By E. Lynette Fransen
Many memories flood my mind as I sit in my art room today putting the finishing touches on the pastel drawing I will soon send to print. Even as I drove into Casper, Wyoming several years ago, when we moved from Laurel, Montana, I sensed a strong assurance that something would become of my art work. This room has evolved from a guest bedroom into my studio. As I’m surrounded by some of my finished pieces my mind takes me back to “My Fathers’ Portrait” and how Ruth’s Images began.
Since my mother’s untimely death when I was eight years old, my dad had been my knight in shining armor—always available, protecting and guiding me through life’s paths. I suddenly realized I was truly an orphan; it had been a month since my father’s death due to a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Seeking direction from God had become a part of my life and I again turned to Him in my loneliness. In this same room, sitting at this same art table, experiencing an indescribable void only a parent can fill in a child’s life, it occurred to me that I wanted to do something professionally with my artistic gifts as a tribute to my parents. That ever-present child’s desire to make her parents proud continues to motivate me.
What started out as a pastime was taking on a new direction. The thought occurred to me of printing note cards and limited edition prints. With this professional pursuit in mind, I decided to dedicate my career to my parents. In honoring them, it seemed quite fitting to name my “art” company Ruth’s Images because my mother’s name was Ruth Imogene and my father’s name was Art Daly.
My mind took me back to my childhood at Daly Corners; nowhere on the map but a landmark in my heart. Daly Corners was comprised of three farms and a country school seven miles northeast of Columbia, South Dakota. My father raised my sister, two brothers and me alone after my mother’s death. His life was entirely devoted to God, his kids and his farm.
Church has always been very important in my life. We never questioned or put up a fuss about the thirty-mile drive to attend weekly Mass. My faith was beginning to grow without even realizing the example and foundation my father was giving me.
All my early childhood memories centered around my mother’s illness—rheumatic heart disease. She became ill when I was five. Confusion and fright nauseated me and loneliness occupied my time. Watching Dad load the car to take my mother to the University of Minnesota Hospital or waving to her from the lawn as she sat in her room at St. Luke’s Hospital gave me ominous feelings. The last time I saw my mother was the day of my First Communion; the doctors had released her for this special occasion. Shortly thereafter, at the age of thirty-one, my mother passed away.
The most devastating time for me was when I witnessed my mother’s casket being closed. The thought that I would never see her again filled my mind. Death was becoming a dreaded enemy; the next eight years brought the deaths of two cousins, ages six and three.
Humor and faith sustained our family as Dad raised us as a single parent. His unlimited devotion was demonstrated by supporting us in every single function from sports to the Snow Queen contest and 4-H Clubs. Family members recall Dad taking care of all four children when we had chicken pox at the same time. For the first several years after my mother’s death, Dad hired housekeepers. It was the survival of the fittest and we children proved to be the fittest. I have entertained friends for hours with housekeeper stories. Soon my younger sister Renee and I took over the responsibilities of the home at the ages of ten and twelve.
My biggest fear while growing up was that of losing my father. Little did I know we would lose him piece by piece. In May of 1987, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The paranoia, suspiciousness and behavioral changes were far from the independent, intelligent man we once knew.
At this time, I lived in Laurel, Montana, with my husband Larry and three sons. Every Wednesday and Saturday night since my husband and I married, my father called to keep us posted on family and hometown news. Hearing the differences in his voice and knowing the changes that were happening, brought me much frustration, hopelessness and helplessness even though I had the full support of my husband and family. With every phone call from my sister or my brothers, my world was falling apart.
In September of 1987 I made the dreaded trip back home to place my Dad in what would be the first of five nursing homes. This was by far the hardest thing I have ever done as an adult. Fall has always been Dad’s favorite season of the year with goose hunting occupying his free time. The falling leaves reminded me that my dad was dying also. I found comfort when reading Ecclesiastes 3, knowing that God has a plan and there are seasons for everything. I wasn’t aware that my faith was being strengthened or that God was preparing me for the difficult experiences that we were all to endure during the course of this devastating disease.
Due to the inability of the nursing homes to cope with the symptoms and behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, Dad was juggled from nursing home to nursing home, sometimes with less than a day’s notice. He was even dismissed abruptly from a supposedly “specialized unit” that dealt exclusively with Alzheimer’s patients. Too much time and energy had been spent on the physical structure of that unit rather than on equipping it to handle the various behaviors and difficulties of the disease. The combative symptoms my father occasionally displayed were not abnormal for a dementing illness. Yet we had to defend Dad’s integrity and character continually instead of the disease.
As Dad was once again placed in the hospital, I remember the sadness I felt standing over his bed and looking at his name card with no address on it. Where is one’s home when one is not accepted any place? Here was a man who gave us a home when the odds were not in his favor and now we could not provide the same for him. I have often wondered if a person suffering from an advanced case of cancer would be kicked out of an oncology unit?
My spiritual maturity was allowing me to let go of the childhood fear of never seeing my parents after death. I now realized that I would rejoin them in heaven and my fear of death was no longer as frightening. Prayer had become more important and I found myself finally letting go of Dad. God orchestrated my final trip home for reasons other than caring for him. I found myself in total submission to God’s will and guidance. After a ten-year battle and exorbitant costs, both emotionally and financially, my father died on Ash Wednesday, in March 1992. I had always feared receiving the news of his death by telephone and God allowed all four of us the privilege of being by his side when he died. When the funeral procession was rounding Daly Corners, a spectacular tribute was paid to my Dad—the sky, in every direction, was alive with geese migrating home much earlier than normal. We were assured of God’s presence as even the geese were paying their final respects.
On that Easter Sunday, as I knelt and lifted my eyes to the Crucifix, “My Fathers’ Portrait” was completed. My earthly father had started my portrait by sketching in my features and my Heavenly Father put the finishing touches by drawing in my eyes. I saw for the first time that He had died for me. It seemed ironic that my earthly father had lived for me and my Heavenly Father had died for me. To this day people are attracted to the eyes in my paintings; I smile because again I know Who is putting on the final touches. A saying I found after Dad’s death adorns my art table: “I discovered I was strong even though they left me, because they left me so much.” It is comforting to know God will never leave me.
Through the support and encouragement of friends, I printed my first series of black and white note cards and limited edition prints in May 1993. Marketing my work has taken much perseverance and patience as I continue to learn the ups and downs of the business world. I never realized how time consuming it could be as the only “market” I had previously known was the supermarket.
I continue to do commissioned pieces as well as add new designs to my note cards and limited edition prints. I have enjoyed incorporating the pastel medium in my art work while continuing to do black and white pencil drawings. Ruth’s Images introduced the first edition of the annual Christmas card series in December of 1994.
“Daly” God confirms His plan for “Ruth’s Images” and me.