“I am not faded to silver grey like the barns, just yet. When I am I will try to see beyond a collapsing heap and see instead a beautiful purpose. I know I will never stop creating. I have a suitcase of broken china and sea glass in the basement…”
By Kimberly Gerry-Tucker
“Is anyone in there? Yoo-hoo!” The kids at school wave their hands in front of my face. I don’t talk much in school. I came to learn later I had what’s called selective mutism on top of sensory issues. I also had undiagnosed Aspergers.
I always had my art.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” the teacher asks.
I think I want to be an art teacher but can’t say so aloud.
When it’s time for art class, I’m not staring at the patterns of the radiator anymore; I’m involved and passionate.
I’m one of six kids chosen in grade school to participate in a bicentennial mural outside our school…The other kids look over my shoulder, “Wow!” I didn’t want attention, praise or recognition so their attention was surprising.
At the end of the year we have a program for the parents. It’s the last day of 6th grade and I’m decked out in my yellow checked colonial outfit that my Aunt had sewed for me for the colonist themed end to our bicentennial year, with the floppy bonnet proudly on my head.
“And now for a special award for artistic achievement…” I’m a proverbial deer in headlights, frozen and surprised when I hear my name called. The principal holds up a wooden plaque with a copper plate on the front that has my name inscribed on it. My classmate Patty gives me a little shove, a huge smile on her Pixie face.
“That’s you!” she whispers. “Go.”
I remember hours and hours of tension free focusing. There’s a closet in my childhood home with a metal bureau inside stuffed with my rock collection. There’s room enough in there for a small lamp and not much else. I sit in there for hours looking at my rocks or drawing. It’s confined and soothing; quiet and has no distractions. At 15, I’ve survived a lot, even coma a few years ago. At the age of 13 I accidentally drank too much Vodka, thinking it was a cure for whatever was wrong with me. I was wrong. I ended up in the hospital. It is a strange time of life for me, as teen age years can be for anyone.
At school, when I board my bus and take my seat, there is always a boy named Mark holding up a sign for me to see. It reads:
ARE YOU DEAF?
OR JUST STUPID?
Day after day I just stared through the signs.
One day Mary Ann the bus driver turned and said “Hold up your own sign do something! Anything!”
I didn’t. At the time I shrugged and ignored it as just one more thing. I processed it fully many years later and it made me angry at that point.
I first decide to paint when I’m in my 20s. I already know I can draw and for years I’ve been looking at other people’s paintings and thinking, ‘I can do that…’ So I do. I don’t know what happened to that metal bureau but I sometimes mourn it. I mourn things the way some people mourn people.
ABOVE: The first photo is what the back of my creation looks like. It’s three children’s blocks nailed together. On the front (second picture) I glued cut-up popsicle sticks and other pieces of wood, painted the whole thing, and voila! Camp Oregon. By this time I have a spectrum diagnosis…
My painting surface of choice now is circular saw blades; of all things. I gesso the metal surfaces with car primer out of a spray can to create a surface for the paint to ‘grab’ and also to protect from rust. I paint rural scenes on them. Lovely decrepit barns, deer, wooded paths…even Indians. One day my friend sees them hanging in my home.
“How much do you want for them?” she asks.
I say they aren’t for sale.
“Bull@#$t!” she replies.
Before long I have orders coming in for “a jockey on her prize horse,” or a “New Hampshire Inn” painting to hang in the Inn’s lobby. I paint turkeys, deer and fish for fisherman; I even do an outhouse painting for a plumber! I display a few dozen saw blades on a few big peg boards at a flea market every weekend and I sell hundreds of them over the course of a few years! Orders start coming in through word of mouth. The cabin above; “Camp Oregon” is a place I paint a lot. A customer requests that I paint four saw blade scenes of this fetching little place, one in every season. I even do a big winter painting on a huge two-man saw that my buyers hang on the beam in their den. I paint this cabin so much that I want to create a model of it for my reference (see photos above) but also because I’m attached to it in some way. I feel like I’ve been there. The subject matter in my saw blade paintings attest to my love of ‘finding beauty in the aged and worn.’ Most of these I do not bother to photograph before sale.
I am now painting in my living room instead of drawing in a closet.
As for bureaus, I’m oddly attached to them, although this is not so odd for me! When it comes time to discard one bureau and obtain another one, I can’t quite let the other one go, so I typically save the drawers for a few years and then gradually part with them as they mold in the basement or when I become brave and throw them into a bulk pick-up pile. Currently I have two big drawers downstairs that I am allowing to ‘move on’ this year. Six smaller drawers filled with treasures adorn my shelf, piled one atop the other. They’re quite useful. I don’t see my self discarding these, but if I did I would save the white ceramic knobs. At least for awhile.
During this period I transform my 17 diaries into a book. Writing, like art, is never intended for anyone other than me but in my attempt to understand my self, a book takes shape. I stay up till 3 A.M. working on it. Sometimes I cry as I write.
I start grouting mosaics onto everything! My husband is dying and I’m his sole caregiver. I start to see a pattern: the more stressed I am, the more I NEED to create. I dress in full mime attire and make-up around the house as I care for him, write, mosaic, paint and do chores. I’m under the stress of losing a loved one to a terminal illness (he will live five more years) and my “art as expression” is really peaking! Mimes either annoy you or amuse you, and they don’t have to speak. I identify with that.
My husband dies after a long battle with Lou Gehrigs.
I see a speech pathologist, join a social skills group, get accepted into The Autism Pilot Project, (an organization that helps with everything from job coaching to community mentoring) and I dabble in wood carving under the mentor-ship of an amazing talent I’ll call Z. I believe that working in such a 3D format can only improve my paintings. The wood I like best is cherry. I nick my finger with the knife.
Z, a Hungarian man who is not only an amazing wood-carving talent and storyteller, is a painter too and an artist in every way. He tells me, “Kimberly, our carving work is not mass produced like things you will find in stores. Now you’ve bled a little on the wood. You’ve added your DNA to the piece!”
How I love the feel of the knife shaving away at the wood in my hands, like a hot knife through butter, sweetly scented curly shavings all over my lap and around my feet. I work up a sweat. I love everything about wood! My senses are so alive. (See my homage to trees in my blog).
There is inspiration to be found in the quirky and in the weathered. I’ve drawers full of smooth sticks, unusual rocks and other things found on the ground. Such beauty to be found in decaying barns; their red coats faded to silver grey. I appreciate the adversity a barn board has known: howling winds, ‘twenty below’ winters and baking heat. If I could (and was of the means), I would repurpose barn boards for use in my country home, creating rustic paneling and having furniture made with it too… I am not faded to silver grey like the barns, just yet. When I am I will try to see beyond a collapsing heap and see instead a beautiful purpose. I know I will never stop creating. I have a suitcase of broken china and sea glass in the basement…More mosaic creations are in my future! I want to sew more elves (I used to do this) from scrap clothing and felt…And I will probably always be expressing my self through paint. I leave you with a couple works in progress:
I don’t do detailed pencil drawings anymore, although it is my love. My knuckles ache if I do! I cannot stand at easels… instead I paint with the canvas balanced on my lap. But eight hours bent over a canvas with breaks for food or necessities, are still as crucial and necessary as ever. With art—– words are not necessary. I have purged much of that which I needed to purge. My book “Under The Banana Moon” was published in 2012. I destroyed my diaries.