“A rose is a rose, not by playing a role, but by offering the beauty and fragrance of what it is to those who love roses” Sean Caulfield
Back in March of 2007
I watched Lizzy drive away last night, she was going to pick up the homeless guy whom she referred to simply as John. How brave she was in my eyes and I knew she was safe, I also knew I could not be her. Yet there was some sense that I was with her, I gave her my love, that was all I had at the moment. I also handed her something I wrote for her and about her. She asked me if she could get a copy and I told her, that is your copy. We all carry with us our exchanges with other person, if we are kind, if we are in tune with God, we give away a flow of energy that may be just enough to nourish that person’s heart and that person opens up to give to the next.
Elizabeth (Lizzy) Wolf is a one woman show and I find her to be most refreshing. You enter her world on her terms, you learn from her and you get to view the world through her brightly tinted lens. This view is a glorious sight to see, doors are opened for you that you would have never ventured down.
It has been almost 3 years since I interviewed Lizzy Wolf that fine spring day back in March 2007. Looking back at that time I can understand more of what ran me away from this project. You see, I never did finish my part, I did the verbal interview, recorded some of our 7 hours we spent together that day, and took numerous notes. But for several reasons I could not finish writing this woman’s story. Over the last 3 years, I have thought about this event, and continued to put off completing her story. I simply did not feel that I was capable of doing this magical mysterious woman justice, basically I felt completely unqualified to write her story. Even though as I see it today, it is my interpretation and I do have some poetic license to write it my way. At that time in my life I did not understand that, I was early into my writing.
Lizzy also represented much more to me than I was able to face at that period of my life. For I too was trying to find a new career, and hearing her tell me her story was inspiring, yet to be completely and totally honest, I unable to detach emotionally from her story. Hearing her tell what her life had been brought up both feeling of sadness that I had not lived up to my dreams and fear that I never would. It was not her fault, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to finally revisit this woman’s story.
After years of battling this unfinished business I set out last night to see if I was ready to take on telling the story of this brave and inspiring artist, one who I miss dearly.
“I locked myself in the bathroom looking in the mirror, asking myself, just who do you think you are, questions and doubts raced through my head, I was digesting my life, could this happen, my children think so, they know me better than anyone. But at 57 years old, to suddenly switch from this view, this image I have of me, that is more a scientist, not an artist, I could barely say the word. Much less view myself as one. Yet pure and simple, it was something that spoke to me, could I allow myself this freedom, to think outside the box. This lasted for three days, I was at last meeting myself, it was as though my left and right side of my brain were meeting one another, struggling, fighting each trying to take control and finally as it appeared to calm I emerged. The moment I surrendered to my art, the very second my whole life fell into place. “
Lizzy Wolf describing the final reality, the day that she allowed herself to acknowledge a part of her that she had long before begun to assemble.
Something that I like to do with each artist that I interview, is have a little pre-interview. Most of the time this involves discussing the where, when, and briefly explaining to them why I want to interview them. However, one of the things that emerges during this early part of the interview, is I am getting a little glimpse of what the interview will be like. I usually like to sit down and write about that as well. In doing so, I begin to gain a little insight of where the interview will lead.
Tonight I did that with Lizzy Wolf, I knew Lizzy from a few years previous, when she and I were both living in Eureka Springs, AR, but she is just moving back, and it was very hard to limit our initial conversation to a few basics. Lizzy is an incredibly engaging presence. It is difficult to just briefly pass her without finding yourself totally captivated by any of endless stream of artistic endeavors she happens to be embracing at the moment. I look forward to my interview with her, and will tell you up front, we are very blessed to have someone in this area who is such a fabulous artist. Get ready, buckle your seat belts, Lizzy Wolf, is going to take us on her magical ride.
Magic is about wonder. The way we look at life is one way we see the world, the way we look at life may be somewhat different from how we actually live our life, that may cause some of us conflicts. One way I view artist is their innate ability to bridge that distant between living life and the view of life. Lizzy Wolf’s art to me represent the definition of magic, “A mysterious quality of enchantment.”
She has led a life true to her spirit, she has followed her bliss, it has not been an easy life, and for the most part spent trying to blend her love of the planet, love of creating, along with the full responsibilities that a single woman has raising two children. She has endured incredible hardships along the way, and today as I listen to her I realized her story spans a period in our history where women who lived through all the changes in society, from feminism, the peace movement, hippy and drug culture, environmental movement, intertwined to bring her to this point in her life. It will be an incredible challenge to be able to condense this story down, find the common thread, and then make it somehow resemble who she is, without really identifying her to any one part of this, and come out with the whole person.
I feel I went fishing for little small pond size fish and pulled in a mermaid? I don’t know what to do with her?
I join Lizzy on her 77 acre farm, a beautiful pristine setting that has an enormous historical significance for her, this is the land that she bought when she arrived in Eureka Springs 32 years ago. This is where she raised her two children, both Doctors today. This setting feels perfect to me, it is the sacred grounds that has given Lizzy the security and the impetus to make it all come together.
