John-Wayne-Mother has finally finished examining stacks of giant wallpaper books. “This is the pattern I want.” Her voice is fast and firm. She glows with her passion for this project.
“If I continue the wallpaper above the picture molding all the way to the ceiling it will make the ceiling look higher than it is already.” Her gesture encompasses the nine foot ceilings in our house.
She continues to describe with vivid images and flowing hands what she loves about the chosen paper and what she is intending to create with her house project.
I listen quietly while thinking about last month when she assigned me to paint the heavy wooden bathroom door.
Painting with Oils
“You are 11-years-old now and I believe you are ready to paint the woodwork.” She looks me directly in the eyes while she tells me her assessment of my capabilities. “What you need to understand about the woodwork and the door is they are painted with oil paint.” She raises one slim dark brow and watches me closely to be sure I am understanding her.
I nod once affirming that I remember.
“You remember when we painted your room last year and you got to do the walls?” She quirks both eyebrows up as she asks for this second affirmation of understanding.
I nod again and listen while she tells me again about the differences between oil and latex paint.
I do remember. I had been waiting to be allowed to feel this special paint. I loved painting the walls in my room.
‘How is John-Wayne-Mother’s paint different?’ Curiosity thrummed quietly in the back of my mind as we worked together on my room last year.
I notice the oil paint bites my nose with a deep richness the latex paint doesn’t approach.
Excitement surges thru my body to hear I am at last going to know for myself the sensation of this paint. Paint I had to be “old enough” to be permitted to touch.
Finally, she finishes explaining the rules for working with this medium and sets me to my task. She says my job is to put a new coat of oil paint on the bathroom door and door frame using Antique White. I am to paint white on white.
“Now, as you work at the edge of the doorframe and the wall,” she finishes her instructions by saying, “watch carefully to keep a straight line. Professional house painters use a special blue painter’s tape, but that stuff is expensive. You don’t need it.”
She sounds confident in my ability to do this job freehand.
Mother leaves me to work on the door while she goes to work in the next room. I can see her through the doorway, near enough to call if I have a problem and far enough to give me space to do the job she has assigned.
I love that she trusts me to do real work like this and I love that she believes I am ready to handle the more complex oil paint.
I do the prep work and then start painting. The oil paint feels heavier somehow than the latex I have used before. It glides across itself with a thick slipperiness that I can feel through the brush.
I start realizing something very quickly. At first, the brush leaves a set of lines clearly visible. Later, when the paint starts to partially dry, I can gently smooth out all the brush strokes. It feels like buffing with a paint brush.
I love the sensual experience of the oil touching itself. I find myself fascinated watching the lines of the brush disappear. I love the visual concentration of focusing so completely on a tiny section of surface and making it perfectly smooth.
The entire world fades into the background as I hold the work before me. I can see John-Wayne-Mother working in the next room out of the corner of my eye.
As I am working on the new layer of white paint I think in a quiet internal voice. “I wish we could use color. There are so many beautiful colors in the world and we always use white.”
I polish the brush strokes completely smooth.
I focus on cutting-in free-hand.
I wish we had more doors that need painting.
Murals by the Stage
Now, a month later, we are working in the living room. The project is wallpaper.
My heart sinks as I listen to her explain about the wallpaper project and how it will mean we do not have to repaint all the time.
I love painting and I know that I cannot paint pictures.
“I love the pattern on this one” Mother is stroking the delicate braid of vines climbing the wallpaper sample.
I think about our Assembly Hall, where Witnesses meet in groups of more than 1000, and the two giant murals bracketing the stage. We usually sit in the front row on the right-hand side of the auditorium. It is a spot which places us directly before the figures, animal, human, and plant, climbing through the story of the Bible.
I love the beautiful imagery and frequently gaze deeply into the painting as I sit quietly listening to the Brother Speaking from the Platform for manymany hours.
My eyes are drawn repeatedly into sliding slowly over the bodies of Adam and Eve, both living in the Paradise, and being driven out. The majestic lion who lounges easily next to a happy toddler. The giant tree with a serpent coiling through its wide spread of branches.
The images irresistibly pull my attention again and again.
I know I am not allowed to paint pictures though because the last time we were at the Assembly Hall I asked John-Wayne-Mother about the painter of the murals.
We are sitting, as usual, directly in front of one of the giant paintings.
I gather my courage and ask her, “What about a painter. Could I be a painter? Like the person who painted these murals at the Assembly Hall.”
Frowning slightly, she says, “No, there is really no place to be an artist in the Organization. The person who painted these pictures was a well-known artist before she became a Witness. She was allowed to paint these pictures because she already had the skills and practice of her craft before she Dedicated her Life to God. She was given special permission to do this project when we built this Assembly Hall. The rest of the art work the Organization uses is done by men at Bethal.”
A True Christian,” she continued, “does not waste time on frivolous or Worldly pursuits. It is vital we keep all of our focus trained on God’s Will. It is a waste of precious time for you to think about art. You must focus on the Preaching Work.”
“Plus,” she continues, “the art world is full of Wicked Influences. Worldly artists are dangerous in their thinking and in their pushing of social boundaries. They often push for social change, away from God’s Righteous Will for us.”
“There is no opportunity for you to be an artist. It is best you forget about it.” She concludes with finality.
With this conversation fresh in my mind I know my only chance to paint is if we do the walls. John-Wayne-Mother is saying she doesn’t want to paint the walls anymore.
Two weeks later the wallpaper rolls arrive. I watch John-Wayne-Mother pull out roll after thick roll of the heavy gold patterned paper.
I see her excitement as she begins gathering her tools for this job.
John-Wayne-Mother lays the rolls out, one at a time, on the long farmhouse kitchen table. Her strong hands precise in measuring and cutting long strips from the rolls using a 3’ ‘L’-shaped metal ruler.
John-Wayne-Mother’s small square hands fly in a dazzlingly complex series of steps. Charlie Pride’s soulful voice winds through the wooden ladder as she perches nimbly at the very top. She carefully aligns the wet gooey back edge of the paper where the ceiling and wall meet and smooths it flat to the surface.
I watch as she works all day and late into the night for three days draping the living room in these long, patterned sheets.
I love watching the smooth skill John-Wayne-Mother brings to her work.
I mourn my loss of paint.