In an effort to further cultivate my creative side and give my brain a much-needed rest from it's unceasing monkey-mind activity, I took a 4-week Healing Through Art class last year. In my first session, I was introduced to an unlikely artist that made a significant impression on me: Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton.
Here are my reflections on what it is about her that continues to deeply inspire me:
Grandma Layton began drawing in 1977 at the age of sixty-eight, when she took a contour drawing art class at a local university. She was a largely untrained great-grandmother living in a small town, but she didn't allow any of that to stop her from trying something new!
She struggled with bi-polar illness and suffered from severe bouts of depression for much of her life. She credited learning to draw her self-portraits (almost all of her drawings were self-portraits done while looking into a mirror) with ending her depression within six months after she began drawing. She is proof that it is never too late to find self-expression and healing, no matter how long or hard the struggle has been!
Perhaps because of her own life struggles, Elizabeth's art reflected an empathy for those who find themselves in situations beyond their control - "those tormented by the pressures of modern society". Through her art, she responded to social issues such as capital punishment, homelessness, hunger, racial prejudice, AIDS, aging and the right to die. Her drawings "challenge us to walk in the shoes of the less fortunate and to work not just for a kinder and gentler nation but for a kinder and gentler self".
"Grandma Layton never sold any of the 1,000 drawings she did in almost 15 years of drawing but often donated them to charity auctions to benefit the arts, mental health, women's issues, etc. Thus, she raised about a quarter of a million dollars for those projects." This remarkable woman was able to touch and enrich many people's lives through her self-expression and generous spirit.
When I become overwhelmed by my own long struggle with mental illness, I remember Grandma Layton. I remember never to give up. I remember that I am more than my illness. I remember that somewhere within my own story lies the key to self-expression. I remember that when I share my genuine self, I can positively affect the lives of others. Thank you Grandma Layton for giving me that hope.