Sunday, January 20, 2019

Art Workshops and Mary Oliver

Pathways 4  12x24"  Oil on paper on panel  ©2019 Janice Mason Steeves

To begin each day in my painting workshops, I do a short mindfulness meditation to bring our focus into the studio, into the workshop. And then I read a poem. Words that might inspire. Poems that might, in the words of John O'Donohue, "create an invisible cloak to mind your life".

My workshops are filled with women (mostly) who are generally between 55 and 75. The Boomer Generation. These are women who have worked as teachers, nurses, doctors, professors, engineers and who are now retired or near the end of their careers. Many are also mothers of grown children. And grandmothers. They've come to art later in life and are ready for a second career, finally able to follow their hearts to discover their creativity. But still, many are tied to their roles as mothers and grandmothers and find it difficult, as women do, to allow themselves space and time where they are not nurturers and caregivers. Time for themselves, for their creativity. 

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~ Mary Oliver ~ 
(Dream Work) 

Pathways 1  12x18"  Oil on paper on panel  ©2019 Janice Mason Steeves

I read Mary Oliver's poems in every one of my workshops. Her words are so accessible and go straight to the heart of our lives. I was saddened by the news of her death this week, but I celebrate the great gift of words she left us.
And on the afternoon of the last day of the workshop, Mary Oliver asks in her poem,
The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

May Mary Oliver's words continue to encourage, inspire and cover you with an invisible cloak to mind your life.

Pathways 2   12x24" oil on paper on panel  ©2019 Janice Mason Steeves


  1. OMG this is a beautiful post Janice. A beautiful tribute to a woman who has had a profoud effect on so many around the woTld. The paintings that you have chosen to illustrate are full of air and blue, Mary Oliver kind of paintings. My heart soars after reading her words in your post. thank you xo

  2. How wonderful that you begin your workshop days like that! Lovely post and wonderful work!

  3. So lovely, Janice. I wasn't familiar with Mary Oliver's poetry so I thank you for this post, and, the beauty of your art. Best regards, Sylvia.

    1. Hi Sylvia, I keep discovering new Mary Oliver poems even though I feel like I've read them all. She left us a treasure trove.