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Garage School

by Valerie McCaffrey

“The Atelier”

We are now a reality show, but one that has been twenty years in the making. Actual reality often takes a lifetime, or for smaller projects, slightly less. In our case we have taken four lifetimes; that is, four of our number who haven’t made it to the Atelier stage. Although Eileen, Susan, and Louisa died much too young, painting in the workshop that we call The Garage School played an important role in their all too brief lives.

Then there is Cacky. When she happened upon us painting the first year she said “That looks like fun!” and grabbed some materials and went off by herself to paint on her own, meanwhile marrying, having children, and continuing a career as a Hospice Nurse – until I issued an invitation. She had a talent for primitive painting and was self taught, but she wanted to grow in her art. She was a model student. Otherwise a strong personality, when she arrived for class, she arrived to paint and to learn. She came steadily for three years, then one day when we were breaking up from class, I noticed that her lower lip was drooping on the right side. She had been talking about Lyme disease and not feeling well and I suggested she see a doctor. She did – the next day, and in the evening received a call from her doctor saying she had to see a neurosurgeon immediately. She and her husband received news that everyone dreads: she had brain cancer, and immediate surgery revealed it was mostly inoperable. She fought a good fight for twenty one months, but because as her husband said at her funeral, her opponent didn’t fight fair, she lost. She was my daughter and the minutes and hours she spent in the studio with me and her sister classmates, in which we were teacher and student as well as mother and daughter, made having her as a daughter richer and more memorable than anything we had ever done together. A great gift that came on that summer day when she saw us painting on the porch and said, “that looks like fun.”

Life doesn’t wait. All it takes to make something happen – be it painting or teaching painting or anything else – is an idea and the guts to step out into that idea. As Walt Disney said, “The way to get started is to stop talking and start working.” My students and I know that and every Monday when we convene and start and make art, we make life happen. We are now an Atelier: a workshop of like minded artists who trustingly paint together, share our frustrations and our goals, laugh a lot, drink tea – and are a blessing to each other. Amen.