My Christmas Wish

Christmas in the Blue Room

Christmas in the Blue Room

You gotta have a dream,

If you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true? 

― Rogers and Hammerstein, Happy Talk

I have a goal I visualize every year in December. I want to illustrate the White House Christmas card. My dream took root when I received a Christmas card from the Clinton’s in 1994. They began sending them to me after I created a portrait of their daughter, Chelsea. The card painted by Thomas McKnight, grabbed hold of me and I thought, “I want to do that.” Since that time, during each presidency, I’ve submitted card concepts to the Office of the First Lady for consideration. All the rejections I’ve received have been gracious and none have deterred me.

If I can dream of a better land,

Where all my brothers walk hand in hand,

Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true? 

― Walter Earl Brown, If I Can Dream

The full color rendering above is my favorite holiday card concept. It’s entitled, “Christmas in the Blue Room.” That’s were the official White House Christmas tree is displayed each year. I drew it when President Bush was in office.I couldn’t resist incorporating the Bushes’ dogs Spotty, Barney, and their cat, India, in my illustration.  I love the idea behind this piece. America’s children gathered around the official tree speaks of the melting pot of souls that makes our land great. That they are hand in hand signifies unity. We are all one in this country. Children are born knowing that but it often fades when they begin to model themselves after the adults in their lives. My art shows the beauty in the contrast of our citizens. It speaks of the innate love for each other that we’re born with. As adults, how do we cross the boundaries of fear and intolerance to join together in peace and friendship? The quickest way to get there is through the eyes of a child.

 A sketch I did during the Clinton Administration. Family pets Buddy and Socks snooze under the official tree.

A sketch I did during the Clinton Administration. Family pets Buddy and Socks snooze under the official tree.

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Coincidences: We Are Never Alone

I see the moon 300 (1)In 2012, while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, I was shopping for a beach read. A little volume, whose cover wore the night sky, caught my eye. Its title, When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life, intrigued me. Learning the author, SQuire Rushnell, lived on the island and had signed the book was all I needed. I purchased one. I began reading it that evening and finished it long before we trekked to the ocean the next morning. According to the author, a godwink is a message of reassurance that comes from above in the form of a coincidence. It’s a signpost in our life to let us know we’re going in the right direction. I yearned to feel God’s presence and in the pages of this book was a refreshing way to do just that.

“Your children first learn who God is by experiencing you.” – Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

It’s been said that we model our perception of the Divine by our relationship with our parents. That certainly was true in my case. To me a loving Creator was only wishful thinking. My family was riddled with alcoholism and the mechanism’s formed to cope with it. My father often told me he loved me but looked the other way when it came to my mother’s harsh treatment and verbal abuse. As for my mom, I can honestly say I never heard her utter the words “I love you” my whole childhood. I couldn’t help but grow up with the unconscious belief that although God may be there for others, he ignored me and my prayers. There seemed to be an impenetrable wall between us. Reading When God Winks gave me hope that there is a Higher Power who loves his children (me included) unconditionally. The notion that he puts serendipitous events on our paths to lift our spirits was a lovely concept to me. I liked this way of thinking and immediately began watching for winks. I had no trouble finding them again and again.

“Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.”- Carl Jung

I’ve come to the awareness that my life has been filled with godwinks all along. I missed them because I didn’t know they were there. When reviewing important events of the past, I can see them glimmering throughout. One such scenario took place in 1994. I had a strong inner nudge to draw a portrait of Chelsea Clinton and send it her mother, who was first lady at the time. Mrs. Clinton had been getting such bad press about health care reform, I felt compelled to encourage her. I knew she was partial to angels and wore an angel pin on her shoulder. I had the inspiration to paint her daughter as an angel and send it to her. I’m not in the habit of giving my art away, but it was something I felt a strong call to do. For a woman who had little faith in herself, it was a real leap.

Chelsea Clinton

Chelsea Clinton Portrait

I didn’t realize it then but I now see that godwinks were there to give me hope and point me in the right direction the whole way through.  After I decided to trust my intuition, I came across a wonderful quote to include on the illustration (wink #1). Next, I stumbled upon the perfect photograph of Chelsea’s face to base the portrait on (wink #2). My daughter was close to Chelsea’s age and I was able to photograph her body to work from to create the image (wink #3). I was going to ship the piece to Mrs. Clinton in care of the White House until I stumbled upon the more direct route of sending it to her address at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (wink #4). When the drawing was completed, I wrapped it up and shipped it off to the First Lady. In less than a week, I received the most lovely thank-you note from her. In it she told me I had captured her daughter’s spirit (wink #5). What a confirmation that I should trust my own instincts! Reflecting back, it seems incredulous that I didn’t notice how miraculously everything had fallen into place. But you can’t perceive what you don’t believe exists.

