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Awesome Artist Aunt

April 23, 2014

Last week I wrote about my Aunt Susie who traveled the Midwest teaching Summer Bible School most of 44 summers.

This week I want to remember my lovely Awesome Artist Aunt Florence Yoder of Wakarusa, Indiana.

Just yesterday one of my Facebook friends, Richard Kauffman, senior editor at Christian Century, posed this question:

Have you ever thought about the artists among us as gifts to us? (I’m using artists here broadly to include writers, composers, musicians, actors, etc., as well as painters, sculptors, photographers.) Do you ever thank them for what they contribute to our lives?

P1050525Aunt Florence Yoder, homemaker, artist and lover of flowers

I did not know Aunt Florence well, never traveled with her but stayed overnight with my cousin occasionally and I loved going to their house because 1) they had a TV long before we did and 2) my cousin had really cool Barbie stuff (when I was not allowed, my mother thought I was too old for Barbies). Cousin Judy even got the Barbie Dream House at one point and I was smitten with jealousy.

Florence was my mother’s only sister (they had one brother, Paul Stauffer) and was a true artist at heart. I loved looking at her watercolor paintings on walls and propped at various places throughout her house—many of which won awards at shows throughout the northern Indiana region. I think her example even led me to enter an art exhibit in the children’s division in my hometown of Middlebury (and win a ribbon), where her own painting of the Bonneyville Covered Bridge won a prize in the adult division.

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The fact that I still have the ribbon attests to how cool I thought it was to win a ribbon in the same art contest where my aunt ribboned. (I took oil painting lessons the year between college and when I got married but eventually decided I needed to quit “dabbling” in so many hobbies and focus on writing in order to improve in one area.) However, her own daughter, Judy, went on to major in art and has taught art for many years at a school in Ohio.

P1050531My oil painting on wood, depicting my aunt’s favorite flower.

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Aunt Florence and Uncle Dave traveled a lot—mostly camping—and Florence used those occasions to widen her scenery from flat Indiana to Rocky Mountains and Yosemite and Quebec and the Smokies—all depicted in her paintings.

P1050524The front of a book commemorating her art features her flower garden.

But more than her art I loved Aunt Florence’s flowers—inside the house and out. She raised African violets with a vengeance—oodles of them, “hundreds” her daughter said. And her flower garden was her pride and joy; she never refused an opportunity to lead us through it and answer any questions I might have. She loved sharing her love of beauty.

Among the “art” pieces in her living room was also the family ironing board, which was always up. My cousin Judy said in a eulogy at her mother’s memorial service that “It has always been there and would just not be home without it. The catch all for all-important papers and the place she taught me to iron my daddy’s handkerchiefs. It is still there today and I doubt if it has felt an iron on it for many a year.”

I have two copies of Florence’s paintings which my mother owns; I treasure the copies which two of her daughters gave me permission to share here.

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One winter she painted our farmhouse and sent it to us as postcard for Christmas. On the back, along with detailing the flu bugs that had been menacing their family, she noted “I have trouble making houses stand up straight.” I would never have noticed. And then a post script. “Do you want a little white kitten?”

The other painting she made for my parents is of our log cabin built near a pond in a back pasture, a place of retreat and solace on many a busy Saturday.

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After Florence died in 2007, her husband David took photos of the art they still had in their possession (he was a photographer on the side of his other work) and the children (mainly daughter Marilyn) put together a beautiful book which is very special. It included photos of the art she created for her church, Olive Mennonite, and the decoupage art (here our cabin again, using her own painting) and quilt blocks she made along the way.

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I would love to be able to raise African violets and paint the way Aunt Florence did. My husband once bought her husband’s Dave’s welder, and for many years after (he’s still living) he would ask Stuart if he was “still using that welder.” Absolutely. It is a thing of art and creativity for my husband, as well, where he enjoys brainstorming and muddling through how to create useful objects out of metal.

Yes, Richard Kauffman, we too often fail to pause and think of or thank the artists among us who offer a different way of seeing the world while using their own God-like skills in creativity. God was the ultimate Creator, after all, and we are, yes, created in God’s image. That was Florence, for sure.

 ***

Is there a permanent (odd) fixture in your home (or the home you were raised in) like Aunt Florence’s ironing board?

What creative gift do you wish you had? How do others inspire you?

 

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From → Faith, Family Life, Nature

10 Comments
  1. Nancy Schaffer permalink

    Hey, I actually went to Olive Mennonite for the first 12 years of my life. Is Judy Yoder the same age as me – one year younger than you? Does she have a few brothers too? Am wondering if that is the Judy Yoder that I was friends with when I went to Olive. . . . I went to their house several times. Where was their house? Just wondering. . .

  2. Judy permalink

    Was your last name Yoder when I knew you? Was your birthday Nov. 4? I have no brothers, just sisters.

  3. Hey, Judy, thanks for joining in. Nancy’s name was Yoder, yes indeed. But I’m thinking Nancy is thinking of a different Judy. I will send a private FB message to Nancy with the location of the house.

  4. I have an Awesome Artist Aunt Ruthie. She was also a teacher, school principal, tax collector for her township, accountant for her church. The list goes on. How wonderful we have such great role models to emulate.

    • Was she also a mother? Some time I want to write about two of my husband’s aunts who never had children of their own but were so important to him because his own mother was very affected by rheumatoid arthritis (severely disabled in that day) and they would come and help the family out so much. They were so grateful and influenced by their aunts’ care.

    • I re-visited your post today – what a heritage we have. I’m so happy we have lived long enough to appreciate the links between our forbears and our children. Wow!

      • No, Aunt Ruthie never had any biological children, but she had the four of us + hundreds of school children and foster families she nurtured through Lutheran Social Services.

  5. Your aunt so much reminds me of my Aunt Beryl, my mother’s sister who has just died of a stroke a few years ago in her mid 70’s. She raised three children, was a registered nurse in our small town most of her life, and was the Junior Girl Scout leader in Quakertown, Pa for an entire generation of girls in the 70’s, teaching us not only ecology, camping skills, and crafts, but inner strength and kindness and being a help to anyone you can. She also painted and sewed and quilted and gardened and taught Sunday School and volunteered at church at every little job that needed doing. She sewed her children’s clothes, and even taught my daughter a lot of what she knows, who is now a fashion design magor in college. But it was her vision that stays with us, her family. She saw a way to see both things and people that most people would throw away or ignore, and bring new life to them with love, patience, creativity, and hard work. No job was too hard or grubby for her. No person was unworthy of her effort and time.

    • What a renaissance woman, or something, or a woman of valor like the Proverbs 31 woman, as Rachel Held Evans writes about in her book. I love your story. Thanks for chiming in!

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