I first observed her teaching when I worked at Coupeville Arts Center. I was impressed from the first, but after witnessing her art of teaching for one week each of two years, I vowed to not let another opportunity to paint with her guidance pass by without participating. What I saw in Peggy's method is a way of safe-porting artists in their risk-taking. I had seen many workshops happen in the three years that I worked a the Arts Center, but I knew that since I hadn't any fine art education beyond high school art class, she was the only one that I could trust to meet me where I was and challenge me to the next level.
What happened for me 14 years ago was the beginning of an on-going dialogue between the canvas and my spirit with Peggy Zehring as my guide and mentor. The first seven years, I only painted during that five-day, annual workshop. Peggy was very patient and each year, encouraged me to carve out place and time for my painting. Many years, I would come to the workshop with a question or a metaphor from which to begin my five-day intensive. Something I might have read or heard sparked some growth in my spiritual quest and inevitably it would appear in my drawings on that first day of class, then in the paintings that I would work on in subsequent days. But still, I would only paint during the workshop and hope that it would be enough to get me through to the next year. Of course, since I was teaching English with 8th graders at the time, I was pretty much consumed by that endeavor.
After working with Peggy for seven years (or should I say, seven weeks), I finally was at the place where everything I looked at--peeling paint on a dilapidated building, rust and scratches on a railroad sidecar, wabi sabi in general--became an abstract painting. I still only had time to create in my head, but I did it constantly. At the end of the 01-02 school year, in response to two tragic events, one being the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, the other being the debilitating stroke experienced by a friend's husband, I decided that I could not put off my passion and dreams any longer. I had to leave teaching, get a job in a bookstore (Scott's Bookstore in Mount Vernon, that is sadly no longer open for business), and make art. I created space and time for my passion.
And always because of Peggy's nudges, I was painting my truth. I was growing my spirit. I was learning the nuances of abstract composition. Through Peggy, I have learned about color--the mixing of perfect grey and all colors from the primaries--I have learned about the dark and the light dynamic, where they are logically and intuitively--I have learned the secret of composition in squares--I have learned to experiment, experiment, experiment--and four years ago, Peggy introduced me to the absolute joy of creating texture by mixing gel medium and spackle. And always, through the whole process, we would have the most spiritually enriching, philosophical discussions. What can I say, I thrived on the whole experience.
And one of the coolest things about a workshop with Peggy is witnessing what each of the workshop artists creates when expressing their individual truth. Seeing how others thrive. There is always so much richness, so much that is compelling, so much to learn from each other's experience of paper and charcoal of canvas and paint and use of some of the oddest tools a painter could work with.
Yes, Peggy has given generously. To so many. She also gave me the gift of the most sublime experience of my life this past September at the Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery in New York City. I was honored to have my work exhibited with hers and with the work of Margo Spellman. Please check out their websites through the links on the sidebar.
To Peggy Zehring...I raise my glass and my spirit in gratitude.