Rosemary Walls’ Paintings – The Glass Castle

glass_castleA couple of months ago, I read Jeanette Walls’ amazing memoir of her childhood – The Glass Castle. Of course, the book provoked many thoughts and questions for me – as I’m sure it did for anyone who read it. And if you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it – and don’t worry, it’s not like an Oprah selection book that leaves you despairing and depressed at the end.

But without going into the myriad of thoughts and questions this book provoked (we discussed it at a book club meeting and after two hours still weren’t done!), one overriding question remained for me:

Were her mother’s paintings good enough to provide a clue to her extreme pursuit of her art above her children’s welfare?

By that I mean: would anyone berate Picasso, or Rembrandt or Michelangelo for not devoting enough time to their kids (if they had any)? Would anyone want to tear a strip out of these artists and say that they should have been able to give up their all-consuming art for their kids? Or does the evidence of their art provide some measure of justification for the extreme selfishness of their lives? What about Mozart or Van Gogh – history is littered with examples of the brilliant artist archetype who was also a bit nuts.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s okay to neglect or abuse your children for the sake of your art – or for the sake of anything. But for me, as an artist (singer, painter, writer), it would provide some other kind of a piece of an explanation for Rosemary’s (her mother) behaviour – which is otherwise so unfathomable.

People who do not have a strong creative drive, don’t understand that you need to create or die. They can’t possibly understand how the life of a housewife would be just like a living death to an artist. Hence, we have so many housewives who have incorporated creativity into their role – through their cooking, baking, sewing clothes, crafts, directing children’s plays and concerts, field trips, etc. Or women like me, who have found a way to interweave or balance their different roles – so that they can pursue their creative visions yet still be a good Mum.

As someone who was so dysfunctional and so wounded herself, Rosemary Walls’ didn’t seem able to achieve any kind of balance or rhythm between her artist self and her mother self. And at the end of the book, it was killing me: Was her art good enough to even warrant her extreme dedication to it? Of course, no matter how good it was, it would not justify her neglect of her children – but I’m not looking to pass judgment here, I’m looking for a piece of understanding of this women and her viewpoint.

Well, after much searching, I found this video – that not only shows Rosemary, but SOME OF HER PAINTINGS as well. Thank god, I can now put that question in my brain to rest. I know my opinion of her art (nope, she was no Manet) – I’ll let you watch the video and form your own:

And just in case you’re curious, here are some of my paintings – and yes, my three children are very well taken care of, in spite of all my artistic pursuits!

elephant-elderJPT

KENYA ELDER – Watercolor & Acrylic (22″x30″) – by Jini Patel Thompson

lunchJPT

LUNCH – Acrylic (22″x30″) – by Jini Patel Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOGA NUDE – Conte & Charcoal (18″x22″) – by Jini Patel Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A’GHRA – Watercolor (16″x20″) – by Jini Patel Thompson

eagle-totemJPT

EAGLE TOTEM – Watercolor & Ink (9″x10″) – by Jini Patel Thompson

Here’s to finding the healthy balance and expression of the creativity within each of us!

Jini

17 Comments

17 thoughts on “Rosemary Walls’ Paintings – The Glass Castle

  1. I wish I could paint as lovely as both of you have done! My creativity comes from making quilts for children in need. I have been told they are really beautiful but it is not why I do it. I just want to help a child feel love and security.



  2. Stunning, Jini. The texture you captured for the elephant skin is amazing to behold. I hope your creativity and talent is something your kids inherit – which brings me to your question regarding the mother in the Glass Castle (thanks for the book recommendation). Is the question really whether or not her art was subjectively “good enough” to warrant not only neglect – but something closer to abandonment? At the risk of coming across as overly judgemental, I would have to think that there was something inherently “off” with the woman given that neglect came so easy for her. It really isn’t normally that much of a choice. The bond between mother and child usually dominates all other “loves” – be it for their partner or their passion for their art. Evolution has seen that is the best way to ensure the survival of the species. This has probably led to the derailment of many career-minded women whose priorities just happened to change when they had their child. We know that it will eventually come to this, and I know many women competing in traditionally male dominated fields (such as Professors) who felt that they had to decide which way they wanted their lives to go because, as much as we may protest, it is awfully difficult to have it all the way things are currently set up.



  3. Jeanne – quilting is something I haven’t tried yet, but some of them are truly amazing and even better – you can use them and enjoy them every night! You go girl.

    Ashley – Yes, I’m not saying art or any other passion provides an acceptable excuse for neglecting and causing your children to suffer. I’m clumsily attempting to say that at least – if she was an amazing artist – it would have given some *inkling* of understanding to the motivation behind her behaviour. Which is otherwise so unfathomable.

    Also keep in mind, that being a Catholic in that era, she probably did not “choose” to have children. I wouldn’t be surprised if it never occurred to her that she could have chosen not to have them – in which case I suspect she would indeed have remained childless. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    And glad you like the elephant – it’s one of my favorites. When I was 2 years old an elephant charged our car whilst on safari (in Kenya where I was born). I was on the side of the car facing the elephant and this painting is pretty much what I remember seeing out that window before I dived onto the floor!



  4. I sensed that there is something rather familiar about your approach to life and sense of humour – a dear friend of mine is also from Kenya (her family hail from Mombasa) and she also wrings a grin out of me with her perspective on things. Must be that early exposure to “hakuna matata” attitude…

    In regards to the absentee mother, I know you were postulating and attempting to put into play that underused tool of perspective taking. I was coming from a purely evolutionary perspective (which more often than not, has holes in its theories of the mind) which holds that the “mothering instinct” is biologically very strong – and in cases where it fails to develop that it may be reflecting underlying alteration in the way the woman is either wired or her “chemicals” are regulated. This, in itself, may do wonders for artistic ability – but may take toll on her mother ability. Regardless, the story itself is a great testimony to the resilience of children – and gives hope that – provided you are accepting of it – the universe is indeed conspiring for you to succeed.



