The painting below, executed about fifty years ago,

just re-entered my life.

I found it in the box in the basement.

The Home Place. Painted perhaps 1963.

The Home Place. Painted by Shirley Ann Hershey, perhaps 1963.

Looking at this example, you will understand why no one encouraged me to become a professional painter. 🙂

But I like to think it’s not too late.

Not only can I take painting and photography classes at my local university,

but I can flourish as an artist in other ways.

Look at the painting again.

If you’ve read my childhood memoir Blush, you might recognize these buildings as

the Home Place.

Photo by Henry Hershey, 1965.

Photo by Henry Hershey, 1965.

Even at age fifteen, I knew that place laid a claim on my heart and on my identity.

So when it was time to write stories about my childhood, the Home Place became a character.

I tried to paint it with words.

Mary Catherine Batseson, in her book Composing a Life, says:

 The individual effort to compose a life, framed by birth and death and carefully pieced together from disparate elements, becomes a statement on the unity of living. These works of art, still incomplete, are parables in process, the living metaphors with which we describe the world. 

I hope I get a chance to take more art classes, but the work of art I care about most

is my life.

And, I can’t fulfill my mission to make it beautiful from beginning to end without a community of saints and sinners held in the arms of God the Great Artist.

How are you coming with the work of art called your life? What living metaphor(s) guide you?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Dora Dueck on September 3, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Shirley, I love this painting! Who knew that besides a wonderful writer and leader you are also an artist. I didn’t.

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Thank you, Dora. As I look at it now, it has some of the charm of a Grandma Moses painting. With your help I can see that. 🙂 I love the visual arts almost as much as the verbal ones.

  2. Marian Beaman on September 3, 2015 at 10:20 am

    You know what a nut I am about quotations. Just yesterday I found this gem from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in a book I’ve read: “Build your life as if it were a work of art.”

    And today another one from dear Garrison Keillor: “Your life is a work of art and in the end, the underlying theme of great art is bravery and hope and love.”

    Your life and work exemplify all three virtues in huge amounts. And by the way, I immediately liked your teen-age painting, its clarity and vision well beyond that of the much touted Grandma Moses, whose paintings have been exhibited in New York’s MOMA.

    No, Shirley, it’s never too late. Here’s to more searching for basement treasures. Love this!

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 10:57 am

      We share a love of quotations and an impulse to express ourselves in words, as artfully as we can. You have an visual artist partner in Cliff, an aspect of your blog I’ve always noticed and appreciated.

      I chuckled when I found your reference to Grandma Moses, which I had just made in my response to Dora above.

      It did feel good to get back to the “basement” again. I have a whole six weeks at home before my next trip. And I have my 45th EMU class reunion coming up this year. Should be more treasures hidden in plain sight. Thanks for your response.

      Could I ask if you found me from the MMM weekly email or from a WP email. I lost the WP subscribers, I think.

      • Marian Beaman on September 3, 2015 at 11:27 am

        I was notified today by email through MMM. If the same message comes via WP I’ll let you know.

        • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 11:34 am

          Thanks! It may be that you never get one. Recovery involves digging up the old site.

  3. Linda on September 3, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I love the Mary Catherine Batseson quote!
    At one point in my life I thought I have it in me to paint pictures, but I was mistaken – my medium is words.In trying to become a painter I soon realized it will never happen, because I was just never comfortable enough in risking splashing paint on paper (:especially water colours which run all over the place:) and not being able to erase it, should I not be satisfied with the result.

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 11:12 am

      Linda, I agree with the challenge of water color as a medium. And you raise an interesting comparison between the writer and the painter when it comes to revision. Perhaps the true contrast lies in the fact that both kinds of artists need to revise but only the experienced writer or painter keeps working until the thing created comes as close as possible to the idea it represents??

      I find it interesting that you, too, were attracted to the visual. You show that talent in the photos you choose of Hutterite Life.

      Perhaps, we stuck at writing long enough to learn how to revise but haven’t painted enough (yet) to learn how to do the same in painting.

      • Linda on September 3, 2015 at 11:43 am

        I think I’ll stick to writing and leave the painting to my sister, who has the eye, the talent and is willing to take the risks…and produces amazing work.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on September 3, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Shirley — “I tried to paint it with words.” I love the word pictures you paint!

  5. shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Thanks, Laurie. Great to see you sitting here again in Lotus position. 🙂 Namaste.

  6. Janet Givens on September 3, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Add my hand to the many above who saw a glimpse of Grandma Moses in your 1963 painting. And, for what it’s worth, I do not get at all why you were not encouraged back then. At least, the reason escapes this discerning eye. And, while we’re here, I’ll just add: why take classes, Shirley? Just paint. Can we see the landscape out those back windows? 🙂

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks, Janet. I actually like some of Grandma Moses, so I’ll take that as a compliment. Thanks for goading me to try landscape here. I’ve been tempted to just stand on the deck with that box of pastels and an easel and see what happens. Maybe I will. I think I’d go for abstraction next time around. Grandma Cezanne — ha!

  7. PJ Colando on September 3, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    maybe plaintive, but still pretty – good job!

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      Thanks, PJ. Good to see you again. I just left you a comment also.

  8. Kathleen Pooler on September 3, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Shirley, I love your painting! Indeed, it is reminiscent of Grandma Moses. I’m a quote lover too. How about “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser”(author unknown)? I also used to sketch and do watercolor scenes and recently took an art class at a writing conference which has rekindled my desire to nurture the artist in me. In fact, I am taking the collage I did in this class to my next book event as it summarizes the themes in my memoir. Fun! Your “box in the basement” is filled with so many treasures. I’m looking forward to all your discoveries. 🙂

  9. shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Kathy, what a relevant quote. It links to the Bateson quote about combining all the pieces of self into one work of art and also to Linda’s quote above about not painting because of the inability to erase. Maybe instead of revising endlessly, we just continue to make art, using whatever “canvas” most available.

