The Artist’s Spirit

Greetings fellow story lovers,

A friend who wrote and illustrated children’s books, Marsha Dunlap, died after a long battle with cancer. One of the first times I met Marsha was during a blinding snowstorm. A small group of us had rented a bed and breakfast and hired an award winning author, Marion Dane Bauer, to critique our work and share writing techniques. Despite the weather, we were not going to miss this opportunity.
My friend Eileen and I drove together, peering through the whiteout at the unfamiliar roads. We shook our heads. We’re crazy, we both agreed. Schools had closed early, the radio reported the state patrol had shut down the interstate, and the author’s plane was delayed. Our writing was important, but was it worth risking our lives? I squinted to help Eileen figure out what was a road and what was a ditch. We kept going, bucking through mounting drifts.
We pulled into the bed and breakfast’s driveway, white-knuckled and shaken. We found out Marsha had called and was also struggling to plow through the drifts.
Throughout history, many people have felt a powerful drive to pursue their art, whether it’s dance, music, painting, or writing. Native Americans sometimes worked eighteen-hour days just to survive, yet managed to grab a moment to create beautiful beadwork or baskets. Pioneer women, with work-worn hands, squinted in the candlelight stealing moments to cut leftover fabric and design a kaleidoscope of colors for their quilts. Why?
Is it that we long to set ourselves apart by our individual gifts? Or do we hope to bring joy to others? Maybe it’s our desire to pass something of ours onto the next generation. Or is it our longing to find beauty in an imperfect world?
Back at the bed and breakfast, the phone rang. Marsha was lost and the owner ventured out to help. After a tense fifteen minutes, we heard the cars pull in.  Marsha flung the door open, snow dusting her colorful cap and scarf. “I made it!” Like a tiger’s eye gem, her eyes sparked with warmth and fire. I would notice that same vibrancy in all the years I was privileged to know her.

Marsha Dunlap

The last time I saw Marsha she looked shrunken, but the spark and passion were still there. She told the writing group who met at her home that she’d spent a few minutes painting. I know my mouth dropped. Here she was, having to deal with all the pain and grief of preparing to leave this world, and she had spent time in her studio.
Why do people go to such extraordinary lengths to create?  Marsha’s work was an essential part of who she was, as necessary as water, breath, and sunshine.  Her memory lives on as a testament of a person’s drive to create lasting beauty.
Storysharer would love to hear testaments about other people who have gone to great lengths for their art.

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