Once upon a grocery store I met an artist who paints what she sees: meet Lorna Anderson
Once upon a grocery store, a man came to me and said, “I love your haircut.” Beside him was a woman, smiling her delight at maybe my hair (now that I know she was a hair stylist I sort of doubt it)—more likely her adoration of her man, who saw something he liked and did not hesitate to gladden a stranger’s heart by saying so. And this is how Peter and I met Lorna Anderson, the artist who would, six years later, paint my portrait, and her husband Gary, a sculptor. We did not exchange contact information. Peter and I hurtled along with our lives and, as we would later learn, so did Lorna and Gary. If it were not for Lorna and Gary watching Kelsie Moore and Sally Schaum’s PBS film The Gerda That Remains this past February, and Lorna contacting Kelsie saying she’d been moved by the documentary, and that she’d love to paint my portrait as a gift, and Kelsie passing the message on to me, we’d never have known that when we met them six years earlier, Lorna had yet to sign up for her very first oil painting class.
A week ago, we had a gathering with our children and grandchildren as well as representatives of our made-in-America family to honor Lorna and to unveil the portrait. Given that my dementia has reduced me to a place where I can no longer able to complete even the smallest task despite a step-by-step to-do list that I either lose or fail to follow or forget to consult, no gathering would have been possible without Peter’s meticulous planning of the food, drinks, tables, chairs, tablecloths, plates and so on—you get it—and our children and grandchildren’s help. Leaving Peter and me free to talk to our guests, Marissa, Newton, Adam, Kanye, and Dante (Cheryl and Aliya were at Cheryl’s sisters and their daughters’ yearly “girls only weekend”) set up everything, served the food, and generally performed the hosts’ duties. Even my sister-in-law, Sandi, who still has trouble walking and gripping after a stroke some years ago, helped clean up! My friend Lynne Butler raided her own rose garden and acquired many other to beautify our apartment’s party room. On top of that—Lynne, herself a painter and writer, agreed to give an interpretive appreciation of Lorna’s painting not only for our blind friend, but also for all of us who do not know the perils of portrait painting or the art historical connections to be drawn from a work of art. I assure you that you, my readers, will know all about the painting—and see it unveiled—by the end of this post. But first, I would love to tell you the backstory. In between, you will see some of Lorna’s earlier paintings and read quotes from Lynne’s presentation. I am so grateful for the help and care of my family and made-in-America family, who continue to enrich my smaller but-even-more abundantly-filled-with-love world as a dementer. “The Family is All There Is.”
The selection from Lorna’s oeuvre that you’ll see below shows that she frequently paints from family- and other photographs from her childhood or even earlier. Lynne reflects that we, too, “live in an age where people are enraptured with taking and looking at photographs, but—and this is fairly new—we are in a time in which people seem eager to make themselves a photograph. [In your paintings, Lorna], I see that you’ve chosen people caught in an unprepossessing moment. The young mother in her 50s swing skirt stooping down to stop a toddler’s fall.”
A Helping Hand, Lorna Anderson, Oil.
While Lorna had not yet painted in oil when we first met, I would learn (after responding to her note that Kelsie forwarded) that she was not a stranger to the visual arts. She had been drawing from the moment she could hold a crayon. She particularly loved faces, to which she added elaborate hair and other headgear. She also adorned her figures’ bodies with elaborate, detailed clothing. Once, after crayoning a head dress in gold lamé, she felt it that it was missing an important feature: she got hold of some of her mother’s beads and tried to glue them onto the gold. Sadly the glue would not stick to the waxy surface. In junior high and high school she took art classes. Her teachers recognized her talent. A school friend asked for a watercolor of her mother. Someone else requested a painting of her house. Suddenly everybody wanted paintings of their houses. More portraits too. After high school, she took a two-week all-day art class at Utah State, where a classmate became the first ever person she got to know other than herself who also just had to make art. Realizing that desiring to make art was a way of being in which she was not alone, changed her life.
Cake, Lorna Anderson, Oil. In another example of an “unprepossessing moment,” Lynne writes, the artist caught “brothers and sisters—trying, but failing a little—to be excited about someone else’s birthday cake.”