I asked Lizzy if she would take me back to the time in her life when she discovered she wanted to be an artist. I must admit, her answer was not what I expected. So let me begin by introducing Lizzy, as she sees herself.
“I was raised in a convent, my mother always expected me to get a formal education so that I could support myself. Her view was that women should either be a nurse or teacher. That was what most women in those times majored in college. I remember asking the question even in my early teens, why not become a doctor?
I went on to the University of Arizona, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a double major in Zoology and Botany, minor in Chemistry and Physics. My path at that time was science. I applied for admission into medical school. However, by the time that the acceptance to medical school arrived, I had shifted my focus to marriage and raising my family. I essentially gave up my career to raise my children and support my husband.”
Lizzy did end up going into a grad program in micro-biology, the sciences were always her emphasis. As Lizzy says, I never was interested in art. However listening to her story, I continue to wonder what Lizzy defines as art. She tells me…
“I have always had a love of plants, that carried me through the hard times”
Lizzy also has been creating something most of her life, but the left side of her brain seemed to demand most of her attention, even to the point of denying the creative work she did.
Lizzy and her husband moved around several times during the first years of their marriage, each time they bought a home, it was Lizzy who took it upon herself to “fix up the house and yard” and by the time they sold each home, they would also increase their yearly income substantially.
“Looking back on my life I can see where I was doing everything creative, I could take up floors and redo them, I could use my extensive plant knowledge to rebuild and landscape the entire yard, adding incredible value each home we bought. No matter how bad I was doing , or what was going in my life, my children were the most important thing to me. We both loved our children. I started this ZPG (zero population group) and ended up organizing 23 different cities in that area. I was a powerhouse in those days. I was involved in working with all of these scientist. My left side of my head was in complete control or so I thought.”
However, eventually the marriage became strained which led to Lizzy and her husband parting ways, Lizzy was unhappy living in California, and decided to move to Arkansas. She had two children a boy born in 1968 and a girl born in 1970.
Tin Lizzy is born in Arkansas
Lizzy moved to the Eureka Springs Arkansas 1975, here she found a job working as a waitress at a small restaurant. She found a creative way to buy a house with a 800.00 month mortgage payment. Which would be equivalent to 3300.00 a month today. At 33 years old, Lizzy finds herself a single mom of two children, no child support or welfare, working as a waitress, buying a home. She tells me that in order to make the mortgage, she decided she would need to sell something, so she started looking around for a low-cost way to produce a marketable product. What she came upon was making these little tin lamps. She noticed one day they had all these number 10 tin cans that had green beans and other vegetables thrown away at the restaurant. So that would be her raw material. Lizzy knew a stained glass maker, and he gave her his scraps, this was the beginning of Lizzy’s creative world. But surprisingly, Lizzy never saw this as art. She tells me, “even when I was doing this, it wasn’t an artist endeavor, it was just doubling my efforts in order to pay bills. Just a way to make money and survive. To that she adds, “I never could think smarter, I just plowed along through the mud”
She explain to me how she had set up a plan to make 8 each day and how she and her daughter would finish up the two or three left when her young elementary school daughter would come home from school. So Lizzy with the help of her young children would make these little art objects and sell them in Eureka Springs.
Lizzy tells me with heart wrenching pain in her voice, “the kids had nothing, clothing and shoes had become almost impossible for me to provide for my children” she adds, “this is where they turned against me, my son did not want to go school because the kids made fun of him, and he was such a leader and so generous in so many ways.”
As I listen to Lizzy tell me this story, it breaks my heart. Lizzy is telling the story of single women households across the land. It is a story of innocent young children who suffer the consequences of families living in poverty. Her life is a symbol of women who bring children into this world with all the hope and love that they will do this thing right, and when they realize that life is brutal and unkind, they are meshed in the now and their peril can be overwhelming.
But double her efforts she did, for Lizzy was able to pay her bills, she fed her children, educated them, and met her mortgage payments. As time went on, Lizzy expanded her production, she met a woman who owned several shops in Eureka and Lizzy was commissioned to sew handmade clothing for the woman’s shops.
Each year it seemed Lizzy increased her production by even more elaborate and creative methods. By the 3rd year she was selling custom-made clothing line, which by then had taken on an added talent of putting handmade embroider work on the clothes which had designed and sewed. She had also gotten into growing vegetables and found local markets for this also.
“Show me a tray of 1000 different seeds and I can tell you what each plant is” she adds to our conversation in almost a nonchalant way.
