My cousin Susan was visiting from Iowa. She was really excited to visit the Phoenix Art Museum with me as they had a special exhibit of Mexican art and even santos. In the gift shop, she stood admiring a rustic painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe on an old cupboard door, intending to buy it.
I walked over to stand side of her at the cash register and said, “Wait, Susan. I can paint one for you!” She was delighted, and I had a mission. When she returned to Iowa, I set off for Stardust Building Supply, a place I guess you could call, “Old Cupboard Heaven,” where they go to maybe meet their maker or begin a new life. I crawled around under the counter among the stacks of dirty, disreputable looking cupboard doors and piles of other wooden mishaps. The ugliest, most beat-up piece called to me. When I got it to the checkout counter, the clerk smiled quizzically. “No charge, lady. We’re glad to get rid of some of this junk.”
Grinning, I bounced into the car with my treasure eager to get home and start painting. I could already see the gentle Madonna’s face smiling out of the image I’d create.
I’d never really liked Marian art. It seemed too pretty, too perfect, too white. I still didn’t like most of it. But my connection to Madonnas changed when I’d joined a Black Madonna pilgrimage. These ancient images found in 11th century Notre Dame cathedrals in France had power that amazed me. Later, I traveled to Mexico and discovered more powerful mother images The sites of Incan and Mayan goddesses and that of the Lady of Guadalupe impacted me as had the Black Madonnas in Europe. The power of these images and of the sites themselves literally took me into another state of consciousness. My mind couldn’t logically explain it, but my spirit and body perceived something, some energy. It was as if I was in the presence of a Great Mother. Physicists have things to say about these matters and the fact that everything in reality is connected. That’s as close as I come to an explanation and it is enough for me. I’d experienced Madonna power and was forever altered.
So I came home with my dusty piece of wood eager to transform it. I’d never painted on wood before, but something inside me knew I could create the image. For some reason, the notion of sticking paper onto wood occurred to me. I scrabbled around in my box of tissue paper, found the glue thinking, “This wood is already such a mess, can’t hurt it.” Surprisingly enough, it worked.
As I sat gazing at the piece, waiting for it to dry, I thought about icons. Was my expectant waiting for the Madonna a prayer? I sat in the silence of my little art room with the question. I’d heard that icons were created by monks observing silence, prayer and fasting. When my stomach growled, I smiled. Hadn’t intended to fast but I had forgotten to eat lunch!
It did seem as though I were creating an icon. Was the next step, then, to gild the piece? It had to be. I grabbed a can of spray paint and covered the whole thing with gold paint. Then I stood, gazing at the tracks of color running down the paper-covered wood. What was I seeing? What wanted to be seen? I just wasn’t sure. Finally, though, I loaded my brush with paint and began...
Later, stretching, I realized my shoulders and back were very tired. I looked at the clock and was startled. It was midnight. I’d been totally absorbed for hours. Or had the Creative Spirit led me across time and space, to an ancient Notre Dame cathedral or icon-filled monastery? into the power of the Madonna?
Many questions remain to this day! But that night, I had learned something about trusting what I couldn’t understand. Going ahead when I didn’t know where to go.
What I did know, with great clarity of mind and heart, as I studied the finished piece, was that the Great Mother had arrived. She smiled sweetly, radiant in her mantle of stars. Like the woman in the Song of Songs, “She was black and she was beautiful.”
That first Madonna of Guadalupe did get mailed off to cousin Susan. Dear Susan’s gift was also a heartfelt gift to me. She was and is a loving and powerful Mother. I am grateful.