Reaching out for the beautiful

· Activity,Books,Creativity,Beauty

If you know anything about me, you may know how much I have learned from Elizabeth Payson Prentiss. Elizabeth lived from 1818 to 1878 - a short 59 years. She was a pastor's wife, a teacher, an author of about 25 books, the mother to 6 children (4 of whom survived infancy), a poet, a hymn-writer, and an encourager of women. She was a sufferer of insomnia and other health issues. And she's been something of a mentor to me. Most of what I've gleaned about her is through the biography her husband, Dr. George Lewis Prentiss, wrote after her death (More Love to Thee: The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss) - a hefty book of almost 600 pages. It took that much to sum up her life, quoting from letters, journals, and family and acquaintances. I commend it to you!

Several years ago, one of my daughters implored my other daughter and me to start a painting group. We called it The Three Brawds. We gathered what supplies we had - most of which were old, used children's art supplies that had been tucked away for years. And we started drawing and painting - each Brawd with her own style (or lack thereof!). We each gradually invested in sketchbooks and pencils and pens and watercolor sets. BEWARE: art supply stores can be dangerous places!

It's hard to describe the satisfaction we Brawds have in doing art together. In person or via FaceTime. Chatting as we work. It's more about being together than doing great works of art. And we each have come to make time to draw and paint on our own.

I have been so helped by this hobby. I don't even know the right word for it because it's more than a hobby. It's made me be still. To pause. To look more carefully. To wonder about light and the shadows it makes. To try to capture the shades of shadows. To take colors apart. To experiment with how colors and textures can be conveyed by pencil and paint. How multi-dimensions can be preserved on flat paper. I am not a proficient by any means. But I know it's not about the product but about the process. And the process is good for my soul.

Recently, I re-read portions of George's biography of his beloved Lizzie and was reminded about her learning to paint - in her late 50s! And then I came across the letter her painting teacher, Julia Kempson, wrote to George after her death. Part of it recounts Elizabeth saying: “This is what I have had a craving for all my life. There has always been a want unsupplied; I knew not what it was; but now I know. It was a reaching out for the beautiful. Look at my white hair and tell me if it would be possible for me to learn." Then Julia goes on to describe Elizabeth as having real talent - that out of the hundreds of students she had had, Elizabeth had made "the most progress."* Sadly, I've not been able to find any photos of Elizabeth's artwork. If she lived now, her social media might have some! I'm trusting her family has them displayed or safely stored in the Prentiss home in Dorset, Vermont.

I'm not suggesting you take up art, but I am exhorting you to reach out for the beautiful. It might be through writing, or cooking, or gardening, or photography, or sewing, or composing, or carpentry. There is much that is beautiful within your sight; within your grasp. Go after it - even if you are white-haired. Or especially if you are!

* Dr. George Lewis Prentiss. More Love to Thee: The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss. (New York: Calvary Press, 1994), 428. (Originally published by Anson D. F. Randolph & Company: New York, 1883)

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