I inherited an umbrella with Renoir’s famous painting Bal du moulin de la Galette from my mother’s belongings years ago. It recently sheltered me from some April showers and reminded me of the presence of Renoir in my household since I became a teenager.
During my formative years I had a very eccentric art teacher: Mrs. Peggy Hilton. She was extremely talented with a quirky sensibility. To get the classes attention, especially if we were being too loud, she would blow a whistle that she wore around her neck. It was her trademark. She was a tiny woman with a lot of gusto, and she used that gusto to motivate all of us students to create our own mini masterpieces. I recall one day I helped her take things out to her yellow Volkswagen Beetle and I noticed she had a stack of telephone books on the driver’s seat. I learned in that moment she needed to sit on them in order to see over the steering wheel. This tidbit of information made me realize she probably couldn’t reach the pedals very well and that is why she had a “wild” approach into the parking lot everyday.
One semester she wanted the class to replicate the work of an impressionist. I chose Renoir’s A Girl With a Watering Can (1876). It is a painting of Mademoiselle Leclere in her blue dress. I believe I was in 7th or 8th grade when I made my version and for the life of me couldn’t sketch her face. Mrs. Hilton helped me with an interpretation. She was proud of the classes accomplishments and had our work framed. It hung on the wall in the house for my mom to see from the time of its completion in the early 80s until I had to move my mom to an assisted living facility in 2007.
For this water-color, I remember splashing the paint around when Mrs. Hilton walked by to observe what I had made. She said, “Do you see what I see? Do you see him?” I said, “Him?” She grabbed a brush and in a few gentle brush strokes she created arms. I had a bona fide person on my canvas and she saw it before I did. Instead of a man I decided it looked more like Grace Jones, so I have always called the painting “Grace.” I see a bunny rabbit’s face in her neck though! I guess it’s like looking at the moon and figuring out if you see the man or rabbit.
Another fixture on my mom’s wall since I was in high school was this sketch. Mrs. Hilton asked me to sit for her advanced students. My friend Bryon drew this. My mom had it framed. It was one of her favorite pieces of art.
The presence of Renoir and Mrs. Hilton has been with me for decades. Today I just wanted to pay homage.