My Life as a Famous Artist
YOU may have seen a painting of a wistful child with unusually large and sad-looking eyes. Quite likely, it was one I painted. Sad to say, I was as unhappy as the children I painted.
I grew up in the southern part of the United States in the region often referred to as the “Bible Belt.” Perhaps it was this environment, or my Methodist grandmother, that instilled in me a deep respect for the Bible, although I knew very little about it. I grew up believing in God, but with a lot of unanswered questions.
As a sickly child, often alone and very shy, I developed an early talent for drawing. An inquisitive nature led me to wonder about the purpose of life, why we are here, why there are pain, sorrow and death, and if God is good. Always “Why?”
These questions, I believe, were later reflected in the eyes of my paintings of children and, in part, account for their worldwide appeal. The eyes, always the focal point, were often described as “soulful.” They seemed to reflect the spiritual alienation of most people today—their longing for something beyond what this system offers.
My road to popularity in the art world was a rocky one. There were two wrecked marriages and much mental anguish along the way. Controversies surrounding my private life and the authorship of my paintings resulted in international wire stories, lawsuits, front-page pictures and even headlines. For many years I had allowed my second husband to take credit for my paintings. But one day, unable to continue the deception any longer, I left him and my home in California and moved to Hawaii. After a period of depression and very little painting, I began trying to rebuild my life and later married again.
One turning point came in 1970 when a newspaper reporter arranged a televised “paint-out” between me and my former husband, to be held in San Francisco’s Union Square to establish the authorship of the paintings. I was the only one to show up and accept the challenge. Life magazine covered this event in an article that corrected a previous erroneous story that attributed the paintings to my former husband.
My part in the deception had lasted for twelve years and is one that I will always regret. However, it taught me the value of being truthful and that neither fame, love, money nor anything else is worth a bad conscience.
I still had questions about life and God and they led me to search in strange and dangerous places for answers. I investigated the occult, astrology, palmistry, and even handwriting analysis, looking for answers. My love for art led me to investigate many ancient cultures and their philosophies, which were reflected in their art. I read volumes on Eastern philosophy, and even tried transcendental meditation.
My spiritual hunger led me to look into the various religious beliefs of people who came into my life. On both sides of my family and among my friends I came in contact with various Protestant religions besides that of the Methodists, including those of Christian Scientists, Mormons, Lutherans and Unitarians. When I married my present husband, a Catholic, I seriously investigated that religion. I still found no satisfactory answers—always there were contradictions—and always there was something missing.
With this exception (not having answers to life’s important questions), my life had finally started straightening out. I had achieved just about everything I ever wanted. Most of my time was being spent in doing what I loved to do best—painting children (mostly little girls) with the big eyes. I had a wonderful husband and a fine marriage, a lovely daughter and financial security, and I lived in my favorite spot on earth—Hawaii. But at times I wondered why I was not completely satisfied, why I smoked so much and occasionally drank too much and why I was so tense. I did not realize how self-centered my life had become in my pursuit of personal happiness.
The Unexpected Change
Jehovah’s witnesses came often, every couple of weeks, to my door, but I rarely took their literature or paid much attention to them. Little did I realize that in due time one knock on my door would drastically change my life. That particular morning two Oriental women, one Chinese and the other Japanese, appeared on my doorstep. Sometime prior to their coming, my daughter had shown me an article about the sabbath being Saturday, not Sunday, and about the importance of observing it. It had made such an impression on both of us that we started attending the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I had even stopped painting on Saturday, thinking it was a sin to do so. So when I asked one of these women at my door which day was the sabbath, I was surprised that she answered “Saturday.” So I asked, “Why don’t you observe it?”
Ironic, wasn’t it, that I, a Caucasian, raised in the “Bible Belt,” should be seeking information from two Orientals who were probably reared in a non-Christian environment?
She opened a well-worn Bible and read directly out of it scriptures that explained why Christians no longer are required to observe the sabbath or the various other features of the Mosaic law, why the sabbath law was given, and about the future Sabbath of 1,000 years.
Her knowledge of the Bible impressed me so deeply that I wanted to look further into the Bible for myself. I gladly accepted the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, which she said would explain the basic doctrines of the Bible. The next week when the women returned, my daughter and I began studying the Bible regularly. It was one of the most important decisions of my life and led to dramatic changes in the lives of both of us.
In this study of the Bible my first and biggest hurdle was the Trinity. Since I believed that Jesus was God, part of a Trinity, having that belief suddenly challenged was like having a rug pulled out from under my feet. It was frightening. Because my belief could not hold up in the light of what I was reading in the Bible, I suddenly felt a deeper aloneness than I had ever experienced before. I did not know whom to pray to and was besieged with doubts, even about there being a God at all.
