Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Grandmother's Eyes

My grandmother, Rupie Lee Johnson, has been legally blind since well before I was born. That's not to say she can't see, however. She may not see the details you and I take for granted, but she can see.

"Ma Ma" (pronounced ma-maw) will be 98 years old in April of this year. She was at my house for this last Christmas just as I always used to be at her house when I was young. I cooked instead of her. The roles have reversed in many ways.

One thing that has stayed the same, however, is her love of interesting and colorful things in her house. A few days ago I decided to put together a slide show/video of things I know she would love if she saw them. I picked from the pages and pages of items produced by this fantastic team of artists, Design Style Guide, and I set the whole thing to music I had previously written for Ma Ma. Not everything I found fit in the time limit set by the length of the music, however, so I figured this would be a great place to display the rest.

This beautiful piece was painted by Trilby Cole. The reason I zeroed in on it is because it reminds me of the flowers Ma Ma used to draw. She loves flowers because she can see the colors and the contrast. She was a very good self-taught artist and she used to draw flowers all the time when she was younger. She'd love most of Trilby's work. I've been an artist most of my life but painting like this seemed forever out of my reach. My hat's off to Trilby Cole for her wonderful paintings.

The piece you see here is a sink. Yes, a bathroom sink. If you are unfamiliar with the work of Glenn Randle and Fire Dancer's Glass you really should check it out. Hand blown glass sinks for the most elegant vanity you or I can imagine, and I can imagine quite a bit. Ma Ma would love this because it's something different. She grew up with no running water, so a sink in the bathroom is luxury enough for her, but to have this beautiful glass fixture there every time she walked in the door... she would have been in heaven. Add to that the fact that it's red -- her favorite color -- and it would have been the perfect gift for her home, along with a complete bathroom upgrade.

Pat Parker does things with clay I wish I could do with wood, if that makes any sense. In the future I will own a lathe and I can begin to explore turning a big chunk of wood into a beautiful bowl. Until then I can look at Pat's work and drool over it. This bowl, for instance... It's rich and creamy and it has the sort of visual texture that makes you want to touch it. Ma Ma used to have some old stoneware bowls. They were beat up and weathered, none of them were very colorful, but they were quite useful and she certainly got her money's worth out of them. She used to bake a cake at least once a month and she always mixed up the batter in the same old chipped bowl. She would have been proud to have owned bowls like this one, to have used them in her small kitchen in Trinity, Texas, and she would have kept Pat Parker in business for a while, replacing all the old bowls.

Alright, I know this one is in the video, but it needs to be mentioned here. Jorjia is a fantastic photographer from Michigan. Some time ago she took this photograph of a cardinal and, at this point, Ma Ma has already seen it. Ceramic cardinals once decorated her entire house. One of my friends, the rhythm guitarist in my rock band back in the '80s, once tried to count them and he lost count at 400. She loves to look at them. She loves them because they are so vivid, she can really see them. And this photograph is absolutely perfect. Red and black on snow.

Karen Faulkner does things with watercolors that I can only dream of. This flower, like the one at the first of this piece, is something Ma Ma would love to have in her home. It's bright and delicate, it shines out at you from across a room. It doesn't hurt that it's red, either.

So, I suppose you might be wondering what the point of all this could be, beyond just pleasing my grandmother with pretty colors and shapes, yes? Okay, here it is, and this is actually some insight into my own creative process: While most artists are doing what they do to please themselves, we all have to keep a bit of our brains tuned into how others perceive our work.  What will they do with the things we create? If they love these things, what is the appeal and how do we produce more of it? Do the colors matter more than the function, or is it the other way around?

I'm in this to produce functional art. I build a lot of things that have a useful purpose in the home or office. Ma Ma owns a few of the things I've built and she uses them. I know if it's useful to her, at age 98, it will most likely be useful to many others. She has been a measuring stick for some of my work. And now I have put the work of many other Design Style Guide members up against that measuring stick and they haven't been found wanting.

I love my Ma Ma. She helped take care of me when I was young and now I, along with my mother, my wife and my son, help take care of her. I value her opinion and will keep asking her what she thinks about my work and the work of others.


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Karen Faulkner said...

Thank you for featuring my watercolor "Tropicana!"

Unknown said...

That was beautiful Jay, both the words and the art. I am moved by your love and respect that you have for your Ma Ma. She is blessed to have you in her life.

Anonymous said...

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