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.