Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Artist From Her Heart

This is an article I wrote as a contest entry. The painting on the background of this blog is the third one mentioned here. -- Jen

Peace embraced you as you entered Grandma’s home. Nearly every wall held one or two of her lovely oil paintings. A weathered gardener gazing at his prize roses. Salty spray rising from the azure waters of a Hawaiian sea. Cows drinking from a secluded river, purple mountains their backdrop.

Grandma was a self-taught artist. This didn’t seem to bother her. Her art was a gift she willingly shared, teaching others to paint with skill and grace.

Reading was another of Grandma’s passions. One room of her house was the “library,” with books from floor to ceiling on two walls. “These books are my friends,” she told me more than once. “I have read them again and again. You can learn anything you want from books.” It had to be true. Grandma was one of the smartest people I knew, and she’d only finished six grades.

Frequently Grandma said,” I don’t know how people get along in life without the Lord.” My Daddy, then a new believer, led her to the Lord when she was in her fifties. Her growing up years lacked any godly influence.

Grandma was born Viola Kelly in 1907. She and her younger brother, Benny, were raised by their dad after their mother was institutionalized for mental illness. Little Viola was six and Benny only three when their mother died, screaming out hatred towards her husband in her final lucid moment.

A widow with three children of her own became the children’s step-mother. She resented young Viola and Benny, treating them abysmally. When it came time for school, Viola’s step-mother took her and Benny to the dump for shoes and clothes. Viola often wore mismatched shoes. Many times the children left the supper table still hungry.

A photo I have of eight-year-old Viola shows her atop a pony cart, clutching a doll as if it were her only friend. Distrust and anguish escape from dark eyes. After Grandma passed, I learned that this photo was made near the time she was raped by her step-brother.

Yet in spite of her painful past, Grandma chose to dwell on her blessings. She was cheerful, generous, and kind. Loading the table at every meal, she’d say, “I was hungry too often as a child. No one in this house will ever leave my table hungry.” You never came to visit without a gift from her hands. Nor did you leave without leftovers in the trunk!

Refusing to judge others, Grandma always gave them the benefit of the doubt. She knew from experience, there was more to a person’s behavior than what can be seen. She allowed the Lord to take the broken pieces of her life and craft them into a sparkling, glorious mosaic of grace.

As I gaze at Grandma’s paintings, now on the walls of my home, I see in their master a true hero. Mine.


  1. Oh my goodness, what a life! That's so sad and yet so beautiful. God truly gave her beauty for ashes.
    Great article Jen!

  2. Thank you, Jessie.
    Yes, her life is a testimony of God's grace and wonder.