I had a very startling encounter earlier this week. It has been swirling around my head for days making me dizzy. How do I write about it, what do I say, what does it all mean? I was confronted blaringly by thoughts of the woman I was, the woman I am, and the woman I hope to be…
We took all seven kids with us to our two year old son G’s ear check up over at the University of Vermont Medical Center on Monday morning thinking we would make an excursion of it and visit the Fleming Museum next door afterward. It was only $10 admission for the whole family. Quite a deal for a family of nine.
We had two strollers going while the older four boys walked with us. The double stroller for our 3 year old and 2 year old and I had ~P, the 6 month old, in his baby car seat in another stroller. Thankfully he slept for the first 45 minutes. We were quite a sight, but the boys did great, all but one older boy who for whatever reason was grumpy for most of the visit, though by the end the tide of his mood had turned. Kevin was wonderful talking to them about various paintings and artifacts/periods of history.
We visited room after room, civil war artifacts on display, a mummy with an accompanying x-ray that showed the skeleton that lay inside, earthen bowls and arrow heads from Native Americans, a gorgeous classical marble sculpture of a seated woman, larger than life with carved gauzy flowing fabric, an animal pelt, and soft touchable skin.
There was a Norman Rockwell painting. It was from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post of a crying baby pulling the hair of her babysitter. We had a pamphlet that showed the actual picture that was printed in the Post based on the painting and the boys had a great time telling us what was different from the actual painting (they had erased the pulling of hair so the baby was just crying, the doll no longer had missing eyes and was pink instead of blue,etc.) But the story behind how the picture made it to the Fleming was the best I thought. Norman Rockwell had given it to a whole school class who had written to Rockwell with a collection of $48 included to buy a painting of his as a memorial for a classmate who had died of Leukemia. He sent this original painting as a gift not accepting payment for it. The Fleming has it now on permanent loan.
My experience with art this day was similar to last month’s walk through Burlington’s South End Art District. Here I was again confronted with the Lisa of eons ago. Studying paintings while trying to keep 6 month old ~P happy after he woke from his short nap and make sure we didn’t lose any of the older boys, I didn’t really have time to concentrate on the art work deeply, but I enjoyed being there none the less. So different from years ago when I would visit museums and could focus totally without anyone needing my direct attention and guidance.
And my lens has changed too. I am no longer an aspiring artist. I am a mother, a wife, and most defining, a woman on a quest to know and love God with all her heart and all her soul. My art now takes a humble 4th in my life and is more likely to reflect the desire to be filled with Christ’s light.
Even more so than that day a month ago, there was a collision of worlds within me.
It happened in the last exhibit hall, the multi-media exhibit on Picasso and his Demoiselles D’Avignon. I entered the room with my husband and 7 sons only vaguely aware that the content may be a bit tricky with the boys, but I trusted the historical importance of it. I was a little thrown when reminded by the introduction printed on the wall that the women portrayed in the painting were prostitutes. I had forgotten or not really thought of this fact in a long time. There is a lot I haven’t thought about in the history of art in the last 12 years.
The boys weren’t reading the intro anyway, so we forged on without explanation. Some of the older boys had fun in the first section of the exhibit where wall sized projections of art that inspired Picasso’s painting were available to view. Using a device in the center of the room the boys could wave their hand over it and scroll the images and click through to navigate to different images. They had fun manipulating the technology more than exploring Picasso’s inspiration I think.
By this time baby ~P was in my arms, happy to be picked up out of his car seat. One of the older boys kept track of the stroller for me as I left them playing with the virtual computer.
In the next space we saw recent art that took cues from the Picasso painting. I passed by what looked like a male version of Demoiselles D’Avignon, but chose not to give it much attention. A life size photograph of two women mimicking the poses of two of the women in Picasso’s painting was next, one of the women sported a tattoo on her lower back placing it in the 21st century. Instead of looking straight at us as in the Picasso, the women in this photograph looked off uninterested. It felt voyeuristic. I left it feeling slightly uncomfortable.
I didn’t linger long on any of the artwork in this exhibit, honestly. By the time I made it to the last room, I was getting hungry and my internal “the kids have been behaving, let’s not push this expedition too far” clock was just about to go off. I entered the last section of the exhibit with one of the middle boys and little ~P.
Turning the corner a sculpture made up of a trio of identical women 8 inches or so tall sat on a pedestal about 5 feet tall. They were cast in bronze.
