Artist Donna Lee Johnston died in February 2017. Her illness took her eyesight so that she could no longer paint, and eventually her life. Longing to honor Donna and her talent, her sister Margi Hafer, gathered more than 150 unfinished pieces and asked fellow artists to complete them. I was blessed to complete two of Donna’s painting starts. *
This painting of Donna’s immediately took me back to the memory of a painting I did as a senior in high school. I had been selected as a gifted artist to participate in a countywide program through the university Art Department to support outstanding artists and one of our seminars was on watercolor painting. Besides the Crayola paint boxes of my childhood, I had never used watercolor paints. Our assignment: paint a landscape scene. I had it in my mind to paint the old tool shed on our farm.
While painting, it became obvious I did not have the perspective of the shed accurate, and I was trying to fix it with more paint. The professor came over and told me to start over with a new painting. I just kept working on the one I had. As the professor looked at my finished piece I he said to me; “You have talent, but you will never make it as an artist, you are too lazy.” His words have been indelible ink stamped on my longing to paint that would not be removed. When I saw Donna’s unfinished painting of the cottage. I immediately thought of my shed painting. I wanted to look away, but this image compelled me to take her home.
I fixed Donna’s painting on my wall, looking at it every day while I waited for the inspiration, for direction. I kept seeing the unfinished cottage going up in flames. It seemed disrespectful, but the flame image held firm. What was revealed to me was the house being consumed by flame as the transformation needed to bring the land and back to life-flowers and blossoming trees bursting forth from the brown earth and bare branches. The silver smoke and glitter show the alchemical nature of this transformation.
The Gift of Letting Go
Two larger-than-life hummingbirds come forth from the chimney, symbols of a renewed life, of creativity, intuition, and energy. That there are a pair reminds me that creative work is a joint effort of the artist and the medium. Both are needed, equal and essential.
I added a pathway leading up to the house; the markers and stumbling stones I encountered during my longed-for transformation.
An oversized rabbit (‘oversized’ is normal in magical paintings) rests at the base of a tree. I learned from Donna’s sister that Donna read the book the velveteen rabbit to her children and grandchildren, and that when she was dying her daughter would read it to her. Remembering that story and having The Velveteen Rabbit show up in the painting seemed fitting-for he was transfigured by letting go of his old form and holding close his great longing, as have I.
* for more information go to https://www.margihafer.com/thesistersproject