My Creative Life as Mother and Artist
I have always been an artist. I am 56 years old, a mother of two sons, ages 17 and 21, my truest and best expression of my creativity. Integrating the two, mothering and living a life as an artist, is something I have always managed to do but did not acknowledge it until recently.
I am a mixed-media artist, my most current passion being artistsʼ books. However, I follow many artistic pursuits: photography, interior design, collage, painting, website design and writing.
In the early 1960ʼs, my mom stood in line for hours to enroll me in the best classes available at the Barnsdall Art Center in Hollywood. Mom was an artist and so were her parents and her creative expression took many forms over her lifetime. She went from being a studio censor in the Hollywood film business in the ʻ40ʻs to being a seamstress, painter, interior designer, and, in her later life, an accomplished ceramicist. However, her gift for transforming homes into beautiful, timeless sanctuaries impacted me most significantly. I acquired her love of interiors, remodeling, restoring and adorning spaces and it has been one of my lifelong passions. From her I also inherited a love of art, beauty, and crafts.
My dad, owner of a high-end printing/lithography business, was a fanatic about color properties, inks, half-tones, and his personal style. He frequented a haberdashery in Los Angeles. His wardrobe ranged from meticulously styled suits for the office to crazy, fashionable sportswear for the golf course. From him, I inherited a love of color, an eclectic sense of personal fashion, and an entrepreneurial spirit.
As a child, I was always making something. I would set up “stores” in my bedroom, filled with macaroni necklaces and my 10-year-old paintings. My family would come ʻʻshopping.ʼʼ I drew fashion models during class in elementary school. I made collages from teen fashion magazines and pasted them on the ceiling. My mom taught me to sew, instilling in me a love of textiles and their myriad of uses.
My junior year in college, I had the opportunity to study art and language in Florence, Italy. The year completely changed the course of my life, igniting a passion and love for Italy, art, and antiquities which continue to inform everything that I do to this day.
When I returned from Italy, circumstances led me to creating jewelry and becoming a street artist on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. This was the best business school I could have enrolled in: most of my entrepreneurial lessons came from selling my handmade beaded necklaces on a card table at the Wharf. My business evolved into making fashion jewelry that I wholesaled to stores nationally. I met Rob, who would become my husband, the father of our two boys, and my business partner.
In 1989, Rob and I dissolved our businesses and moved to Portland, Oregon, where we created and opened our first retail store, Urbino, a unique lifestyle store that we filled with beautiful handmade items from all over the world, merchandised in an exquisite Italian villa-like setting.
Our sons were born in the early years of Urbino and the balancing act of running a demanding business and parenting was challenging. I channeled most of my artistic expression during those years into maintaining my creative vision of Urbino, parenting the boys, and developing art programs at their elementary school.
In 2001, I followed my lifelong dream of returning to Italy to live. We packed up our young boys, left the keys to our wonderfully competent Urbino managers and moved for one year to the medieval hill town of Cortona, made famous by Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun. While the kids spent their days in the local elementary school immersed in Italian, Rob and I explored living an Italian life. As a parent and artist, living with the kids in this amazing country, steeped in art, culture and history was phenomenal, and impacted us all in a multitude of ways, not the least of which was the kids learning a second language, and subsequently learning Spanish and French and able to speak all three languages fluently 10 years later. Midway through the year we stumbled upon the opportunity to buy a 500-year-old home. I have spent the past 10 years restoring Casa San Marco and bringing my love of interior design, antiquities, and art to this project, one of my greatest and most satisfying artistic achievements.
Over the years, I have always built a studio wherever I have lived. I have never spent consistent time in these spaces–working until all hours for weeks on an art project then closing the studio door for months. My passions are many and entwined: mothering, Italy, running a business, and art making. I am self-critical for not being a “real artist,” one who has a body of work, a cool website, like the ones I visit online late at night. I see this new generation of DIY moms, who are making art alongside their children, selling their art and seemingly having a well rounded creative life, I wonder how I missed that boat. I buy the fantasy of whatever I see on these blogs and websites and think that these new moms somehow have it figured out in a way that I couldn’t. I never ‘‘found’’ the time to do art with my kids in my studio…a huge regret I have but I have to trust that somehow through the life that we have offered them, they have received the creative gene that they will cultivate as they step into adulthood.
Recently, though, I have come to realize that my whole life is an work of art, with creative expression in all that I do, whether it is a vignette on a side table, an altered book, restoring a home in Italy, my fashion sense, or to being truly present for my kids. There is no separation of art, life and mothering for me: it is all organic and part of a whole. I may not have that ‘‘body of work” that I see online but my acceptance of my life as an artist and mom to date is OK. It is the mixed-media life I create each day that is unique to me.
Stacey Mattraw is a mixed media artist who lives mostly in Portland, Oregon and also part of each year in the medieval hill town of Cortona, Italy. Her passions include art, art making, Italy, and recently yoga. She blogs at I Heard Myself.