A Legacy of Flowers

A friend of mine recently shared how she was asked to consider what gifts each person in her family had offered to her. These gifts had to do with what one generation passed along to the next. I noticed how each of the intangibles she identified felt personally meaningful and our conversation stirred a desire in me to uncover what I have received from my family.

One of my grandmothers was a painter. Oils were her go-to and though I never actually saw her paint, my family still displays several pieces she created. These days I wish I had witnessed her process. She often painted flowers and even as a child, I was amazed by the level of detail in her work. I wonder what it could have been like to show more curiosity and engage her about painting.

Growing up, I didn't feel very celebrated in creativity. And though I participated in choir and theatre, I didn't consider myself an artist in any capacity. I remember taking one fine arts class and feeling like such a failure when the things I'd paint or sculpt turned out terribly. (Truly, they did!) I ended my very feeble pursuit of art after that class.

For me, competence became my pathway to success. I wouldn't invest myself in areas where I saw the potential for a big fat mess outside of my wheelhouse. Because failure was so tied to my identity, I couldn't see how the simple attempt was a beautiful and fruitful endeavor.

A few years ago I was at the end of myself. The way I was living felt hollow. I was very competent in my work life but I wasn't really alive. The story is much longer, but suffice it to say it was time for a change. I had just moved to Florida and one day I had this idea: "What if I painted?" Inspired by a silhouette on a stage I'd noticed during a church gathering, I bought a canvas and some acrylic paints and sat in my room, door closed, trying to paint what I saw. Let's just say it was an interesting rendition. 

What I discovered in that place, however, was the freedom to laugh at myself and try. It felt great. I knew I might never become an amazing painter, but I found pieces of hope in those strokes. As I continued, I discovered I really loved painting two things: abstracts and funny enough, flowers. I regularly gave myself a hard time about the flowers, finding it a bit childish for some reason. I suppose it just seemed like, "Everyone can paint flowers..." It didn't seem challenging or special.

In the years since that time, I've mostly explored with acrylic and I've gotten better. Recently, a friend suggested I try watercolors because of the enormous (understatement) amount of paint I use when creating a new piece. (I really get out of hand! Ha!) And the photo I use today is a recent attempt. I actually like it.

As I painted this piece last night, I thought about my grandmother and her legacy of flowers. Our styles are completely different and her flowers don't look like this one, yet seeing it come to life is incredibly special for me. I realized she gave me something without ever telling me about it and without my ever asking about it. She passed along an appreciation for beauty and process through painting. This gift of hers has become such a sweet place of connection, reflection and growth for me--a tremendous legacy indeed. 

I wonder today: What gifts have your people passed along to you?