When I first told my family about how I’d spent my Wednesday evenings for the last six months, they didn’t believe me. After all, I didn’t fit the typical nude model persona. At 70, I didn’t have perky breasts or taut skin. But I told them, “There is beauty in the aging body, too. Modeling nude isn’t about sex, it’s about capturing the soul within the human body and revealing it in an artistic way. The challenge for Dr. Hensley’s art class was to show the beauty of my aging form.”
After my husband, Robert, died of a sudden heart attack three years ago, my life felt empty. I didn’t feel like I belonged to our couples’ bridge, cooking or travel clubs without him. For months I floundered, not knowing where I belonged. I roamed the halls of our home asking, “What now?” I’d find myself absorbed in drawing Robert from memory only to laugh at how my drawing looked more like a stranger than him. He’d always encouraged me to take up my art again. Maybe it was time. I’d given it up years ago to raise our family, but when I saw a drawing class offered at Oakland Community College a few miles away, I decided to enroll. That’s when I met Dr. Hensley, the director of the art department.
Dr. Hensley encouraged all his students, including me. He challenged me and opened my eyes to see art in all objects. Before long I couldn’t look at any object without thinking about its form, shadows and creative significance. Simple objects like chairs, tables and mirrors became living things and before long I dreamt of them coming to life. In the beginning, I drew still lifes with pencil, progressed to charcoals and then watercolors. Then a year ago I began painting nudes. Six months later Dr. Hensley approached me about being a model.
He said, “Mrs. Parker, now that you’ve drawn nudes for several months, I know you understand and appreciate the complexity of this type of art. It’s difficult to find mature models with your beauty who are willing to endure sitting for my students. Would you consider modeling for them on Wednesday evenings?”
Blushing, I looked away and said, “I’ll have to think about it.”
“If you’d feel more comfortable we could drape you.”
“How long would I have to sit?”
“We’d start out at half-an-hour intervals and work up to hour sessions when you’re ready.”
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard myself say, “I think I’d like to do that for your students, Dr. Hensley.” After all, he’d given me hours of his time and expertise and I felt as if this would be a way of giving back.
Since then, 30 students had spent hours in the classroom trying to capture the soul beneath my aging beauty. They’d been complimentary and respectful. Even though I found confidence and acceptance in them, I worried that my family wouldn’t feel the same way.
As I looked into their faces I knew they were shocked, but I had to finish my story before they found out the rest from someone else. Unfortunately, when this all began I never thought about the possible consequences. Hoping for the best, I shut my eyes and whispered, “And that’s how I ended up on display in the downtown art exhibit.”
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