My Mother’s Sewing Machine

There are shelves in my garage that contain boxes. Boxes of my children’s artwork from their elementary school years. Boxes of old letters. Boxes of books. And, on the bottom shelf is a box that has been taped shut for years. I’ve never opened this box, as its power over me is still too strong and I worry I might fall to pieces if I do.

Inside is my mother’s sewing machine, the kind that has a mechanical foot pedal, which has to be pumped with your foot in order for it to function. Once, there was a time that it was in constant use. But, for nearly two decades, it has remained untouched.

I remember how my mother would sit for hours, sewing. Her worn hands threading the needle, using her best scissors to cut the material, then gently guiding the fabric so that the stitching would line up perfectly.  And, wherever you were in the house, you could hear the machine’s gentle hum, as her right foot pressed down on the pedal, again and again.

Coordinated dresses, courtesy of my mother.

Coordinated dresses, courtesy of my mother.

My mother could be on her feet all day long, preparing coffee for my father, ironing his shirts, making the beds, or weeding in the garden. But, after dinner, she’d steal away for a few hours of peace, and sew. That sewing machine became an extension of her, as she poured her secrets, her passions, even her sorrow into it, for her sewing machine gave her comfort when all else failed, and it gave her boundless joy.

Yet, she didn’t always know how to sew. She took it up when I was gone.  I was eight years old at the time, and sent to live in Venezuela, my parents’ birthplace.

You see, there was a time when my parents planned to move back to their homeland. They sent me ahead, so I could start the school year on time. I boarded the plane by myself, and traveled to South America to live with an aunt and uncle and their three daughters.

But in the end, my parents decided to stay in New York. I missed my mother so much, I sometimes would sneak into my bedroom closet, and cry, as I yearned, more than anything, to see her again.

My mother made this dress for the holidays. That's me at 14.

My mother made this dress for the holidays. That’s me at about 15.

I guess my mother missed me, too, for to fill the void my absence created, she poured herself into her sewing. She took classes, and soon was whipping up dresses, skirts and blouses for me, and even for my dolls. All the love she couldn’t give me because of the distance between us, she gave to the clothing she made and would send to me.

After a year, I returned, thrilled to see my family. Glad to be home at last. And, my mother’s passion for sewing continued through the decades.

I remember the last item she made. It was for my son. In second grade, he wanted to be a Teenage Ninja Turtle for Halloween. She bought a pattern, and went to work right away.

But, around this time, dementia started clouding my mother’s head, and she found herself forgetting how to sew.  She’d take out the fabric, her basket of brightly colored spools of thread, and her sewing tools. She’d look at them and feel frustrated, not quite remembering what to do. Finally, she reached out to some cousins, who also knew how to sew, and asked for their help.

I didn’t know this at the time, but later, at her funeral, the cousins told me how my mother had struggled with making that costume, yet was determined to get it done. Though, it pretty much took a village to finish it.

She shipped it out to me in San Diego, and that Ninja Turtle costume was the best I’d ever seen.  “Cowabunga,” as my son would say. He beamed with pride, wearing it in his school’s Halloween parade.

It was the last thing my mother ever sewed, and I still have the costume.  I cannot part with it anymore than I can part with my mother’s sewing machine.

When she moved to Florida, two years before she died, she and my father carefully packed her machine into a box and taped the box shut.  And, there it sits. On a shelf in my garage.

My son, second from left, in his Ninja Turtle costume.

My son, second from left, in his Ninja Turtle costume made with love by my mother.

Too afraid to open it. Too fearful of the recollections contained within. I imagine her fingerprints smudged on the balance wheel and the handle. A relic of another life, and a reminder of what I once had and will never get back.

All that remains are scraps of fabric, bits of thread, and the love my mother’s sewing came to symbolize. But, if I close my eyes, I can see my childhood home once again. And, I can hear the distant hum of my mother’s sewing machine.

7 Million Statues

There are millions and millions of people in Europe. But, if you were to include all the statues adorning the continent, the population would easily double.

I love statues!  They’re beautiful, exquisite, romantic, and often evocative of another time and era.  They’re frozen in place, though I imagine, every night in the bleakest, darkest of hours, they come to life, swiftly moving around us, and gathering like wisps of ghosts. With gossamer wings, they take flight and have a good laugh at our busy, stressful lives. No doubt, they remember calmer, quieter days.

These statues, made of marble, clay, and stone–no matter where you find them–tell a story through their pose, their garb or lack thereof, and through their countenance—whether smiling, brooding or taciturn. Their very presence can haunt our lives or make them better, thanks to their absolute magnificence. Yet, we can walk right past them, and not notice them for what they truly are: Art. Works of grandeur, bits of history that we can touch, admire, and enjoy.

