Awesome Artist Aunt
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?