(Forgive me, James Joyce, for borrowing your title!)
The daughter of an oboist/music educator and traditional stay-at-home mom, I was born Cynthia Spano and raised in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. I was audience to classical music before I could even talk. It was to the haunting voice of the oboe that I awoke most mornings. The complexities of sound and feeling that made up the fabric of my young life were bound to have a profound effect on my adult life. Music was not my destiny, however, because a peaceful home can house only one prima donna.
My mother had loved paper dolls as a child, and she passed on that love to me. She taught me the proper technique for holding scissors and for cutting the delicate paper garments precisely. Whenever I was sick, my mother walked down to Ventura Boulevard and bought me either a coloring book or a paper doll book from the local five and dime store. Additionally, I eagerly looked forward to the arrival of the McCall’s Magazine edition that contained the latest monthly installment of Betsy McCall’s adventures and clothes to cut out. Ironically, it wasn’t playing with the dolls that enthralled me as much as it was the act of carefully cutting out the clothes, making sure the tabs were intact.
My mother and sister loved to sew clothing, and the living room floor was frequently laid over with tissue paper patterns, straight pins, sticks of chalk, and piles of fabric. Rather than competing for time on the sewing machine, I taught myself to crochet and knit, to do crewel embroidery and needlepoint, and to hook rugs. I learned early on the pleasure that is earned by hand-making items for loved ones.
During my formative adult years, I taught myself to quilt fabric. Using a portable Sears sewing machine purchased in 1974 (chosen for its high rating in Consumer Reports and still going strong today), my hands were always busy combining colors and patterns and textures, originating children’s patchwork bedspreads, hand-quilting Provençal cloth into placemats and bed coverings, creating frame-worthy original quilt squares, and producing memorabilia t-shirt quilts.
After earning a Master’s Degree in English, I became a technical writer/editor of user and training materials for healthcare technology. Just as the “Peter Principle” states, I was even promoted to middle management until I chose to walk away from it due to my own incompetence.
I survived those “corporate years” of the ‘90s by taking art classes. In ’91-’92, I had discovered a passion for creating artwork while living and working in the South of France with my second husband and our combined daughters. Inspired by the art museums, the scenery, and the general aesthetics inherent in French culture, I began dabbling with a set of pastel pencils purchased in an art shop on a side street in Montpellier, recording precisely the images of my daily life–a package of Kotex, a Kleenex box, a plastic milk jug, a fountain pen—and recording my impressions of the views and textures of our villa and surrounding walled garden—the English ivy and climbing roses, the wagon-wheel gate, the angles of the flat, terracotta-tiled roof. I had discovered a part of myself that I didn’t want the sterile, jarring business world to destroy, and watercolor and acrylic painting classes and weekends passed at a card table in the corner of the family room in the Atlanta suburbs became my lifeline.
For eight busy years I taught English at public high schools in Florida and Georgia. That job was so consuming of my time and energy that I let go of my craving for visual and tactile arts. Instead, I wrote lesson plans and directed school plays.
Suddenly, in August of 2010, life took on a new meaning: my first grandchild was born. I quit teaching high school, and instead I found part-time work teaching writing for DeVry University. I had time to rediscover the creative side of myself. Please see the tab on my technique for an explanation of the art form I discovered.