Beyond the Canvas Portraits
They met as women ...and suddenly their estrangement, which had transcended twenty-six years, was ending.
In 1965, an all-too-brief "physical connecting journey" lasted only nine months for Susan and her unborn child. The test proved positive ...and Susan, seventeen and a senior in high school, was illegitimately pregnant.
A mere seven months later while living with her aunt in another state, on a stormy July night, intense labor pains resulted in an immediate mother-child separation.
No one involved in the adoption agreement ever anticipated that a birthmother and her child would come together again decades later. Her name was Jeanne and, late in March of 1993, she made the decision to search
for her birthmother. She enlisted the services of the adoption agency that had handled her placement
so many years before. The hope of finding, within their closed adoption file, a statement from her birthmother indicating she would be open to contact was realized that same day. Within hours, Jeanne's anticipation changed to reality. The file had been updated with Susan's married name, current address and a phone number where she could be reached.
Over the years an artist had kept her silence about the secret pregnancy and relinquishment of her firstborn child. During deeply introspective times in her life she would turn to paint and brushes as she processed feelings of longing for the unseen girl, known privately as "Mary".
Year after year, the paintings continued to capture "Mary" in ever-changing images. The adopted girl sported hats, bows and ribbons as she made her appearance on linen panels signed and dated by her artist-mother.
Photographs when compared with paintings of the girl who "grew up on canvas" demonstrate notable likenesses. Validating her theory of art therapy, Susan's self-portraits gradually gave way to paintings of "Mary", the child she never forgot. Beginning January 22nd, the first in a series of "Mary ...Beyond the Canvas Portraits" will be featured with poetry. To My Birthdaughter
Your hair was platinum blonde at first
Then it changed to a strawberry hue
Eventually the color was auburn
Befitting a girl like you
And the style of your hair from fluffy to flat
With overgrown bangs now and then
Was certain to be as you wished it to be
Years ago way back when
Dresses and costumes and braces and all
Oh how I did pretend
To imagine your face over and over
My longing trying to mend
How did I know with each button and bow
That in fact I was outfitting you
Dressed in your finest I painted your image
Yet no one ever knew
That you were the child that I had birthed
And painted from season to season
A canvas girl turned woman at last
My therapy had good reason
Susan Van Sleet
Birthmother Artist Author
"Mary ...Beyond the Canvas"
Off to school ...a usual day
For fifth grade friends and you
But on that date from far away
My mind's eye held a view
Watching you in costume
My need to paint tugged strong
Miles away you dressed the part
Then danced and sang your song
A mini-play of sorts evolved
For all who came to see
The stage alive as you performed
No seat was there for me
When I was ten I danced and sang
Enjoying similar part
On this day, though, it was your turn
And pride swelled in my heart
I heard applause and watched you bow
Then soon the curtain closed
No one knew the me in you
Did they ...would you suppose?
Credits: Susan Van Sleet