Art, for Lorna, was a way of life. Her many art interests overlapped. By trying to glue beads on the gold lamé headdress, for example, she mapped her interest in clothes and dressing up onto a her talent for drawing. While, as a child, you can switch from one art form to another with relative ease, when it came time to going to college Lorna had to choose: she enrolled in the University of Utah with the intention to study fashion design. However, after a number of classes, including one in costume design where she successfully made complicated cowboy pants and a jacket out of leather, she felt that designing clothes was not the direction she wanted to go in life.
Despite the fact that Lorna did not want to design fashion for a living, she has never stopped designing and creating unique items for herself. At our unveiling gathering she wears a necklace that she’d made some time ago from beads she had accumulated. She sewed her embroidered skirt out of fabric she had recently bought at Joanne’s.
While still wrestling with indecision about her career, Lorna met Gary. This was over forty years ago. They met while hiking up to Timpanogas with a large group of friends, though everyone did not know everyone. Lorna was with the guy she was then dating. During the steep climb up, a tall stranger with blond hair almost down to his shoulders came up beside her and started to chat. He was wearing a Swedish print shirt, hipper than anything Lorna had seen on any guy before. He complimented her on what she was wearing. The first inkling she got that he was interested in getting together after that day was when the same group of friends—Gary called them the “Ted Bundy Custodians”—planned another outing. Gary said, “I’ll go if Lorna goes.”
A recent photo of Lorna and her husband of over forty years, Gary. While they were getting to know each other better, Lora was still trying to figure out what to do career wise. Gary had almost completed a Bachelor’s in art at the university of Utah, but was not making art at the time. He worked at a steel fabrication plant, translating the blueprints for complex tools and machine parts into three dimensions. Within a year, they got married. She nineteen, he twenty-seven. Her parents loved him. Her dad called him the Golden Swede.
Shortly after they were married, Lorna blurted to Gary that what she really wanted to do next was style hair—other than having drawn elaborate hair styles for the figures in her drawings, she loved working with hair. Besides, she wanted to have a money-making skill that would allow her not to have a boss. Gary, starting to realize that “not having a boss” extended way beyond her money-making decisions, said he loved the idea, as he loved anything that would make her happy. And so a cosmetology program at Salt Lake Community College led to Lorna’s almost forty-year styling career that not only encompassed stunning cuts, colors, perms—as she says, “those were the days we fried everyone’s hair”—but also allowed her to practice her gift of listening, to carry out life-coaching and psychiatry without a license. She acquired not just clients, but friends and followers—one of whom is now ninety-one and still comes for her styling despite Lorna’s retirement four years ago.
Another Christmas, Lorna Anderson, Oil. At the end of another busy Christmas day, Lorna’s exhausted mother-in-law finally has time to rest her feet.
Not long into their marriage, Lorna and Gary became the besotted, very hands-on parents of two sons a few years apart. Very hands-on too was their remodeling of more than one home to suit their family’s needs. During that time, Gary was asked by a friend to sculpt a “yellow brick road” award out of steel for the judge she worked with. The cool result, which the judge and everyone else loved, ignited his urgency to make art again: abstract metal sculptures ranging from highly polished to paint blemished or rust-stained, from book-end size to larger than life.
Left, Gary Anderson at the unveiling of Lorna’s painting. Right, one of Gary Anderson’s large metal sculptures (the edge of a second one is visible on the right) in his backyard where he has his workshop. Source: Gary’s Facebook page.
While Gary achieved great satisfaction in taking up his art again in addition to his job, for Lorna building her job-without-a-boss, taking care of of their sons and the household, and collaborating with Gary on their house remodeling added up to as many creative outlets as she wanted to take on. In her “spare time” she continued the the portrait-making that had started in her pre-school years and continued throughout junior high and high school, where her art teachers recognized her talent. Her school friends were impressed too: one of them asked for a watercolor of her mother. Someone else requested a painting of her house. Suddenly everybody wanted paintings of their houses. When she had time during her busy child-raising years, Lorna would now and then find the time for watercolor. Then, as happens in parents’ lives, suddenly their sons were grown: Joe went to New York as a photographer, Ben became a sports journalist. They acquired spouses, Ben had a son and a daughter. Gary and Lorna became besotted, very hands-on grandparents. Their lives were full.
