My Mother in my Art

As Mother's Day draws near, I am thinking about my own mother and how she has impacted my life as an artist, mother and woman. We are a product of our environment for good or bad and the one person in the world who tends to have the most influence over you if you grew up with her is your Mom. My mother, Elizabeth Helen Slovinski, died  in 1984 when I was 25 years old, 3 years after my father.

These are the things I remember about my mother.

1. She had a big laugh and sparkly eyes
2. She smoked a lot
3. She drank a lot.
4. She worked hard.
5. She could be cold.
6. She loved me.
7. She had suffered a lot.
8. She taught me how to make things
9. She said one encouraging, memorable thing to me in my life and it was near when she was dying. She said "I always new you were going to do something special but I don't know what it is."

Well, here I am, 54 years old and still trying to figure that out. Am I already doing it, writing books and making paintings and pottery? I don't know. Maybe it was a Mom's wishful thinking, putting her lost dreams and wishes into me. Anyway, I miss my Mom. I got married without a Mom, had my daughter and raised her without a Mom around, had Christmases, Birthdays, failures and triumphs without a Mom to cheer me on or show me how. Maybe my Mom wouldn't have been all that anyway. Sometimes she wasn't very good at being a Mom. I have painted her from memory a few times trying to get a grip on her, my struggle most obvious in the painting below called "Mother, Saint or Sinner?" in which I am trying to reconcile my feelings about her.

In "Party Girls", there is my mother and my Aunt Clara, sitting on the couch, doing what they did best together-drinking beer and smoking in what looks like a happy little party but, unfortunately, it would eventually lead to fighting.

There was a lot of that in my house. The alcoholism ran through both of my parents and my aunts and uncles. A family gathering could never be trusted as a peaceful, happy occasion. My parents were older when they had me. When I was growing up, she was already old at 46, white haired when I was 6. My father was 50, so I would always get asked if they were my grandparents.When she was 65,  I found some black and white early pictures of them in her apartment when she had gotten the cancer. I didn't know what to do about the cancer, about the fact that I was about to have no one, but I knew what I would try to do-I  would hold on. Hold on in paint. This was when I started to be a painter. I  bought some tubes of white and black oil paint and  a couple of canvases, and taught myself to paint the people in these pictures whom I had never known but was so curious about- my young mother and father and a brother 17 years older than me whom I still barely know.

My mother was not an artist but she could crochet and do macrame'. I don't remember anyone else in my family as being an artist, so I will say I got the creative gene from her. I got some of her other good traits and some of her bad. I think the most important thing I got from her was her strength and resilience and willingness to work hard. My mother was not a saint. What I have concluded is that  she was  the flawed, vulnerable person that God chose to bring me into this world and shape me to do and be what He intended. And as she could express it, she loved me and I loved her.

 Being a Mother is a rich gift and a challenge. We do our best most of the time and the rest of the time we just  pray. Much of the time we are going on what we were raised with, maintaining the good and hopefully, throwing out the bad.

I think I have done a good job at one thing with my daughter. I don't think she will ever doubt that I love her or say she suffered from a lack of affection from me. Beyond that, I have made plenty of mistakes as a Mom, but none I hope that she can't forgive me for. It's been such a joy and adventure raising a daughter and I feel blessed to have had the privilege.

Happy Mother's Day!

(The theme of motherhood and my daughter in particular have shown up in my work a lot and so this month, look for more posts on these subjects.)