The three identical figures were seated with legs spread wide and at the center of each spread were jagged lines evocative of sharp teeth, their faces evocative of Picasso-esque masks and woman after woman after woman extended an arm with a middle finger blaring at the end of it.
It could not be more “I am woman hear me roar.”
And yes I was shocked and taken aback, just as I think the artist intended. I was the perfect spectator in a way, hidden from shock value for so long in my little life as a mother and Christ follower.
I was horrified when my son, my innocent son, looked at it and tried to understand what was going on. All I could say was “crazy huh”? or something equally unimpressive (really I can’t even remember what I said). I was just relieved and thankful when he quickly moved on.
After horror though I was confronted almost immediately with the thought: “This was me, I could have easily made this piece or something like it twenty years ago.” Actually I had, at least something with similar content and meaning, one in painting and many in poetry.
Ha, what the heck has happened to me? Worlds were colliding I tell you!
I spotted a woman in her early twenties who worked at the Fleming seated in the corner keeping an eye on the exhibit, most likely a student at UVM. I felt so stirred up I had to talk to someone. So, with baby on my hip, I went over to tell her how funny it was to see this piece and know that twenty year old Lisa could have made it and how today I saw it so very very differently. At first she completely misunderstood me and shared that it was her favorite piece at the Fleming as well!
I tried to correct the misunderstanding and share my point of view, but I don’t think I was very successful. I’m pretty sure she saw me as a failure of feminism. To her I had fallen so far. She kept saying I should research what the new wave of feminism was about. And surely she is right, and I may. But knowing that that sculpture was her favorite piece… well it gives me an idea that the new wave of feminism isn’t perhaps so new.
I just don’t see strength in images like that any more.
I think the best I can do is compare those three women sculpted in bronze projecting what is meant as power and strength and confidence, to what I know of Mary.
I am still on a journey getting to know the Blessed Mother of Jesus. I admit to kind of ignoring her most of my life and not really understanding her place. She always felt strangely irrelevant, even though I lived with her presence in statue form for years above our kitchen sink, and on my mother’s bedroom dresser. Mary was with her son in a glorious stained glass in my childhood church by the sea . I saw her around, knew who she was, but had no relationship with her.
Over the last few years my heart has softened towards Mary.
Love for my own mother helped. Since my mom passed away I find myself telling people about her so they can share in even just a tiny bit of who she was in this world. This wonderful lady accepted me unconditionally, nurtured me into my early twenties and beyond, past the time when her presence on this earth was done. Her lessons of love have lived on in my heart.
If I love and honor my mom and enjoy sharing her with others, how much more must Jesus want us to know and honor his mum, the woman who experienced the crucifixion of her son and savior, the woman who encouraged the apostles after Jesus ascended into Heaven after his 40 days here, the woman Jesus left with the Holy Spirit to strengthen the apostles and the new church.
So finally I talked to her, I asked for her to let me get to know her. I asked Mary to pray for me, to bring me closer to her son. I prayed the rosary with her, saying her prayer and meditating through it on the days of her son’s life. And bit by bit I have grown closer to her. She has become my role model. I have called her Mother (as my earthly mother is Mom).
There is so little written of Mary in the Bible. Her strength is so humble, exalted by her son, ready and waiting for us to ask her in. She is there to encourage and nurture, not pointing towards herself, but pointing towards her son, our salvation.
It is her strength I want to exemplify for my sons. My seven sons.
Mary: waiting, quiet, peaceful, loving, mother, leading us to our best, comforting us in our weakness, mothering not just to her son, but mother to the world.
I do not want my boys to look at images like those three bronze women and think that this is what being a woman is all about. I don’t want them to see a woman objectified either by turning the objectification on herself in a false strength or objectified by the world. I want them to see her innate worth, yes, under God.
Yup, I could have made that art, but each day God is remaking me, remaking me so art like that doesn’t feel true anymore and instead feels like a stain on my soul. I want to protect who I am becoming and who my boys are becoming, so they, too, are sensitive to goodness and kindness and truth. So that if any of my boys meet that brazen woman (so like my young self) some day, full of misdirected fight, that they will wait patiently avert their eyes while she closes her legs and gets dressed, puts down her outstretched arms and tucks those fingers comfortably into her coat pockets. They can then walk beside her in friendship, kindness, and love, giving her the dignity she is fighting for, the dignity we all deserve.
I want, hope, and pray they will treat her the way Mary’s Son has treated me.
Ahhh this was a hard post to write. I hope I did it justice.
Love to you all, thanks for taking the time to read it.