Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 8×10, oil on canvas $112 Buy Now SOLD
Just when I think I’m going to run out of stories (and it’s only day five), another appears in my inbox. I’ve still got a few I’ve left simmering for a while but the list is a short one.
Kristi e-mailed me after reading about Erica’s struggle to “be a duck”. They know each other. Kristi is a French teacher at Mount Carmel Academy and, like me, she taught Erica.
Her e-mail, begins, “Reading Erica’s e-mail inspired me to send you a story. I’ve been reading your requests and wanting to help you by sending you something, but I was unsure what story to tell. Then, in the process of reading about today’s painting, I realized that I did have a truly life-changing moment to share.”
Kristi writes about how she came to work at Mount Carmel, a job that is, for her, most certainly a vocation. I never heard anyone at work who did not describe her as energetic. And not to age myself here, but if I had a quarter for every time I heard someone say, “If I could just bottle that energy…” In short, Kristi is a teacher, the kind you can picture being nothing else.
Kristi is from New Orleans and moved home again in 2005 after a brief stint in Chicago where she’d been dissatisfied with her previous two jobs in her “chosen profession”, public relations. She also tried to make a career out of dancing but was soon disillusioned and needed a paycheck.
She writes: “So I came home and got a job at the place where I had worked as a seasonal employee throughout college, Old Navy. When Katrina hit that August I evacuated to my aunt’s house in Texas for a while, but eventually moved in with one of my college roommates in Baton Rouge. I slept on Emi’s couch living out of a suitcase in her living room.” Kristi was able to work at the Old Navy in Baton Rouge and when she’d saved enough, she made it off the couch and into an apartment close to work.
Mount Carmel, Kristi’s alma mater, was annihilated by Katrina. The school was underwater. In January 2006 they were scrambling to reopen, and with displaced teachers as well as students, it was a challenge to say the least. Kristi got a call from a high school friend who’d been recruited to teach art (ie, my future best Mount Carmel friend and fellow art teacher) telling her about the need for French teachers. Later Kristi’s sister, a current student at Mount Carmel, called with the same information: French teachers are needed.
Kristi says, “I took French at MCA all four years, was obsessed with it really. Minored in it in college and studied abroad with an immersion program.” But she lived in Baton Rouge. How could she work in New Orleans?
Her sister begged her, and she caved. After one phone call from a woman who was soon to be her great friend, she was in the classroom the next day and says that even though she was commuting from Baton Rouge, she loved it.
“I was lost until I answered that call…then I found a job, a career, a home, and a family….When I read that Erica would go home from her job crying, I felt her pain. I had a similar experience at my first “real” job after college. I came home crying too. I guess that’s what made me realize I had a story to tell after all. The story of how even though Katrina did a lot of terrible things, it actually changed my life for the better because if it wasn’t for that storm Mount Carmel wouldn’t have been in such a desperate need for a French teacher, and I might never have found my calling.”
Many teachers at Mount Carmel have similar stories. I’m not sure how it happens (I know it’s not the salary or benefits package) but, in my experience, the school has drawn some of the most dedicated, loving, supportive people I have ever known. Three out of my five paintings so far are about people affiliated with the school, and there are more coming. This painting was an easy decision. Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A tribute to being guided and called, answering, receiving.
I don’t know why I did the whole thing with a palette knife much too large for the 8×10 surface. I think a new painting every day makes me brave. I can do the seemingly ridiculous and if it doesn’t work start again with the sunrise.
When my son was born on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, my mom gave me a statue from her aunt, a Carmelite sister. It has been on his bookshelf since the day he was born. Last night I very quietly retrieved it as he slept and used it as a reference to make this painting.
The muddy background was not intentional, but, as it started coming to life, I thought more and more about Katrina, the mud and filth that covered the city I had come to love. If you’ve read any of my early posts, you know I’m a person that believes in resurrection, in hope, in good coming out of the impossibly ugly. I’ve written into this one a prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
This is an image I’d like to revisit. Maybe this month, maybe next. I’d love to paint her on a larger, skinnier canvas with fewer palette knife strokes and bolder colors. Thoughts?