Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Sis just sent me a picture of a paint-by-numbers work she’s completed---it’s simply lovely, with peaceful water and pale pastels of lawn chairs and flowers.  And so I wrote her a little memory of our Aunt Lu---Mammaw’s just-younger sister, whose entire life-as-I-knew-it was lived within the walls of a small-town General Store.

Internet photos except for Sis' at top of page

Sis, your beautiful artwork of that peaceful stream and the welcoming pink chairs is your Aunt Lu side emerging---she took up the hobby in the early Fifties.  She had these beauties hanging all over the house, and was generous and free with her handiwork. They were not quite so elaborate or sophisticated in their gradations of color or light as those today, and you can tell the old-time Fifties ones from the new, by the gentle, kindergartenish flow of the pale primary shades.  The shapes and colours remind me of gently-contoured baby-toys vs. sharply-delineated lines of modern young taste.   They’re the barns and horses a child would colour, varying only the pressure of the same few crayons.  

  She thoroughly enjoyed her art. I think sometimes of those long days she spent in that old country store, reaching things down from shelves and cutting meat right there on that immense slice-of-a-tree that was her butcher-block, with all the same-old same-old of the days in that rattly, people-worn place---what a wonderful outlet for her soul the painting must have been! 

 The paintings always came in twos, right there in a flat box on the shelves of Ben Franklin with the 500-piece puzzles and Monopoly.   They were mostly simple studies of big red barns or windmills or peaceful streams or horses, with a small set of tiny plastic paint-pots strung together like Pop-It-Beads.   The primary colours and the tiny brush provided many an hour of get-away for Aunt Lu, with the absolutes of the grays and reds in their indicated patches of shading making a few “professional” shadows on a patch of snow, a horse’s coat, a shady lawn.  

And she loved the snow scenes---perhaps the heat and humidity of the South prompted her inclination toward shadowy snowbanks and sleighs.  

She must have felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment in her work, however many scarce hours she had to devote to it, for her work-days were long, six-day-a-week times of dashing from counter to shelf to the Meat Market to cut a steak, grind some hamburger, snip off six of the fat sausages from the ropes hanging in the cooler.  She cut and measured and weighed, ripping the sheets of heavy store-paper across the cutter-teeth like flipping a sheet onto a bed. 

 A nimble flirt of hands with the string from the the ceiling loop, and the package slipped neatly into the basket, along with a small brown papersack of just scooped beans, two bananas nipped with the little curved knife from the hanging bunch, and maybe-two-of-those-chocolate-pennycreams-today went into the sack.   I like to think that she could do all those motions by rote, still thinking of the scent of that paint and the structured order of the strokes, keeping those shimmery dobs of paint inside the map of small blue lines.

I also thought she must order the hangers in bulk from Sears Roebuck, for each and every one, gift and kept alike, was framed in smooth wood, with a lovely purplish rosette on the silk hanging-cord, no matter the colours or shades in the paintings.   She liked things to be nice, and I think those rows of graceful triangles securing the tops of her paintings, with their dignified rosettes atop---those must have satisfied some of that longing for something elegant amongst faded green counters and the footworn floors of her days. 

She gave her treasures for birthdays, Christmas, wedding presents, almost always in pairs as they came in the box.  

 And once, she astonished the congregations of both churches in town by presenting each with one of the pair of religious pictures she had painted.   She had beautifully framed the two: Sacred Heart of Jesus and one of the Virgin Mary, and Methodist and Baptist each got one---there was a hubbub under hair dryers and in church pews for quite some time, but I don't think our Dear Soul ever heard about the should-we? should-we-not? quandary faced by each of the Church Boards. I KNOW one of them hung theirs right out there in the vestibule, from the maroon silk rope-with-tassel that she'd presented it with. And that's YOUR heritage. Ain't it a fine one?  


Kathy said...

What a wonderful story! I used to do those paint by numbers when I was a young teen and had so much fun doing them. Most of them never got framed, nor saw the light of day after they were finished, but a few were given as gifts. I so loved doing them and thought they looked very "professional". You aunt must have been quite the lady. Your sister's picture is just lovely.

donna baker said...

That was sweet Rachel. I see those paintings all over the mall I'm in today. And you can still buy the kits at Hobby Lobby.

Chronica Domus said...

Lovely recollection of your aunt to your sister. I think these paintings provide such an outlet for those that wish to be creative but cant' quite pull it together enough to paint without numbers.

I had no idea the newer kits are so sophisticated as compared to the 50's you feature. Lovely!

Beverly said...

I so enjoyed this post. My daddy paint by number when I was a little bitty girl. And, I thought every creation was a work of art - because I was a big time "daddy's girl".

I love your sister's painting, too. I wasn't aware the kits were still available. Many thank yous to you and your sister for the smile you gave me today.♥

Kim S. said...

Lovely memories! And Sis did an amazing job. I don't think I've ever seen a paint by numbers so beautifully rendered. I love that one of the churches hung Aunt Lu's painting! It reminds me of something that touched me when we were in Salisbury Cathedral in England. Among all of the impressive and expensive memorials was a modest little clock - maybe $25 including the plaque - In Memory of William Adams. Hung, not in an obscure corner, but between the ribs of one of the soaring columns in the nave.