Ah, beauty!

Maybe I’m drawn to them so, because they’re not as plentiful in the states, as they are in Europe, where you can walk anywhere, at least in the major cities, and see statues everywhere you look. Sure, we have our share of statues in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and the like. But, here in California? Let’s just say, they’re a little harder to find.

Of the 7 million that I estimate are in Europe, I must have seen at least two thousand on my trip this past summer.  These classic sculptures beg to be noticed. They’re ready to charm their way into our lives. Having been tethered to their spot for, maybe, centuries, I guarantee you, they will remain there long after you and I are gone.

Herewith, some of my favorites:

Statues are tortured souls.

Statues are bold and daring.


Statues are Roman Gods like Diana, the Huntress.

Statues are composers, like this one of Johann Strauss.

Statues ebb and flow, and dance to their own music.

Statues are winged beasts that defy laws of gravity.

Statues are mischievous and wickedly fun.

Statues are forlorn and pensive.

Statues are playful, and full of cherubic whimsy.

Statues brim with grace and loveliness.

Statues vanquish their foes.

Statues are foreboding and foretelling.

And One More…

…Statues like to shop, too!

So, tell me. What stories do these statues tell you? Any favorites?

Lennon’s Wall

I was eight years old when the Beatles entered my life, jolting me awake from my childhood stupor of playing games like, Hopscotch and Simon Says.

There they were, in all their mop-top glory, introduced to America by none other than Ed Sullivan himself, on his highly popular variety show. Overnight, it was as if I grew up and fell in love. Besides the longish hair, there was the Liverpool accents, the spiffy suits and cool boot wear. Oh, and those dreamy eyes. I was smitten–hook, line and sinker.  Here’s more proof that I love the Beatles:

I saw each of their films in a movie theater in Queens with about, 1,000 screaming girls. My brother and I were the only sane ones in the bunch.

I wore an “I Love Paul” button the size of a moon-pie.

I shellacked my black lunch box with pictures of the Beatles that I had ripped out of Life and Look magazines.

I played my Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album over and over again, feeling as if “She’s Leaving Home” was written with me in mind. I listened incessantly to the album, until I knew exactly where all the scratches on the record were and precisely when the needle would skip just before the end of the song, thus giving “A Day in the Life” the feel of a never-ending anthem.

I went to see John Lennon in concert at Madison Square Garden, and put up with the screechy singing tones of Yoko Ono.

I love the Beatles. I heart the Beatles.  Paul, the cute one. Ringo, the funny one. George, the quiet one.

And John, the smart one.  I remember where I was when I heard that John Lennon had been shot. Sitting at the kitchen table with my ex (we hadn’t yet married), having just finished dinner. It felt like an earthquake had hit us, but it was only the intense shock waves that the incomprehensible news had brought us.

I love John. Which is why, when we traveled to Prague this summer, we crossed the Charles Bridge to visit the wall.

The John Lennon Wall, that is. Once used by Czechs to write their grievances, students took it over and began to write messages of peace, love, as well as song lyrics, and tributes to John Lennon.  The wall is a never-ending work in progress. Visitors to the wall can leave their own messages, graffiti or doodles. As a Baby Boomer, it was humbling to be in the presence of such beauty and celebration of our youth ideals of, “Make love, not war.” A reminder we can all use today.

With my trusty camera in hand, I tried to capture the wall, and its visitors, in all its technicolor brilliance.

And one more:

And, what did I write on the wall? Well, that’s a no-brainer:

“I Love Paul.”

So tell me, given the chance, what would you write on this wall?

She’s Headed to Broadway!

I’m so excited! Today I have my very first post on my work’s site: KPBS, public media for San Diego. I’ve written about an exciting new PBS series, Broadway or Bust. I’ve included an excerpt here, but to read the entire story, I hope you’ll click on the link and check it out.  Oh, and please don’t forget to leave a comment!

Photos courtesy of Nicolette Burton.

Broadway. Spectacular, dazzling Broadway. The lights, the greasepaint, the curtain calls—the music and oh, those happy, dancing feet!

As American an institution as the proverbial apple pie, the flag, and the clamor of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Think Mary Martin, Patti LuPone and Stephen Sondheim.  All Broadway legends. Think George M. Cohan, who will forever be giving his regards to Broadway.

Think Nicolette Burton.

Nicolette Burton?

