I decided to paint this moment in my sister Sue Ann’s life in the same style I originally captured it on film with my Instamatic camera just over 45 years ago. The painting is square, slightly out of focus, with a yellowed border as if it sat in a drawer all those years like the actual snapshot.
Sue Ann was copy editor for our high school yearbook, the Robin, for 1971, her senior year. I was the only sophomore on the annual staff. That was a violation of longstanding tradition. They were shorthanded for the Academics Section due to illness. I had submitted a number of poems for the book that demonstrated my talent. I started writing secretly, submitting articles through Sue Ann. A couple of months in, I was publicly accepted, when we had to start doing all-nighters to meet deadlines. Sue Ann was a tough editor. Articles had to be brief, yet packed with stories that would be understandable decades later. She and Janice Eisenhart, editor-in-chief, and Helen Olsen, our adviser, wanted a book that was to be a true time capsule; a reference students and others would be able to read years and decades later and get an accurate picture of the year at RHS. We all worked extremely hard to make that happen. This was before personal computers or word processors. We had to manually print on the layout grids each character of text, accounting for exact pica widths and justification. Then we would ship sections of the book off to the publisher at a time and wait to see how it looked. This painting is of my sister taking her first look at the finished book, the night before it was to be distributed at RHS.
The book won national awards. It received mixed reviews at school. That was OK. We expected that. It was not the usual, school spirit, jock centered, kitschy review of the year. There are no inside jokes or private messages. Forty-five years later, it reads well, and its style does not seem dated. This was a proud moment for Sue Ann, and no small accomplishment.
Sue Ann went on to Concordia College, Moorehead, MN, for a year, then continued at Augsburg in Minneapolis. She had taught me to write, and to be a ruthless self-editor. While at Augsburg, she lived at home. I ended up typing her English Lit. papers, in the wee hours of the morning. I became her editor. Her English prof. was my British Lit. teacher’s husband. They compared notes. One day, Mrs. Wood asked me if Sue Ann helped me with my papers. I told her No, but that I edited hers. However, Sue Ann had taught me how to write, so our styles were indistinguishable. She shared this with Prof. Wood, and reported back that they had a good chuckle over their Chardonnay.
This is in my suicide series of paintings. Sue Ann had started drinking regularly, as well as using various recreational drugs, while at Concordia. Both of our parents and three of our grandparents were alcoholic. Sue Ann got married, had three kids, was a paralegal, then an accountant. She decided to try to do an intervention on our dad to get him treatment for his alcoholism. That’s when she confronted her own. She went into treatment. She and her husband joined AA. She was after everyone to join AA. At some point, in her 40s, she became addicted to gambling. She ended up squandering the family’s resources, and had just separated from her husband and moved into an apartment on her own when she took her own life with a drug cocktail. She was about to be confronted by her boss for embezzling money from his companies. It was the end of November, 2002. She was 49.
She had been a great mom. The great irony here is that she and I were the main, informal suicide hotline counselors when we were in junior and senior high.
Painting is 12″x12″ acrylic on stretched canvas.
Price: $150 including postage to US address