Monday, March 15, 2010

Walking Quietly in the Woods

My mother is an artist; she was born that way.

Mom is also a storyteller. I remember her telling my brother and I (for we were the oldest of three children), to walk quietly in the woods, as quiet as a Native American would. Mom had lived with the Apaches on the White Pine reservation in Arizona where she did watercolors in summer and lived with the local minister’s family on the rez.

Mom would say, “Shhh. Walk without a sound, don’t let the leaves crackle beneath your feet, don’t let the branches snap back from the trees as you pass through the woods.” I used to practice walking quietly without making a sound.

We were told that our great, great grandmother, Jessie Ytah, was Native American and that she left her son and husband on the farm with dinner made and freshly washed diapers for their child. Jessie married five times and ran a boarding house in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

My mother is a native of Wisconsin, hailing from the small town of Neshkoro. Even today, the town still claims a small population of residents. Mom was born in one of the houses in town near the Mill.

But, I digress. Sometime after being born and living on the rez, and well on her way to being a “painter” (for most of her work is done in oil), my mother worked as a counselor at Hilltop Camp in Spring Green, Wisconsin. A tall, willowy brunette with an intellectual, yet mischievous mind, Shirley captured the attention of Don Erickson, a thin, carrot-topped young man who was apprenticing at Taliesin which was located just 1 ½ miles down the road from Hilltop. Hilltop was run by Herbert and Eloise Fritz; Herbert was an architect who also apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright and who later developed his studio at Hilltop.

At Hilltop, my mother taught art to the campers and equestrian skills. In fact, aside from being born an artist, my mother was born with a love for horses. She believed that her stallion, “King,” literally saved her life (but that is a story I will reserve for another day.)

Don, my father, once told me, “Your mother was the prettiest girl at Hilltop. I decided to pursue her.” His pursuit was successful; the two married a few years later and they forged a partnership, intent on being two great artists in their own right. With seed money from their parents, Don designed and the couple built their first home in Palatine, Illinois. Although pregnant with me, Mom helped to roof the home, and stain the wood, and paint the concrete floor a Taliesin red. Once they moved in to their new home, Dad began to develop his architectural practice while Mom pursued her work as an artist.

Having recently helped my mother develop a retrospective catalog of her works, I was breath-taken by the beauty of her paintings witnessing so many together from beginning to now, a span of nearly 60-years. . .

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