Sunday, November 13, 2011

Are you the artist?

By The Missionary Sister

Someday, someone is going to ask me what it was like growing up with a child prodigy. Actually, I bet it’s like James and Jesus. Did you ever think about that? Poor James. Jesus was able to do all this awesome carpentry and make all these cool things, and James, well, he was probably sent to go buy the nails.

In fact, I know just how the conversation went, because I've had it many times myself:

Enter James.
James meets Person.
James tries to be friendly
James: "Hi, my name is James."
Person [blank look]:  "James...? James who?"
James [sighing]: "Oh... You know. James. The brother of Jesus."
Person [grins]: "Of course. Right. James. I know you. You buy the nails. Hey, wow, you know, Jesus' carpentry is just amazing, isn't it?! You're so lucky to have him for a brother!"

Poor James. Poor me.

Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m irreparably scarred. But Catherine’s artistic skill was truly unbelievable, making her the most famous artist in Minnesota 4-H. And me? Well, I got to be the foot model. That was fun.

Until my feet got cold.

But that cold was nothing compared to when I would help Catherine take pictures of her art in the middle of the wind-whipped snow Armageddon tundra on our farm in Minnesota ten minutes from the Arctic circle. She would drag me out there to hold her paintings while she photographed them, and I would be shaking with cold while trying to hold the painting at the exact right angle and the exact right height while tortured by the horrible fear that an earthquake would hit or a tornado would strike and I would drop her painting in the snow and ruin it forever and absolutely destroy everything.

I was a sensitive child.

The worst of it, though, was the fact that, somehow, I looked like the artist. We could never figure it out—maybe it was my curly hair. But I was asked—always, constantly, all-the-time asked—“Are you the artist?”

And (while keeling over inside) I would smile very sweetly, and shake my head, and for the 10,000th time, say, “Oh, no, I'm sorry, actually, that’s my sister.” Everyone asked it. At church and at 4-H and on the street and in the library and at the county fair. (I even got asked it lying in the chair at the dentist’s office by the hygienist! How did the hygienist know!?)

Actually, I was this close to getting a shirt that said simply, “NO. I AM NOT THE ARTIST.”

“Hey, James, are you the carpenter?”

Despite not being the artist (the most art I ever attempted was a long-term comic strip running along the top of my math notebook consisting of a sarcastic stick-and-circle cartoon figure named Charlie Contrast), I am one of Catherine’s biggest fans. I’m proud to show off some of her art here. You can see more at her art website (, but I thought I’d share a few of my favorite pieces here—plus some background information you may otherwise not have been privileged to see.

That is, if you didn’t know The Missionary Sister.

Before we get to the paintings, you need to understand Catherine's humble beginnings: namely, the basement white board. This drawing was all Catherine'sI'm not sure why I'm in the picture. Make the unskilled labor feel better, I guess. She was very protective of her paintings. I think maybe I was allowed to draw the snow in that picture on the left. Yeah, go buy the nails, James.

Here is Catherine posing with the famous artist Wyland because she won his coloring contest at the Minnesota Zoo, the very first art contest she ever won. I entered the contest, too. I didn't win. Figures.

Here we are in Tennessee, celebrating one of Catherine's first (of many) national wins with her art. I entered with my photography. Photography that Catherine later used for her art.

Catherine had ample opportunity to study from life. She also always felt loved, at least by The Cat, anyway. Where am I in this picture? I don't know. Probably getting her pencils.

Catherine actually never liked painting with a brush, but she still did a good job of it anyway, obviously. Here, our two art styles got as close as they ever would when she painted big cartoon characters for our church Vacation Bible School. Although my cartoons were never photo-realistic. They weren't even in color.

It was always fascinating watching Catherine paint. Did you know she usually left the eyes until last? Most people think that's cool. They don't realize that that meant her paintings were seriously creepy until they were almost done.
This was one of my favorite paintings she ever did. Want to know a secret, though? I may not be the artist, but I am the photographer. I have taken so many of the photos Catherine has used in her artwork, well, I'm practically half The Artist.
What people don't know about this one is the background changed like 25 times. It used to be a horse in a field, and it changed, though I can't remember why. Water is cool, though. (My photo.)

Makana, our foal. Know something? My photo.
Super cute, even though not my photo. This was her favorite kind of background to do -- a little abstract.

Horse: my photo. I was also there the 10 million times we baled hay, so, the background, well, it's practically like my photo.
Having an artist in the family was kind of like having a dentist for your dad. The dentist's kids hardly ever got their teeth cleaned, and the artist's family hardly ever got paintings of their own animals. This was one of the rare exceptionsCatherine painted this of my mom's dog, Riley. (Sure is a great photo. Wonder who took it.)
One of my favorite dog portraits she ever did and also one of her first.
Dad and I would always give Catherine really good ideas on what to include in her paintings. We tried to convince her to have blood covering this pheasant and all over the ground, but that didn't fly (no pun intended).

Occasionally she did graphite (=pencil) drawings, but her favorite medium (as you've seen above) was pastel, which is a lot like chalk. Pastel paintings are still called paintings, however, even though they don't use paint. Don't ask me why. I'm not the artist.
Catherine was never much into abstract work. This was as abstract as she ever got. Pretty radical, huh? Good thing she used my photo, or else it never would've worked.
No problem, Catherine, glad to let you use my photo.
Dad and I were so great at helping her name her paintings. I'm pretty sure all our names for this one revolved around imminent death-by-tiger-attack...
...and our names for this one were all about imminent death-by-wolf-attack. That, or about Bambi mourning for his deceased mother. (It was our our mission to keep Catherine humble by not taking things too seriously.)

There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth revolving around painting that water.

This was one of my favorites. She would spend hours on that fura typical painting was 20-30 hours of intense work. (Caption: "Too much rabbit gives you a stomachache.")

I think these would be cute if they didn't remind me of opossums. And don't get me started on opossums.
Some of my favorites of Catherine's were scratchboard. Basically, it's like a glorified Etch-a-Sketch. You take a knife and scratch off black pigment that is on a board. Thereby, "scratch-board." Actually, you don't scratch Etch-a-Sketches. But it's kind of similar. Don't expect to understand. You're not the artist.
If you think the eyes on this one are cool in a picture, you should've seen them in real life. They were unreal. Or unbelievably real. Same difference.
And the best for last. This is my only painting of Catherine's, and it hangs on my wall all the time -- a drawing of my own horse, done before I even owned her. But that's a story for another day... maybe once I'm the artist.