Why I Can’t Part With My Grandmother’s Art

published Oct 30, 2022
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Credit: Photos: Jennifer Billock; Design: Apartment Therapy

When my grandma died, I stood at her funeral and talked about how alike we were. We both loved traveling, cherished family, and had a passion for writing. We were even roommates for a time. 

But we were different in at least one major way: She was a very talented artist, and I can barely draw a straight line.

She decorated everything in and around us, both with her outsized personality and her outstanding artwork. She once had a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but ultimately decided not to go in favor of marrying my grandpa. 

That didn’t keep her from artwork, though. Everything in my grandparents’ home was decorated in some way, whether it was a peacock-themed bathroom with collaged walls, the grape theme in the kitchen, or their decorative stacks of books. She kept a dollhouse and painted each piece of miniature furniture. She even painted a tin pasta canister to have gold accents.

Before I was born, my grandparents bought an old farmhouse in Indiana to be used for family vacations. That home was like my grandma’s full-size dollhouse. She decorated the entire thing, unleashing all of her creative energy into it. This included picking out all of the artwork hanging on the walls, and painting some herself. As we grew up, we began referring to the rooms by specific names: the cat room, the blue room, the round room, the peach room. It was like walking through a beautiful gallery.

Before I became a teenager, my grandma painted a portrait of the house and expertly captured its details: the wraparound porch, the extensive patio, even the chandelier and bell next to the front door. She painted three little girls into that portrait, too. My cousin Michelle and I stand on the stairs holding hands, and she’s in a pink dress while I’m in yellow. Michelle’s stepsister Jessie is further out on the patio, in blue, beckoning us out for a tea party. 

Credit: Jennifer Billock

When my mom and uncle sold the farm after my grandma died, we got our pick of the artwork in the house. I took one of a Victorian group playing croquet, and of course, I grabbed that painting my grandma did of my cousins and I. They’re both hanging in my living room in Chicago.

Looking at those paintings brings up so much nostalgia. It reminds me of all the fun times we had in that house, spending days flying kites and nights sharing family dinners. I think about the bonfires we had in the backyard, and the hedge maze my grandpa tried to build. I think of the kittens that lived in the barn and the walk down to the end of the road, a place we called “The Barriers.” I remember the two stone lions flanking the side entrance to the house, and how they deteriorated once my brother put them outside.

But most of all, I think of my grandma and her zest for making life beautiful. Everywhere she went, people ended up happier. And to know she loved me so much that she painted me into a portrait? It’s a memory that makes me feel incredibly special.

This piece is part of Art Month, where we’re sharing how to find, buy, and display art in your home, and so much more. Head on over here to see it all!