Although in journalism I found an interesting and stimulating career that utilized my writing skills, my real love has always been art -- an interest not encouraged in my family of origin.. My father, who was career military, often spoke witheringly of art or craft classes as “basket weaving,” leaving little doubt that anyone who pursued the arts was to be disdained.. I adored my father, so my artistic side was suppressed during my growing up years..
His military career took us to Germany for my sophomore and junior years in high school, and a family vacation to Rome awakened what would become a lifelong passion.. I had prepared myself for the trip by reading Irving Stone’s “Agony and the Ecstasy,” a biographical novel about Michelangelo.. But nothing could have readied me for the impact of this great master’s work.. When I saw his “Pieta” at St. Peter’s Cathedral, the statue of Mother Mary cradling the lifeless body of Christ, tears streamed down my face.. I had never in my life seen anything as exquisite and touching. How could this artist take a material as solid as marble and transform it into something so tender, poignant and evocative? I was moved to my core..
Soon after, I embarked upon my own art education, checking out books from the library about Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and other great artists of the past. But it still never occurred to me that art was something I might do myself.
I was in my mid-20s and had been working for a daily newspaper on the Monterey Peninsula in California for about four years when I was asked to rewrite a press release about a summer offering at a local Episcopal day school. It was a program on book arts – topics ranging from calligraphy to hand bookbinding to manuscript illumination.. I just knew I had to enroll.
Its appeal, I now realize, was in part that it was the polar opposite of journalism, where the work is executed in as quickly as possible under deadline, where the focus is on current events, and where the product is impermanent. These classes focused on arts with ancient roots, executed slowly and lovingly and created to last centuries. (Also not incidental, there was a religious overtone to it all, both the setting for the classes and the book arts themselves, which emerged from a monastic tradition..) I was hooked, and soon I had figured out a way to leave my job and sign up..
It would change my life..
Eventually, I began studying hand bookbinding with a teacher in San Francisco, traveling weekly the 2½ hours north from my home.. I continued my studies for about a decade moving from simple techniques to more complex and challenging ones, learning how to take apart limited-edition art books and rebind them in leather with cover designs fashioned out of leather onlays and gold tooling.
By that time I didn’t have to commute to my classes as I was living north of San Francisco and working full time on staff of the San Francisco Chronicle. My books were in several exhibits including at John Howell Books, an antiquarian bookstore in San Francisco, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Arts, Sciences and Technology Center in Vancouver, B.C., and an international retrospective in Paris featuring a half-century of hand bookbinding. I also studied with a master bookbinder in Brussels, Belgium, for a month, but that experience paled in import when I received the news shortly before my departure that I was pregnant.
I never looked back.. Over the years, I took as many classes as I possibly could while maintaining a healthy balance among art studies, mothering and wage-earning. When we lived for three years in Ohio, I studied art at the University of Toledo, falling just short of obtaining a second degree.. Thanks to the internet, from the time our daughter was 5 until the present day, I have been able to work part-time from home, even as the senior editor and later editor of quarterly regional food and lifestyle magazines..
I can’t take credit for how these fortuitous circumstances transpired except in this sense: I always gravitated toward doing what I loved, and that wasn’t just one thing. I loved writing; I loved art; I loved music (I’ll get to that another time); I loved my family, and I was reluctant to sacrifice any of it. My life was a reflection of what was important to me.. By grace, I was gifted with a blueprint that allowed for it all. I had the freedom to prioritize my daughter while she was growing up, to work in a stimulating field and to find time for art. How fortunate was I?