Mary Engelbreit: So Much More Than Cute

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Porch Light People: Individuals who are fully themselves. They’re not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture or other people. They instead live by their inner light.moth_edited-2

For my mother, who always told me anything was possible. – Inscription from, Mary Engelbreit: The Art and the Artist

Mary Engelbreit is one of my all time favorite artists. I’ve been a fan of her art since my early twenties. Not only was I attracted to her illustrations, but I connected to the thought provoking quotations she incorporated into them. Those hopeful words were beacons of light to me. Mary felt like a wise friend pointing me in the right direction. Once, I waited in line for six hours to have prints and cards of her’s signed. After I gushed on and on about my love for her art, I showed her a print of my detailed fine art painting that Oprah Winfrey had bought from me. She looked at me quizzically and said, “You like my art?” I assured her I did and told her what a great marketer she is. “That I am,” she answered wryly.

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This signed print hangs in my studio. Mary’s message to me, “Believe, Sue! “

Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Mary is best known for her greeting cards, calendars, children’s books, and giftware. At one point she even licensed a series of dolls based on characters from her drawings. Her images are described as nostalgic and cute (“Nothing wrong with cute,” says Mary). 

For over 40 years she has produced images without any guidelines for her art licensing company. Mary feels fortunate that she has always been able to draw from her inner impulses. As a rule, she never follows the market trends. Although her licensing company did begin producing adult coloring books when they came into vogue. To that she said, “We aren’t stupid.”

Mary’s childhood was the perfect launching pad for her to make a living illustrating the world as she sees it. She grew up under the loving gaze of parents who believed in her talent. Her light was allowed to shine from day one. Her mom and dad never questioned her plan to become an artist or what that actually meant. All they knew was that Mary’s dreams were sufficient to earn their respect. She had a passion for drawing and was encouraged to create and develop her artistic ability in whatever way she saw fit. Mary believes that since she was self-taught it was easier to stay true to her vision. Never having anyone trying to shape her talent, left her wide open to explore.

“Because I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t have any influences except the beautifully illustrated fairytale books that belonged to my mother and grandmother. I poured over them and taught myself to draw by copying their pages. The way I draw now was influenced by those books. There was often a quote under the pictures to explain what it illustrated in the story. That’s where I got the idea to incorporate quotations into my drawings. Because I was the only one doing that at the time, it set my work apart. It wasn’t my mission to get noticed or anything. It just worked out that way. My goal was to create images that expressed myself.”

“So I just went on my merry way and produced the kind of art I wanted to see.” –Mary Engelbreit

After Mary graduated from high school, she immediately moved into her career as an artist. She worked at an art supply store, a newspaper and an advertising agency. While trying to get freelance work from another ad agency, the art director told her she had to settle on a single style to attract clients. Mary immediately knew she didn’t want to work in advertising, “I tossed his advice aside and kept on going.”

At 22, she met her future husband, Phil Delano. They were married three years later. Even in the early stages of Mary’s career, Phil recognized her talent. He saw how people reacted to her art and was certain it was going someplace. Mary counts her lucky stars that he came into her life, “He always believed in me and encouraged me to keep at it. Even when we were broke.” In 1986, they formed their own licensing company, Mary Engelbreit Studios.

Mighty Good Husband

The knight in shining armor is based on Mary’s  husband, Phil Delano.

Up until 2000, it looked like Mary Engelbreit was leading a charmed life. On June 21st of that year, everything changed. Their 19-year-old son Evan was killed from a gunshot wound. The details are blurry as to whether it was self-inflicted or murder. After almost 20 years, Mary is still recovering from that loss. She believes it shifted her focus to what’s really important in life. She and Phil adopted Evan’s child after he died. Mikayla was only three months old at the time. Mary credits her granddaughter for helping their family to move forward after Evan’s death, “She basically saved our lives.”

