The Garden, the book, and Solitude
By Sally Rosenbaum
For over 30 years I have spent my working hours painting the figure at leisure steeped in the rich sanguine mood of reflection, imagination, and contemplation. All of these occupations in addition to several others, I consider essential to my introverted soul. These are not limited strictly to the introvert…naturally. and are enjoyed and appreciated by many of us in the human race. I DO NOT consider myself solely an introvert. In fact, the definition I like to apply to the label takes the form of a question. Are you inspired and energized by people, crowds and activity OR are you more likely to need to retire to quiet beautiful spaces to ruminate, nap, read or draw to replenish your spirit? I am in the latter category but like most of us I can spend time in both worlds easily. After a quarter of a century of painting the figure in gardens, in repose, with wine, tea, fruits, in the act of reading, reflecting, sharing time with a child and just plain zoning out, I recognize that my body of work as an oil painter is in celebration of the introvert who MUST make time for her/himself simply in order to be him/herself.
I grew up in Atlanta during the days when only a few people in my Buckhead neighborhood had icy cold water air conditioning units ( boxes) hanging from windows and those that did were usually in the off limits area of the parents’ bedroom. We invented and found pursuits that kept us out of the thick humid air and saved us from constantly wearing the gown of perspiration. Although we wore shorts and cropped tops everyday of the summer our skin showed no sun lines. The heat and the frequent threat of thunderstorms from afar quickly advancing on us in soft water downpours, angry thunder, and sharp whips of light in the sky fostered bedroom board games, pinocle and gin rummy, and even canasta in the kitchens, bedrooms, and swimming pool dressing rooms. Either the rain or the intense low sun would make staying indoors with the modern, overhead hallway fan a better alternative to the muggy daytime outdoors and it was during these times after the boardgames when all the friends went home that I formed long lasting relationships with the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Scarlet Ohara and Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout. I read every biography I could get my hands on from the Buckhead library where my mom dropped me off for hours at a time while she shopped and ran errands. I picked up a copy of Lorna Doone entranced by the name knowing it was also a cookie. I read the young career section and shared the lives of nurses, graphic designers, department store “buyers,” and I occasionally ventured into the adult section in the front of the library looking for important “novels.” Though I was supposed to be on the steps in two hours waiting for my station wagon pickup, my mother frequently had to find me on the floor with all my collections piled high at my side already immersed in the first book where time was nonexistent.
Knitting was another passion I picked up at an early age. I even tried knitting while reading. It didn’t work; dropped stitches, empty pages of understanding. It was a lose lose combination.
I tried in vain to solicit knit buddies but unfortunately I could not find anyone to join my club so again I found energy in isolation with each knit and each purl costuming garment after garment for every doll, bear, dog, cat and family member. My mother, forever the good sport with “I love it!” “Can you make one for me?” She never denied me the “new project” buy. The colors, the textures, the imagination of what form it would become all fostered my introverted inner life. To this day I have an inner pang when I see a particular not quite coral pink leaning more to the middle of the value range very much like some shades of particular persimmons. This color captivated me at 9 years old. I had to possess the wool. Sixty years later I still use the silver size 6 needles with the ruler gauge printed on one side of the needle. I knit the pinkish sweater for my baby brother. I was 9 and he was barely 2. I knew small sweaters would be done quicker and I could start a new project that much sooner which translated to picking out a new color. Most everything in those days was Bernat worsted weight. Did a two year old boy wear a scratchy pink sweater? Of course not, but no superior parental voice broke in to tell me this was unwise. My mother could barely sit still; never indulged in a lengthy book or even a half hour tv show (and by my standards was most definitely an extrovert) but she allowed for my creativity. This was introversion by process and I credit her with recognizing me for who I was and my cultivation and enjoyment. The joy was the process not the product.
The Atlanta Gardens were divine and made a lasting impression in my mind that I forever associate with the romantic and the peaceful harmony that all is well in the world. Our neighborhood had a garden club and every yard had a garden where camelias, dogwoods, gardenias and hydrangeas seemed to thrive like weeds. The blooms were magical and predictable. They always were perfectly formed and arrived on time. They framed every pathway, veranda, and perimeter of the wide open yards. The scents were intoxicating as they mixed with the heavy droplets in each molecule of thick moist air. Everyone had a green thumb and the garden club became a beautiful social gathering and a perfect backdrop for the grown up cocktail parties. These scents and the celebrations of the flowering season in the spring came to remind me of beauty, tranquility and bountiful prosperity. The dads wore suits; the moms were beautiful. The cocktail martini glasses were elegant and the laughter and friendly banter drifted through open windows where the babysitters played dolls and served fish sticks to the children.
Though I no longer live in the south I am easily able to transfer the meditative moods and harmonious associations from the landscape of my youth to my current countryside, the California Napa Valley where the cultivation and tastings of fine wines replace the bourbon, tea or even coca cola of the garden party.
Sometimes my lady, girl, or woman, sits with the perfect cabernet in the garden. Sometimes she sips tea and peruses a magazine and occasionally pauses for reflections. Sometimes she shares the space with a child who is learning to read. The book is in hand or nearby, and in her face, shielded by a hat she has the solitude and privacy that is necessary for rejuvenation. The garden sometimes is the southern garden of my childhood and sometimes it takes the form of the Napa mediterranean type garden mixed with wisteria, fruit trees, and hundreds of varieties of flowering perennials. The scents are implied but now include the lavender and rosemary and grapes of the wine country of the preserved Napa Valley. The air is dry but warm and the feeling is still one of romance and possibility, planning and reminiscing past and future.
I have been selling each and every painting I have created for over 25 years. Some are large and some are tiny. Thousands of paintings exist on the walls of homes throughout the United States and the world. I think of them as unconscious visual reminders and cues to my co-humans to remember to replenish your imagination and to pass what you know on to the next generation. I hope they are reminders that time alone is never wasted and time doing “nothing” is actually a necessary “something.” My greatest joy in the accomplishment of my work is to occasionally hear that some child or adult has lived with my paintings on the walls of their homes and that these images have become part of the visual landscape that has informed their lives. The introvert and the extrovert have much to share and teach each other and the garden and the book are friendly to all. We may all pass through stages of introversion and extroversion on our roads through life and sitting still is a reminder of the time when you walk through the gates and inhabit the inner life of the great human experience.