Written by Carol Motsinger
Last week, I had a ball interviewing the fabulous fiber artist Kathleen Lewis. She celebrated 50 years in Asheville by producing a must-see show at Woolworth Walk. The exhibit traces her personal history here through her work, from the first item she made with a sewing machine — an apron — to her newest artistic focus, wall hangings.
During our chat, she credited her mother with not only her teaching her how to use a sewing machine, but with always supporting her creative expression, from leading the standing ovations at Asheville Community Theatre to complimenting the dress Kathleen created for her first day back at Asheville High School.
The obvious fondness and respect Kathleen holds for her late mother — as well as her equal affection and support of her own children — inspired me to celebrate my own mother’s role in my creative self.
For last year’s Mother’s Day, I crafted her a crude creature out of clay. I am certainly not an artist (I feel like all of my art projects are more of a demonstration of how to work around skill limitations rather than skills themselves). But for several years in elementary school, I took a clay class in Winston-Salem, and at the end of those sessions, I always had a gift for my mom.
I made monsters. One is a big-tongued slug with sort of a comb-over Mohawk. Another a spotted, horned, one-eyed bulky beast. No matter how bizarre, these critters were connected by one feature: They all had a baby hitching a ride on their mamma monster’s back.
A couple of years ago, after my mother pulled out these creations from the attic for new living room shelves, she mentioned she always treasured them because she views them as a portraits of us. I never saw them that way, but as she always is, my mom was right. I was expressing my love for her in exactly the way she encouraged and equipped me to. And I still rely on.
So last year, I added the first new mother-and-daughter monster duo the collection in more than a decade, as a thanks for all the serious goodness those silly things represent.
My mom was my first editor; she always read my papers and articles I turned in for school. She taught me sentence structure, always adding helpful tips between the lines of my double-spaced essays in her flawless cursive script.
But at the same, my mother never corrected or abridged my voice or my style. I was compelled to personalize everything, and she always provided me the paints and the space in the garage to get messy (there are still splatters of greens and blues on the garage floor after I clumsily painted my sister’s hand-me-down comforter for college).
Ultimately, she encouraged me to be myself and share myself with others, even the imperfect, sloppy, draw-outside-the-lines stuff. From the shoes I painted with fingernail polish to the bedroom walls I covered with murals.
I still trust my style instincts (although a colleague once said I was dressed like a disco pirate). I am confident and compelled to make all of my spaces, including my desk at work, my own.
I know I am not perfect and that, yes, I did really look like a disco pirate that day. My mom didn’t instill irrational confidence but let me know that it’s better to try and fail, or spill paint all over the garage, in pursuit of expression. To be proud of all my attempts and recognize the ways I’ve grown and the ways I still need to grow.
And that even though those painted shoes no longer fit, I still need my mother’s cursive wisdom between the lines of everything I write.