Monday, December 13, 2010

Gifts of Art

This is another story about my cute mother. I’m writing it on Kindness Day, which is so appropriate, as anyone who knows my mom will attest to. Her motto, which she chortled out to each of us every day of my childhood as we left the house for school was “Be Kindly.”

Since I kept my maiden name and I live freakishly close to Mom, I am regularly recognized as her daughter. Picture if you will, two Farris women going about their grocery shopping or visits to the same dentist or car mechanic. Just the other day, when I was dropping clothes off at the dry cleaner, the woman there remarked, “I know a Virginia Farris.” “That’s my mom,” I said. The lady got all sentimental. “Oh,” she gushed, “Your mom is such a wonderful lady!” You have to wonder how an every day exchange with a clerk at the dry cleaners could turn into such a pronounced affection.

Today, my story has to do with Kindness and Art. I was invited to show my work at the University Michigan Hospital as part of a program called “Gifts of Art.” The installation date was December 7. As I mulled it over in my brain, I thought, December? Really? Such a busy time of year. And then, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, I thought, Hell, what a waste. I’m not going to sell anything in a hospital lobby. But there must have been a “be kindly” moment in my brain, because before rejecting the proposal outright, I ran it by my mom.

Her voice got all soft and spiritual. “How lovely,” she murmured. “But mom, it’s not a real gallery or show or anything.” She was undeterred. “I know,” she went on, “but think how much your work might mean to someone.” Good thing she couldn’t see me over the phone, rolling my eyes like a teenager. The truth is, art in a hospital DOES matter to my mom. The few harrowing days when Grandma Farris broke her hip and had to have surgery (at age 91, with full-on dementia) my mom couldn’t walk through the lobby without commenting on how splendid the Charles McGee collage was near the elevator bank. I’m not making this up. That’s the kind of gal my mom is. She really noticed the art and she really used the word “splendid.”

So it was decided for me. I would do the show if my mom would go with me: another art date first to the Chelsea River Gallery to pick up some inventory, then to the UM hospital to install it.

Like most of my art dates with my mom, this one has another happy ending. We set out on a bitter cold Tuesday morning. Stop one: we picked up a bunch of puzzling inventory. I say puzzling because some time ago, I made a bunch of small animals. I couldn’t help myself. My kids kept bringing home these amazing drawings of horses, or cats, fierce lions, grinning tigers. They had four legs all in a row, or a tail that curled in an excessive wonderful swirl. They were so wonderful and strange and chunky and authentic. It was inevitable that I would try to capture it in clay.

My sculptures turned out to be really cute.

My friend Danica told me that in order to curtail purchases that she would later regret, she has started asking herself in the store about each item: “Is it whimsical?”Alas, I accidentally made a dozen or so whimsical animals. And while I have been complimented on these sculptures and people smile about them, very few people ever end up buying them.

That’s the stuff I took to hospital. And here’s the really cool part: They looked great there! Honestly. It was if those cute little whimsical animals were always waiting to live inside the glass cases of a hospital lobby. I added a few pinch pots just for good measure and, well, the whole set up really worked for me.

My mom kept saying “Aren’t you glad we’re coming here to drop off art instead of a person we love?” She really buys into the healing nature of art. “Just think of a mom coming here with her little girl or boy about to face something scary or sad,” my mother added, warming to her subject matter, “She’ll be able to show that child one of your sculptures as a distraction or some small pleasure.” Like a ring pop. Or a piece of gum, I thought. But still it made me glad seeing all my animals in their plexiglass cases. And so it was a gift of art… maybe for the random person walking by who notices… but certainly for me and Virginia.


  1. I love the art and I love your mom. (and you know what? I love you for writing this post!!)

    xxx your aunt.

  2. Beautiful. The horse is my favourite. I love seeing art in hospital lobbies. It's somehow soothing.
    Hello from Amsterdam/Netherlands