A Passion of Commitment

When my 90 year old, almost-blind, artist mother was returned to her hospital room after surgery to mend a broken hip, she demanded a pencil and paper from the nurse. Fumbling but intent, she began making sketches of the hundred year old woman sleeping in the next bed. Over the next few days as the fragile images piled on her hospital table, doctors and nurses began taking time off to visit this unusual patient and sift through the remarkable likenesses. Thus and thus and thus.

Quite simply, art meant everything to my mother, had ever since she was a small girl. And for her, the quest always echoed Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. My memories of growing up include sketch pads strategically placed so that she could seize whatever pitifully small moments she could find to explore the dearness in the wing positions of chickadees, the grace of snow-laden pine trees outside the kitchen window, the intensity of my sister as she read. Teaching by example, she was saying, “Never give up. Always search for a more powerful truth in your expressions.”

And indeed she never did abandon her disciplined, fervent devotion to her art. Later, in her last years, when her world shrank to a room in a retirement home, although she was afflicted by cataracts and macular degeneration, she still piled a long table with water color impressions of the lake beyond her window, the autumn leaves, and perhaps, I’ve sometimes thought, simply light. Although these fragments clearly meant everything to my mother, the language of the last blurry dabs is beyond interpretation.

And yet, I do know what she was saying, her gift to me and all who care to look: “Never give up. Always search for a more powerful truth in your expressions.”

About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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