Unexpected Kindness January 19, 2024
by Diane Vogel Ferri
What do you do with an artist’s creations when she has left her studio forever, when her life’s work is done? What if the artist was prolific and spent decades accumulating hundreds of oils, watercolors, and pastels in her studio? When the artist is your mother you yearn for her to live on through the beauty she created by sharing it with the world, not hiding it away in storage. My mother was not a famous artist. She won local awards and sold a number of paintings, but art was her passion, not her way of earning a living. When she died my brother, sister, and I chose our favorites and then I distributed many of the others to family and friends who had been supportive while my mom was declining. It’s a joy to walk into a neighbor’s house and see her work displayed there. Her children’s and grandchildren’s walls are filled, and yet there was much more sitting in a basement room of my house, stacked on shelves, left unseen.
I often think about what will be left behind after I am gone. What will my children do with it all? Our society has encouraged and allowed us to accumulate much more than we need. Years go by without a thought to things stored in the back of closets and attic spaces. So, after eight years I decided to attempt to share the rest of my mom’s work. I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure anyone would want it because it was what had been left over after many others had been chosen. Some of it was experimental, many portraits, many nudes, some with unidentifiable subjects. But I was wrong.
One day I simply took pictures of all of them and posted them on Facebook, saying they were free to a good home. I was overwhelmed immediately with positive responses and requests.
These are amazing. I would display all of them if I could.
I love this so much I would pay for it.
Are these seriously free?
What a talent.
You are incredibly generous.
Whatever is left I would love to put them up in my home.
I will tell everyone about your mom.
It’s so beautiful. She sounds like an amazing woman and definitely an amazing artist.
I’m happy to share her story with everyone that sees this work.
I am an artist so I see the person behind the art.
I will send you a picture of it hanging in my house.
Please write about her and I will put it behind the painting.
I promise to cherish and love it forever.
The nude painting makes me think that the intention behind it was— beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. The woman is not particularly attractive by society’s standards but the look on her face says she is content and confident, which in turn, makes her beautiful.
I’m not sure what this one is but it will always be open to interpretation.
Only one man commented that I must have hated my mother for giving her art away, that she was spinning in her grave, but after my response to him he deleted his callous comment. All of the kindness and recognition of my mother’s life’s work diminished his cruelty to meaninglessness.
But most touching was the response from the young woman who now lives in my parents’ beloved home of sixty years. Me! I would love to have a painting by the original owner!
That house means more to me than any place on earth—the home of a happy childhood, a place I could walk into at any time and see two people overjoyed to see me, a house where I can see the details of every room in my mind’s eye. Once, the new owner had invited me to see their improvements and I went—thinking I’d either be devastated or at peace. I chose to be at peace because a young family is growing up there and loving the house and big back yard just as we did.
I had not driven by the house for quite a while but I told her I would drop the painting off. Unbelievably, the street is completely unchanged since my childhood. The yard my parents cleared and the house they built is unchanged from the outside as well. The garage door opened and the owner’s mother came out. We chatted for a bit and she asked me in but I declined. I was standing in the garage struggling to keep my composure because strangely there was a little red hatchback car sitting there that looked like the car my father had for many years. The same color, same style, same size, although a much newer version. It just threw me, it was so unexpected. As I drove away I sobbed because grief never goes away. It’s the consequence of great love.
Over the next few days many young women, showed up to collect their art and were appreciative and kind. One came in and stared in awe at the art on my walls. What was especially unexpected was how many people acknowledged the artist, not just the art. The experience was uplifting in an age when unexpected kindness can be hard to find. It made me feel my mom so close by, so present. And she is, every time I look at the art on my walls.