After her son died, Mary found herself shifting artistically. She explains it like this, “I was always open to what came my way as an inspiration for my art. That loss opened a door that nobody wants to open. But there it is, and I had to deal with it. I’m lucky to have this artistic outlet to express my feelings. I don’t know what I would have done without it. I’ve felt that all my life, even for small things and for fun things. It’s really important to get your emotions outside of yourself so you can move on.”  

Prior to Evan’s death, Mary was a quiet activist. She created drawings about subjects that mattered to her but nothing too controversial. In 2014, that all changed when she made a drawing titled, No One Teach protesting gun violence and posted it on Facebook. Her illustration was inspired by her outrage over the police killing of teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. To Mary, the shooting death of Michael felt personal. Her heart broke for his mother and the community.

Speaking her truth, created a backlash Mary wasn’t prepared for. She confided that when she put No One Teach on Facebook, “Some people responded to it by posting ugly, ugly things.” She has come to terms with that though. She may have lost some followers, but in the end, they were replaced by others who support her views. Today Mary continues onward and upward with her activism. She will not stay silent so others can remain comfortable. And without a backward glance, she goes on her “Mary” way. 

In the USA

Click to purchase print.

*Prints of No One Teach can be purchased on Mary’s website. 50% of the proceeds go to the American Civil Liberties Union.

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*Coming up next: Profile of #1 New York Times best-selling author, Pam Grout

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

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

Rodney Crowell: Playing to the A Student

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Porch Light People: Individuals who are fully themselves. They’re not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture or other people. They instead live by their inner light.moth_edited-2

“If I could influence someone’s description of me I would say, ‘he was curious and he was humble. And somewhere way back in his emotional mindset he was very self-assured.’” – Rodney Crowell

Rodney Crowell grew up in Texas. His childhood was a hardscrabble one. It didn’t hit him until years later that he had been traumatized by it. His father was a hardcore alcoholic who wasn’t opposed to hitting his mother on occasion. Rodney carried that shame with him long into his adulthood.

His mother was epileptic and belonged to a fanatical, Pentecostal church. Rodney was shaken to his core after witnessing church members shouting at her, while having a seizure, to spit out the Devil. Despite having no use for organized religion of any kind he considers himself a spiritual person. “I’ve always had faith. I’ve never been without it. Ever.”

Rodney began playing drums in bars for his dad’s band when he was 11. His parents neither encouraged nor discouraged their only child’s musical aspirations. At 15, Rodney left home to join a rock and roll band. His dad and mom waved goodbye at the door. He doesn’t even remember if they said, “good luck.”

When he moved out, it didn’t occur to Rodney that playing in a band wasn’t a practical way to make a living. “I never considered anything else and I think for that very reason I’ve had a career that’s lasted. I’ve paid the bills making music since I was fifteen. Music was the catnip. And I was one of those cartoon cats that was just floating through the air following the sound. I’ve been pulled along since day one, really.”

These days Rodney is known primarily for his work as a grammy award winning country music singer/songwriter. His compositions have been recorded by Keith Urban, Bob Seger, The Oak Ridge Boys, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, and Johnny Cash. His acclaimed memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, is a continuation of the door he opened into his childhood in his semi-autobiographical album, The Houston Kid. He has continued to weave the narrative of his life throughout the albums he’s made since then.

By the time Rodney was 22, he had made his way to Nashville. He had fallen in with group of songwriters who mentored each other through the learning process. At the helm of them was Guy Clark. He gave Rodney a book of poet, Dylan Thomas’s to study. He wanted to make clear what they were doing was creating art. Rodney poured over it. For the first time in his life, he came to the conclusion that songwriting wasn’t something you just do to make money. Being an artist was about sharing your deeper self.

Around 1998, the stardom Rodney longed for began to materialize. At the time, he was married to singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash. They were raising Rodney’s daughter from his first marriage and three of their own girls. That same year his album, Diamonds and Dirt yielded five consecutive No.1 singles. It looked like Rodney had hit the big time. Blinded by churning out music for the masses, he had lost sight of the artist he envisioned himself being in his early twenties. Rodney felt like he had fallen into mediocrity. The celebrity he counted on making him happy had become a detriment to his psyche. “In my youth I craved fame because I was a young man unfulfilled. I was trying to fix the holes in my soul that were there from childhood.”

