“During the lockdown last Christmas, I had this idea of gathering photos of my mom’s artwork from their homes, both far and wide. What began with a few phone calls became an entire movement of connecting dots. From The Encore Seniors to Dempster’s’ Frameworks; we thank them all”
In November of 2017, I went on a leave of absence from work. It was the seasons’ first snow and a beautiful picture for a day I wasn’t prepared for. As my dependence on others grew, I learned the art of humility in the comfort of my own living room. For two years I’d been a member of the Cornwall Writers Group when my sister sent over a box of old photos, suggesting I write full-time as a way to stay positive.
Five days before Christmas, a cousin took me shopping, and when I got home there was a message on the machine from Seeker Chicks; Julia Lucio & Mai-Liis Renaud. The previous week I’d reached out to them about sharing two Christmas stories to print as an offering of good cheer. Hearing how well those stories were received, they offered a column to continue sharing the Good Seed Through Memory Stories. It was incredible. There was no turning back.
That year I wrote ‘Frankincense and Myrrh’, based on a painting belonging to my mothers’ that hangs in my home. The idea of solving the mystery behind her Nativity set was borne of countless Sunday drives to her parent’s home in Pleasant Valley and shared stories of living through the Great Depression.
In 1994 my mother, Betty Gray, had been a widow for 10 years. Having sold our childhood home in the winter of her life, she’d just retired from Wool-co and was looking to keep busy through the winter. On the advice of a neighbour, she took an Art class through the Encore Seniors and fell in love with paint.
Just like sliding into an old pair of slippers, our mother quickly found her niche amongst friends she hadn’t seen in years.
Four years later, she took a Tai Chi class, again through Encore. While she was at it, signed up for another season of Art classes. On canvas boards covered roughly in gesso, our mother set to framing her art with the help of George Dempster, of Dempster’s Frameworks – located at the time – on Montreal Road.
Renowned in Cornwall for his generosity in helping to create one-of-a-kind framing solutions suitable for anyone’s budget, George had an eye for matching colors. Mom would take her canvas’ down on a Saturday morning and pick up masterpieces, the following week. Those frames were something else.
Once at an art show, the instructor asked that mom please sign her work, but she refused. Never believing that her work was very good, mom only ever signed one of her paintings; given to the daughter of her first son, on her 21st birthday.
The paintings came of old cards, a child’s playhouse, cottages in Lanark County and several winter scenes beautifully framed in barn board. Of elaborate gilded glory, the 58 framed works became stepping stones for this generation’s memory keepers.
Finding ones’ purpose has never been so important, as we all must find our place and make our mark. So like the journey I shared with my mother, built of everyday people like the late Elaine Heath, who invited me to join the Writers that day in the bookshop – I so miss her crazy costumes! To George Dempster – long may he reign – whose inspiring support of Cornwall’s little known artists in selling his frames on the cheap, we give huge thanks! He is the true hero of this story. And to The Encore Seniors who only this spring, were able to find our mother in their records after so many years. Insert Smile Here!
How would these last two know their impact on us – the family, who with childlike glee upon our cheeks so rosy, were asked one-by-one, which paintings we liked best to hang in our own homes forever, and all the back-stories of why certain pieces meant more to us than others. These are the jewels we share each Christmas, as mom looks back on us to smile.
Towards light chasers and dreamers alike, stories in print or paintings in frames weave a mighty thread of what it means to be alive. In the face book page creation of Flying on Her Own https://www.facebook.com/groups/1077333282798487 created by our cousin Loree Bulmer, we were finally able to share moms’ entire portfolio of paintings with the collective, once again. No signature required.
Lisa is a member of the Cornwall Writer Society, a group that meets at the Cornwall Public Library on the 3rd Monday of each month from 6:15 to 8:15 pm. For more information about this or any program at the library, please call 613-932-4796. To reach Lisa, email email@example.com.
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