“Thus Wilderness Bloomed There” 16×20, oil on paper

For Christmas, I received the best gift.

My uncle walked into my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve morning with a very clearly tackle-box-shaped package. Ezra, our enthusiastic  fisherman, immediately thought it was for him. It wasn’t; it was for me. “Why is mom getting a tackle box?” he asked, disappointed.  I wasn’t quite sure why either. But I opened it and, well, so did the flood gates. My uncle said, “This was meant for you and no one else.”

It was, in fact, a tackle box. And it had belonged to my Aunt Catherine, my first and most important art teacher, who had stored picture hanging supplies, wire cutters, pencils, rubber bands– all the little tools of the trade in it. 

I’ve never had a prized possession until now. 

I keep her picture and a painting I did of her on the desk of my gallery. I try to imagine what she would say to me when things feel particularly sticky, but now I use her sawtooth hangers, her screw eye hooks. I cut wires with her tiny pliers. I can see her in the little ways she organized things. Having something physical of hers matters in a way that I didn’t know it could.

Since making prints of my work, one of the best sellers is a little cardinal painting I entitled “Remembrance.” Nearly everyone who purchases one, tells me a story about a lost loved one they see and remember when they spot a cardinal in their yard. 

I’ve recently discovered Mary Oliver’s poem about this idea of the “red bird.” I’ve written some of it into the background of today’s painting where the subject is carrying the memories of one who came before her, finding solace in the wilderness that blooms there. 

And isn’t that what art is– something physical and tangible that can stir up the music in our hearts?

Red Bird Explains Himself

By Mary Oliver

“Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow
and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was
only the first trick
I had hold of among my other mythologies,
for I also knew obedience: bringing sticks to the nest,
food to the young, kisses to my bride.

But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen.

If I was the song that entered your heart
then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
and thus wilderness bloomed there, with all its
followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep
for the death of rivers.

And this was my true task, to be the
music of the body.  Do you understand?  for truly the body needs
a song, a spirit, a soul.  And no less, to make this work,
the soul has need of a body,
and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable
beauty of heaven
where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,
and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”

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