Fingerpaints of Venice

For something different, I’m starting a little series about the artwork I have in my house and the stories that go with each piece.

Four years ago, I was a student at Faith Builders and figuring out how to live in the US again. I flew here with just enough belongings to settle into a small dorm room and be a student. I didn’t have an envelope when I wanted to send off an application and I didn’t have a jar or rubber band to make kefir in my dorm room. (I’d brought the grains though: priorities.)

Apparently customs officials had riffled through my suitcases and found what seemed to be a large nut, and threw it away, but it was actually a dear little carved nativity scene that had been gifted to me, and I still miss it. I’m not that attached to stuff, but it still felt like a loss. The biggest loss was my rich connections with people who now lived an ocean away.

It was a topsy-turvy season, shattering and bewildering. Many, many good things happened, but mostly it was hard.  Beautiful, loving people surrounded me but I felt like my heart was mostly vacuum, hollowed out, shivering. There were weeks when I cried every day.

About eight months into re-entry, we had a group activity where we divided into teams of four. Using poster paints and our fingers, each team replicated their choice of painting from the Impressionist masters. Our team chose Monet’s Sunset in Venice:


Claude Monet [Public domain]

We started dabbing colors onto the margin of the big poster paper.

“I’m not an artist.”

“I don’t know how to do this.”

This is what some of my team mates said, but they went to it as if they’d done it all their lives. They studied the original, dipped their finger tips in paint, and dabbed it carefully. I flitted around, sketching briefly, maybe mixing some colors.

I don’t remember which part I did, but my predominate memory is that I cheered and cheered for how their success surprised them, and my fingers and palms were smeared with great colors, and I started breathing deeper and easier than I had for a long, long time.

We ended up with this:


My favorite feature is the rippling reflection of the spire:


We left it to dry overnight, and I felt like a new person.

All the teams displayed their paintings in the hall for several months, then threw them away, but I couldn’t part with ours. I found a frame for it, and I don’t have wall space for it, so it’s propped against the wall in my hall. Maybe sometime it’ll find its way to the dumpster, but not yet.

I wonder if I’m more attached to stuff than I thought.

13 thoughts on “Fingerpaints of Venice

  1. Thanks. Looking forward to more in this series. I’m forever changed by the Art History and Appreciation class that I took to meet a requirement for my college degree. Still, I must confess that after all that education, the art to which I am most attached has been created by the children in my life. I’m eager to see what pieces of art are shaping your space.

  2. Oh wow! Beautiful! Somehow fingerpaints and Impressionism Just Fit. Curious which class this was for. 🙂

    I feel like you would have lots to say to me about transitioning and belonging. 1.5 weeks ago, I moved to Lancaster County. (Long story that I’d love to talk about.). I dont think I ever dreamed of living in this place, but the circumstances and timing were right and necessary. It does mean, though, that I’ve left behind a church and people who know me like no one else. I mean, I’ve grown up there. So now it means starting basically at ground zero and finding connections and kindred spirits.

    • RA, the painting activity wasn’t for a class, but for a weekend activity. =)
      Sounds like you’re walking through some big transitions. I think you should for sure give yourself and people time. It takes layers and layers of shared history and conversations to find belonging, and that takes TIME. And patience. Bless you!

    • To RA- my best advice for anyone moving into Lancaster County is to find yourself a good support group who will help you feel personally grounded. Other transplants will be your best bets for finding empathy and helpful perspective!

  3. Group art therapy ! Now there is something with promise. :). I also really like the sentence, “Beautiful, loving people surrounded me but I felt like my heart was mostly vacuum, hollowed out, shivering.” BAM.
    My love to you.

  4. Recently I learned from a niece that making art and creative things brings healing to the part of the brain that is damaged by trauma. Your story makes me think she is right, and there is definitely a connection.

    • Yes, definitely. I don’t know the science of it, though I think there’s something about bridging/connecting the logic and emotion parts of the brain. I think when we create in whatever form/medium, we tap into the part of us that reflects God the Creator. It’s a part of us that is usually devalued in our pragmatic lifestyles, and when we use it, we become more like the people we were made to be.

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