Gradually I was convinced from the Bible that the Almighty God is Jehovah, the Father (not the Son), and as I studied I began to rebuild my shattered faith, this time on the true foundation. But as my knowledge and faith began to grow, pressures began to mount. My husband threatened to leave me, and other close family members were extremely upset. As I began to see the requirements of being a true Christian, I looked for a way out because I did not think I could ever witness to strangers or go from door to door to talk to others about God.
My daughter, who was now studying in a nearby town, was progressing much faster. Her progress, in fact, became another obstacle to me. She believed so completely in what she was learning that she wanted to work toward becoming a missionary. Visions of my only child in a far-off country frightened me, and I decided that I must protect her from doing something so drastic. So I began to search for a flaw. I felt that if I could find something this organization was teaching that was not backed up by the Bible I could convince my daughter.
With my knack for details the search was thorough. I ended up acquiring over ten different translations of the Bible, three concordances and many other Bible dictionaries and reference books to supplement books from the library. I received a strange “help” from my husband, who often brought home books and booklets that were derogatory to the Witnesses. I pored over them, carefully weighing everything they said. But I never found the flaw.
Instead, the falsity of the Trinity doctrine, as well as the fact that the Witnesses know and make known the name of the Father, the true God, also their love for one another and their strict adherence to the Scriptures, convinced me that I had found the true religion. I could not help but be deeply impressed by the contrast between Jehovah’s witnesses and the other religions on the matter of finances.
In time, my daughter and I were baptized, together with about forty others, on August 5, 1972, in the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean—a day I will never forget. She has now moved back home so she can devote her full time to service as a Witness here in Hawaii. My husband is still with us and even marvels at the changes in both of us.
From Sad Eyes to Bright Eyes
Since my dedicating my life to Jehovah, there have been many changes in my life. One of the first was that I stopped smoking. I actually lost the desire and the need. This was a habit of twenty-two years, averaging a pack or more a day. I had tried desperately to break the habit because I knew it was harmful but had found it impossible. As my faith grew, the scripture at 2 Corinthians 7:1 proved to be the more powerful incentive. With the help of Jehovah through prayer and my believing his promise at Malachi 3:10, the habit was finally and completely broken. Amazingly, I had no withdrawal symptoms or any discomfort!
Other changes were deep psychological transformations in my personality. From a very shy, insecure, introverted and self-absorbed person who sought and needed long hours of solitude in which to paint and relax from my tensions, I became a much more gregarious, outgoing person. I now find myself spending many hours doing what I used to hate to do—talking to people—and loving every minute of it!
Another change has been that I spend only about a fourth of the time I formerly spent painting, and yet, amazingly, I accomplish almost the same amount of work. Too, sales and comments indicate that the paintings are getting even better. Painting used to be almost an obsession with me. I was driven to paint because it was my therapy, escape and relaxation—my life completely revolved around it. I still enjoy it immensely, but the addiction to it and dependency on it are gone. Since my growing in knowledge of Jehovah, the Source of all creativity, it is no wonder that the quality of my paintings has increased as the time of execution has decreased.
Now most of my former painting time is spent in God’s service, studying the Bible, teaching others and attending the five Bible study meetings at the Kingdom Hall each week. During the past two and a half years, eighteen people have started studying the Bible with me. Eight of these persons are now actively studying, one is ready to be baptized, and another has been baptized. From among their families and friends, thirteen more started studying with other Witnesses. It has been a great joy and privilege to have a part in helping others to come to know Jehovah.
It was not easy in the beginning to give up any of my cherished solitude, my own routine of life and a lot of my painting time, and put Jehovah’s will first, before anything else. But I was willing to try and, through prayer and relying on Jehovah’s help, I found that every step of the way was made easier and was rewarded. Proof of his approval and help almost overwhelmed me—not only in spiritual blessings but in many material ones as well.
As I look back on my life, my first oil painting, done when I was about eleven years old, now seems quite significant. It was two versions of the same little girl—the one in the background was sad, with tears in her eyes; the one in the foreground had bright smiling eyes. In the past, the symbolic large, sad eyes I painted mirrored the puzzling contradictions I saw in the world around me, and which raised in me so many questions. Now I have found in the Bible the reasons for the contradictions about life that once tormented me, as well as the answers to my questions.
After my gaining accurate knowledge of God and his purpose for mankind, it led me to the real security of having God’s approval and the inner peace and happiness that go with it. This is being reflected in my paintings to a degree that others even detect it. The sad, lost look of the large eyes is giving way now to a happier look. My husband even named one of my recent happy big-eyed children “The Eye Witness”!—Contributed.