Thursday, April 11, 2013

Art and Storm Recovery

First they said the storms would hit our area around ten p.m., then, right at bedtime they changed it to two a.m. and said we were under a tornado watch. How does one keep an eye on the sky at that time of the night? I went to bed and took my chances.

It still hadn't rained by the time I got up this morning, but the weatherman said the thunderstorm would get here soon and it would be severe. I took the dogs outside to let them run for a while before the weather turned bad. The wind was kicking up quite a bit, and the air felt as hot and muggy as a mid-summer day. We went back in the house and waited.

Around noon it started raining. There wasn't much force behind the rain, but the temperature had dropped in double digits. I wondered, is this all there is, or is this just the beginning? I needed to know, because the new series of art classes was set to begin at one o'clock, and I had to decide whether to take a chance that I might be on the road in hazardous conditions or just stay home in case my roof and/or my dogs started to blow away. At the last minute I went to class.

I'm glad I did. There were 13 people enrolled in the first series of classes. This time around there are only five, all of us from the first group. Two of the five are women I've been meaning to tell you about. I asked their permission, and they said I could share their story.

This is not the first time these ladies have taken art courses. They knew each other when they both lived in New Orleans, and they painted together there. In 2005 they both spent part of a late-August day preparing for an art exhibit. They took all the paintings they'd done to the exhibit venue, where they matted them, framed them, and hung them for the next day's show. The show never happened, because Hurricane Katrina arrived the next day, wiping out most of the Crescent City, destroying their homes and their neighborhoods, uprooting their families, washing away every trace of their artwork.

Like many other people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, those two ladies ended up here, in a small town outside Baton Rouge. That was eight years ago. They hadn't painted since then until February of this year when the first round of Acrylic Exploration classes began. "I forgot how," one of the ladies explained. "I couldn't remember anything I'd ever learned about painting. My mind was just a blank."

It was those women I was thinking about when I decided to go to class today. I was pretty sure a little rain and thunder wouldn't keep them away, and I was right. They were both there, both smiling, both with their own lovely versions of the almost rotten peaches we'd been assigned to paint. Every time I see their beautiful work, I remember their story. The trauma of a hurricane may have erased the "how-to-paint" instructions from their brains, but I can assure you they're relearning it in leaps and bounds.

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