Millie Pete is going blind. My 82-year-old mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 2012, and the condition is quickly taking away her vision via damage to her retina. As an artist, this has posed a serious challenge to her lifestyle, since the result of the condition is the inability to see detail or recognize faces. As the daughter of this artist, I’ve come to realize these past few weeks that through her art, I’ve learned my most important life lessons.
My mother taught me never to use black when shading paintings. Instead, you use complementary colors to show depth to an object. As a child, I saw shadows as dark places to avoid, but Millie Pete allowed me to see that they’re never as black as they seem; that shadows actually help enhance the world around you.
When starting any drawing, you begin with small strokes that, over time, make a bigger picture. In life, we tend to look toward people with established relationships or careers as role models, yet we forget how long it took them to reach that point in their lives. Knowing the small steps we take are not wasted and contribute to larger success can allow us to relax enough to enjoy each of those moments.
WORK WITH OILS
My mother’s favorite medium was oil paint. Since oil paints take weeks and sometimes months to dry, Millie Pete was able to change elements within the painting over the course of many days before it was complete. This allowed her the opportunity to put her brush down and walk away for a time in order to get a fresh perspective upon her return to the canvas. It taught me that I should never attempt to do anything perfect the first time, and a fresh eye always makes a situation better.
WHEN FINISHED WITH ONE PROJECT, BEGIN ANOTHER
My mother’s home, as well as my own, is filled with paintings Millie Pete created. Her life was not dedicated to just one
piece; instead she always wanted to try new scenes, new mediums, or new canvas sizes. This taught me that life is not one journey, but many. The only constant in life is you, and you should always be ready to complete one experience and set off to own another.
Perhaps the biggest life lesson I’ve learned through my mother’s art is that it doesn’t stop, despite the fact that she’s now lost her vision. In a corner of my mother’s home stands a brand-new painting of a man’s silhouette. She explained to me it’s the image she now sees when looking at my brother. My mother’s determination to continue to live life, and express it in art, shows that no matter the obstacle, you keep moving forward.
No one wants to see their parents grow old. It’s as if their grey hairs, wrinkles, and slow pace are constant reminders that the safety
of our childhood is really over. I know my mother is afraid of her weakening body, but she still has something familiar to lean on — art. Art has been her best friend and closest confidant throughout her life. In its ear is where she whispers her deepest fears and darkest thoughts and in return, it has taught her about life’s never-ending beauty.
And by being the daughter of this beautiful artist, I can make sure these lessons I’ve learned from her live on as long as her art.
One of the first out radio personalities in Atlanta, Melissa’s worked for B98.5 and Q100. Catch her daily on theProgressive Voices podcast “She Persisted.” Tweet her! @MelissaCarter