48x48 Acrylic/ Canvas/ Resin/ Mirror/ Stained Glass/ Glitter
When my sister and I were kids my Papa Reno would take us to South Dakota in the summertime for a few weeks. My Grandma passed in 1991, and at his 50-year high school reunion in 1993 he reconnected with Marge, his high school sweetheart. She was also widowed. Papa always told us this joke that he always had a crush on her but Nona wouldn’t give him ten cents to take her to the movies, so he never asked her on a date again.
Papa would pack us up into his gray chevy station wagon with red velvet interior and brave the 11-hour drive with two young girls. My most clear memory is listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival Fortunate Son 200 plus times on my sony Discman. It was around 1995 and had to be from the Forest Gump soundtrack. Papa was patient with the 7 stuffed animals I had to bring, all 500 of my crayons and 16 coloring books, troll doll collection, my box of 100 pet gummy worms (both the gummy worms and crayons will melt in the car, much to my panic and horror.) I can still picture it - that drive from Chicago to South Dakota. The flatlands went on forever, stopping only when they met giant storm clouds that looked like loaves of french bread. He always got us Mc Donald's pancakes for breakfast. When he accelerated the car he would make “Vroommm” sound effects as we shrieked with laughter.
Marge lived in a small old house on a corner lot in De Smet, South Dakota. It was a tiny, quiet town. Across the street was a high school. Since it was summer the parking lot was always empty. I would rollerblade around that parking lot for as many hours as they would let me, listening to Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation in my Discman. Marge had a giant black lab named Boots whom she cooked “gourmet meals' ' - scraps of food that he ate instead of dog food. I will grow up into an adult who only knows how to cook because I cook/ make the same gourmet meals for my dogs every day, just like Boots.
I don’t remember the very first time I met Marge but I remember sitting in her kitchen. She always had chocolate milk from the jug not made with syrup, and she made this cool whip strawberry jello pretzel dessert that to this day I will not try to re-create because I don’t want to ruin the memory. That is what time in Marge's house will always feel like to me. It was so peaceful, and calm, and there was so much good food, any time I felt like eating. The house smelled like home cooking and soup. Even in my memory, there is a warmth to it that at 38 years old I can feel in my bones. She had a golf cart that she let us drive around. Once my sister hit a tree and I was thrilled to actually be the better sibling at something for the first time in my life by default - driving.
The basement of Marge's house was kind of scary for a kid - the stairs down were steep and extremely dark. The whole basement was carpeted in dark red and black patterned parlor-like carpet. She had a player piano down there where you pick a paper scroll. When you pumped your feet on the pedals the full-sized piano would play whatever song we had chosen- the keys pressing down with no hands and all. It was insane fun. Papa and Marge would let us stay up all night. She had dozens of very old dance costumes and would let us dress up in them. We would dance and sing in crazy costumes. I think that as a child that is the hardest and longest I have ever laughed. That suffocating laughter that just doesn’t stop.
My Sister and I were avid readers of all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. They were a family of a farmer, his wife, and daughters in the mid to late 1800s. De Smet South Dakota was where many of those books, all true stories, were based. Papa and Marge took us to all of the museums that were the Ingalls-Wilder family homes and to many of the places where trees had been planted in the stories, only to be massive 150 years later. Once they even took us to an outdoor play of my favorite book, These Happy Golden Years. I always loved that book because it was when Laura finally marries Almanzo. For my sister's wedding, I gave her an antique-bound copy of that book. Marge had passed in 2005 but it was, to me, her way of being there that day.
Marge's kids and grandkids had a giant Angus cattle farm. Like a for real for real farm, something I had never seen. Their house was the biggest house I had ever seen in real life. They took us to a fair where the animals were judged and later on at sunset to see the farm. The best part was going into the loft at the top of the barn and finding dozens of tiny kittens in the hay. I remember being really freaked out by all of the mud but also vowing to live on a farm someday, with a cow.
The best part of it all though and the inspiration behind this painting are two parts - the first when they drove us to a mall about 45 minutes away. The drive was through endless fields of fully bloomed sunflowers. The flowers never seemed to stop. Depending on what direction the sun was, the flowers would turn their giant yellow heads to face the sun. I still feel so tiny in that memory, driving down a one-lane road through hundreds of thousands of sunflowers.It is a memory where I can taste the color as if it is coming from within me and projecting out.
The second part is the day they took us to a fancy lunch at a restaurant right on Silver Lake. It was a huge, round room with floor-to-ceiling windows on every single wall. The whole place was white, even the chairs, and the room was beautifully lit from all of the sun coming through. The whole place overlooked the water and at Marge's insistence, they sat us at a table right next to the window. I had never had a meal with a view of water like that before, and it was one of the most amazing things I had experienced in my 12 years of being alive up to that point.
As an adult, I will work in very hard a fancy glass building on the water with a view. Maybe all of that was because I was trying to remember Marge. Or maybe Marge was trying to remind me who I was to her - a little girl that could do anything, and deserved to see everything there was to see.
I watched this painting last night - deep in thought about Papa and Marge, South Dakota, a young girl in awe of the sunflowers and what it felt like to look out over the water. The kinds of memories that are more like prisms of light that illuminate this life experience than anything that actually physically took place. This painting is like Silver Lake met up with that sunflower and all of those midwest storm clouds and became one whole picture - all the while keeping the movement and texture of time kept and time passed within her being.
I texted my sister at midnight - 3 am her time to ask what Marge's full name was. I woke up to the text of her obituary, titled Margaret Ann Marie O’Keefe. I made this painting at the same time I made Georgia, named after Georgia O’Keeffe. Spelled differently but still. (Literally when my husband travels I stay up for days making giant art and listening to terrible music.) They were like sister paintings to me - identical moments in time with a different result. I looked up from my phone, up to this painting. Said “Margaret Ann Marie it is then” - she sparkled loudly and I knew that was that.
I hope if you are drawn to this painting and her story it is because you can identify with having wonderful people in your life like I did Papa and Marge - that took the time to show you things and sing songs. The shattered glittering multi-colored glass stands as a metaphor for time, instances, and illumination that even if we go through a few years or decades of forgetting - it doesn't mean any of it is was ever gone.