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Death's White Lace Dress

22 X 30 watercolor, 1988

spiritual trailblazers

the story of this painting



The Master's mind is like space.

People don't understand her.

They look to her and wait.

She treats them like her own children.

Tao Te Ching(1)

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The Story of this Painting

Sitting down before this painting veiled in mystery even to me the painter, my eye fell upon a photograph David handed me this morning that I had casually placed on my art table to take in later. There I was draped in white and creme lace in a threesome of casual conversation, the fear of my own death shattering my face. It wasn't the first time I'd seen death clothed as such, but at that time she appeared winged and her face revealed only as light. Unable to even approach painting, this vision of Spotted Fawn, Rolling Thunder's wife in her death garment, I chose to build her from a mannequin, an unending 3 year process. Yet as I re-enter this painting there is an intimate understanding that here too death sits and reigns terrible in glory, life sustained by a thread.

Dreamtime created the symbols with which I chose to attempt this healing image for my sister. She had found a lump in her breast and after my experience with my late husband's cancer, tumors went hand in hand with death. This shook me to my foundation and painting again became my avenue for expressing my concern for her and dealing with my own fears.

Dreamtime takes me to my childhood home . . . My mother Eloise stands at the door to her bedroom, summoning me to join her. The room is comfortable and familiar, warm light streaming in through thinly curtained windows. My sister Lyn is already there serenely waiting and watching. Lifting the lid of her wedding chest, a well of unceasingly interesting treasures that captivated me as a child, mother pulls out two lace bedspreads. One is white and the other cream. With great aplomb I inform her that they shouldn't be used together, only white with white or creme with creme. She turns to give them to me as a gift, but in response to my remarks she only gives me one rather than both of them. In embarrassment I wished I'd kept my mouth shut, for it would have been wonderful to receive both, each so unique and exquisitely worked. She lays the creme lace cloth out on the bed and pulls off her own blanket. Quietly folding it, she turns and gently with much love offers it to my sister, saying she won't be needing it anymore. Tears stream down my cheeks as I realize this must mean my mother is dying, for who would offer such a gift if this were not the case. In closely observing Lyn's blanket I see that it is much more beautiful than I'd acknowledged in the past, not only practical, serving to keep her warm but the colors of the sunset, lavender to orange, like a beautifully woven Indian blanket. My gift was also beautiful, but the narrowness of my understanding had not let it enter the realm of the practical. Two lace blankets would have kept me warm and allowed me to be more creative, not relying so much on preconceived notions of what constituted aesthetic understanding.

Sadly I realized she must love Lyn more than myself for her openness and acceptance and I could understand why . . ..

The dark Lady is rigid, She is made of stone and sits overlooking her vast realm atop a ridge of mountains. Rolling green hills and ocean sunsets perform for her approval, but she sits there sternly, never moving, waiting for the night's heavy veil. Only then can you approach Her for a boon; on trembling knees like quaking-aspen, eyes open like a wild-deer, seeking knowledge, requesting an age old map. Mouthing words that fall and break like crystal ice on polished rock, you wait and listen, ears stretching into long elfin points. Deadening silence resounds through your chest and terror tremors chasms in your throat. Nonsense chatters on lips pale and dry. Slowly, slowly your death opens her eyes. Swooning you fall into her arms and she cradles you her most beloved child.

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Not-knowing is true knowledge.

Presuming to know is a disease.

First you realize that you are sick;

then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.

She has healed herself of all knowing.

Thus she is truly whole.

Tao Te Ching(2)

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1. Mitchell, Tao Te Ching, p.49

2. Ibid, p.71


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