As a little girl I used to love to watch my Grandmother, a professional seamstress, alter and sew for the women in my hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Her “shop”, the little room just down the stairs near the back entrance to their house, was always a flurry of spinning spools of multi-colored thread, half-finished dresses, and the familiar whir and hum of the sewing machine. I can still see Grandma Vi, or Nana as we called her, pin cushion on her wrist, (one or two in her mouth at the ready), tape measure around her neck, on her knees folding and chalking a hem, or attaching ruffles to necklines. She was the first portrait I had of a working artist.
Women came to her from all around, from all walks of life. She tailored their pantsuits, hemmed their dresses, made their prom dresses, Easter outfits, and even their wedding gowns. And she did all of this with the precision, professionalism and panache of an artist, leaving her imprint on every piece that left her little shop. I wore the outfits she made me with the proud and delightful sense that they were one-of-a-kind, and made just for me, lovingly by my Nana. She gave herself to me—to all of us–in those pieces she sewed, and we felt richer for her beauty.
Two generations later, I too find myself a working artist; my tools are a guitar, a piano, and the melodies and words that I try and harness into songs. Songs are the language I speak, the thoughts I think, the way I receive and give back to the world around me. In each one I know that like my Nana, I leave an imprint of myself and hope those who hear them feel richer for their beauty.
I believe each of us is a working artist—like Nana at her sewing machine or me with my guitar: we need to know how we are uniquely gifted and what our tools are, and we need to be ever connected to the Spirit who breathes into us the secrets of the heart and mind of God. I believe this creative life of a working artist looks not so much like a list of accomplishments, but the sowing of our very selves–heart and soul–into the life we’ve been given.