HOW GREAT SINGS ART
Great art stirs my soul. Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Mona Lisa, and Celia Marks. All great art. In fact Celia is both art and artist.
She is a southern lady born and bred in cultured Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am a Damn Yankee from Pennsylvania, the Cradle of Liberty. We are as individual as characters in any classic novel, yet we find our melodies of life harmonize well.
Telling you Celia is gentle and unassuming is like telling you the horizon is in the distance. It’s a given. But don’t be fooled. This woman is the lady from whom steel magnolias took their name. Life’s griefs and agonies are no strangers to her doorstep.
Nonetheless, Celia is an artist with well-defined areas of expertise. She excels in the art of friendship, the art of graceful living, the art of communication. It is fitting that a rare white orchid bears her name. Emotional involvement is her medium. From her I’m learning to take a lighter grip on the brush and thus paint my life with passionate, effective hues.
During our last visit she catalogued her pottery collection while I indexed my thoughts. What a gift her friendship is, one that is always wrapped in patience and interest, in intellect and caring. Time spent with Celia is time to be reassured.
We talk of techniques and sculptures, of colors and forms. It is an opportunity to reshape my ideas, to realign my priorities—to rethink life. She informs, teases, and cajoles me with intelligence and subtleties uncommon in today’s world. And for this I shall be forever thankful.
As a young woman, life was such that my mother was emotionally unavailable to me much of the time. Somewhere in my mid-thirties I awoke to the fact that I had other women I had come to love, each an artist in her own right.
At times I think this particular woman is Mother as she often wished she could have been for me. Mother’s art was supporting her children. She was a first-generation American living in a time when seeking a career for her self would have been heresy. To her great credit she encouraged me to earn the scholarships that enabled my college degrees.
Like Mother, Celia is a supporting artist. Her literary appetite embraces the sublime and the ridiculous. She reads Shakespeare and Vicki Leon, Mary Sarton and Dr. Suess. It makes for lively discussions.
We give each other code names. Celia is Red Horse at the moment because the Red Horse in My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss is the character that prances the liveliest. Did I mention Celia is 94 years old? My code name is Uppity Woman because of my red hair and my attitude towards life as related in Vicki Leone’s Uppity Women of Medieval Times.
My friend’s home is filled with intriguing artifacts from around the world. Vivid paintings hang beside metal sculptures. Books are everywhere. Conversing with Celia about these things is like holding hands with history.
As an educator with four decades of experience I confess I come to Celia to learn vocabulary. She teaches the teacher. How? Through her well refined art of conversation. Her speech is at times formal, at other times slang-filled. She prides herself in knowing the latest buzzwords. She doesn’t own a computer yet she speaks about them knowledgeably. Why wouldn’t she? She writes a cooking column for a monthly online magazine and one for a quarterly newsletter.
It took two years of visits before either of us admitted we are stimulation addicts—every so often we need a cultural fix. We get high on ballet, the opera, or a symphonic concert. A good book puts us over the edge.
The truth emerged on the day I walked into her home and was immediately quizzed. “What is the correct term for an extended virtuoso section for a soloist near the end of a movement of a concerto?” greeted me. When I stammered, “Ca…ca...ca…cadenza?” it was cause for celebration.
Once after I returned from a trip to Australia, Celia invited me to a question-and-answer session on the subject of aboriginals. She is a colorful sponge like those in her highly organized kitchen. Her thirst for knowledge makes her an essayist of the highest caliber.
We barter continually—my microwave bread and butter pickle recipe for her personal morning prayer; my creamy vegetable soup for her description of last night’s sunset. A more-than-fair exchange. She feeds me homemade bread and roast chicken,.
I take her a six-foot three-inch redheaded, teenage grandson of mine for a visit. It’s a system that works well for us.
As long as I live I shall never forget this scene: Five-foot one-inch Celia stood holding my grandson’s hands, her head tilted way back, looking at him. She said, “We have so much to talk about, you and I. Come back to visit me soon, won’t you?” Her new admirer squeezed her hands and replied, “I’d like that very much. Thank you.”
And do you know what? In the unspoken way that hearts touch and with the advantage of his height, he was looking up at her. She’s that kind of lady. That’s why I love her. For his eighteenth birthday she sent him one of the several cookbooks she’s authored.
Often she’ll inquire what I’ve been doing since we’ve last seen one another. She leans forward in anticipation, listens, then asks with a smile, “You’re doing what? Tell me about it.”
When I explain, she responds, “What on earth for?” It is never spoken judgmentally, but rather in surprised delight. And so begins another section of the painting of life, another movement of our emotional concerto. I am enjoying the dynamics of our friendship’s composition as our counterpoint personalities compose the unique work of art only we can create.