My Mennonite Aunt Ruthie Longenecker is elderly now. She has always loved art and is still producing beautiful things nearing age 97. Like Mary Delany, known for her exquisite scissors art, age is no hindrance to creativity.
Note the red and teal crayons in Ruthie’s hand here.
My Artist/Aunt/Teacher Ruthie now lives in a retirement community, where she took an art course several months ago. I have no way of knowing whether the instructor suggested the topic or not, but one thing is certain, her images reflect her deep love of plant and animal life.
Aunt Ruthie, also my teacher in Grades 1-4 at Rheems Elementary School, splashed art all over our curriculum in addition to construction paper creations most every school child makes:
- Clay moldings fired in a tiny kiln
- Finger paints – My favorite, blending red and blue to make purple!
- Jig-saw cut-outs made into wall hangings
- Plaster of Paris figures
True, she taught the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. I excelled in reading and was often chosen to read aloud “with expression” when the school superintendent appeared in the classroom. However, arithmetic was a different matter. I can still conjure up an image of her brown, beveled ruler dancing ominously above my hand, white-knuckled while struggling to line up 4-digit numbers vertically so the sums would add up correctly.
One happy pause in the school day came after lunch though: Picking colors from the stadium of crayons standing at attention in my green & gold box of 48 Crayolas. My classmates and I filled in the *purple curves and lines of figures from fairy tales and fables while she read from Uncle Remus or the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.
She took a course in oil painting, probably in her 40s or 50s, her love of nature evident in the works shown here.
Aunt Ruthie/Miss Longenecker would likely smile in a self-deprecating way at the notion of linking her artistic flair with the idea of “art as sacred expression” which Melissa Pritchard asserts in an article suggesting that “Art [is] a form of active prayer.” Yet, in retrospect, I recognize that art for Aunt Ruthie was a full expression of her humanity, her creativity, and her spirituality.
On July 16, 2015, the U. S. Senate passed by a vote of 81/17 a bi-partisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that “all students—regardless of their socioeconomic status—experience the demonstrable positive impact that [art] and music education has on learning and life.” In other words, the Senate is trying to catch up with what the research has been saying for years, the arts improve and reinforce learning in the full range of academic subjects.
Ruthie would be pleased with that move. In her mind, now addled by memory loss, art never ever left the curriculum. For her, art is ageless.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Its loveliness increases/ It will never / Pass into nothingness. – John Keats “Endymion”
* * *
Do you have a family member who excels in art? How do you express your own artistic flair? (Don’t discount the home arts like sewing, baking, making creative tablescapes.)