Swedish Afternoon, Lorna Anderson, Oil. Gary’s family in Sweden.
Despite being busy and happy, Lorna was always curious about—in her words—”the deep, wonderful, secret world of oil painting.” When she occasionally got to try it, it scared her. “It felt like pushing butter around.” It had a strong smell too. She couldn’t just do it in the house, she’d have to have a studio. However, five years ago a client told her that she herself was taking an oil painting class and urged Lorna to sign up too. “What are you going to do,” that wise woman said, “wait twenty years and then be sorry you didn’t?” Lorna realized that she had run out of reasons not to pursue oil painting. Before her sage had left the salon, she had resolved that oil paint would not be the boss of her. That was 2017. From then onward, she has immersed herself in lessons, workshops, hours and hours on YouTube, shelves of art magazines and books. Four words from the Oil Painter’s Bible summarizes her self-education: “paint what you see.” Three years into her new fascination, in her words, she “used painting as an excuse to retire.” After only a year of “full-time” painting, grants and awards from the Holladay Arts Council started flowing in: In 2021 alone, she won an Honorable Mention, the “People’s Choice” award, and as well as “Best Amateur Oil.” In January 2022, “Best Professional Oil.” Moreover, her paintings were selling.
In 2021, left, Reunion won “Best Amateur Oil Painting” as well as “People’s Choice.” Right, Summer Splash won Honorable Mention.
As Lynne told Lorna, “your paintings alight on the intersection of narrative and image—giving us the histories, sites, and circumstances that remind us we are both fleeting—and that we last. The magic of these paintings is how you capture an instance you seem instinctively to know will deepen over time. It’s also in how you render your subjects in a way that makes them instantly people we’d all want to know, or maybe did know, or maybe even are.”
In 2022, Lorna’s Pool Side (the painting at which her elbow is pointing) won the Holladay Arts Council’s “Best Professional Oil” award. Shortly before our unveiling gathering, it sold during an exhibition at the Springville Art Museum
So that was the backstory. Now back to Lorna’s portrait of me: when I made contact with Lorna after Kelsie’s note, Lorna wrote me a lovely email: she reminded me about the grocery store, Gary, my hair. In an instant I remembered that first meeting. About her offer, she emphasized that the painting would be a gift. We arranged to meet Lorna and Gary at Barnes & Noble cafe. After a few minutes of talk, Peter and I could not believe we had let these amazing people get away six years before. We launched into swapping crash courses about each other’s lives, far outstayed the polite table time for one round of coffee.
Mother and Daughter. Lorna Anderson, Oil. Her husband Gary’s mother and grandmother on the beach.
At the unveiling ceremony, Peter and I spoke a few words about Lorna and the painting before our grandsons Kanye and Dante uncovered the portrait behind us.
In the words of 19th Century art critic John Ruskin, I said, “the greatest thing a human soul can ever do in this world: see something, and tell what it saw….to see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion—all in one.” In the film The Man from La Mancha, Don Quixote asks where madness lies. “To surrender dreams is madness,” he says. “Maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be. Lorna, you never gave up your crayon dreams. Somehow you saw me, but better. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words—your “beholding and jubilant soul” went beyond the material image and saw me not as I am but as I should be. You haloed me—my butt, actually—with indigenous South African flowers: strelitzia, pincushion and king protea, the aloes of my childhood, vlei lily, gazanias; together with other blooms that, as you explained, you made up. Your love elevates me to a Jungian imago, an idealized image so filled with joy that I want to live up to. Dear Lorna, I love your jubilant soul.
