By Bruce Stambaugh
My late mother was very creative. She expressed it so many ways in the long life that she led. She did so through her versatility as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, and an artist.
When Mom died five years ago, Alzheimer’s disease had removed her far from the woman I remember as a youngster and as an adult son. Her eyes no longer had that sparkle of awareness of the beauty she had seen in everyday life, the joy she recreated in her vibrant landscape and still life paintings.
Those paintings reflected her very being and the beauty she brought to life. Mom painted hundreds, perhaps thousands of renderings, mostly watercolors. But many of those paintings were left unfinished.
Mom was a perfectionist when it came to her paintings. If she felt she couldn’t get it right, she left the picture partially finished, hidden away. Going through her things, the family found stacks of incomplete paintings. To others, the paintings looked fine. Mom only saw the flaws.
Mom was too self-critical when it came to her paintings. She felt they just didn’t measure up to the works of her peers. The attitude of Mom’s dominating father perhaps influenced that lack of confidence at a young age. Mom wanted to go to art school. Instead, she was sent to business school to help her prepare for a job should one be needed.
In those pre-World War II days, women were to work until they married and then raise any and all children that came along. That’s just the way it was, and in many respects, still is in today’s global society.
Our father, himself a controlling man in his own right, saw both Mom’s physical comeliness and the beauty within. He loved almost to a fault this kind, generous, creative woman who was our mother. And he saw her talent in recreating the beauty all around her through her early drawings and paintings.
Dad must have also sensed Mom’s lack of confidence in revealing this creative side. So Dad encouraged Mom to take private painting lessons given by established, prominent artists, and at the Canton Art Institute.
Thanks to her cohorts and mentors, Mom painted prolifically. Using mostly the medium of watercolor, her still life and landscape scenes were usually vivid, real, inspiring, eye-catching.
Again prodded by Dad, Mom entered art contests. She did so reluctantly, but also successfully. Mom won several awards, including the Peoples’ Choice Award on more than one occasion. Mom modestly accepted the accolades.
Mom’s creativity extended beyond brush and easel. She dressed splendidly but not opulently. She couldn’t afford to do that if she had wanted. Mom simply made do with the wardrobe she had.
Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 15, 1942. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Stylish wouldn’t begin to describe my mother. Even late in her battle with Alzheimer’s, Mom continued to dress herself, always in a color-coordinated outfit. Residents and staff at the retirement community where she lived her last days often complimented Mom on her stunning look. In her typical modesty, Mom just smiled or returned a pleasant “thank you.”
Mom’s creativity remains alive through her realistic paintings and in our pleasant memories of her loving motherhood. More than that, the artistic genes of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will continue to contribute to life’s magnificence in various means, manner, and places.
Mom’s passion for painting taught us all to appreciate our surroundings, look for the beauty in everything, and generously share that splendor. That is Marian Stambaugh’s legacy of creativity.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2017