With the realization that he had lost his way, Rodney shifted gears and self-financed his album Houston Kid. It was risky. He made it with the cash he had on hand, even bouncing a couple of checks in the process.“I had to fund that record on my own because I wanted to make the exact music I wanted to make. When I was doing something on someone else’s dime I was inclined to try to anticipate what they wanted. I knew that wasn’t what an artist was supposed to do. In funding my own music, I found my voice.” Eleven albums later he has never veered from that path.

No longer chasing fame, Rodney’s focus is on a career with longevity. “As T-Bone Burnett said to me a long time ago, ‘Oh Rodney, I get it. You don’t want to be rich. You play to the A student.’ He was being funny and sarcastic, but if you’re going to follow your own heart, you have to be prepared to have a small following because it’s singular sensibility as opposed to board stroke sensibility.”

Rodney has learned much over the 50 odd years he has been in the music business. One thing is for certain, he no longer allows fear to dictate his actions. “I remember forming the mindset that if I was afraid of something, I would do it. As a matter of a fact, I made Houston Kid  because I was afraid to expose a lot of material in that. I was afraid to write about my father being an abuser of women…so I did it. And it transformed the way I go about doing things. Maybe for awhile I was too revealing. But maybe not.”

Looking back Rodney is at peace with his childhood. In fact, he says he wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s the trajectory that brought him to where he is today. His faith in God has taken a real departure from the perimeters his mother gave him. “For one thing I wouldn’t call it a him. It’s male and female. It’s beyond gender. It’s singular. It’s mainly love and supreme intelligence. It’s an internal thing that’s outwardly expressed. And I think if that particular discussion even comes close to the coffee table it’s missing the point.”

Today Rodney still follows his heart.  It is something that spills over into all areas of his life.

He acknowledges his parents did the best they could with what they had. What they weren’t capable of giving him Rodney made sure he gave to his daughters. He owns that he’s done right by them, “I’m a good dad, that’s for sure.”

As far as Rodney can tell they are all following their dreams. “Of course they are. I raised them that way. My girls grew up with the example of following your heart or muse right in front of them, sometimes frustratingly so. Sometimes it was hard for them to get my attention because my head was elsewhere. But they understood although my head may have been elsewhere, my heart never was.”

“I’ll bet that when you’re dying, you’re not going to think about the money you made. You’re going to think about your art.” – Guy Clark

On the cusp of his 70th decade Rodney has an unwavering faith that he’s doing exactly what he was put on Earth to do. He is a man whose talents are fully realized. That is no accident. The resolve to be true to himself has brought him to that place.”I don’t think I can create anything of lasting value unless it comes from the heart. I’ve had this knowing all along. Even when I lost a handle on how to do it..”

Rodney Crowell has come to terms with his days on Earth being numbered. That awareness makes time precious. He no longer puts off being with the people he loves. And when he’s not doing that he’s making art.

**************************************************************************************In 2019 Rodney was awarded the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award

*Rodney’s 21st album, Texas, came out on Aug. 15, 2019 *************************************************************************************

*Coming up next: Profile of artist, Mary Engelbreit

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

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

 

Introducing Porch Light Profiles

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

Welcome to Porch Light Profiles. This year I’m shifting the focus of my blog to writing about men and women who allow their light to illuminate the world. What do I mean by that? I mean people who know who they are and express their inner selves to humanity. This expression always brings them joy and manifests itself in their life’s work. I’m discovering that if you follow what most excites you, the right people, resources and opportunities will appear to help you share your gifts with the world.

