If you’ve been to the restaurant in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which serves delicious pastries and a selection of wine and beer at any time of day, being New York City), you recognize this sculpture: “Memory”, by Daniel Chester French. The plaque indicates that the woman is looking in a mirror longing for her lost youth and beauty.
I love the sculpture and often use the pose while modeling for art classes and open drawing groups. But I’m not so sure I love its meaning. Based on the model’s facial and body features, I wonder if she is about 40? Hmmm… my age? And I have to tell you, I don’t have a lot of time to sit and gaze into a handheld mirror thinking about how I used to look. In fact, if I can be so bold as to speak for not only myself but most of the women I know in my age range, I have more confidence, drive, and direction than I did at 20, and wouldn’t return to that age come hell or high water.
Therefore, when local artist Barnaby Ruhe won me in an auction (all right, the full story is that I had offered three hours of modeling time to the highest bidder at a charity event for a figure model with Lyme disease), I suggested that we use this pose but alter it slightly to create a different meaning. I’m sitting, sure, but it’s on a boulder that juts out over a natural pond at Barnaby’s farm. I’m holding not a mirror but a small, smooth rock that has a chunk missing, making it an ideal receptacle for liquid: paint, say, or the juice of red sumac berries. And instead of longing for the past, I’m applying streaks of red to my cheeks. Not makeup… War paint. Take a look: