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The Art of Mothering

Growing up with an artist as a mother had its benefits. We were exposed (some might say, dragged) to museums at an early age. She constantly made us aware of our surroundings: the fresh green (tendre vert, as she calls it) of new leaves, the sculptural quality of bare trees, the ever-changing landscapes. And the light, always the light.

She captures light and movement in her paintings, whether it’s a landscape, billowing clouds above the sea, or a shifting nude in a studio.

With the opening of her retrospective, “Painted Poetry: The Art of Mary Page Evans,” at The Delaware Art Museum, it’s easy to appreciate a lifetime of hard work, perseverance and passion. Walk through the space and you see what she’s been obsessed with for the past 40 years: landscapes, gardens, figures, trees and, finally, the sea and sky.

But as a child--and teenager--I most definitely did not appreciate life with an artist. Who wants their mother showing up at carpool with paint smeared on the side of the car and nude drawings floating around the back seat? Other mothers smelled of tea rose perfume. Mom smelled of turpentine.

And can we talk about the way she dressed? All I wanted was for her to slip on Pappagallo shoes like the other moms. But she insisted on clogs or cork platforms. And then there were the layers of chunky necklaces, hoop earrings, and bandanas wrapped around her head like a pirate. Now, of course, these outfits would be quite chic. Perhaps they were even then. But through a teenage girl’s eyes, nothing your mother wears is chic. Trust me, I have a tween and teen now, and I’m a constant source of embarrassment. And hear I thought I was kind of stylish. I can now empathize from both sides. I tell my girls, “You don’t know what embarrassment is.”

But somewhere along the line, embarrassment turned to pride.

The day before the opening, I call from my home in Washington to see how she’s doing. Dad, now acting as her personal secretary and major advocate, tells me he can’t find her. “I have no idea where she is. Hold on, let me call her. ‘Mary Page,’’’ he bellows, sounding a bit exasperated by his frenetic wife. When he calls for my mother, he adds an extra syllable to Page...Mary Pa-age.

She finally picks up the phone, breathless. “Hi. I’ve got to get down to the museum for a press conference. What’s up?”

A press conference? What is she, some sort of rock star?

Then she lists all the upcoming talks, tours, and workshops she’s scheduled to give, Frankly, just hearing this, exhausts me. But Mom has more energy than the average 75-year-old. Actually, she probably has more energy than the average 25-year-old.

That’s what following your passion does; it gives you energy. Do what you love and the rest will follow, that’s Mom’s mantra. She’s a great example of someone who has stuck to her guns or, in her case, paint brushes.

I hang up, telling her I’ll see her at the opening. I want to say, “I’m proud of you, Mom.” But in our family, it’s about showing, not telling. And that’s what her paintings do.