Two years ago, I brewed some organic dyes, froze some ice and picked up my camera again after many years of creative quietude. What caused this sudden surge of the artist within? That’s an easy one to answer:
My mom, aka Maia, Mama, and even sometimes George (weird teenage phase for me!).
As I sat by her bedside watching her peaceful final breaths last week, I reflected on my mom’s legacy – the gifts she gave me. The list is remarkably long, and no surprise that it includes two hugely important parts of my essence…
The art of travel
To say I have a travel addiction is an understatement. Just this year, six months in, flights have zipped me to New York City, Amsterdam, Iceland, Mexico, most major cities in California and the tropical paradise of Maui. Next week, Peru will be the first new country added to the list in many years. Topping out close to 70 countries now, that seat in the Traveler’s Century Club might very well welcome this traveling artist one day.
The thing is, I’ve been traveling my whole life. I was the weird kid in grade school that spent her summers 3000 miles away exploring the high desert plateau of central Idaho while most just headed to the local pool. Two cross country trips before I could drive seemed like a right instead of a badge. At 15, I helped plan our first European tour, and left my mom and brother as they headed home so I could soak up the sun with a French family on the Riviera. How about three weeks driving around Alaska as a high school graduation trip? Yes please!
What is the common denominator in all of this? My mom, of course. It may have been my job to hold the map and find our way, but she was always willing to get us lost.
At a young 78, my mom was my adventure partner in sea kayaking, boulder hiking and glacier exploring. The weather may have been nasty, but the laughs we had along the way were the memories of a lifetime.
She was also my bunk mate in our 100 square foot cabin for one week at sea. There, in small quarter living, I discovered the illness that would eventually take my mom on her own wild journey:
Alz & Crafts
Research suggests that creativity is not impacted by dementia in the ways it devastates so many other aspects of the mind. Luckily, beyond her scientific intellect, my mom had an artistic side. Trust me…she was crafty in every sense of the word, and she did it all:
As her care partner, and creative crazy in my own right, I sought out opportunity where we could continue artistic expression after her diagnosis. Where certain crafts became exceedingly difficult because of measured calculations, painting traveled unscathed through the dementia vortex.
One wonderful dementia friendly program we were lucky enough to experience was the here:now creative engagement class at the Frye Museum in Seattle. For six weeks, we were treated to interactive gallery conversations and studio time to stretch our minds and fingers.
When I look at the work we produced together, I am equally envious and proud of my mom’s obviously superior skill of representational painting. Even fun quick portraits of each other captured the ease with which she used the brush.
Having said that, I suppose I can see why 3D might be more up my alley.
Needless to say, each piece now holds a very special place in my own art gallery - the one right next to my heart.
Growing up as a traveling artist, I can thank my mom for paving the way, providing encouragement, opportunity and a blue-print for following one’s passion. These same two slices of our shared soul provided much needed therapy for both of us while we walked the path of dementia. Cruel as this disease is, it will never touch the creative experiences, on the road and in the studio, that have become the foundation of who we became as artists.
As I create my next installation, with colors I extract from Mother Earth, it will be dedicated in loving memory of Jan Willms, my mom, the woman who showed me a world of wonder.
I love you, Mama...