LeAnne Martin
Beauty and the Beholder

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Early one morning last week, my mom and I were walking in her neighborhood. The air was fresh and cool and full of the fragrance of honeysuckle and privet. The day had not fully awakened, especially in the shady parts.

Below her and Dad’s house, a neighbor has six dogwoods that line the street on one side. Underneath the dogwoods lies on old wooden plow--for display, not for use. Over the years, as I’ve driven that stretch of road to their house, the plow has become less visible because of fading and rotting from the weather as well as the growth of the trees above. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I noticed it. I didn’t know that it has been providing a stand for a climbing rose for years.

I didn’t know, that is, until Mom said she had something to show me. We had seen it from the car the night before but this morning we would have a better view from the road. As we came close to the dogwoods, she said, grinning, “When we walk past the plow, turn around and look up into the tree.”

My eyes went from the bleached, unrecognizable plow to the top of the dogwood tree. “Wow!” I said, grinning at her. “What a show!”

The white dogwood blooms have already come and gone this spring. Now deep red flowers crown the green leafy branches. It’s a surprising contrast, since the dogwood tree already produced its white blooms in early April. Steadily over time, the climbing rose has rambled from the plow below up into the top of the tree. And the dogwood gets the honor of blooming twice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Decorative Only

I’m sort of an accidental collector. Sometimes I find myself drawn to certain things and before I know it, I have a little stack, pile, or cache of them. Recently I realized that I have been collecting small blue handmade pots or bowls. The arts center a few miles from our house holds a pottery sale every spring and fall when they sell bowls of every shape. The small ones are just $8. I now have three on my desk and one on my bookshelf.

The bowls I especially like have a Raku finish. My knowledge of Raku is limited but it has something to do with a quick firing and finishing technique that produces a metallic glaze. That’s what I like about it: the metallic part. My bowls have blues, purples, and reds in them that are muted by a bronze/copper glaze.

Because Raku is porous, these bowls can’t hold food or water. Their function is decorative only. And that’s all right with me.

Beauty often doesn’t have a tangible, practical purpose—at least nothing that can be quantified and measured. But we live in a world that values hurry up, move along, get it done, and check it off. We need beauty to bring color, grace, warmth, and balance to our lives. We need beauty to help us slow down. My little collection of $8 bowls helps do that for me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Peonies

When we moved in to this house and flowers started blooming that first spring, I discovered the small plant with shiny green leaves. It produced large white flowers with a touch of fuchsia inside. I thought I knew what the plant was but wasn’t sure. Peonies? I had read about them before but never seen a real one. They aren’t a usual part of the landscape where I live. I hastily gathered and brought the large intricate blooms inside where the sweet fragrance filled the kitchen.

But the plant is in a part of the yard that I don’t see regularly and frankly, I forgot to check on them the next year. Last year, I remembered it but we had such a drought that the bush withered before it could bloom.

A few weeks ago, we went to a dinner party at a friend’s house. In the front yard stood two bushes loaded with the biggest white flowers (with fuschia in the center) I had ever seen. One of them could fill both my hands together. Our friend confirmed what I already knew: peonies. Inside her house they graced the tables, countertops, the bathroom vanity. I was happy to see them and to know that, unless the drought struck again, we should soon have similar blooms on our plant and in our house.

But I forgot to check again! That is, until Monday. Monday was very stressful, so that afternoon my dog and I stepped out on the back deck for some fresh air. I walked to the railing and looked at the yard below. I suddenly remembered the peony. Leaning over the railing and turning my head far to the left, I saw them: four large peonies, slumped over because they were too heavy for the stems. Yes! I thought. I’ll cut them after dinner. I’ve got to get back to work. But then I felt this urging: Don’t wait. Go get them now.

And a few minutes later, they stood in a vase on our kitchen counter that a few weeks ago held flowers from a friend’s garden. Their faces and their fragrance have cheered me in the middle of a hard week. They do look a little timeworn—they must have bloomed at the end of last week. And to think, I almost missed it! It would have been my loss.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Blessed Art Thou Among Women

Last Saturday, we went to an exhibition at the art museum that highlighted the paintings and photographs of several American women modernists. One of the most famous photographers of her day, Gertrude Kasebier (1852-1934), became known for her motif of mothers in her photos. A mother of three herself, she said, “"My children and their children have been my closest thought, but from the first days of dawning individuality, I have longed unceasingly to make pictures of people...to make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality."

One of my favorite paintings of hers does bring out the essential personality in her subject matter. It is called Blessed Art Thou Among Women, which alludes to the biblical passage surrounding Mary and the Annunciation. The woman—the mother—in the photograph stands in the doorway with a girl of maybe 10 years old in a dark dress, tights, and shoes. The mother wears a long, flowing white gown with ruffles on the top that remind me of angel’s wings. She’s looking away from the lens and seems to be leaning over to give the girl a kiss on the head. The visual contrast between the mother’s white gown and the girl’s dark dress grabs my attention and pulls me in.

The theme of a mother getting her child ready for the world makes this photograph particularly striking. As I looked at it, I thought about the mystique surrounding motherhood. I thought about my daughter: does she know how much I love and adore her? And how grateful I am that she is mine and what a gift she has been to me?

I thought about my mother: does she know how much I love and adore her? And how grateful I am for all she has done for me and what a gift she has been to me?

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, I’ll make sure to tell them these things again. And I’ll think about how motherhood has stretched and grown me more than I ever dreamed it would, how I love being a mother even on challenging days, how I can’t imagine my life any other way.

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