Although “Porch Light People” are a part of all walks of life, I’m going to begin by focusing on artists. For me, it’s easiest to see this principal in action in them. Growing up they learned the same societal belief most of us did: you must find a career path that will earn you a living. Yet the flame inside urging them to create, burned so brightly it was impossible to ignore. Instead of asking, “How can I support myself?”, they said, “If I don’t do my art, I can’t go on.”

Doing what makes your heart sing, seems like a good way to starve in the logical world. We may reason that the only sure way to keep ourselves safe is to follow the cultural rules of survival. Often, that means turning your back on doing what makes you feel alive. Some get so good at suppressing what brings them joy that, sadly, they lose touch with it. They never learn that paying attention to the “still small voice within” is what will help them succeed. Those who have a wide-open connection to that voice are who I’ll be writing about. They know their work flows through them from a higher source. That doesn’t necessarily mean they take part in a formal religion. What it does mean is they don’t control the process, but let something greater than themselves take the reins.

Here are some questions I hope to answer over the next few months:

Do we all have an inner guidance system that will direct our path if we listen?

Can you make a living by following your heart?

What happens when you give into fear and move away from your passion?

Can following your bliss lead to your life’s work?

Is doing what we love and answering our calling the same thing?

In these profiles, I hope to give evidence that it is safe to share your deepest self with the world. In fact, I believe that is what we are here for. Being who we are and doing what feeds our soul is our life’s work. When we allow ourselves to shine, the world can’t help but be drawn to us. Our life has become a prayer. In that state of being, it doesn’t take a lot of thought or planning to figure out how to share your gift with others. Like moths to a flame they will find you.

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*Coming up next: Profile of New York Times best selling author, Anita Moorjani

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

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

How Could I Write a Book About Myself and Not Know It?

Glory in the Morning Book coverNo matter where you go – there you are” ― Confucius

I shared my picture book, Glory in the Morning with the world today. That is code for saying it’s now available on Amazon. Getting this book into physical form and into the hands of children has been quite an experience. When I wrote and illustrated it, I had no idea it would be a way for me to speak my truth. After all, there was no deep thought required to get the words down on paper. It was just a fairytale that seemed to write itself. Today, I see it as a story that affirms my journey to wholeness. It reminds me of the powerful truths embodied in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’m curious if the author, Frank L. Baum, figured out that he had been writing about himself, too?

“Just be yourself, there is no one better.” ― Taylor Swift

Glory in the Morning is for anyone who’s ever felt invisible. Growing up under the sharp gaze of a critical mother, I learned it wasn’t safe to be myself. Spontaneity often got me into trouble, so I silenced my free spirit. I devalued my thoughts and feelings. Worst of all, I suppressed my intuition. I used my mind and not my heart to make decisions. Canceling out my “inner guidance” to plug into my mom’s rules, protected me from her wrath. Unfortunately, what kept me safe in childhood, left me the shell of the woman I was born to be.

Nasty old troll

 “With the help of God and true friends, I’ve come to realize, I still have two strong legs, and even wings to fly.” ― Greg Allman

After years of inner work and cultivating a connection to God, I became willing to share the “real me” with others. I knew I had to do that to continue to grow. Opening myself up to trusted friends, helped to heal my brokenness. I began to see myself the way they saw me, not as a mistake but a gift.

Glory in the Morning gives parents a vehicle to share the power of being believed in and the realization that eyes aren’t the only way we see with their children. Kids don’t need my backstory to understand  the underlying message of the book. They naturally intuit the deeper meaning just like we did with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when we were young.

Jennifer reading to Kendall

It’s hard to know for sure why any of us are born. I’m certain creating Glory in the Morning is part of the reason I’m here. No, I don’t think my picture book will heal the world. But I do believe it’s a drop in a wave of self-acceptance and love that is washing over our planet. In its pages, lives a hero’s journey. A fairy named Glory will disappear unless she finds two people who believe in her before the sun shines high in the sky. Can she do it? Does she do it? Just that I’ve written these words confirms that Glory and I are here to stay. Us invisible? Not a chance.

Ivy meets Glory

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