Thicker Than Water

Jane Elkin

Jane Elkin

Thicker Than Water was selected for MSUL’s themed call for work about Water, in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum’s fall 2023 exhibition, Flint is Family in Three Acts, featuring the photography of Latoya Ruby Frazier.

I find my mother sitting lakeside on the dock in her Madras shorts with a pristine watercolor set from the dime store on her lap and a white sketchpad with the beginnings of a sunset scene. The way she dabs the brush from orange to red and back to orange again to create just the right syrupy shade of tangelo, it's magic. That bright orb shines through a wash of marigold sky to set off a teepee whose crimson comes straight from the box's eight pools of color. Having, in my six-year-old opinion, just mastered coloring, I am impressed and intrigued. 
The black water at our feet is alive with damselflies like gliders in peacock and fuchsia, maneuvering on outsized diaphanous wings. They hover and dart, alone and in tandem, alighting on pontoon feet—oblivious of the double-winged dragonflies with their cargo-hold thoraxes and engines a-clatter. Such power from silvery veins of nothingness, it's almost enough to make me believe in fairies.
She's humming my favorite song, Redwing, about a lovesick Indian maid, and when I join in, she improvises a harmony as the sun inches lower toward the treetops. After crowning the teepee with brown frame-poles and a black zigzag border the same as on Charlie Brown's sweater, she sets to work mixing black into the green of the palette to create a slurry for pine trees. The convincing beauty of her inverted V's is awe-inspiring, but I am distraught at the sullied pools of pigment in the paint set. Our new paint set is new no more.
She finishes her landscape with a carpet of sandy brown, then holds it at arm's length to admire. Looking from the picture to the stained pallet from which it was born, I see that the blue and purple spots of paint, the dragonfly colors, are the only ones that remain untouched. We must not have as much in common as I thought. 

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