Neatly arranged parchment sleeves hid small prints that slipped out and overwhelmed me like guests at a surprise party. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art responded to my 7th grade request by sending a thick envelope with sacred works by Titian, Bosch, Jacometto, Raphael, Durer and Fra Angelico. As I gingerly sifted through this unexpected bounty, I gasped with awe and gratitude-grateful that God had given me such a gift and awe for beauty I had never before known.
Mother Ann Cleary at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in suburban Chicago set the class to writing a description of a classic painting including information about the artist and personal impressions of the artwork. In my 1959 mailing to the Met I simply re-stated the assignment and asked for help. I suppose the name of my school prompted the curator at the other end of my letter to choose representations of New Testament stories. That was the year I won the all-school prize for best writing.
After this intoxicating initiation into the eye-popping wonders of art I thirsted for more. I read the back section of Time Magazine every week for news on the art world and scoured the library for books on lives of the artists. I was prohibited from hanging anything on the rented walls of my bedroom so I made square cardboard boxes and pasted works of art on each side. I strung-up the art boxes from the overhead light, curtain rods, door hinges – any place where I could gaze at my magazine-clipped reproductions.
My first art purchase was a print of Picasso’s Boy with Pipe. It shared wall space with art posters from places I visited – a Roger Brown from the 1985 Navy Pier Art Expo, a Toulouse Lautrec from an Art Institute exhibition. In the 1990’s my job required frequent travel around the US and overseas. To protect myself from on-the-road temptations I stole free time and scurried through backstreet art galleries and street markets. I brought home suitcase-compatible originals such as a small clay maquette of an Easter Island head by Oslo artist Marian Heyerdahl, Thor’s daughter. In 1997 I signed on to EBay. Within hours I was hooked on outsider folk art, bidding on heart-stopping works like a multi-colored turtle made from a hubcap.
Love of art freed me from the inclination to decorate my home for the approval of
others. In my petite apartment the walls are crammed with oils, pastels, watercolors, shadow boxes, metal sculptures, retablos and ceramic tiles. There is so little unadorned wall space that I string up paintings from the curtain rods in my wall-to-wall windows. An oil of Johnny Depp as the Madhatter by Chicago artist Anne Brandt blocks the curiosity of neighboring eyes.
George Carlin once said “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.” By that standard I surpassed my quota long ago.