I got a request for my most challenging commission to date. This was back in December and I finished the piece about two months ago. Here is that story…
I grew up in a really small town, Stratton, Colorado. My graduating class was 28 and 21 of us had been together since Kindergarten. To say that our community is tight-knit doesn’t really do it justice. This concept is difficult to put into words to those who haven’t lived it. We live together, we celebrate together and unfortunately, we grieve together.
When I was in seventh grade, a precocious boy in the fifth grade named Andy, went to play in the snow on their farm during a snow day and he never came back. There are parts of the day and hours when he was missing that I will never forget. This was in the days before social media so phone trees were created to spread the news. When they found him 24 hours after he had left the house, they detected a faint heartbeat and after the call, we celebrated, we praised God for answered prayers and our hearts rejoiced. A few hours later when they called again to say he didn’t survive on the way to the hospital, the air left the room. Cinnamon rolls had just come out of the oven which was a staple on all snow days, it felt sacrilegious to take a bite.
I imagine the same silence and disbelief filled every home the same way it filled ours in our tiny little community. I spoke with a few friends that I grew up with a few weeks ago about this tragedy and in each conversation, a revered lowered voice and a downward gaze helped us get through touching on the subject. Andy’s life and death profoundly affected every single person in this community and the reach goes beyond that decade.
Of course, others are far more impacted than my family and I, including his classmates, those involved in the search, his cousins, his three sisters and his parents. Andy’s family still live in this community, in fact, his mom is Benton’s preschool teacher. So I am reminded of Andy nearly every day and now, with kids of my own, I think so very often of what his parents and sisters went through, and still go through.
So when Katina, one of Andy’s older sisters approached me about creating a family portrait of the sisters and Andy, I instantly said yes. I was honored that she would think I was talented enough for this project. When Andy died they didn’t have a current family portrait so Katina gathered several different pictures for me to put together. I set aside a whole day to start on this project.
I sat down to plot it out and I began to sob. I cried for the man I wondered Andy would be. I cried from my mom-heart imagining the unthinkable. I cried for a solid hour before I even touched my art supplies.
After finishing the first day, I was defeated, two of the siblings looked good but I wasn’t getting the other two. My mom, who is my art fixer sat with it for a while, tinkered and made it better. Meanwhile, I started all over. It kept me up at night, it consumed me but I am proud of the final product and Andy’s family was pleased.
I will be saying no for a while to portraits but I am so honored to have had the opportunity to create something for this beautiful family and to be able to use art in the grieving process.