Years ago I worked at Wyoming’s St. Stephens Indian Mission. One of my favorite places to be was at the home of blind Matilda, an old Native American whose face truly was lined in all the right places. So often she would look out on the dry hills as if a vision were there, calling to her, and she would tilt her head and listen.
During a week at home with my artist mother, I came across an Arizona Highways photograph of an Indian woman who looked just like Matilda. “I want to paint her.”
“In what medium?” my mother asked.
“Pen and ink.”
So began my two day lesson on the strokes needed to be a week-end artist. And then? I was on my own.
My lady took shape first with my pencil–so many hesitant marks, so many erasures. The eyes vexed me for days, but gradually, her features took shape beneath my hand. Stroke by stroke her wonderful face, weathered with age and lined with wisdom, began to emerge. And then the miracle of pen and ink. How often did I return to look at her, to touch her cheek, feel the texture of her scarf and the coarseness of her hair?
One week later I sat at the easel, marveling at my finished work, amazed that she seemed so alive. My mother came in and stood next to me. She leaned in close to the artwork and asked that question I had never voiced with Matilda. “I wonder what she sees.”