News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

May 9, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: No, nobody made me write this; I just really like the pictures

TERRE HAUTE — It’s not often I envy people with jobs other than mine. But the Tribune-Star’s “Draw Your Mom” contest has me coveting the daily lives of women and men who teach grade school.

The contest has drawn scores of submissions from kids age 2 to 14. (Winners are featured on the back page of the Local & Bistate section today.) Using a 9-inch-tall, blank oval (with ears) that was printed in the paper, the children have rendered a universe of mothers. The diverse and delightful efforts line the walls of the Tribune-Star’s lobby.

Most of us employees have taken to circling the big space and studying the display as if it were a gallery exhibit. And, in truth, it is an art exhibit, each work a unique creation by the unique set of sensibilities that envisioned and executed each “My Mom.”

So, too, I think, the collection of drawings is a cultural and social statement from an important segment of the local population most of us non-teachers don’t slow down long enough to hear or even acknowledge.

Maybe nicest of all, for me, if ever there were a perfect antidote to the adult guile, opportunism and nastiness of last week’s primary election, it is the sweet, sincere and thoroughly innocent array of moms, lovingly portrayed in our lobby. Spending time with them the day after the election felt like getting scrubbed down in a warm, four-headed shower and drinking de-tox tea.

Some of the drawings are so darling, they reach in under your rib cage and squeeze your heart. Some bring tears to your eyes, they are so poignant. Some are hilarious and make you want to find the three-dimensional mom to see the origins of the unintentional comedy. Some are absolutely arresting as pure art, their bold colors and semi-abstract shapes conveying a little Picasso, Gaugin or Matisse.

As accomplished as the drawings are by the older kids (and many are terrific), I find my spirits lifted most by the work of the children in single-digit age groups, especially 2 through 5. Their notion of reality is more their own and less society’s; in that agency lies almost infinite freedom.

Looking at “Mom” from a 2-year-old’s perspective reminds me of the more lyrical passages in Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke Of Insight.” Cut off from her task-master left brain by the massive stroke she suffered at age 37, the neuroanatomist was swept away by the sensual, thrilling, boundless realm of the right brain. It was, she has written, a hard place to leave for rehabilitation.

A 2-year-old named Madison embodies this idea in her portrait of her mom, Jennifer. In a few lines and lopsided circles, she tells us her mother has brown hair that falls just below her ears and probably has blue eyes. Then again, Madison’s mom also has blue lips, so maybe not. A slash of flesh-colored crayon runs vertically over Jennifer’s forehead and swatches of purple float next to either side of her jaw. Earrings? Magic clouds?

Earrings and the color purple are frequent elements of mom pictures in the contest. Alexis Brunson, 9, included her mom’s five pierced earring studs in her portrait. (The picture carries a sticky note from mom Condra Pointer, asking the judges to “please overlook the circle on the face. Her 2 y.o. sister helped after Alexis was finished.”)

Aubree Nasser, 9, drew little heart-shaped earrings dangling from mom Yvonne Heiber’s ears and a single, blond, pony tail jauntily springing from the left side of her head. Scattered all over Yvonne’s face and neck are little fox-colored freckles.

One of the judges’ and my favorite artists, Erin Hugus, 5, depicted her mom, Amy, with fantastic purple whirlpools for eyes. Amy’s half-circle smile is made of six color segments — blue, brown, yellow, black, purple and green — and her nose is a warm sphere of fuchsia.

But it’s the hair that Erin drew for her mother that elevates the picture to celestial. Bright red, it is short and kind of spiky — with a veritable garden of multicolored antennae growing straight up from Amy’s crown. Each antenna ends in a pearl-size black ball. The antenna in the very middle is taller than all the rest and colored — what else? — purple.

A collaborative picture by sisters Raelee and Allie Crouch (ages unknown) also incorporates a happy surrealism into their mother’s vivid pink-orange face. Like Amy Hugus, Kay Crouch has red hair. She also has round red circles on her cheeks and exactly the kind of nose Picasso gave his lover and muse, Dora Maar.

The piéce de résistance, however, is the rendering of Kay’s eyes. Her daughters made them look like three-toned Indian beads of teal, cream and salmon with black lashes that curl up from the outer corners like flying tails.

Four-year-old Skylee Hopper’s portrait of her mom looks like an Emilio Pucci textile print from the 1960s. Allison Hopper’s face has yellow eyebrows, azure eyes, a purple and light-violet nose, watermelon-colored cheeks, purple and light-violet lips and a green chin.

Almost all of the pictures show mothers with broad grins and happy eyes. A few, though, seem so sad, you hope life was just hard that day. One portrait, by a 5-year-old, presents a wide-eyed and open-mouthed mother who seems either to be hollering or stunned by what she has just come across.

In more than 35 years in the newspaper game, I have seen a lot of marketing promotions come and go. Most have left me, as a reporter or columnist, shaking my head in bewilderment at the chronic disconnect between newsroom and business office. Draw Your Mom is not one of those.

The collection is a noble Mother’s Day gift to every woman depicted by her child, and it’s a welcome shot in the arm for anyone who enters this building. If you have a few moments in the next week, come see. I’ll bet you a dollar these pictures will cure whatever ails you.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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