I hadn’t told Margaret that I was making a Blessed Mother fabric painting, but there she was in our conversation as we walked up the dirt road together.
Margaret and I have been walking together almost every week since the summer. Today she was telling me about the indoor Grotto she used to visit when she was young. It was the rocks and running water in the small room that made it special for her.
That reminded me of the Madonna in our front yard when I was growing up. She belonged to my Grandmother, who lived upstairs from us. A narrow cement path through the garden led to the wooden arch draped in climbing roses. The three-foot-tall concrete Madonna, under the arch, was painted white. Big conch shells and candles in glass jars were at her feet.
Although we all posed with small white bibles in our hands when we had our first communion, we kids were not allowed to go in Grandma’s garden. So I kept my distance from the Madonna.
In retrospect that made it all the more mysterious and alluring.
Even though she lived in the same house, and I saw her almost every day, I wasn’t close to my Grandmother. But one summer day, I was helping her weed the garden. I was both horrified and impressed as she picked up one of the big conch shells at the Madonna’s feet, reached inside of it, and pulled out a huge slug. She tossed it aside as if it were just another weed.
All I could think of was the slime that stuck to the bottom of my barefoot the first time I accidentally stepped on a slug. I never imagined someone would voluntarily pick one up in their bare hand.
When I got home from our walk, the two books about the Mystics and the Virgin Mary had arrived. Jon ordered them for me when I told him I was working on a fabric painting of the Blessed Mother.
One book, The Miracles of Mary, by Michael S Dunham, had a lot of pictures. So I skipped the words and went right to the images. It has paintings and sculptures from different countires from the 13th century to the 20th.
I’m not interested in a sullen or suffering Mary with downcast eyes. I want her to have the wide, wise eyes of the ancient goddesses and a subtle but knowing smile.
I found inspiration for my Mary’s face in the book and started doing some drawings to get it right.
I also think I may be putting conch shells at her feet, like the mysterious Virgin Mary I grew up with. The shells can also represent water. So many of the images of ancient goddesses use water as a symbol for the life force, so it’s fitting. But I may also want to put more mundane objects, maybe some paintbrushes and pencils at her feet too.
Like the Blessed Mother in Sue’s classroom, I want my Mary to be accessible.