Painting My Mother
“I Have Loved Every Decade”
Julia Zollman Wickes
I feel pretty lucky to be a painter. I feel lucky to follow in the footsteps of artists Alice Neel and David Hockney, who painted their friends and family members.
For the second year, I am an exhibitor in the StutzARTspace Gallery’s October show, “Women of a Certain Age”. This year, with the show’s theme being “The Skin We’re In”, I decided to respond to that theme by painting a portrait of the woman who has shown me, by example, how to be very comfortable “in the skin that I am in”--my mother, Maxine Zollman.
I like painting because it is a pretty slow process for me. First I have to get the concept in my head. Then I have to loosely plan the work. Often this involves sketches--of the subject, of the composition ideas, and after talking with my subject, a story begins to form. Painting my mother provided me the opportunity to do all of the preliminaries and to think a lot about her as I
attempted to bring my image of her to life. As I put the paint on the canvas, I thought about her big blue eyes and how our daughters have them, too. I thought about her slender frame and how she was a skinny kid who always liked tap dancing. Painting her fingers reminded me of how she still plays “Stardust”, her favorite song, on the piano as many times as you want to hear it.
Like almost all girls and their mothers, we did not always agree! And we still wrangle over
politics and other topics, but it doesn’t really matter. She has shown me how to be a dreamer, a business woman, a community participant and donor, a good friend and a loving family
member. As a young woman, she made her way to Chicago to become a nurse so that she could join the Army Nurse Corps in World War II, but when the war ended before her schooling did, she headed to Minneapolis to grad school to study Public Health. Married life in a small town gave her a chance to work as a nurse, own her own business, serve on her community’s
committees and start a fund to assist needy families. She said she gained a lot of confidence from observing her mother-in-law, a beautiful, stylish, but painfully shy woman who was often stepping outside her community’s notions for ideas. My mother and my grandmother set the stage, by example, for me to enroll in art school at age 48, and feel sure that such an
unconventional path was still right for me.
Even today my mother sets a wonderful example for me to feel good about “the skin I am in” and to feel confident that I will be able to tackle the obstacles that are put before me. I am lucky to be her daughter and to get to know her just a little better, as the painter of her portrait.
“I am comfortable with where I am in my life and the way I do things, as a rule. Many women struggle to be “up to date” and I don’t worry about that. Life keeps bringing me new challenges. I take each thing as it comes and try to deal with it and I have loved every decade.”