I saw many breathtaking works of art on a recent visit to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, but I was most moved by the haunting beauty of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. I was drawn toward the energy of his vivid colors, but even more toward the angelic aura of a single white iris on the left side of the painting.
Reading on the label that Van Gogh painted this while in a mental hospital at Saint-Remy, France, a shiver ran down my spine. Since I was a child, the iris has been for me a symbol of sadness – and art a respite from the pain of my grief.
“Nennie’s Iris” is one of the images in my book, Where the Water Meets the Sand. I painted it for my grandmother when I was seven years old, during the terrible months when daddy was dying. “Nennie’s Iris” has bold black leaves protecting a tiny red flower. “Tyra,” my Nennie said when she unwrapped her gift. “My prayer for you is that someday you will see irises in all the colors of the rainbow. One day, this tiny red flower in the center will grow larger than this whole painting. Until then, this is the best iris I have ever gotten.”
Art therapy was a technique used at the Menninger Clinic where I was hospitalized as a young adult with clinical depression after my husband Larry went to Vietnam. In my book I tell the story about pounding clay in my art therapy class. I describe the satisfaction of stretching it and rolling it across a wooden art table. I even sculpted my own clenched fist, a testimony to my determination to get better.
My mother gave me iris bulbs from her backyard when I moved into my new home in the Texas Hill Country. They came from the ranch her grandparents lived on when they first settled in Texas. For them, perhaps also for me, irises were a symbol of the hope that comes with new beginnings.