When I think of art, I think of my mother. I even remember the first time I saw her paint.
Millie Pete had been an art teacher as a profession. She got pregnant with me later in life and decided to retire from teaching when I was very young. After that, she began painting at home to fill her time, with me by her side. The first time I watched her work was when I was sitting in my highchair next to her easel, witnessing the meticulous effort to paint a woman with a basket on her head.
That was always my favorite painting of Millie Pete’s, because it was the first one I saw evolve into something beautiful. I had two older siblings who also enjoyed her work, and I was nervous that when I grew up I would lose the lady and her basket simply by being the youngest. As a teenager, I expressed that to her, telling her I wanted to own the painting when she passed. Her answer was to immediately make a note and secure it to the back of the painting: “This painting is Melissa Carter’s. From: Her Mom. (Signature) 5-15-89.”
The smell of turpentine always filled the air in our home, since her favorite medium was oil. A prolific artist, her work hung on the walls and spilled into corners and basement pallets over the course of my childhood.
She gave lessons at the local art store and in our basement, with me as a student from time to time. I learned several ways to create art, from paints and pastels to copper and clay. The only thing that stuck was sketching and cartoons, which I never pursued professionally. But she taught me that art was a necessity, not extracurricular. She was always disappointed to hear of a school cutting budgets for any artistic endeavors.
Her death in 2020 left a huge hole in my life, especially when it came to art. I took for granted the constant creative presence she provided and find what remains is a lonely landscape of few people to discuss art with.
That’s why I created the Bless Your Art initiative in my mother’s honor. The goal is to encourage you to express yourself artistically, regardless of skill level. Bless Your Art celebrates May 26 specifically, which was my mother’s birth and death date, but it is really there to inspire you to be creative throughout the year.
Fall displays nature’s most artistic canvas, which is why art festivals will soon pop up all around us. I encourage you to get out and get inspired, pull out those old art materials and do something. My son passes that painting of the lady and her basket every day in our dining room, along with many other pieces created by his grandmother. I hope over time he understands the gift of being surrounded by such creativity and carries it on in his own home when he’s grown. At least as an only child he won’t have to compete for any pieces he wants to take with him.