Yes, she’s the latest, up and coming talent with her sights on Broadway. Nicolette hails from Ramona, California, and, you better believe she’s going places!

To read more about Nicolette and Broadway or Bust, click here: PBS Show About Broadway.

Nicolette, enjoying the sights and sounds of Times Square.

Broadway or Bust begins Sunday, September 9. Check local listings.

An Artful Life

Can you imagine a life without art? Not me.

For, as long as I can remember, art has been a major part of my life, beginning with the Crayola crayons that were on my school supply list each year. The anticipation of a new box, the hope that maybe this would be the year that my mother would spring and get me the biggest size—the set of 64–was enough to make me do a happy dance.

John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.” Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Oh, yes! I’ll never forget the scent and waxy feel of the colors—Magenta, Blue Bell, Burnt Sienna, Carnation Pink, and Violet Red. For me, it was the best thing about the end of summer. The joy that art brings, and the anticipation of creating new art projects—was mine for the taking. Ah, happiness. Ah, hope. Which springs eternal, after all.

School helped form the foundation for my love of art. In grade school, we took field trips to the city, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim.  I was always drawn to the Impressionists, though I also came to love Victorian Classicism while seeing a special exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Art could be found in my home. My father collected paintings. Some were originals of lesser-known artists; others were replicas. I loved them all except one, a portrait by a well-known artist that hung opposite the door to my bedroom. It was of a solemn woman with deep, soulful eyes. She terrified me to no end.

With time, my father acquired so many paintings, that we ran out of places to hang them, so they were stacked on the wall, all the way to the ceiling, just inches apart, much like you’d see in an art gallery.

I acquired this serene painting years ago from a local artist, Maichuy.

When I went to college in the Boston area, I took classes in art history and fell in love with the work of John Singer Sargent. You can’t truly appreciate his art until you’ve seen it for yourself at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. There, you’ll see one of my favorites, “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.” Sargent used a canvas so enormous (87 x 87 inches or 222 x 222 cm), that it’s practically life size, making you feel as if you’ve just walked into the room and encountered Mr. Boit’s sweet, enchanting daughters, innocently at play.

Here’s a portrait I painted while in college, post-toilet.

I love to draw, though I’m far from good at it. While in college, I enrolled in classes in oil and acrylic painting. You could tell that my professor was frustrated with me. I was awful at painting the models that posed for us each week, and the professor would push me to find my inner passion, as well as the right perspective, so that I could make my paintings come alive. I kept trying and trying, to no avail. Until one day, I was painting in my little apartment. So small was it, I propped my easel in the scant kitchen and the only thing I could paint was the miniscule bathroom that was just off the kitchen.

And something clicked. I poured my all into painting a still-life of the bathroom, at least that which was visible from the kitchen, the sink and part of the toilet. And when I took it to class, anxiously awaiting my professor’s reaction, to my astonishment, he was pleased.

“You’ve got it!” he exclaimed.

I was dumbfounded. A sink and a toilet had contributed to my art in a way that nothing else had! It was perplexing, but, who was I to question progress? Which just goes to show you:  you never know what you’re going to find in a toilet (and a sink)! As a result of my effort, I finished the class with flying colors. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Through the years, I’ve continued to dabble in painting. These days, my home is my palette. I paint, I stencil, I take photographs—another of my father’s fascinations—and I seem to be following in his footsteps when it comes to acquiring art.

For, I cannot resist! I don’t care who the artist is, if I fall in love with their work, I’ll find a way to add it to my collection.  It seems whenever I go to an street festival, community fair or to the annual Harvest Festival held each fall around here, I gravitate to the art. My friend, Gale, who often goes with me, gets exasperated by how much time I can spend looking at paintings and other works of art.

Recently added to my collection is this original painting by Sally Simmons.

Most recently, while in Seattle, I visited Pike Place Market, which is known as the place to shop for produce, fish and the like. But, it has become so much more, over the years, selling all kinds of local art. While there, I met a woman, Sally Simmons, who uses watercolor and her imagination, to create brightly-colored, whimsical paintings. A couple were of owls, which are a favorite of mine. (Just look at the banner atop my blog!)

I lingered awhile over her exquisite art, that seemed to sparkle with rich colors dancing before my eyes, and I agonized over whether to buy an original piece, or a less expensive, smaller copy. The colors on the copy weren’t as vibrant, so in the end I bought the original and Sally could tell it was going to a good home, seeing how I “oohed” and “ahhed” over her paintings, and wished I could have taken them all home with me.

Which is why, I cannot fathom a day without art. Can you? What does art mean to you?