57: The Angels on the Artist’s Way

57: The Angels on the Artist’s Way

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Angels on the Artist’s Way

My paintings are absolutely original. They are a power source. A painting has power, and it can influence a person’s whole life. When I paint, beautiful things come to me. It comes from the Great Spirit.

~A. Kelly Pruitt

Growing up an only child was difficult, mostly because I had no one to talk to about how my parents treated me. Even at ten years old, I knew I was more adult, in many ways, than they were. Since I had no one to talk to about my problems at home, art became the way I expressed my frustration and sadness. I drew a lot in pencil and pen and ink, and painted on anything I could find, like white paper, construction paper and even flat rocks from the garden. Basically I drew and painted on whatever was handy.

I wanted to become a fashion illustrator when I grew up, but my parents discouraged me, saying there was no way I could earn an income as an artist. This made me sad, because I loved art more than anything and only felt happy when I was involved in drawing or painting. But my parents were strict, rarely praising me for my artwork. Even so, I kept drawing.

Thankfully, my middle school teachers were more enthusiastic about my art. In the eighth and ninth grades, they asked me to illustrate our school yearbook with cartoons of little blob characters I created. For instance, the sports section showed a little blob with a tennis racket and another with a basketball. I was thrilled that my art was recognized, although my parents cautioned me not to get too excited. “Artists have to have other real jobs in order to survive,” they said. “So plan on becoming a teacher or a nurse, instead.”

Because I read so many comic books on the long car trips my parents would take around the country and into Mexico, I knew that at least some artists found a way to make money. I wanted to grow up and draw comics and comic strips.

And so, even with my parents’ disapproval, I made up my mind to do what my heart dictated and keep drawing, no matter what. In a way, I couldn’t stop myself. I doodled all over my homework. I drew and painted greeting cards for my parents and my friends. My letters to friends and relatives always contained little illustrations.

One summer, when I was eleven or twelve, my parents decided to drive to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico from our home in Denver. This was the second trip we had taken to these beautiful places, where Native Americans sold their jewelry and pottery on the blankets spread out in the plazas. Also, at the time, there were many art galleries featuring the work of artists living in New Mexico. My parents and I went to many of these galleries, and I could see (despite what they’d cautioned) that some painters sold their works, often for high prices. These artists made a living painting.

One of the galleries featured the art of a man known as “the cowboy artist.” Because my parents were from Colorado, his art struck a chord in them, and they wanted to own one of his paintings. So, they found out where his studio was — a short drive from Taos — and we took a side trip to see him and more of his art, which my parents hoped to buy.

As usual, I was the third wheel on this trip, tagging along on my parents’ adventures. But I always liked the stark beauty of the New Mexican landscape, with its rolling green hills and random cactus trees, so I studied the stark setting and imagined myself living there as an artist.

After a while, we finally ended up at A. Kelly Pruitt’s studio. We parked, got out and wandered around in the studio room where he worked and displayed his art. He came to greet us: a tall, lean man, with longish hair, wearing faded blue jeans and a Western shirt. His face was tan and weathered.

While my parents decided which of his paintings they wanted to buy, (their debate was loud; they often disagreed about money), Kelly motioned to me to follow him outside. He was holding a postcard showing one of his paintings in black and white on the front.

“I want to talk to you while your parents decide,” he said. “And even though we’ve just met, I want to tell you I notice something special about you.”

I must have seemed startled, but he continued. “Not many people I’ve met have the special quality that you have,” he said. “And you should remember that you have it, especially when times are tough.”

With that last word, he wrote something on the back of the postcard and then handed it to me. On the other side, he’d written, “Walk out into the light. Angels are near.” and signed his name.

I thanked him, and he just winked and smiled. “Let’s go see how your parents are doing,” he said.

Eventually, they decided to buy an oil painting that showed four cowboys racing their galloping horses towards an unseen destination. Kelly carefully wrapped the painting for safe travel in our trunk on the way back to Denver.

I never showed my parents the postcard he gave me. I felt he meant it to be between us. But each time I looked at his painting hanging in our home, I remembered what he’d said, and it encouraged me to carry on — no matter what. His message helped me get through many arguments with my parents and the disappointments that followed in my lonely, chaotic life. Sometimes it seemed like there were more downs than ups, but I persevered, going towards the light, knowing something better awaited me.

I still have the postcard he gave me, which I keep in my book of treasured memories and souvenirs. I believed, as he had written, I had a special quality that would allow me to get past heartache and obstacles; the angels were close and would guide me, he said. And they did. And so did he.

~Sydney Kravetz

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