In about 2010, I received the motherlode of watercolors my grandma’s aunt Alma painted. My grandma’s last remaining sister was in the nursing home and therefore her second home, which had once been my great-grandmother’s was finally being sold. But first it had to be emptied.
My dad knew Alma’s painting style, and he was hoping to find more of her work. He moved some old wallpaper off an old, rough-hewn box and inside it was at least 80 paintings.
Alma died in 1941, and was born in 1896. She was in psychiatric institutions from 1921 on. As her obituary said simply, “she was stricken with an illness from which she never fully recovered.” Regardless, she painted. Even after her first hospital stay she painted.
Dad delivered the box of watercolors to me in Minneapolis. I still have the box. I adore the paintings. These were different than the ones I had seen previously. These were more challenging. By far my favorite image is this one: many versions of the same woman lined up in profile. I feel an intensity in the work that’s almost menacing, though others see the women smiling.
I thought the concept might work for a show image, and so found myself at my stylist’s salon having my hair done to mimic the bob these women wear. I bought a black dress and knitted a belt in about the right color. I printed out one of the women and wore her on my chest. I remember standing in Loring Park as a photographer friend shot photos of me.
The resulting images were stunning, but too intense for the piece I was working on. That show was already pretty intense, it needed more lightness to it.