One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

03 April 2013


Today is the birthday of my favorite person…my Mom, Betty StClair Horton.  It seems appropriate to share some "Mom" stories...

Mom is an artist, herself...she met Dad in art school and was a commercial artist after they married.  After kids became a full time job, she kept her hand in the art doing portraits of dogs.  

It was my Mom who really taught me to be an artist.  Dad was busy as a self-employed freelance illustrator and his limited free time was reserved for family trips, working on the farm and family horseback rides.  He would help when he could, but it was Mom who really got me started with my art…

When I was about 10 or 11, Mom was doing a dog portrait for one of her dog show clients.  I copied it and she encouraged me to try selling portraits from life at the dog shows we went to.

She was always there to advise, instruct and encourage.  She set me up with a big box of pastels and velour paper then let me do my thing.  She taught me about color, anatomy, the value of drawing and how to run my little business.  Those years doing portraits from life were the sturdy foundation of my art career.

One night at a Kennel Club meeting I was drawing a Bull Terrier …the owner kept correcting me, "change this, it SHOULD be like that" etc…Mom took me aside and said "you were doing fine, you were drawing his dog as it was…he wanted you to draw it as it should be according to the AKC standard".  One of many invaluable lessons from my best teacher.

Mom taught me business, quietly supporting my work and making sure I had everything I needed for art supplies...while letting me buy more and more of my supplies as my business grew.  She likes to tell of the dog show weekend where she had decided to skip the second day and go home…but, because I had a list of people wanting my $5 dollar portraits, I offered to pay for the motel if we could stay.  Of course she agreed.

We traveled to shows all over the region…usually just Mom and I with the dogs.  It became a running joke that we would always end up in the "wrong" part of the towns we went to.  Mom always made it fun…even as we were locking the doors of the little Honda Civic on a dark street, she would be making jokes.  She may have been scared to death, but I would have never known it.  To this day, I credit her with giving me a sense of humor about even the worst things that happen to me.

My Mom is far and above the most creative person I know…she is creative in every single aspect of her life.

She paints beautifully, sculpts, does stained glass, ceramics and quilts.  Her holiday decorations are a wonder to behold.  She bakes, cans and cooks…her desserts have always been a family holiday favorite.  Her dog knows so many tricks, she makes Newt look like a slacker.

When Dad left stone walls and walkways unfinished at their parting…Mom taught herself how to set stone and finished them so beautifully that you cannot tell where his work ended and hers began.  She built a gorgeous deck off the back of the house…and is a Master Gardner (really, officially, she has a hat to prove it)!.

She has built fences, rewired parts of the house, taught herself plumbing, installed new kitchen cabinets and more.  She knows more about the Home Depot inventory and how to use it than any employee...the guy in the orange aprons either love her, or fear her, lol. She designed and built a chicken house for her "Horde" of hens that looks like something out of a fairy tale…and it is, of course, called the "Horde House".

One of my favorite Mom memories:
When I was a kid we always had chickens of one sort or another.  For a while, we had a flock of Dominigues (pronounced Dominecker...though for years, i called them "Black and Decker" chickens).  We also raised dogs at the time.  Every night the chickens would fly to the trees above the kennels to roost.  Many nights some would miss the trees and crash into the dog kennels.  If they were lucky, we'd find them alive in the morning, often snuggled with a sweet dog in the dog house).  Some were not so lucky and landed with a dog who did not appreciate the company.  One of these hens survived her mauling...she had been mostly plucked and her neck torn open.  Mom scooped her up, sat on the front porch with a needle and thread and sewed her head back on.  When she turned the little hen loose, she wandered off...looking straight up at the sky.  Mom had sewed her head on crooked.  So, she recaptured the little hen, pulled her stitches and sewed her head back on straight.  "Air Conditioner", as she was named after that did quite well for a long time...then one night she missed the tree again.

By the way...she can load a Miata like some people load a truck...all she needs are some ratchet straps!

When she came to Montana last Summer, we put her on a horse and she helped my friends Bill and Julie drive cows.  Not a single hint of complaint passed her lips...and the ear to ear grin never left her face.

Then there is her wicked sense of humor…at one point the farm was graced by "Emu-lou Harris" (the emu), "Patsy Swine" the pot-bellied pig, "Minnie Curls" and "Woolie Nelson" (the sheep).

You cannot do ANYthing with Mom and not end up laughing.

One Spring Mom found an abandoned bunny nest.  She carefully set broken chicken eggs in the nest and lined them with bunny fur...then called my Grandmother to come see.  My Grandmother exclaimed "I never knew bunnies came from eggs!"

When, just days before a visit to me in Vermont, the cat tripped her and sent her face first down the basement stairs…she made a delightfully illustrated T-Shirt that said "the cat did it" to wear on the plane to explain her black eye…and then laughed when she still got searched.

She has come to many of my shows, was there after my son died and during my cancer surgery, she gathered my friends to make a cancer quilt (pictured above), she has helped me move, been unwaveringly supportive of every crazy thing I have done (and the sane ones too) and she has been a shoulder to lean on (or cry on) more times than I can count.  

Last, but not least, there is her great heart.  She is the simply the most kind and generous person I know (no, I am not biased in the least).

I love you, Mom...and am still hoping I grow up to be just like you!!  Happy Birthday!!