On the day we had coffee with Lorna and Gary at Barnes & Noble, at some stage the topic turned to Lorna’s offer to paint me. Peter and I said we could not accept unless she let us pay for it. Like Gary many years before, we learned that “not having a boss” extended to Lorna’s whole way of life. She said she would not paint me for money. It was take it as a gift or leave it. We took it. And here it is:
Gerda, Lorna Anderson, Oil. 2022
Lynne has the last word: “I am in awe of the courage it takes to paint a portrait. Painting a human being, painting flesh, submits the artist to every challenge a painter can face. In the face you find every color in the universe, every tone, every temperature, from the cool forehead to the heated earlobe. You find every texture from the pillowy lips to the bony skull beneath the eyebrows and the scratchiness of the hairline. You encounter every degree of transparency, translucency, opacity. And then, you must capture what unique blend of wit, and joy, and fear, and substance is animating it all.”
“Lorna,” Lynne continues, “your composition—almost an inverted cruciform—brings to mind the painting the Medici’s commissioned of Botticelli—The Birth of Venus. Like Botticelli, you’ve surrounded Gerda in a field of light. And though you haven’t served us to her on a half-shell, the birth of something, someone, profound is there. In Botticelli’s painting the flowers were being blown about Venus by cupids. In this portrait you’ve rendered them falling from, or perhaps rising up to light on her nature-inspired blouse or even ascend toward her face where we can imagine her becoming one with the nature she loves. You’ve awakened our eyes with the sublte colors—the blues, purples, reds, pinks, and yellows, of South African flowers like protea, strelitzia, and Barberton daises, and reflected her multicultural soul with lilies and tulips and thistles, and birds of paradise.”
Lynne concludes, “Lorna has given us Gerda’s conviction in her strong, exuberant expression—it’s a smile, yes, but it brings to mind something Gerda has said often—“Do not mistake my good manners for weakness.” Lorna has captured the “Gerda who welcomes” in this painting. With that magnificent smile, Gerda’s voice bubbles to the surface.”
And then there was cake!
Peter and I ordered the cake from our South Salt Lake Winco. We explained the occasion to Los, the lovely woman who took our order. We showed her an image of the painting. She was so inspired, she told us later, that she added her own art to set off Lorna’s photo: she thought up flowers in an orange that happened to match my earrings that evening, and a noir-esque teal reminiscent of the danger-signaling green that Hollywood adaptations of graphic novels seem to favor. Peter and I absolutely loved it, and so did Lorna and Gary and our other guests. It was delicious too!
June 22, 2022 @ 5:31 pm
The Gerda I have known for years is in that beautiful art. It has been too long since I saw you but there you are.
June 23, 2022 @ 9:26 am
My dearest Kathy, Thanks so much for you lovely comment. Yes, we haven’t seen each other for ages. I’ll send you and email and maybe we could plan lunch? Talk to you soon
July 5, 2022 @ 5:06 pm
Dear Kathy, thanks for your lovely note. Let’s hope getting together will work out for us soon!
June 23, 2022 @ 11:54 am
Love the painting!
Love Lorna’s generosity and story!
Love Lynne’s words!
Loved the party!
Love Love Love, Shen
July 5, 2022 @ 5:08 pm
You were so amazing to be there while your kids and grandkids were in town! That is a very special gift indeed. So lovely to have you there–and lovely to think I’ll see you tomorrow!
June 23, 2022 @ 1:07 pm
What a wonderful story of how the four of you met and how it transpired that Lorna ‘painted what she saw’ – our precious Gerda, smiling, surrounded by light and flowers wearing butterflies on her blouse. Beautiful Lorna! I wish that I could see it. Ria Saunders
July 5, 2022 @ 5:09 pm
My dearest Ria, Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I wish you could be right here in our living room to see it too. We’ll have to make a plan to talk soon. I’ll talk to Peter.
July 5, 2022 @ 1:06 pm
Sweet Gerda…… I LOVE your portrait! What a LOVELY and THOUGHTFUL gift from Ms. Anderson. Hope you are doing well….. I miss you! XO
July 5, 2022 @ 5:10 pm
How lovely to hear from you Shauna. Thanks for your nice comment.I feel that I see you now and again when I visit your beautiful website! Tons of love, Gerda