I suppose you could argue that an artist, especially someone from a family of artists, would naturally be sentimental about artwork. But ceramic artist Gina Freuen’s love for a particular painting is more about the memories within it than the work itself.
“The painting was done by my mother when she was 33 years old and I was 5. Mom is 90 now. It is a painting of my great Aunt Maggie sitting in a rocking chair, with a curio cupboard behind her, book shelves and a window that looks out at a path that leads away from the house,” Freuen says. “ My mother painted this painting with naive skills. The rocker floats and the feet sit lower than the chair, but it shows the skills she was developing in becoming a wonderful painter in her mature years.
Freuen rescued the painting from her parents’ garage sale many years ago as they prepared to retire and move to the Oregon Coast.
"They had visions of a new, fun, retirement life and all of this old stuff had to go,” she says.
To Freuen, the history of four generations of women in her family is captured by her mother’s brush strokes and she couldn’t let it slip out of her hands. She brought it home with several other special pieces.
“My Great Aunt Maggie lived in the original homestead up in Almira, Washington. Our trips up there as children were looked forward to for weeks,” she says. “The path leading to the house (is) imprinted on my mind. When I picture the house, I picture the path. I picture Great Aunt Maggie standing at the door.”
The house still stands and now Maggie’s daughter, Eileen, lives there. The curio in the painting is still there. The bookshelves are still there. The path is still there.
But the painting holds a deeper significance in Freuen’s eyes.
“As mother moved into her Alzheimer years she lost her ability to paint, so having one of her early paintings is very important to me. She has never recognized the painting as one she values because she only sees skills that needed to be better,”Freuen says. “It could be said that memories are the most important to us not objects; this painting holds my most cherished memories.”
“If my house were to catch fire, I would grab it and run.”
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard each week Spokane Public Radio. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org