My uber-cool musical friend Staci Frenes has done it again. I posted a two-part interview with her previously about the role of creativity in our faith. You can read them here: Part 1 and Part 2. Staci is a great singer and songwriter. Now she has added author to her skill set. She has just released her book flourish: Cultivate Creativity. Sow Beauty. Live in Color. I had the opportunity to do some early reading of her manuscript and was happy to encourage her to write on the topic. As people of faith and children of our creative God, it is critical for us to reengage the arts, renew ourselves as artists, and reach out to the artisans of the culture. With her book, Staci shares how God can work in all us — even those of us who do not feel particularly skilled — to live a celebratory life of creativity. Below is an excerpt from flourish and I hope you’ll hit one of the links to buy the book for yourself.
NANA, ME & THE WORK OF ART by Staci Frenes
… all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life, to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece. -Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists
My grandmother, Viola Mathilda Anderson, (“Nana”) was a professional seamstress in my hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Her shop was a perpetual flurry of spinning spools of multi-colored thread and the familiar whir and hum of her trusty sewing machine. It was my favorite Saturday morning hangout. I loved being right in the middle of the sounds, the smells, and all there was to see in that little dress shop because it was all Nana—her work, her world, her laughter and her energy. She was the most creative, passionate, immensely talented person I’d ever been around.
People loved Nana’s work. She tailored their pantsuits, hemmed their skirts, designed and sewed their prom dresses, Easter outfits, and even their wedding gowns. She could whip up great-looking outfits for me in a jiffy. One in particular I wore for my sixth grade school picture consisted of a polyester tunic and matching bell-bottomed pants in a pink paisley print. (Think: Marcia Brady. Don’t judge, I was a child of the 70’s). Wearing that outfit felt like a warm hug from Nana. It’s as though she gave her very self to me—to all of us who wore her clothes—in the pieces she created.
Nana worked at what she loved, creating and sewing clothes almost every day of her life. Sewing for people fueled her emotional tank, kept her up at all hours, made her a little loony during busy seasons, but it also infused her life with a sense of purpose and deep fulfillment. Nana was never happier and more focused than when she was sitting at her sewing machine, knee-deep in fabric, thread and deadlines.
Nana’s clothes lived a life beyond her as they got passed down to daughters, nieces, grandkids, neighbors. I imagine brides nervously walking down church aisles in Nana’s dresses, babies squirming in her christening gowns, and my mom as a teen, dancing in one of Nana’s specially-made party dresses with the handsome, shy boy who later became her husband, and my dad. Each person lived a different life, experiencing the full gamut of human emotions wearing a garment that was cut, stitched and pressed by Nana’s own hands. Her works of art stretched beyond the limits of her 88 years.
Two generations later, I, too, find myself a working artist, creating for a living. My tools are much different than Nana’s—a guitar and the melodies and words that I shape into songs. Songs are the language I speak, the thoughts I think, they are the way I receive and give back to the world around me. When I’m writing and singing my songs, I’m more grounded and content than when I’m doing any other thing. I feel a kind of timeless connection to something bigger than me; as though what I am doing matters in a way I can’t quantify or explain. I hope that others can hear something of their own story in some of my songs and feel understood; or hear comfort and hope in the words I write and feel less alone.
This kindred creative spirit I share with my nana has little to do with the kind of art we each make, and one isn’t more or less important or worthy. It has to do with the love we share of expressing something new—shaping it, tweaking it, playing with it until it starts to please us, starts to feel like an authentic and unique creation, unlike anything else we’ve seen or heard. We enjoy working at our creativity, because it’s something only we can do, and in the stretching, cutting and pinching of the materials under our hands we begin to feel our art do its work on us, too. We find out who we are and what we love.
(excerpted from “flourish: Cultivate Creativity. Sow Beauty. Live in Color” by Staci Frenes)