Buy 1988, Lizzy had paid for her home, and she had opened a greenhouse business. She tells me, “I had developed this wonderful organic fertilizer and I couldn’t make it fast enough. People started coming out of the woodwork to buy it. My plants were gorgeous, I was growing these exotic plants, I didn’t just grow steak bell peppers, I grew 15 different varieties of bell peppers“. Everything Lizzy touched seemed to turn into a profitable endeavor. But there was a problem, Lizzy was getting tired, she was getting run down. Everything she did was her own creation and her own hands. It was taking it’s toll. Finally Lizzy decided to shut the business down. Around 1996 she moved down to Baton Rouge, LA to be near her daughter, there Lizzy got a job teaching high school math. It wasn’t long before she decided it was time to go back to Eureka Springs.
Lizzy was nearly 50 years old, and decided she needed to find a new career. She says, “I called my two grown children and we held a family conference. I explained to them that it was time for me to make a decision regarding my future. I asked if they could offer me some direction.” to Lizzy’s complete and utter surprise, they both agreed that she should become an artist. She exclaimed, “I cannot do that, I have spent my entire life working from the left side of my brain as a scientist, now you want me to develop my right side, my mind will explode.”
It seemed at 50 years old Lizzy would be making a decision which would allow her to finally meet the real her for the first time. She had already been an artist, she just never allowed that word to define her. Now she was confronted by the two people in her life that knew her better than anyone in the world and they already knew what she would find out very soon.
Lizzy described the time and place in which she wrangled with the inner working of her brain. She spent three agonizing days alone, locked in a small bathroom tormented, she was facing her inner demons. It was right meets left and the left seemed to want to remain in full control, but finally she emerged from the isolation with a determination to give this strange world of the right side of her brain a chance to show her what she could do.
“The second I surrendered to my art, the very second my whole life fell into place.”
In 2001 Lizzy went to Northwest Arkansas Community College in Rogers AR and enrolled in an art class. The class was a watercolor class and she discovered once enrolled, that she was supposed to have learned drawing before moving into the watercolors. Once her teacher learned she was not prepared Lizzy was told it would be better for her take the drawing class and come back when that class was completed. Lizzy begged her teacher, “if you will allow me to stay in this class, I will learn to draw” and learn she did. She zoomed past her classmates, practicing day and night, “I was on fire” she exclaimed. “I am a doer”.
Lizzy has many venues, her Madam LeDue is just one of them. However, Madame LeDue is my own personal favorite. I wanted to learn how Lizzy discovered Madame LeDue.
“There was a woman in town who was a world-renowned doll maker and this woman took a fancy to me. She was quiet eclectic and was probably drawn to me for the same reason. We had become friends and this woman kept telling that I needed to learn doll making. Well, I did not want to learn to make dolls, but one day she drug me off to Harrison AR to a doll making class. It happened that day the theme was fairies, and all I could think about was “dolls are stupid, I am going to be a real artist” but I was there and unable to get away, as I was in her car, so I gathered up some strange fabrics began to make this very odd-looking fairy. You have to picture this; the other women all have these beautiful frilly, pastel fabrics, while mine was mismatched, black and red polka dots with stitched legs and lycra for head. At one point I even spilled red paint on her head and wanted to quit, but with the encouragement of my friend, I plodded on, ending up a gypsy rather than a fairy. My gypsy had frog legs for feet, a long skinny neck, stringy hair, and a big oval jewel stuck on her forehead. I took her home and stuck her in the closet. Each time my friend came to visit, she would ask me where is your doll? To which I would say, in the closet. My friend would ask to see her and I would bring this odd looking gypsy out, and finally I just left her sitting on the table.
As time went on, I began to call her Madam and she evolved into Madam LaDue. I had told my teacher at school about her, and she asked me to bring in her to school one day. So the final day of school, I arrived with doll in hand, fully expecting to have a full 8 hour class that day, it was summer school. However, all the classmates came in picked up their grades, my teacher came and went, leaving me alone with Madam LeDue. So put her on my easel and painted my doll that day. I was so on fire that day, drove my hour drive back to Eureka that evening all along the drive planning what I would paint next. I had an old white plastic rocking horse in the yard brought it inside, and my first painting of Madam LaDue was born.The last day of school was the first day of my life.”
It is hard to explain Madam LaDue, it really requires ones vision. Here is the link to Lizzy’s web page, which will show the doll. Lizzy does these in watercolors and the theme is always unusual. I ask Lizzy if Madam LaDue was a self portrait. “The only time I can do Madam LaDue is when I am happy.” Madam LaDue is so much fun, she travels the world and is in variety of settings.
Final note: Lizzy is living in Eureka Springs, AR. Her free spirit is still going strong. She is truly amazing and as much an inspiration as she is an artist. I began this article describing her generous heart. She walks the walk, her ablilty to reach inside her soul and see the world through a child’s eyes is beautiful.
I read a quote from Your Mystic Journey that goes like this: “Every child knows when she consents to citizenship in the real world that she is betrayed and betraying paradise. In time she adjust….” also this one by Freud “work and love, the world it too dangerous for children”
Lizzy has found the perfect balance between staying true to her little child and living in this big ole dangerous world. I am a better person knowing her.