolls, or wielded needle and thread to decorate a tea towel.
The child me was always making things, always busy--and so was my mother, Ruth Abbott. She worked nine to five as a meticulous bookkeeper, kept our home running smoothly, was a political activist, and always had a delicious cooked-from-scratch dinner on the table at 6:30 sharp.
But Mom also made time for her own interests, which included handcrafts. And when I showed an interest, she patiently taught me how to knit, crochet, make potholders, embroider, and sew my own clothes.
Though my father was an artist and got me started with felt tip pens and watercolors, it was from my mother that I learned a love of working with my hands.
My mother, besides being a busy person, enjoyed napping. She was, in fact, a world class napper, and therefore, once I became obsessed with drawing, a great model.
I have sketchbooks full of her enjoying an afternoon siesta. And if I snapped, "Don't turn over yet, I'm still working!", she was always willing to lie still and hold the pose for another half hour.
I'm thankful that my mother modeled for me--not just during her many hours of obligingly napping, but also modelling the joy she derived from using her hands to create.
That making of something out of nothing is what artists, as well as mothers, do.
When I grew up and became an artist, I realized that a painting is more than just an image. A painting is also an object that’s made of wood and fabric, of oil, solvent, and pigments. The work we do in our studios is physical, as much as it is visual and conceptual.
And I'm happy that's so, because the child in me wants to keep on making things, just like Mom.