Gay’s Story

In first grade, my teacher Ms. Lacy gave us each a sheet of manilla paper and some crayons. We were to copy a drawing of three tall cedar trees on a hill. I had never seen trees that looked like that before. I tried my best. My type-A personality did not appreciate the “C” I got for my efforts. I decided then and there that I was not an artist and gave my full attention to English, math, and science.

After that, any desires I had to make things or express myself in a visual way were confined to kits and patterns that someone else had produced. I sewed all my own clothes. I knitted and crocheted. I even stooped to paint-by-number. I became proficient in embroidery with cotton yarns, crewel wools, and silk and metal thread.

In 1976, my pastor was rumored to be elected bishop at the next General Conference of the Methodist Church. My husband Ron suggested that I make a clergy stole for Dr. Shamblin to honor the event. I drew my first pattern involving vines and several Christian symbols. After transferring the pattern to the fabric, I embroidered it.

Soon I was making stoles for other clergy and paraments and banners for various churches. Still, I was working with humble “women’s” materials so I did not consider myself an artist. Any representational art that I made was fashioned in appliqué–sometimes with fabrics that I had dyed myself using someone else’s recipe.

I began to work in collage, making 2D/3D things. They were fun to make and many people liked them. Finally, I realized that I could create images similar to the wall sculptures with paint. What a concept! So I made a pattern of a stylized snake and painted it in various sizes and colors. I wrote little blurbs about them, had a show, and sold them. Amazing. That was ten years ago. When I moved to Kentucky, I took up quilting (That’s what you do in Kentucky) and ventured back into the familiar appliqué to gain admittance to the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen. Of course, I was looking at the “craftsmen” part.

A little over three years ago, a dear friend in Kentucky kept badgering me until I agreed to accompany her to a week-long icon retreat at the Episcopal Conference Center in North Carolina. Suzanne Schleck was our instructor. I was immediately hooked.

  1. We started with a pattern.
  2. We painted according to a reasonably strict set of rules.
  3. I got to dabble in ancient artistic practices with dry pigments, egg, and gold leaf.
  4. All this took place while praying and meditating in blissful quiet and peace.

Even now I do not call myself an artist. I am an iconographer–an artist and more than an artist.