  5. Hi Jini, Did I ever tell you that your art is so “likable” so fresh, clean and organic. (kinda like you) I have a pretty big email that I need to send you about my probiotic update. By the way “The Glass Castle” is my favorite book of all time. Have you read “Snowflower and the Secret Fan”?…. another favorite.

    Love,

    Caroline Malouf



  6. Hey thanks Caroline! And I LOVE Snowflower and the Secret Fan – talk about a book that stays with you, very powerful. Another great book is White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. hugs,
    Jini



  7. The woman was an idiot who neglected her kids. Who cares if she had a passion? most of us have some sort of passion but that does not excuse her for not wanting to work and take care of a family. I’m glad those paintings never sold



  8. I completely agree with Bailey. I am a ballet, tap, jazz teacher/choreographer. I started teaching when my daughter was seven. She took class with me and we danced together. She went on to be a dancer in the LA Junior Ballet at sixteen. I also trained and showed Tennessee Walking horses and she rode and went to all of our shows. While I had great love for my creative outlet, my greatest creations were my children. They had to come first but I also included them in my creative endeavors. I have nothing but contempt for the lazy, selfish woman who neglected Jeanette and her siblings. A child is a total innocent and must be made to feel safe at all costs.



  9. Well said, and you are a woman with the mental health and maturity to successfully balance your creativity and motherhood.

    I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with here though. I think her mother was a significantly mucked-up person and I’m sure many would put her in the ‘mentally ill’ camp. So what I am attempting to examine is her justification to herself. Indeed a justification that has been used (successfully) by men throughout history.

    Then you look at someone like Sylvia Plath – were her children any less damaged because she killed herself, rather than abuse them? Who knows?



  10. ya for sylvia plath’s kids it pretty much ruined their lives. The son hung himself two years ago and the daughter , Frieda an accomplished painter and writer in australia is a very angry individual. She wrote a poem about her mom’s suicide.



  11. I know Rosemary walls from the mid 1980′s. She was living in a van parked on the street where I had a homestead or “squat” in the East Village. The tenants association took pity on her and gave her the best apt in the building. She said she’d left her abusive, drunkard wanna-be writer husband Rex and Promised he would never be back in her life. In short order he was living with her along witha her Amazon 19yr old daughter (author’s sister) who appears sweet & virginal. Against my advice she was given the apt next to mamma. Within a week it became apparent she was a street Hooker.they were a nightmare & Rosemary’s “art” sucked & she IS nuts! I could write a book about them! They made our lives hell. Rex stole the electric for them, while we froze in the dark & then proclaimed himself King of the building.
    A stupid, shellfish woman! But colorful, that’s for sure
    Oh, and Rex tried to kill me once, may he rot in hell. Your art is lovely, by the way. Thanks for letting me vent!



  12. I read The Glass Castle, and was so interested in this dysfunctional family, and the amazing woman (Jeannette) who somehow rose like a phoenix from what would have sunk anyone else, that I quickly downloaded her more recent book, Half-Broke Horses. This is the story of Jeannette’s grandmother, Lily, and if I were to do a psychological profile of Rosemary, I’d see a strong link between the neglect of her children and the abuse rained down on Rosemary by her own mother. A turning point appears to be a severe beating of Rosemary by her mother, after which the relationship between mother and daughter seems to have never been repaired. At one point, Rosemary tells her mother that one thing she has learned from her mother is that if she has children she will never hit them. Instead she seems to have retreated from them and neglected them.
    Rosemary’s choice of Rex, the wild drinking Air Force pilot stationed at the nearby base, was strongly disapproved of by her mother, but in many ways he was just as tough and wild and free-thinking as Lily. Jeannette Walls has written two books (at least these two that I know of) that are just brilliant.
    Jeni, I can understand your asking this very important question about brilliance and creativity and the ability (or not) to parent well. I think in this case, there were some mental health issues that never got addressed.
    Does anyone know if Jeannette has children? And if not, did she choose not to?



  13. Pingback: Mrs. Fabian's Eastie English » Behind the book: The Glass Castle

  14. I’m currently reading “Glass Castle” and have been horrified by the neglect that the Walls’ children endured. Kudos to Jeannette, a very strong person, who rose above the neglect and squalor her parents’ dysfunctionalism subjected on the children. I was curious about the mother’s paintings since she devoted so much time to her “art.” She is nothing more than an amateur painter and not a particularly good one. I think the fact that she never sold ANY of her “art” pretty well indicates that they were not good in any way. She couldn’t qualify as a “primitive” whose works are often quite charming and delightful. Her pretensions were delusional. Her notion that she carried her babies as long as 15 months was delusional. The father was just weak which was sad as he apparently was quite intelligent.



  15. I firmly believe that everyone does the best they can to raise their children to the best of their ability and knowledge. Looking in from the outside, it is easy for anyone to criticize everything she could have done better. I believe she loved her children and gave her best effort to raise them in what she considered to be a proper manner. It may not be what many would consider a good effort, but I am sure that in her mind and in her heart she really tried. In the grand scheme of things, if this did not happen, Jeannette would not have become the woman she is today. We would not have been able to share this experience. I, myself, do not agree with how she raised her children, but I am not one to throw stones within a Glass Castle.



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