The summer after 8th grade, in 1959, I took a watercolor class at Wustum. It was so frustrating! Then one day the class went out into the gardens, and I painted a tree. I fretted over its flaws, its inaccurate rendering, but the teacher praised it, and when I took it home Mom and Dad, in a loving gesture, framed it and hung it in the living room.
And so it is that, aiming at one thing, we may fall short, yet inadvertently achieve something more lasting. For more than five decades now, on visits home, I have gazed at that tree, musing on its lessons, through many seasons of life.
The gentle teacher at Wustum looked beyond the surface of my imperfect effort, honored instead the creative impulse, and so made an opening, planted a seed of possibility.
Thirty years later, feeling again the old yearning, I took another art class, and so began a passionate engagement with painting, leading to a solo gallery show in 2004, and, far more importantly, endless joy in seeing, and seeking, beauty in unexpected places.
From its place in the family home, the tree speaks to me still. “Open your mind,” it says. “Broaden your vision, find beauty, and truth, out there beyond your preconceived notions. Let go of rigid ideas. Perfection is not what you thought.” It reminds me that the essence is not in the details, but in the sweeping patterns of light and shadow. It urges that it is good to have always a beginner’s mind, knowing that you have much to learn, and that it’s all to be enjoyed.
Something that long-ago teacher saw in my artless tree took root and grew fruitful over a lifetime. To her, and to Wustum, I will always be deeply grateful.