The World Needs More…Artists

I had an old boyfriend who insisted that in his house he would hang only original art. This guy wasn’t an artist, and he was broke, but by god he wasn’t going to have any cheap posters adorning his living room walls. Even if they represented Picasso or Matisse. I remember rolling my eyes at what I considered his pretentious stance. But as I look around my house, I see now his words clearly resonated and took hold.

Family art: Grandpa’s horses (left),
sister’s Flower Power (right).

I’m lucky, though, to have a few artists in my family. My Grandpa Lyle was an architect, whose real passion was painting. I inherited three of his works — two seascapes and one of horses.

My sister Anne, an actress, discovered a love for painting in her 30s. She started with small, manageable-size canvases, but once her creativity was ignited and her confidence built, she moved to giant canvases, portraying wild, whimsical, colorful scenes — sometimes of her dreams, sometimes self-portraits.

One of her self-portraits, titled “Sky Diver,” showing my sister jumping out of a plane, arms spread wide with the curved earth beckoning below, hangs in my living room. It may not be deemed worthy of a Southeby’s auction but the energy and boldness this painting emits makes it priceless to me.

Does this make you want to jump out of a plane, or what!

My brother Michael also paints. His original works don’t hang in my house though, as his canvas is usually a concrete wall, outdoors, on the grounds of a school or a business. He paints murals –public art– so a whole community can enjoy the beauty.

I hit the original art jackpot when I made friends with Molly Moser, the young woman who runs the American Gothic House Center next door. I’m no art critic, I’ve never studied art, never painted (though I want to learn!), and while taste in art is very subjective, I do know this: Molly is a talented and gifted artist. I first saw her work on her website, cataloging her impressive oil-on-canvas collection—an overstuffed chair in bold black and white pattern, an empty bird cage with its door open, an elegant living room with a spiral staircase, an unmade bed with an elaborate patchwork quilt—and fell in love at first sight. “Where are all those paintings hanging?” I asked her. “If you need somewhere to put them, I’ll hang them in my house.” My argument was persuasive: “I get a lot of visitors who will see your art. You can put little price tags next to each, like in an art gallery. And besides, this house is famous for being in a painting, so just think, you can say your work is exhibited inside.”

Molly Moser’s brilliance on display in my living room.
Molly’s Unmade Bed (left) hangs next to my Grandpa Lyle’s seascapes in my
 upstairs bedroom, right behind the famous Gothic window.

Not only did I get some of Molly’s existing pieces on loan, she has since created two new ones, made specifically for me. One is a flattering portrait of my bathtub, an odd square-shaped, half-length iron tub. I say flattering, because in the painting she added claw feet, a gilded-frame mirror, and the water is not coming out of a shower head but instead from a chandelier. I had to buy it!

I only wish my bathroom was this magical! In some ways, it is.
And even more so now with Molly’s painting in it.

The other was a gift. I had given Molly a prompt, insisting, “I really need a painting of pie.” The next thing I knew she delivered the goods. The painting is so perfect, so adorable, so simple, yet so representative of my life in the American Gothic House, I want to carry it from room to room so I can see it from wherever I sit. The painting depicts a lone pie in the oven. But given that it comes from Molly’s unique view of the world, you see only a corner of the oven, a hint of a red wall (a nod to my new red kitchen cabinets), and the red and white checkered pattern on the pie plate is Molly’s twist on my kitchen curtain. The pie, while it does sit on a rack, appears to be suspended in space. Molly may have been the artist painting what she feels, but in reality she captured so deftly a reflection of me. I am like that pie, alone, suspended in time and space, waiting for my grief (and now the memoir I’m writing about it) to finish baking. Iowa supports me like the oven rack, still, I’m anticipating a time when I’ll be ready, radiating and bubbling from the inside, to go out into the world again.


My newest and most treasured addition, Molly’s Pie.

I keep insisting to Molly that she create a whole pie series. She says while the pie painting gave her a welcome break, she needs to finish her “lost objects” series (a tooth, a baby sock, I can’t remember the others) and is already talking about her next theme: religious satire. No matter what she creates, I’m sure I’ll still be begging her to let me showcase her work on my weathered farmhouse walls.

For as much as I’d also like to have Grant Wood represented in my house—after all, this was the house that inspired America’s most famous painting—and for as many times as I’ve flirted with the temptation of buying one of the posters for sale at the visitor center, the attitude of my old boyfriend is just too ingrained in me now. I can’t do it. So if anyone out there has a Grant Wood original, I’d be happy to take it on loan.

A Birthday Card for Peter Schoenfeld

Dear Peter,
Happy 50th Birthday! I hope you are eating some birthday cake pie to celebrate your special day. I’ve been meaning to tell you how impressed I was with your very first pie. Thanks for sending the pictures. Your rhubarb pie looks delicious and your food photography shows great promise too. And while I admire your improvisation of using the iron skillet as a pie plate, you have made it easy for me to figure out a birthday present to get for the “man who has everything.” A pie plate, of course!

I also wanted to tell you how flattered I was that your inspiration for this pie came from meeting Christine and me that weekend we were camping in the RV at the beach. It still amazes me how watching the dolphins surf in the waves that foggy morning and seeing our dogs romp together in the sand led to Christine inviting you back to the RV to join us for cherry pie and coffee. One really should be careful about letting strangers into their campers! But you showed such enthusiasm for the pie, and with the excitement, appetite, innocence — and drool — of a Golden Retriever puppy, how could we refuse you a slice?! You weren’t even deterred by the fact it was gluten-free! And then we learned, as you politely removed stray cherry pits from your mouth (sorry about that!), that not only are you incredibly nice, you are a worldly, educated, funny, eligible bachelor who retired early and loves to cook Italian food. You are a philanthropist and educator, devoting your time to creating charter schools. AND you own a beach house up from the RV park. With a hot tub! If all that doesn’t qualify you for a spot on “Millionaire Matchmaker,” now we can add to the list “pie baker,” guaranteed to cause women to swoon over you like a taller version of Justin Bieber.

My birthday wish for you is that you continue to have the good health and strength that you enjoy now so you can continue to do good things for others. Your contribution to the world is inspiring. You’ve picked education as your cause. Education is critical to the well-being of our youth and our society as a whole (as if I have to tell you!) You could as easily spend your stock options living on yacht like a playboy. Instead with Big Picture Learning you are setting an example for others of what early retirement can be. Should be.

And now that you’ve been bitten by the pie bug, I wonder where that will lead. Will we see pie baking classes added to the curriculum at the charter schools? Or will you be opening a pie shop somewhere on the California coast! Whatever you do, I hope the next 50 years will be as fulfilling as the first.

Happy Birthday, Peter!