Feb 08  |  Rebecca Dempsey

Her first piece of art is a statuette, intended as a gift. Crafted over long hours in class, by unsure hands, this figure grew. Evolved. A squat, rectangular body, ungainly long limbs, a head. Crafted from a gloopy mess of bits of sodden paper, it didn’t look like the statue she imagined, but the girl kept going. Layers built up, even as she longed for something beautiful to spring from her fumbling efforts. She pictured her creation under a warm glowing spotlight, radiating wonder like a museum piece. Much later, she realised what she wanted, and still wants, is a piece worthy of veneration. But back then, as a child, clumsy and untrained, her ambitions for this project fought against her attempts to fuse and shape bits of old newspaper and glue that left her hands and clothes ink-stained and sticky. The dream superseded the tools and her ability. The statue, with time running out, was partly painted and variously stuck with unevenly cut snippets of garish cloth, odd broken buttons, and a scrap of felt already worn at the edges as its hat. The work was barely dry before it was brought home.

Her mother, in receipt of this masterpiece on her birthday, or perhaps Mother’s Day, barked a laugh and announced it the ugliest thing she’d ever seen. Her daughters’ tears had already threatened the integrity of the work, before her mother held it up, beaming, eyes crinkled as she posed for a photo. She loved it, she declared. Her daughter, lip trembling, red faced, puzzled at this. Mother loved it?

Her mother paused, and looked at her daughter: You made it for me. How could I not love it?

The girl’s apology died on her breath. Vibrating with unexpressed trepidation as she was, her mother’s words skittered and failed to settle. The girl couldn’t translate her frustration into an explanation, in the same way she hadn’t transformed her artistic vision into physical reality, and so nothing else made sense either. She bit her tongue and silently left the vast cavern of her disappointment unexplored. It was a long time before she attempted to create again, despite her mother’s unexpected gratitude.

Despite her misgivings, this papier mâché monstrosity haunted her mother’s bedside table. It likely kept nightmares at bay, and demons too. Unable to look at its grotesquery, it seemed a shadow, a charade of her efforts, as it crumbled and mouldered away over the years.

Decades on, with both statue and her mother unto to dust returned, the girl is grown, and with hindsight only time and art appreciation can offer, understands all art is but an echo of the artist’s call to create, whatever their level of skill. She struggles to recollect the statue she made, naïve and gaudy, but manifested with determination and generosity. She knows, now, that to cherish things made with such love is the gift she was given by her mother. And, her mother had told her this, but it hadn’t mattered then, yet intention, perhaps, is the only thing the matters. So, she counts this vanished work her first successful creation, because it wasn’t in vain, despite the unrealistic expectations placed upon it by a 10-year-old.

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