Of everything I have written to date, this piece has proved the most challenging–probably because of my desire to be somewhat equal with the immeasurable talent of the subject matter.
Here we go.
Anne Neilson’s journey into and through the art world is documented in her 300 page coffee table book, Angels in Our Midst, which happens to be a can’t-put-down-read; a trait which is uncommon for a book of the coffee table variety. The monumental success of the Angel Series is small compared to Anne’s servitude and faith in Jesus Christ. The ripple effects felt throughout the world as a result of her God-given talent coupled with her demonstrative mantra: paint and give back, are powerful, and documented in the book as well as in its sequel due out this fall, Strokes of Compassion.
After a 25 minute phone conversation with 1050 miles between us, I found her desire and willingness to follow the Lord and His personal trail for her paintbrush each day as the most inspirational. The resulting Angels are a bonus.
Anne told me of a time when she felt unsure of where her career was headed. She had a lovely family and home which needed her attention, as well as a large feeling of commitment to The Harvest Center, a non-profit organization in Charlotte dedicated to helping individuals affected by homelessness, poverty and unemployment through transitional programs based on the Love of Christ. She did and still has a passion for helping the less fortunate, and was confused whether she should give up her time with the Center to focus on a career. Anne prayed. The Lord spoke. She listened.
The paintings. THE PAINTINGS! are exquisite. Though I certainly do not pride myself on being any sort of an art critic, I will tell you Anne has the ability to create a single color that is both muted and vibrant. How does that oxymoron exist? My own obsession with color is fed when a minty-green teal meets sun-bleached sienna red with three brunette angels serving as the foreground. The center one is holding a lilly shocked in fuschia. It is a phenomenon.
In the series, each angel’s wings are ethereal and powerful, and in my opinion, the reason why each one could be considered a masterpiece. Their texture appears so supple, one might be shocked to find dried paint beneath their fingers should they reach to experience the airiness for themselves. It’s interesting something so soft and pliant in appearance could be created by a tool as flat as a metal palette knife.
While researching the words for this article, I asked myself how her paintings make me feel, literally, while looking at them. Here were my thoughts:
- I feel light.
There is no known light source evident in any of the paintings; not sunshine or moonlight or stars. However, each piece is illuminated from within the paint. It glows–even the ominous grays and shadowed maroons. To me it is obvious from where the light comes. The Lord serves as the Light and draws people into the depths of His Will behind each painting.
- I feel the Fruits of the Spirit.
I feel LOVE when I see the painting on page seventy eight of mother and child angels looking at each other. It is confirmation and a reminder that the emotion of love is God’s greatest gift to the world.
I feel PEACE on page sixty seven when slate blue and sandy peach meld together, and wash over and around a gathering of three angels, one reaching her hand out to her neighbor. I think the PEACE takes root when my imagination takes me to a waterfall where they are meeting. I can’t hear their voices, only soft tones of crashing water. Why does the sound of water feel so healing?
I feel GOODNESS when I see the coffee colored skin of the angel wearing a blue smocked dress on the very last page of the book. I’m not sure the exact reasons why I feel this way. Maybe it’s something as simple as the pairing of corn flower blue and espresso brown. Or maybe the soft cheek of this angel child conveys a feeling of purity, of GOODNESS.
Whatever the reason, there is a definite theme of the Fruits of the Spirit which unites the series. Truth be told, it was not until after this observance was made that I noticed the chosen names for each chapter in the book: LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS and GENTLENESS. I guess I’m not the only one who noticed the connection between the Angels and the Fruits.
- I feel their humanity.
When their heads are turned to the side, they appear to be visiting with or reacting to each other as one would a friend. While playing a violin or holding a small cat in their arms, they seem approachable. Is it the Lord’s plan that through Anne’s works, we are reminded that angels truly are in our midst? Are they disguised as our loved ones, or even strangers on our street, reminding us God is near? This makes me think of the Christmas Day [before I was ever born] when a homeless man knocked on my grandmother’s door and asked for a plate of food. Even though my grandfather had specifically told her not to open the door to drifters, she agreed and gave him a plate. She went to check on him minutes later and he had disappeared. She walked out to the street and couldn’t find him after looking in every direction. She always believed he was an angel, sent to her as a reminder to be KIND.
There are many stories like that one in her book and many more expected in Strokes of Compassion. The effects of each angel ripple like shockwaves across the globe, connecting so many of us to one Lord. I, myself, have felt the result of one of those waves when I opened her book for the first time and saw a familiar face staring back at me; A face who inspired Anne to paint a picture in honor of his passing; a passing of which I knew nothing about.
My freshman year at TCU, my cousin called from Charlotte, NC to tell me her friend’s son was coming to visit the university with his father and could I please give them a tour around campus. I agreed and met James Harrison, and his father, Frank, a couple of weeks later. Our tour was pleasant although I remember feeling mortified when we stopped at the Bookstore for a drink, and I thoughtlessly grabbed a Dr. Pepper…Frank Harrison is the CEO of Coca-Cola. James laughed and dutifully took a Mr. Pibb from cooler, and a few weeks later I received a thank you note from Frank with a Coca-Cola keychain enclosed in the envelope. After that, I converted Coke.
I never spoke to either James or Frank after our tour, but wondered about them every so often. To find he had passed while doing mission work in Africa with his family’s non-profit organization With Open Eyes, classified me as one of the many who have found personal connections with the stories in this book. The angel painted in James’s honor entitled Open the Eyes of My Heart, shows a lone angel standing in front of a colorful terrain reminiscent of a Kenyan countryside. It pays homage to the KINDNESS James displayed to those in need. It is the Fruit of the Spirit I will most remember him by.
That a ‘religious’ series could receive so much abounding success in a world as secular as ours could only be the work of the Lord, and after witnessing it, I feel inspired by Anne and lead by the Lord to really focus on what is God’s will? Not so I can see a well paved path before me showing me each stop in my future, but right this minute, today, where does He want me to go and what does he want me to do that will bring Him glory? I can ask about tomorrow in the morning.
Imagine how different things might be had Anne not acknowledged and obeyed the Lord’s words to her, Paint and Give Back.
-ciao for now-
*Anne will be visiting Sharla’s in McKinney in late October for a book signing for Strokes of Compassion.
*The Anne Neilson Gallery has graciously donated a signed, limited edition print of her painting known as Open the Eyes of My Heart, for one The Art of Living Beautifully’s readers. When they sent it, they had no idea of my connection with this painting, or that this was the one I had secretly hoped they would send.
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