Recently I’ve been pondering the influence of my grandmothers on my art style. Each has since passed away but during my childhood they were a strong part of my life since my family visited them often. When we lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, it was only 45 minutes to see my Grandma McDill in Cheyenne. Those trips seemed to take forever as we were always so excited to see her. Eventually we moved to Gillette, Wyoming, making it a 4-hour drive, but closer to my other Grandmother who lived in Fort Collins. We would often visit both Grandmothers in one trip. Thinking back, I realize now how much those visits influenced me as an artist.
A few years ago someone commented that my art reminded them of Indonesian art. This was a major revelation—of course! My maternal grandmother, aka G.B., spent many years in Indonesia while her husband worked for an oil company. One of their work benefits was free shipping back to the US. Wow, did my grandmother take advantage of that! She shipped huge pieces of handcrafted furniture back by shipping container, full. She collected everything! And then, once back in The States, she decorated her house with all of her fantastic treasures. Most intriguing to me were always the Wayang Golek puppets and the shadow puppets or Wayang Kulit puppets. When you look at the way these figures are covered with swirly, fanciful designs it’s easy to see the connection to my work today.
Growing up in Wyoming, I didn’t get to go to many museums; they were too far away. But visiting G.B.’s house was like getting to spend the night in one. If you were the lucky grandkid you even got to sleep in what we called the “princess bed,” a large, canopied Chinese bed from the Qing dynasty. I’ll never forget laying there mornings, studying the carvings of dragons, mountains, clouds and figures. I am sure the many nights spent in that bedroom had to have inspired my own creative spirit. This furniture, and other pieces, also must have fed my love for small drawers. Come to find out now, from my historian sister, those drawers would have been used for opium!
Grandma McDill, my grandmother in Cheyenne, lived much more modestly in a tiny post-war Veterans house with very little room to move around, let alone have dinner together. But she also had fabulous drawers; full of office supplies. I hadn’t really thought much about how much I loved to play with her office supplies until recently when I inherited one of several full boxes. In the box was all the usual stuff, along with some unusual things, like rubber letter stamps to make personalized return address labels, and old label makers that indented into hard plastic strips and stencils and tube paint. Seeing all these ancient office supplies reminded me how generous and open-minded my Grandma McDill was. She always let us rummage through these drawers and play with all the fun supplies, anyway we wanted. I learned my love for the everyday object from these sessions, how to see them as mysterious and magical.
My grandmothers were very different, but their taste, and their way of living, influenced me greatly as a child. It’s hard to know what I would be like as an artist without the inspirational seeds they planted all those years ago. I still have such a love for all Asian art and seek it out at every museum I visit. I continue to get excited about interesting found objects that are really just a simple tool or office supply.