One of the absolute great joys of my work with Ethiopia Reads is the amazing people I’ve met along the way. So, so, so many special people — too many to name.
One such person is L (names have been withheld to protect the humble) from Denver, Colo., who headed up the very first Ethiopian Odyssey, raising more than $15,000. In brief, An Ethiopian Odyssey was a wild idea I had — after almost a decade of sharing art and helping to develop art programs in Ethiopia Reads schools — to finally create my own body of work based on Ethiopia , then use that art to raise funds for the schools.
That wild idea was first embraced by one of my favorite people on Planet Earth, the award-winning children’s book author Jane Kurtz. Jane introduced me to L, and she embraced the idea. L had a strong community around her in Denver and so many people who believed in her and the cause enough to roll up their sleeves and make something very significant happen. And something significant did happen. The event was a huge success, not only in its fundraising achievements but in the feeling — in the energy and the warmth of the event.
L and her family graciously hosted me in their home for a couple of days so I could come and be a part of the very first stop of An Ethiopian Odyssey. L and her husband have three children, the youngest of whom is adopted from Ethiopia. You know those homes that you walk into and you can just feel the warmth and you know that love lives in this home? Their home is like this. I left Denver after the great success of my time there and the fundraiser feeling fantastic. L, her family, and the strong communities surrounding her had that effect.
During and after the event in Denver, L and I had talked in passing about her family acquiring one of my pieces of art. But since the art had all sold out in Denver (thanks to that amazing community), we had discussed a commission. As I understand the commission, her in-laws wanted to buy the painting as a Christmas present knowing the money would be donated the Ethiopia Reads, of which L is a board member.
L had really come to understand a lot about artists in the artistic process through curating and hosting an art-based fundraiser and she had an understanding that the commission would turn out best when much was left to the artist. I did ask for a little guidance and for her to share with me a few of her favorite pieces. One of the things she said was, “You’ve been to my house and you know my family and I think whatever you come up with will be great.”
So in thinking about this commission, I thought a lot about their family: their warmth, their love, and — what kept standing out in my mind — that quality that I so admire, which is a fundamental belief in giving back. Through their 2-year-old son adopted from Ethiopia, the family had a commitment to giving back to this country and the children of this country. This family is a family of five that was possibly still growing, but also a family committed to giving back to so many children that were not within their immediate family but inside the greater totality of the word “family” — our global family.
And so I came up with this painting with a couple walking along, as the family started with the love of two people: L and her husband. From there, those two people took a journey, and that’s where I got the title of the painting: “A Family’s Journey.” The couple is walking along a road with a child on the woman’s back, which represented all of their children, but I also added a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd also represented the parents and the flock: All of the children whose lives they affected through their warmth and generosity and commitment to giving back.
In the end, creating this piece was not only a Christmas present for the family, but for me. This was a gift for me because I get a wee bit unnerved around Christmas at some of the massive displays of materialism and the general loss of perspective that has come to be a part of the holiday (such as Black Friday, to name but one). Doing special commissions like this, for a family who so values the power of giving back, helps me keep my faith and fills my heart with the warmth of the season.
There is also the gift of inspiration that surrounds giving souls. I can’t tell you where the inspiration for this piece came from — not from me, but from that great force of creativity, the divine creator, that energy responsible for all great art, but most important, the generosity of the family itself. I am humbled and blessed by this honor of creating this art.
So many different holidays are celebrated this time of year, and whatever it is that you celebrate, I wish you the very best of all that holiday represents. On behalf of this story and the family involved, I wish you a very merry Christmas, if that resonates with you!
Happy holidays and a blessed New Year!