Full disclosure, Anabeth is my mother-in-law, Andrew’s mother. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree; Anabeth is quite an amazing artist in her own right. She was kind enough to indulge us in one of our first interviews for StoryAndPicture.com. While we had a bit of prior knowledge of our first interview subject, our interview with her yielded a lot of information that we were both surprised to learn.
The girls didn’t get middle names. We couldn’t afford them.
Her parents had heard the name “Anabeth” on the “Kate Smith Hour,” the radio version. In a sea of “Harriet”, “Jane”, and “Lucielle,” “Anabeth” stood out.
Anabeth Jenkins was not given a middle name at birth. Daughters didn’t get middle name, she jokes, “because we couldn’t afford them.” This speaks to a firm tradition of the time: daughters would marry and take their family name as their middle name. There was no reason to provide girls a middle name at birth that would then simply be discarded. Very efficient, if you think about it. Anabeth just turned 74.
It didn’t take me too long to realize that wasn’t art.
Anabeth’s path to ART was longer than we both had suspected. For over 20 years I’ve known this woman to be a “true” artist. I do NOT a consider myself to be a “true” artist; I stand outside that beautiful crystal bubble, and can only try to interpret what I can see inside – through refracted and imperfect light. So for me, that meant that this person had always had an intimate relationship, and eternal curiosity, about the nature of the unseeable. But she didn’t know that about herself until she was firmly into what most of us would call mid-life. This idea gives me a lot of hope.
It all started in a high school art class, circa 1957. Anabeth needed a class to fill out her schedule, and only class available happened to be an art class. That class piqued an interest that had to be put on hold through the normal life movements of a young Catholic woman in the ’60’s – marriage, childbirth, family. Better Homes and Gardens craft projects, and sewing clothes for her two growing children had to serve as her main creative outlet. And while she marched on with her pre-scripted life, she secretly continued her art education and shared what she learned with her children. Andrew’s earliest memory of his mother are of her putting crayons in his hands and pointing out the art in everyday life. On his first viewing of Starry Night, his mother told him about the post-impressionist movement. When he admired the pattern of the dress she had just sewed for his sister, his mother told him about Piet Mondrian.
A couple of decades later, after the kids were safely ensconced in the public school system, Anabeth found herself with enough free time, and just enough dissatisfaction with her life, to revisit an old love – art. Back to school!
Just a few weeks into her first art classes that the University of Houston, fully immersed in the 1970’s craft movement, “it didn’t take [her] too long to realize that wasn’t art.” But that didn’t stop her from wanting to make art.
I loved it! But everything I made was just so bad.
I think you can learn a lot about a person by looking at the FIRST and the WORST of any particular aspect of what they care about – jobs, girlfriends, art pieces.
The first creation that Anabeth’s would consider “Art” was a mobile made out of wire coat hangers and construction paper playing card suits: clubs, hearts, diamond, spades.
This concept alone is fascinating to me – I think it may be a marker to distinguish real artists from hobbyists – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I count myself among those hobbyists. I made a very impressive mobile piece in third grade, but I never thought that it was “art.” I look at my 3rd grade creation as the grade I made (a “B-“) and I see a failure. Anabeth looked at her high school art class creation and saw potential. This is very significant if you take into account that only hyper-realistic drawing was what passed as “art” at the time – especially in the public school system.
Her worst: pottery. She took a pottery class at U of H and was thriller and excited about all her creations… until they came out of the kiln. Pure garbage! Results be damned, “I loved it! But everything I made was just so bad.”
At this stage in her artistic journey, Anabeth has come full-circle, working primarily with fabrics. She still finds time to work in some printmaking, collage and art-quilting, but her current passion draws on her early days of making clothing for her young children. She spends most of her time these days making young girl’s dresses for charities serving underprivileged communities in the US and around the world.
I am in awe of this woman.