I Am What I Grow (Resolve to Begin)

How many times have I started essays in the seven years since George passed away only to abandon them without finishing?  Too many to count.  But this time it’s serious…  Part of my New Year’s resolution is to post at “Musings of an Artist’s Wife” (est. 2009), now a program of the Life & Legacy Foundation, once a month.  That, and no social media after noon or on weekends.  (So far so good). And then there’s Douglas’s resolution that we visit his turquoise mines, together, at least once a month.  No escaping that one.  And why would I want to?  

Resolve to begin.  Now.

Last week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as I organized the Louisiana section of our bookshelves, a photo fell from the pages of 1 Dead in Attic, a small but precious and poignant post-Katrina book by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, published in 2006.

George Rodrigue paints on the American Queen riverboat, 2004

The photo, scanned above, is from a 3-day Rodrigue client riverboat trip in 2004, one year before Hurricane Katrina, and one year before Rose began his essays.  I have no memory of this picture, or even of this scene. However, I recognize the man and the paintings. On the screen is Immaculate Dog (1992), the first painting George ever gave me, now nearly thirty years ago.

From left, all by George Rodrigue: Wendy and Me (1997), Hot Dog Halo (1995), Immaculate Dog (1992)
Prior to shipment from Santa Fe to New Orleans for an exhibition honoring “Rodrigue’s Women” (2017)

On November 30th, 2004, two days before George and I were to board the American Queen with three hundred of his collectors for a Mississippi River art adventure, suddenly and unexpectedly, my mother died

George was heroic.  He was selfless and full of love and concern for me, all while dealing with his own shock and sadness over Mignon’s death, a woman he admired as an artist and loved as a friend.  He boarded the boat and painted for these important people, many of his best clients, most having traveled from states and countries far from Louisiana. From the riverboat’s stage, he shared with them on his own and in between brushstrokes, because his storyteller-wife, who normally narrated, couldn’t pull it together.

Resolve to begin.  Now.

That first night, following a reception with Governor Kathleen Blanco and Coach Blanco at the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge, George did not return to the boat.  Instead, he left his collectors and returned by car to New Orleans, to me.  He crawled into our bed and cradled his V.I.P., like a loving parent, all night, and the second night, and the third.

Resolve to begin.  Now.

On that third day, prior to disembarking, and despite the missing artist, a couple from Tokyo, Japan purchased the unfinished painting George began on the riverboat.  In one of many ironies attached to this story, I recall the couple, because they acquired several exceptional Rodrigue paintings in the early 1990s at Galerie Blue Dog in Carmel, California, where I worked at the time.  I had been excited at the prospect of seeing them again on the riverboat.

Following Mignon’s funeral, George returned to his easel and spent weeks completing the riverboat painting.  He called it I Am What I Grow.

Three years ago, this same couple, now living in New Zealand, decided to sell the painting.  Through a jumble of circumstances, the opportunity to purchase George’s other-worldly, magical, swirling artwork fell to me, and I acquired it.  I am looking at it as I write this.

George Rodrigue’s I Am What I Grow, on view during the exhibition “Rodrigue’s Swirling Vision: The Cosmos, Sun, and Hurricanes”
Photograph by Douglas Magnus
New Orleans, 2018

Painted in the midst of his own sadness, combined with his concern for me, George Rodrigue’s I Am What I Grow reminds me that a joyful life is not found within material objects or fame or even other people. No matter what the circumstances, I have access to happiness and freedom, always. I carry it with me like a seed, planted in my heart, everywhere I go. And so do you.

“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams,” wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet.

Resolve to begin.  Now.

When I found the photo amongst the pages of 1 Dead in Attic, I was excited, but confused.  Where did it come from?  It fell from my book, but I wasn’t on the boat.  I immediately showed my husband, Douglas.  He turned the photo and noted the name of the lab, “Imagemaker Santa Fe.”

I took that!,  he exclaimed, equally confused.  Where did you get it? 

And so it begins. 

Enjoy life!


9 thoughts on “I Am What I Grow (Resolve to Begin)

  1. I remember that trip well. We were all so sorry you could not be with us, but we definitely understood. When we boarded the boat after the visit to the Governor’s Mansion the Louisiana fog set in. It was amazing and most of us had never seen anything like that before. I’ve read your book three times, so I’m very excited for you to begin again. NOW this should be fun!

  2. Thanks Wendy, comforting story and photographs. Happy resolution New Year to us all-xo

  3. Beautiful Wendy! Always enjoyed reading your post.
    George and Louisiana are always in my thoughts and memories!
    ❤️ Susan (in Denver)

  4. You left me hanging 😜 can’t wait for next month. Thank you Wendy. I needed that “seed” tap 🥰

  5. How lovely to hear from you again. I loved reading about the Mississippi Art cruise. My husband Steve and I were one of the fortunate ones aboard..it was wonderful and I remember missing you. I was lucky to have a picture with George and also Governor Blanco. I still have one of the Blue Dog cookies she served at the reception.
    So many sweet memories of the “Blue Dog Years” with my Steve who has now joined George and Kathleen.
    Keep up the good work!
    Love to you and Douglas,
    Louise Rider

  6. Wendy, I am delighted to “hear” from you after 40+ years. I cherish my memories of you, Lisa, Laurie…I still tell others about your Christmas-Easter tree!


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