What's wrong with this picture?

October 31, 2021

In July, when I attended week three of the Chautauqua Institution’s summer program, I met Mayville artist Kirsten Engstrom whose five-foot-tall sculptures grace the grounds of the Hall of Missions and dozens of others emerge from various gardens all over the campus.

Engstrom’s sculptures stand with open arms and open mouths. She told me her goal was to spread joy to those who see them. 

“Can I come to your studio?” I asked. “I can’t afford to buy a large one, but maybe I could buy a little one?” 

I was overwhelmed at the number of statues to choose from and was thinking about what I could afford, when I noticed one area where several sculptures were half the price of the others.

“Those are what I called experienced,” she explained. “That means they have needed some mending.” 

“I need mending too,” I professed. “I’ll take the yellow one.”

I’ve been thinking about the word experienced, and how it could be a better word than senior to describe those of us over the age of 60. My experienced friend Carolyn told me she hates her face and wants to get botox.

“Have you ever considered it?” she asked.

“No,” I answered quickly, thinking about the images of some movie stars whose cheeks look like chipmunks. It’s rather pointless to look at yourself in the mirror and wish you could look younger. Yet we all recall and mourn our youthful selves a bit.

Recently I posted a wedding picture of myself on Facebook and someone said to me, “Wow. You really were beautiful back then.” 

This person is way more experienced then I am, if you know what I mean. My mother’s voice echoed in my ears. Two wrongs don’t make a right! So my experienced self walked away and let go of the words he spoke, rather than say, “You used to look better with hair!’

I don’t like the way my face looks, but I can’t really see it without a 10X magnifying mirror. I also can’t see anything now without my glasses. This morning I wore my glasses when I looked at myself in the magnifying mirror. Look at all those stray hairs around my eyebrows! Then I lowered my glasses just a tad so I could use the tweezers, but I couldn’t find the hairs anymore. Lower glasses. Raise. Lower again. No hairs!

What is wrong with this picture?

In a 2013 article in The Chautauqua Daily, writer Kelly Tunney interviewed Engstrom about her work. Engstrom says, “I was that ball of clay down in the clay bin…and I knew that art work was, for me recreating myself and changing myself in the process. That’s what I hope happens when people look at my sculptures - that it makes them feel good.”

My yellow lady with outstretched arms makes me feel good. She serves as a reminder that what’s important in life has nothing to do with my appearance and everything to do with my experience.

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