I dream often of my maternal grandmother’s house. This has been going on for years. Often I’m trying to return there. Sometimes I’m fixing it up or planning to buy back the place. The house itself is long gone, probably torn down years ago. But in my dreams, it remains alive—a place that changes its guise often but always with a few features of the original place.
It was, to say the least, an unassuming house. My grandparents were poor. They lived from the garden and by my grandfather’s job as a worker at the local paper mill in a small town fifty miles south of Lake Superior. The northern winters were extremely cold. The house had no central heat nor even a fireplace or woodstove, only an oil-burning stove in the dining room between the kitchen and the small living room. Every morning, my grandfather would get up to light the stove. For me, in the dream world, that small flame at the center of the poor house has become symbolic.
Just two nights ago, the dream returned. I was working on fixing up the place because I planned to spend the winter there. I felt the challenge of surviving the cold. I felt very strongly that this was the only way to nurture my creativity. I would go there. Something would happen. I would paint. I would make images. But it would be more than this. The vision would come to me. It would be a form of fasting and waiting for that.
It may be true that the old oil burner is the inner source of my artistic fire—something you light every day, something you depend on but have to work at, nurture, and feed. There is something in my background, in my psyche, in my body, that is about poverty and then about that process—making things out of almost nothing, living close to the bone with whatever is available. I practice this frugality in my kitchen. I never throw anything away, as there is always the possibility for morphing it into something else, something better, something new.
I believe in making do with essentials and in crying for a vision in an environment that, for all its bleakness, is still lit by an inner fire. While some artists may seek out sunny climes, I’m a winter person. I need that sense of darkness, of silence, of whiteness. It’s the beginning for me. It’s the place where I make drawings in black and white. Winter also provides me with the blank canvas that literally imbues itself with the colors of my heart and my soul. Spring and sun always follow. It’s a rhythm that I need and crave.