Letter from Hillary Rodham Clinton

Letter from Hillary Rodham Clinton

Godwinks is now a household term in my family. Watching for them has made all of our faith bloom and grow. It’s almost a different form of gratitude. Of course, at times, I still slip back into my old thinking patterns. When I pray for assistance, I’m always given a nod from God that lets me know he hasn’t abandoned me. I’ve found the evidence of his love is everywhere if we only shift our focus and look.

Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

For the Love of Grace

Grace of My Heart

Grace of My Heart

“Blessed be childhood, which brings down something of heaven into the midst of our rough earthliness” -Henri Fredric Amiel

The little girl in the above illustration is Grace Audrey McDonnell. She is one of the twenty children whose lives were cut short at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December 14. Although I didn’t know her personally, she has taken residence in my heart. I was first introduced to her while watching the news. President Obama shared Grace with the world during a speech unveiling his gun control agenda last January. The president brought to light the details of her life. He said, “Grace was seven years old when she was struck down. Just a gorgeous, caring, joyful little girl. I’m told she loved pink. She loved the beach. She dreamed of being a painter. And just before I left, Chris, her father, gave me one of her paintings. And I hung it in my private study, just off the Oval Office. And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace …”

Hearing about Grace’s art hanging in the president’s study triggered some memories of my own. I had been beyond thrilled when I learned Hillary Clinton had hung my portrait of Chelsea in her private study when she was first lady. It saddened me Grace wasn’t here to know of the honor bestowed upon her painting.

I was drawn to Grace and began reading articles about her short life. We had so much in common. Like me, she was born with the soul of an artist. When she grew up, she wanted to live on Martha’s Vineyard. Vacationing there every summer for years, I share her love for everything about that island. And I learned that, like me, some of her happiest moments were spent there.

I felt such a connection to Grace. The thought began coming to me that I had to paint a portrait of her for her parents. I tried to dismiss it as just a sympathetic impulse, but the entreaty wouldn’t leave me alone. I had the distinct feeling it was something Grace wanted me to do. It was my part to play in her family’s healing. The painting would be a gift from Grace through me. I tried pushing these thoughts down but they were always there, humming in the background. Finally, I surrendered to them and tracked down her mom, Lynn. Understanding she might be wary, I expressed my conviction with trepidation. Grief is such a personal thing. I didn’t want to add to her parent’s burden in any way. Lynn accepted my offer and sent me the program from Grace’s memorial service. When I opened it up, I knew I had found the picture to base her portrait on. Inside the booklet was a photo of Grace taken by her mother at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair. The pensiveness in that child’s beautiful eyes revealed her soul – a look only a mother could capture.

Last week, I put the finishing touches on my painting of Grace. All that’s left to do is pack it up and ship it to her family. My hope is that anyone who reads this post prays for Grace, and for the healing of all those she left behind. Collective prayer always brings miracles.

Grace Audrey McDonnell didn’t have an ounce of hate in her. She was the light and the love of her family. She was Chris and Lynn’s daughter and Jack’s little sister. She was a granddaughter, a friend and loved by many. But to me, she will always be, simply Grace of my heart.

Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Keep Going: Harriet Tubman’s Legacy

keep-going_edited-1Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”                Harriet Tubman

No one knows if Harriet Tubman really uttered these words, but there isn’t any question that  she lived them. Harriet was born into slavery and raised in a world with no hope. Still, she dreamed her dreams and did what she had to do. She broke the law of the land by following the North Star to freedom. Where did a woman who was whipped as a child get that kind of courage?

Harriet had a deep and abiding faith that she was being guided. She was steadfast in her conviction that all she had to do was keep going and God would take care of the details. She shepherded over 300 slaves to freedom. If any of her fugitive charges became faint-hearted and wanted to turn around, she threatened to shoot them. Turning back could mean death to them all. She gave them no choice but to keep going.

I too have been known to buckle and want to backtrack. Somehow the pain of the mundane seems safer than pioneering into new territory. The only way I’m able to move past that kind of paralyzation is to borrow some of Miss Harriet’s grit. She always remembered to ask for direction and then listen for the answer. The way was always made clear. What stands between me and that kind of guidance? Remembering to ask. harriet-tubman-wanted-poster_edited-1
Harriet’s life has been a beacon to many. In Hillary Clinton’s 2008 speech for the Democratic convention, she shared my admiration.

There are many books written about this remarkable woman’s life. One of my favorites is Courage to Run by my friend, Wendy Lawton.

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.  www.sueshanahan.com