What Makes a House a Home

When I learned that March was "Women's History Month" my thoughts immediately turned to my Aunt Sallie and Auntie. While their history may not be known to many, in my family, they are legends. It is their china patterns that appear in so much of my artwork. You may have a painting or a print that includes it, so I thought it would be fun for you to get to know them. But more than that, I want to tell you about the time I took on the mission of recording their history. I hope it will inspire you to do the same.  

"Strawberries" in Aunt Sallie's dish, oil on linen

One summer I took the children on a road trip to Raleigh where my parents grew up. We spent some time with my cousin Jocelyn and her daughter. Jocelyn and I "dragged" the kids around town and and revisited the "family landmarks". (I HIGHLY recommend you do this if you can.) We knocked on doors too! The kids? They chose to sit in the car. But that wasn't going to stop us from this adventure! First we knocked on the door of our Mom's childhood home that our Grandfather built. The gentleman actually answered the door and let us roam the house with camera in hand. The family stories we'd heard sprang to life! Turns out the new owner's wife is a talented interior designer and it was beautiful inside.  Then, we went to see what my family affectionately refers to as "105". It is the house were Aunt Sallie and Auntie lived. My mom's fondest childhood memories were made at their house. She loved them dearly. When my sisters and I were little, Mom would dress us up in our Sunday best (complete with white gloves and scratchy crinoline) and take us to visit 105.

The precious ladies made a huge impression on us. Most obviously, because their home was in the middle of a church parking lot surrounded by downtown Raleigh. It was here like this because Aunt Sallie refused to sell it or move. One big tree gave little shade in the back. There was even a hitching post still standing out front for horses. For a child like me, I was mesmerized to imagine actual horses being "parked" out front. I suppose it was a little like the house in the movie "Up". There's much more to the history of little 105, but I'll save that for a later time. Today the house is fully restored and has been moved to a new location. It is now an attorney's office and he was kind enough to let us come in and share our connection and love for the house. After the trip, I couldn't wait to share the photos we took with my mom! She and I pulled together old photos and then I made a photo book for everyone in the family to have. In it, I combined the old family photos with the new current day photos. But something was bothering me. 

Aunt Sallie and Auntie

Aunt Sallie and Auntie

One thing that struck me was also a concern to my mom. It was the fact that the law office had no record of Aunt Sallie or Auntie. Nothing. He did not know their names or anything about them. No fault of his own of course. But if the house was important to the historical society, so should the ladies be who lived there and made the house a HOME. 

I love history. I love historic preservation. But I witnessed first hand what can happen when the building is valued more than the life that was lived in it. To me, it doesn't matter if you stripped all the layers of exterior paint to get down to what is celebrated to be the original colors if you don't know the names or stories of the people who built it or lived their life within it's walls.

We knew what we had to do. 

We commenced to exchanging emails with the attorney whose office was now there. I spent evenings at my mom's house with my laptop, interviewing her about her childhood memories and about the magic that was "105". Details like where the Christmas tree was placed, who the neighbors had been and even the china patterns they used. We shipped him many photos and probably gave him more stories than he would have wanted. There was no doubt he "knew" Aunt Sallie and Auntie now! My favorite times were when my mom would share a story and say "now don't tell him this but..." .

I strongly encourage you do to this if you  can. Now that my mom has passed, I am so thankful to have these stories in her words. Her voice. Her humor. Sit with your family. Take your laptop or make a video...ask the questions, even if you think you already know the answers.  

Aunt Sallie's dish in lemon painting

Aunt Sallie's dish in an oil lemon painting

Aunt Sallie's dish in my "Bowl of Cherries", available in print

Aunt Sallie's dish in "Squeeze the Day" lemon painting, available in print

I'm sure Aunt Sallie and Auntie never could have imagined that all these years later, their stories would live on. Or even more unusual, that their dishes would be featured in so many of my paintings! What I would give to share all of this with them.

And, just like they did with our crayon drawings, I bet they would have proudly displayed my paintings in dear old "105". 

Note: The photos above that are available art prints featuring their dishes are links to take you to that print pictured. Or you can click here to see all prints available.

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