L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Elizabeth Pennington Foster Matson Alberts Dahm Burpee

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She would have been ninety-nine. She was born in 1911 in St. Paul. She died on Christmas Eve in 2006. She was my mother's mother. She was married four times. She had many businesses and interests throughout her life. She sustained a hearing loss in early adulthood that caused her much grief. She was quite vocally opinionated and not at all a diplomatic person. She was admired but, sadly, not very loved. As with a lot of people, there were regrets and disappointments in her life that she couldn't really process or find peace with. Corners she couldn't approach. But she had tremendous energy, was hard-working, creative, always moving forward, always interested. I was very close to my Grandma Betty. She was so important to me, in my life. I thought she was a fascinating woman, and I know I fascinated her. And we recognized each other. We saw each other as people and as creative beings. She was the first person who understood that I was an artist. And what that meant.

I loved being with her, visiting her home. From earliest childhood. She had marvelous taste; she always had beautiful things around her. In her house, her garden, her clothes. She was always looking for beauty in everything. Color, proportion, juxtaposition. The intrinsic beauty of some object and how it might relate to its surroundings. It was never about how much something cost or its pedigree, although she had some nice things. But things were never showy, and they didn't have to "match" or "go". (She wasn't afraid to be a little silly with things, either; many times I'd ask her about some unexpected ingredient to the decor, and she'd just laugh. She'd get such a kick out of it.) She was fascinated by the interrelation of shape and mass and color; it was always about the arrangement of things. She might place an acorn and a dried oak leaf next to an old silver bowl, on top of a cheap bamboo mat, on top of an antique Duncan Phyfe work table, and hang above it a battered plaster architectural casting or a Japanese ink drawing. Whatever appealed to her eye. Whatever objects or arrangement appealed, delighted. I do this, too. In every apartment or house or garden. I have my arrangements, my tableaux. I must arrange. And this kind of patterning, this attention to placement is integral to my art-making. I've often said that she was the one who taught me so see. Her attention to me, her appreciation of me, and the inspiration of her own creativity did more than anything else in my life to make me the artist I am.


Funny that one of my favorite blogs is celebrating grandmothers today. My grandmother wasn't able to keep going strong like these amazing ladies. Several years before her death, her mind quickly retreated from the world, as so often happens. When I'd visit, she'd smile and hold my gaze, silent. When she passed away, I was in LA with G's family for Christmas; I got the word during Christmas dinner. They raised their glasses and made a toast to my grandmother. Spontaneous and sweet. (Just the sort of lovely thing I've come to expect from them.) Honestly, I felt much more relief than sadness. Relief that her strong body could finally let her go. Past the indignity, not being who she was anymore. Relief for her hard-earned peace. And also, in a way, thankful to her for her lingering. Because, for the last several years, every time I saw her I was able to say goodbye. Each time a little more. Each time a little more deeply.

I'm very grateful she got to enjoy the early part of my art career - since she had so much to do with it - but I'm so sorry that she didn't get to know Gigi or be at our wedding; I think they would have been mutually fascinated and have had such appreciation for each other.