At Wellesley Junior High School I had a marvelous art teacher, Mr. Nason. I spent every time period I did not have a class in his art room. I spent after school time in his room until it was time to take the very last bus home. I did not care about any other class, just art. I loved Mr. Nason because he asked me questions about what interested me and then he would give me challenges to explore my interests. Looking back I have to say that this has become, in my mind, what a true teacher is. Mr Nason inspired me to be more me. Though I loved art museums and painters from Rembrandt to Picasso, what spoke to me at the deepest level was color and its relationship with itself and what it was on. Silk fascinated me. Clothing became of interest in what designers did. I think if we had stayed in Wellesley instead of moving, I would have gone into the fashion industry just to spend my whole life working with colors on silk. It would have fed my soul at every level. To me, this is life. Feed the soul – not just your soul but all souls. Create something that speaks to one’s passion and how we see the world. Why art? Passion and inspiration. That has never changed.
We moved. We moved to a small town further from Boston to a house I truly hated. It was modern and angulated in ways that were like nails on a chalkboard to my sense of beauty. Being more of an introvert personality, I had trouble making friends right away. I longed for art class with Mr. Nason. But the new art teacher, because I did not have any interest in realistic art (no I still to this day cannot draw a horse) felt that I would be better served in English class. And that happened. I was 13 at the time. I look back and the 60 year old me wants to say a thing or two to that man who called himself a teacher. I did not fit into his mold of what an art student at 13 should be so please go to English class. The lesson was, don’t let anyone dictate to you what your passion is, right? He successfully bullied me. Happiness was over.
I told no one of this event and ended up in all English classes to the point of graduating second in my class at Emerson College with a degree in writing and literature. Now don’t get me wrong. I love literature and writing is an art form. But it wasn’t my soul. It wasn’t the match or my motivation but by the time I was in college I had walked so far away from the young teenager in Mr. Nason’s art room that I no longer knew her. I was good at the things I did but the underlying happiness was not there.
I ended up with an art to wear gallery in California, selling other people’s art. Still not happy. I think because that underlying happy was not there, the gallery failed. In the meantime I had been making hand painted dog collars and leashes for my dogs and others at the dog park. One day when I was walking to my gallery with my Newfie, I found a bag of fabric paints abandoned at my doorstep. I brought them in and held onto them expecting the person who dropped them to come looking. They did not and I ended up using them on my dog’s collars. Then the fellow down the street who had a pet shop asked me to make some collars for him. I did. 20 years later I was making collars and leashes from an entire floor of my Vermont home and mainly exporting to Japan and also selling to a chain of shops in Hawaii.
Some years ago an earthquake hit Japan and suddenly the orders from Tokyo stopped. They were my bread and butter. My eggs were essentially all in one basket. I had to stop what I was doing and take a very hard look at my life and my now lack of income to pay for it. What had happened. At the time my cat was having troubles recovering from major surgery and had to wear a stiff neck brace to keep her from licking herself open. If I say Siamese, many of you will understand. They are such determined, insane little creatures! So I would sit with her in the bathroom where it was confined and I could take her brace off and still reach her to keep her off her wound but she could have some freedom from that horrible contraption.
I was an avid knitter and during those days on the floor in the bathroom I knit a Doctor Who scarf. When I was knitting, the fears of losing my house and the anxiety of my cat’s illness and surgery and the cost of it slipped from me. Things went through my head like thinking of the people who had come and gone from my life and those who stayed. It seemed that the one thing the people who stayed had in common was passion. I started to question mine and to look back at where I walked away from what lit it up like an Aurora Borealis! What mattered most? What mattered most was the why behind what I did with my life. I made the decision on that bathroom floor that whatever came next in my life had to come from my heart and soul. It had to be the nourishment for each day of my life and that the income from it was secondary. I would not do something anymore that did not come from that bigger place inside.
Spring forward to now. The scarf on the bathroom floor led to yarn which led to spinning which led to dye work. Now I am a dyer and a fiber artist. I put those colors on silks and wools and get to touch them and understand them and be them. If this did not feed me in a way that put a fire under me and within me, I could not work the 60 – 90 hour work weeks that I do. The income, though important in its own right, is secondary to the passion of who I am. Every single colorway I make has been thought out like a chess game as to how it can be used and what it could be. I could never ever have anyone else do my dye work for me or have someone else make my dyes because this is where I feel the magic.
Magic is what happens when you are yourself and you do what is your soul. The rest of your life falls into place after that. I nearly lost my house in getting back to who I am – the why I am. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay because I now have a very deep understanding of what it means to live a life without what matters. It is not a life at all. It’s just days, months years. So Mr. Nason, where ever you are, thank-you.