Exactly one year ago, I picked up my brush and began to paint again after a 40 year hiatus. Having studied art decades ago, it was assumed that I would pursue a career in art, but it was not in my cards. So, in 1974, I gave up my childhood dream of being an artist. Last year, I returned to my first love, and commenced to create as a means of therapy as I dealt with my mother's failing health, and my inability to “fix her.” With art, I have complete control of what I manifest on canvas or paper.
Unexpectedly, things began to happen for me rather quickly as far as my artwork goes. At almost 62, I never dreamed I would see the word “artist” after my name. But it is there, and it has taken my life down a new and wondrous path.
Last fall, I painted a portrait of an African woman. Usually, when I start a painting or drawing, I rarely know what I'm creating until it is done. When I was finished, I looked at it somewhat in awe, because it was not something I had planned, nor the type of portrait I usually do, or someone I would have normally been drawn to paint. The woman in my painting was young, with dark skin, gray eyes, a crooked smile, and a short blond Afro hairstyle.
My process is, once I've completed a portrait, I study it and imagine who the character I've created may be, where he/she may come from and what type of life they may have had. Sometimes, I'll include the story with the artwork.
I named the woman in the painting LERATO, which means “love” in Sesotho, a Bantu South African language. This painting was slated to be entered in Indiana's Lt. Governor, Sue Ellspermann's Hoosier Women Artist Contest. At the last minute, I withdrew this entry for another. I don't know why I pulled it, but something told me to. I held onto it, and on January 29, 2015, I listed it on Etsy for sale.
I thought no more about Lerato for a while. Some paintings sell rather quickly, and others linger for months. On May 26, I received an email from a woman I did not know. With her permission and blessing, I am sharing a portion of her message to me.
“ … This is so crazy. I have the wildest story to tell you. Is there any chance you painted this after someone named Lerato Moletsane? I am thinking there must have been some way you knew her? My name is Asheley ***, and I live in Louisiana, but I met this Sotho girl named Lerato about 13 years ago when I was working in an orphanage in Lesotho. Her and I became like sisters over time, even though we lived on separate continents for the majority of our friendship. I saw her as much as I could and she became like blood to me, even though our lives were so opposite. Anyway, she suddenly passed away recently and I was thinking of her tonight, and had the idea just to type her name into Etsy and this painting is the only thing that came up. I couldn't believe the similarity this photo has to Lerato, and even she had her hair dyed blonde when she passed away. Your description could not be MORE SPOT ON for her and that's why I keep thinking you must have actually known her and created this piece after her. What's more -- and God as my witness -- and I can prove it -- you posted this painting to your site the DAY Lerato died -- January 29, 2015 … I posted a photo here so you can see the uncanny resemblance. Did you know her somehow? This can't be just a coincidence ...”
Even now, a month later, I still get chills when I read her letter and think of all the events leading to the morning of May 26. Why did I paint that portrait? Why did I pull it from the contest? Why did I list it on that day – January 29? I've never seen her before in my life, knew nothing of her existence, nor Asheley's. And, why did I name her Lerato, and even reference her hometown and heritage? Moreover, how did I paint a portrait of a woman who looks almost exactly like the “real” Lerato?
I've included the photo Asheley sent me, along with my portrait of Lerato. Some people have looked at the two and just assumed I painted her from the photograph. No, I never saw the photo prior to painting the portrait.
The original painting is now in the hands of Asheley, purchased for her birthday by her loved ones. She says it has brought her much comfort and closure. I have a myriad of mixed feelings flowing through me, and don't understand any of this. But a friend told me to just be an instrument. I feel God directed my hands as I painted her; and things began to fall into place from that moment on. So, I AM an instrument. Perhaps some day, Stacey “the artist” will make a small fortune – perhaps I won't. But nothing will ever compare to the peace and gratification I continue to feel knowing that God used me as an instrument to do some good for someone else. Our talents go much deeper than the product. Sometimes they can work miracles and heal a wounded heart … and bring souls back together.
First Published, 6/28/2015 by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN