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!


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


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 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!


Rosemary Walls’ Paintings – The Glass Castle

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.


    Caroline Malouf

  • 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,

  • 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

    1. Harsh! I don’t necessarily disagree… I, like many women gave up some things in order to vocus on my children, I would love to have one of Rose Mary Walls paintings… I ask the question, would Jeanette be any different if her mother had been more of the traditional type moms?

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

    1. Yeah. Plath killed herself in rooms right next to her children. They weren’t safe either. “Sylvia Plath killed herself, in her flat in London, near Primrose Hill, in a house where William Butler Yeats once lived. She was thirty-one. Her two children, Frieda, age three, and Nicholas, barely one, slept in the next room. Plath jammed some rags and towels under the door, then turned the gas on in the oven and laid her head inside.” What if the rags weren’t enough? What if they had slipped?

      Six months later Plaths husbands mistress killed herself the same way.

      All these folks have real problems. They manifest in different ways. I don’t know what I’d do if my mom was like that or if I had witnessed it. The daughter is dealing with it and perhaps some or all of the other adult children as well.

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I really am glad I found this! I was not overly impressed with the book for various reasons, but my question throughout (also because I am a mother who also juggles work as an art restorer and translator and who would like nothing more than to have a chance to vent my creative energies in my own creations) was: what kind of paintings were these if the mother was so focused on this and the paintings were everywhere, yet at the same time, were able to fit into a car with 4 kids, a husband and various animals that managed to not be thrown out of the moving vehicle. I don’t know how I did it, but they are as I imagined them! They are banal and lack any charm or depth. By the way, I really like the work you shared!

  • I am glad to have found this interesting conversation about the Walls family and Jeannette’s book. However its clear to me that her mother neglected her children because she was totally under the influence of her obviously charismatic but feckless husband. In my view these children should have been removed from their parents; I find it amazing that authorities must have been aware of various transgressions (driving an unregistered uninsured car with stolen number plates !) and chose not to follow through – art has nothing to do with it!

  • In Rosemary’s case, it was never about “balance”. (between parenting and art) She and her drunken husband were just defective about managing a single thing in their lives. Since Rosemary is now widowed, and living alone in a cottage built for her by JW and her husband, and has trashed it with filth, junk, and cats that she can’t care for, I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that she is mentally ill….or otherwise “unbalanced”. Her daughter has provided her with a lovely home, where she will always be secure, and she’s still living in it just as she lived when she was homeless. The perversity of that would destroy me, but Jeannette focuses on acceptance instead of regret, and good for her, admirable and very hard to achieve. If Rosemary was under the influence of Rex, then it’s been from beyond the grave. he died at 59 and Rosemary is now in her late 70’s and still unbathed, unaware, and creating a larger dung heap around herself than ever.

  • Rosemary Walls seems to have grown up in a household of practical, hardworking people. No one knows the whole story, but if Jeannette Walls’ book is any indication, it sounds as if Rosemary had a flibberty-gibbet outlook on just about everything, including her choice of a husband. I have no problem with that. More power to her. Until she decided to have children. Once that takes place, it is no longer about you. Period. I’m sick of people having kids, planned or not, and not taking proper care of them, especially cause they’re so deep, complex, and artistic that they can’t be bothered to get out of bed. I had a sister-in-law like that. My husband and I ended up raising her daughter.

  • Jeannette seems to be doing “pressured speech.” Extremely FAST talking, jumping from one topic to another. Which is a symptom of bipolar disorder. I had wondered if her father had this, her mother also. Seems possible.

  • Amazing! It’s really to cross over everything and be happy. Not easy life but you had the power to transforme in a good memories. I admire you Jeannette.
    Have a wonderfull life.

  • Hello, I read Ms. Walls’ book with my mouth hanging open and am grateful to her immense talent in sharing her journey through life. It certainly is a story that stays with you. I think Jini’s question is very thoughtful and one I also asked. I know that art is very subjective and lifelong artists may never sell a thing. (Your art is amazing, Ms. Jini)! So, here are my humble thoughts. (PLEASE understand nothing ever excuses allowing your children to go hungry and stay filthy, so bear with me). Is it possible Rosemary Walls may have acquired postpartum depression which can trigger Bipolar disorder especially if she was already prone to depression? She was incredibly young to have so many children, plus an infant who died. I realize it was common in the ’50s to marry young and have children right away, but that doesn’t mean it worked in Rosemary’s case. Rosemary’s own mother sounds as though she were way ahead of her time and maybe she expected/demanded HER daughter (Rosemary) be a certain way which is virtually impossible for any kid. Perhaps Rosemary The Child vowed to allow her children as much freedom as possible when she married and not “break ’em in” as though they were animals. Maybe in Rex, she found her wild stallion? LOL Seriously, Rosemary looks positively giddy wearing her expensive, bridal finery in that adorable wedding photo where Rex looks pleased with himself and happy as hell, Let the Party Begin! Many people deal with stress and depression through a vice, be it art, alcohol, cannabis, pills/powders, sex, kleptomania, whatever. Where I have a problem with the Wonderfully Wacky Walls’ Clan brings me two bottom lines: #1 I firmly believe Rex and Rosemary enriched their kids tremendously with all sorts of stuff. The times they spent reading copious amounts of books, newspapers, etc., free from the library. How many parents today utilize a local library with their kids? (disclaimer here – we made a big deal out of getting our daughters their own library card for their first birthday, and you’re allowed to check out 33 books per card). They spent so much time gazing at stars, teaching them about art, talking to their children about Life and the Universe, literally showing blueprints, plans, goals and dreams for their family, being together, using the world as their classroom. I mean, you gotta admit their kids had good manners, gratitude, intellect, spunk, dreams, critical thinking skills, true love for one another, seemingly amazing successful lives, all attributes any decent parent would want in their kid. But, here is bottom line #2 I cannot get over allowing your children to be hungry or dirty BOTTOM LINE! It seems to me that once a person has a son or daughter it’s basic instinct to want to provide shelter, food and good health in the way of good hygiene. (How long ago were brooms invented? Aren’t these basics that even wild animals provide for their offspring?) And if a person (men and women here, folks!) is unable or unwilling to provide these basics, we must be talking mental deficit of some kind. Otherwise, geez, if you’re artistic, get creative! Trade work for a safe place to live in your car (to start with). Trade work for food if you’re too proud for public aid but since it’s instinct to keep your offspring alive by feeding them, maybe get over your pride and take the assistance. Ditto, for keeping your children clean. A bar of soap back then was a dime, toothpaste/brush/floss are still cheap, and if water is an issue, again get creative. Keep some thrift store clothes just for school and others for play and getting filthy. Laundromats have been around almost as long as brooms, lol. Buy fewer art supplies or booze to get extra shoes, socks, underwear, shampoo. Sew some fabric patches to pin under your armpits and then use that ten cent bar of soap to wash them along with your bra and underwear! Whether or not her art sold, Rosemary must’ve decided if her husband was another child, she may as well join in the fun rather than be overloaded with stress, anxiety and all the responsibility. As much as there was love for each other, family and life, we MUST be talking about mental health issues compounded by addictions. I have much admiration for Jeanette and the relationship she has built with her mom, her beloved siblings and for taking such good care of her. XOXO

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