Happiness grows “Back in your own backyard,” so the old song goes. I believe it. Talents long neglected or struggling to stay alive, may spring back to freshness and vigor if we let them, right in our own backyards. I’m finding this out with the help of my daughter, Robin.
Robin is a thriving artist. Her medium is watercolor. She finds happiness and paints it. People love it and buy it. So far she’s doing well enough financially to earn her living that way and she definitely has prospects of going big time. Whether or not there’s a big time ahead she’s finding happiness right now in her own backyard. She lives and breathes art, noticing every sign of beauty and interest and capturing the bits and pieces of it with paint.
Robin picks up the spirit of an old gnarled tree, a bird on a fence post, an old man feeding the pigeons from a park bench. The old man painting came from an art abroad vacation she had in college. He’s sitting on a bench in a London park, bent over, talking softly to the birds and feeding them seeds from a paper bag. He probably knows the feathered ones by name. It’s a public park, yes, but its also his “backyard.” His happiness grows there. It’s visible. It’s felt.
People stop to talk. Robin talked to him. She asked if she might photograph him. And she talked to him more. Robin likes people, all people, but some she loves without hesitation and she can put it all on paper. The person, the place, the mood. That painting even turned into a large stained glass window that hung for years in the Ashland Oregon Library. Think of the children who stopped to look and felt the magic!
Nowadays Robin and I live practically in each other’s backyard. We’re both in the Quail Creek area here in Laguna Hills California. The other day Robin said, "Mom, I found just the place for your faces! It's a new gallery that hasn't quite opened yet in that old historic section of San Juan Capistrano called Los Rios. I'll be showing my paintings there and the owners said they need more sculpture so I showed them some pictures of your work and you're in!"
We'd often talked about such a thing but all of a sudden it's done! Sculpting faces has been my hobby for years, a sort of on and off thing, but so rewarding when I get into it. I've turned globs of clay into people, had them fired, and they've covered my walls, spread out over every flat surface they could find. Only the ceiling is left! They've been begging to get out and see the world, maybe find homes of their own. Now it's got a chance of happening.
The gallery is new, (opening day is tomorrow!), but the house was built in the 1800’s and it sits among others of its vintage on a famous old street called Los Rios in San Juan Capistrano. It’s called The Cottage Gallery. Robin thought my Old Souls would like to meet the people who come in there. "They will fit right in, Mom. The whole area is vintage.
I said yes and now it's up to the powers that be. My faces are not just pretty ones. They are character studies. They just emerged of their own volition when I took off my rings, sat down at the bench with clay and rolled up my sleeves. Some of my faces are young, even a baby or two, but a lot of them look old. I’m old too and stepping into a new world is not easy. Robin has the savvy. She's helping. She’s full of ideas about how to show them to the best advantage.
Dennie Hahn and Leslie Avalos own the Cottage. They are wonderful artists themselves. They were gracious enough to accept me and gave me an ideal space in the cottage, a tiny room where people have to stand up close to view the work. If they stop long enough, they may be compelled to read my faces. There’s Cozette, The Magician, Great Aunt Phoebe, The Medicine Man, and all the rest. I love them all and hate to see them go, but it’s a little like life, - we need to make room for others, or at least to offer.
No one can know the behind the scenes angst an artist goes through. Marketing is hard work. It takes a business head as well as great talent. It takes listening and trotting around, connecting with others, and making messes in one’s own house. And it takes an emotional toll as well. With mine, there will be no copies. I'll keep them only in photographs. Which is where I am today with a few hours to bring order out of chaos here at home, getting rid of scraps, sorting out tools. The gallery room with the Old Souls is ready though. It is waiting and watching for the faces of those who come to look at them. It’s exciting. It’s scary. Maybe it will be fun. The vibes say it will be.
Robin and I plan to take our turns sitting the gallery together on certain days. We may set up our easel and work bench out on the front porch to let people watch a painting creep onto a canvas and a face emerge from the clay. In that way we may share the really fun part. Whatever comes of it I believe that old song, happiness does grow “Back in Your Own Backyard.”
I’ve visited London and Paris, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany, and even China. It was fun going there but these days I’m having too much pleasure here at home right in my own backyard!