I’ve been doing interview after interview on a higher than normal workload due to my impending vacation, so every now and again it feels like I’m just going through the motions – until today, when an artist with a Southern drawl and penchant for positivity stopped me dead in my tracks.
It’s a routine story when I do an artist spotlight for Third Friday Art Walk Wilkes-Barre. I chat with the person about the what, when and why and it’s of course enlightening (artists are clearly an eccentric folk and they all speak so well and on a broad range of things),but this one went a little deeper.
I was stumped at first because the artist statement and bio Elaine Walton from Alabama, now relocated to the Northeast, sent me was so thorough and so beautifully written that I felt like I was grasping at straws for things to ask her.There was one thing that stuck out to me in both writings: her ill-fated 17-year-old daughter Parker, who had passed away in 2012. The explanation was a drop in the bucket: “She passed away unexpectedly in 2012. Was it murder? Was it suicide? I still don’t know what happened to her.”
And then on the next paragraph.
Elaine’s body of work currently focuses on watercolors of flowers, so I asked her why flowers were her main focus. It had to do with her daughter’s death and turning a negative into a positive, which would be great to include in the write-up, but then she gave me more information that I won’t include because of space restrictions, but that is so vital to who she is as a person it will forever stick with me, and I need to put it into words that I can revisit whenever I choose.
“All I know is that she was in the same room as her boyfriend and she died of a single gunshot wound to the head. I don’t know if it was suicide, if it was because they were, I don’t know, fighting?”
I would normally probably end that sentence with “she said as her voice trailed off, leaving the question lingering..” – but that’s not what happened. That was the end of the sentence, that was the matter of-fact. That is what Elaine does – she knows her reality, but she is not beaten down by it. She turns negative into positive.
She takes these flowers, which remind her so much of tragedy due to the influx she received when Parker passed, and makes them something beautiful. She is confronting her fears and her sadness, not hiding from it, and allowing others to observe it and, hopefully, take something away from it.
Parker had a full ride to college and by the time of her death it was too late for the school to award it to someone else, so they asked Elaine if she had any recommendations for who should have the money. She suggested Parker’s best friend, who is now in the midst of a free, four-year bout of education.
Negative. Into positive.
She told me all of this and her voice didn’t break once. Maybe it’s therapeutic to talk about and doesn’t bother her any more. Maybe she’s numb to it.
I like to think she’s ok with it, as ok as a parent who lost a child can be. I like to think her steadiness of voice is a testament to the selfless, positive, brave woman who brought me to tears, who had ME thanking HER after the interview.
I like to think there are others like her out there, working against the forces of bad to do something good for themselves and others, to help make this world a better place.
And I like to think that if I am wrong, if this woman finds herself in what feels like an unending grip of sadness, she has at least a second during it in which she realizes just how special she is, how unique her outlook of the world proves to be and just what she can do with it.
And that she took an ordinary Friday in a 28-year-old woman’s life and turned it into one of introspection and awe, to be forever changed from that point forward.