Except sagebrush. It thrives.
Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) cover the hills, the prairies, and the mountains. The wind, the sun, and the lack of moisture do not intimidate these shrubs. They've lost neither the battles nor the war that has been waged on them for decades by rangeland managers, armed with chemicals and a zealous hate for the stubborn brush.
These scrappy little shrubs pepper the land, giving it a rough, rugged look. The pale blue-green leaves fragrance the air the few times it rains. This smell brings me back immediately to those wild delights of my childhood, of my bare shoulders in the blazing sun and my feet landing confidently on the hills as I ran and explored. My longing for this distinct smell brought me to tears more than once when I lived in Washington, DC. Now, this smell makes my heart swell every time I step out my door first thing in the morning, the air perfumed by the dew and sagebrush.
Some of my favorite memories are of my sisters and I scampering across the hills. We'd spend our summers leaping over sagebrush in pursuit of tiny lizards or wild skunks, our feet stirring up dust from the utterly dry dirt. My father loves to tell the story of me fishing as a young girl: I’d get so wound up when I caught a fish that I’d run through the sagebrush with my fishing pole firmly in my grasp, instead of reeling the line in. I’d tangle fishing line through the shrubs for yards and yards. The smile and laughter that accompanies this story makes me think my father didn’t mind untangling that line.
I didn’t realize how much this landscape—and the elements that define it—was a part of me until I left it. Don’t get me wrong: the heavy, swampy musk of DC brought thrills of its own. But nothing was quite like the smell and presence of the sagebrush.
Ms. Pershin was my favorite teacher in elementary school. She was the art teacher, and she always critiqued my little art projects with such enthusiasm. I still remember how proud, and simultaneously humbled, I felt when she selected my watercolor landscape for display in the school showcase.
My mother encouraged and facilitated my love for art with equal enthusiasm as Ms. Pershin. She never insisted that I learn to cook, help her in the kitchen, or that I fold the family’s laundry (hence why I had to teach myself to boil water and why my clothes are perpetually wrinkled). Instead, she bought me my first set of oil paints when I was about 11 years-old. When I was 14 years-old, she bought me my easel that I still have today. The money for that easel wasn’t easy to come by, and it proclaimed her belief and commitment in me. She never trivialized my love for art; instead she spent countless hours with me as I agonized over improving my paintings. I am certain that she never saw the minute difference I made to the paintings, one viewing to the next. But she always gave me her full attention.
My father still encourages me to move forward with my art, and it is his own work ethic that taught me perseverance. He’s never doubted me, or wished me to be anything but what I am.
As one of only three females pursuing a BFA in Art in college, I became enamored with Art History. I would dream about paintings the nights before exams in my survey courses. To this day I remember waking up trying to remember the date the ceiling fresco of the Camera degli Sposi in the Room of the Newlyweds was painted. (It was 1474, by Andrea Mantegna.) I discovered that a regular yellow—not neon yellow—highlighter seared dates and characteristics of paintings and periods into my mind better than any other. Suddenly, the texts in my U.S. and World History classes came alive as I imagined the artists I loved painting and sculpting their experiences.
I suppose I just needed a history book with pictures.
It was in my art history classes that I discovered Artemisia Gentileschi. She painted scenes that were not for the faint of heart. She painted bravely. She employed Caravaggio’s manner of dramatic lighting, and her figures were accurate, animated, and exquisite. She was not sequestered away, painting flowers in her bedchambers. Her Judith Beheading Holofernes features a Judith with strong arms and hands, who might not relish the task at hand, but whose face clearly communicates her resolve, no matter how messy. She leans into her work, to finish it properly. Artemisia painted women who were stong and persevered, regardless of their circumstances.
Compare that to Caravaggio's painting, where Judith stands far away, her hand hardly holding on to the man whose head she is cutting off, her arms tender, not strong. I mean, really?
I’ve been trying to decide for a couple of weeks now what my online moniker should be. T. seemed kind of, well, not quite what I wanted.
Artemisia. That’s it.