    Glad you have some outlets for your own visual instincts. Will you be blogging about these collages and sketches? I’d love to see them.

  10. Linda Austin on September 3, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I love this post and all the comments and quotes about life as art. I like your painting, Shirley, and yes, Grandma Moses came to mind as well as other folk artists. Everyone must be thinking of (and afraid of) realistic art, which does require a lot of talent and skill. Impressionist and Expressionist art is something anyone can do, and even the beginner can make something quite beautiful and meaningful. How many of us have framed our children’s art!

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      I plead guilty to framing my children’s art, and, of course, our fridge is filled with grandchildren art now. Thanks for hopping on the encouragement bandwagon, Linda. It’s been a while. I’m off to pay you a visit also.

  11. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on September 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Your question shimmers for me, by which metaphor(s) do I live?

    Artist is high on the list, knowing that it’s more about claiming my own artistic process than about finished products. More about experience and being present. TRusting that growth, in some form, is going to keep happening.

    However, I do want to finish some things…such as the book I’m writing on my childhood Mennonite community.

    Thanks for sharing this treasure from your basement.

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      Dolores, you and Joan, below, seemed to be thinking the same thoughts.

      Yes, process more than product. That’s what I liked about Bateson’s quote: “These works of art, still incomplete, are parables in process, the living metaphors with which we describe the world.”

      Did your comment get cut off at the end?

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on September 3, 2015 at 5:22 pm

        oops, the second “However, I” needs to be erased…not sure how to do that in this format.

  12. Joan Z. Rough on September 3, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Shirley, give it up! You are an artist. And yes, you must be Grandma M.’s cousin or whatever.

    We become artists when we give ourselves time to see all that is before us and allow our hearts to embrace it. Then when we turn to brush and paint, or words on paper we commit to a life of art. You were an artist when you painted that wonderful scene, you were an artist when you wrote your book, and you are an artist now and creating your life and whatever else you set your mind to.

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Wow, Joan. You’ve convinced me. 🙂

      I think I touched a nerve on one of your favorite metaphors and on your passionate belief that everyone can be an artist.


  13. Elaine Mansfield on September 3, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Your very recognizable home place. I didn’t have a home place as a child, Shirley. I had my grandparent’s farm until I was 9 and Grandpa died, but my parents moved. Often. At least every two years. Not because of military or jobs but because my mom was dissatisfied and always wanted a better place to live. It was unsettling and hard to create community. When my writing class leader asked us to think of a room in my childhood home for a writing assignment, I came up with those feeling of displacement.

    My response was to buy a house with Vic in 1972 and root myself here in these walls, memories, and long views.

    I paint, although not enough. Watercolor and other mediums, sometimes dreams and often mythological images with my mythology class. Our class includes an art teacher, so she brings us back to image when we get too heady.

    • shirleyhs on September 3, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      “. . . she brings us back to image when we get too heady.” That observation struck a bell in me. Having spent my life with academics, I know what you mean. The concrete and the image save us from drowning in abstraction.

      I’m teaching an adult ed class right now at my church. On spirituality and work. I gave a little bio as an introduction. Place turned out to be a theme, both my rootedness in ten generations of farm families all in Lancaster County, PA, and now returning to the valley and mountains of my husband’s home.

      Two of the members of the class described a restlessness of never belonging to one place. We are going to devote one of our sessions to this subject. Wish you could join us!

  14. Sherrey Meyer on September 4, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Shirley, lovely post and delightful look at your homeplace as seen through your eyes and heart. Indeed, as others have said, your painting is reminiscent of Grandma Moses. Her reputation could be at stake!

    As for my work of art called my life, I see it as a continual work-in-progress. As plants respond to the fertilizer worked into the soil by my hands, my life is in God’s hands and my favorite verse of Scripture assures me He is painting my life daily:

    “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

  15. shirleyhs on September 4, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Sherrey, your ability to find metaphors of artistry in daily life is truly inspiring. God the potter — both the maker of pots and the maker of plants — is an image that reminds us that God is not afraid to get dirty in the creative process with us.

    That verse in Jeremiah comforts me also. Thank you for the reminder of one of the best promises in the Bible.

  16. Marylin Warner on September 5, 2015 at 12:39 am

    I love your first painting, Shirley, and I think Grandma Moses would, too! 🙂
    When I retired after 30 years of teaching h.s. English and speech, my first class to take was “Multi-media Art For Beginners and Returners”! It did more to shake loose the art dust and even got me back to my childhood choice of using my left hand as much as my right.
    Wonderful post, Shirley.

  17. Richard Gilbert on September 5, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    I join those who love that painting, Shirley. It shows care and talent—and yes, love for your place. My former minister who took up painting in retirement turned out to be a gifted landscape painter. But that was just icing. He was drawn to it and was rewarded simply by doing it.

  18. George Dragojevic on November 5, 2015 at 8:16 am

    I really like how you’ve quoted Mary Catherine Bateson: “These works of art, still incomplete, are parables in process, the living metaphors with which we describe the world”.

    p.s. Love the painting 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      Thank you, George, for stopping by and for that vote of confidence on the painting.

      I find myself going back to Mary Catherine Bateson. She’s really wonderful with metaphor and wisdom.

      Sorry it took so long for me to find your comment. Still traveling and fussing with my website.

Leave a Comment