Regardless of the measure, a life is best gauged by what you do, not when you do it.
I always loved painting, but I decided to raise a family, and before I knew it 50 years went by, Elsie Siapno said Wednesday from her bedroom art studio in downtown Durango.
Siapno, known around town as Grandma Mana, was preparing for her first one-woman show of her landscape watercolors that will go on display today at St. Marks Episcopal Church. Public debuts are a big deal for any aspiring artist, but its all the more special when that first show happens for an 83-year-old like Mana.
Im a little nervous, and I havent been nervous in a long time, she said.
Its hard to not draw parallels between Siapno and her nick-namesake, Anna Marie Robertson Moses. Both women took up painting in their 70s, but Siapno has neither illusions nor the desire to achieve the fame of Grandma Moses. Instead, she points to some of her favorite poetry, including Rudyard Kiplings The Explorer, to explain her inspiration:
Something hidden. Go and find it.
Go, and look behind the Ranges.
Something lost behind the Ranges.
Lost and waiting for you Go!
Those poems just explain perfectly what and why I love painting, she said, also crediting a John Muir missive to describe her favorite style; plein-air landscapes.
As long as I live, Ill hear waterfalls and birds and wind sing. Ill interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and avalanche. Ill acquaint myself with glaciers, wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can, Muir wrote in 1871. (Of course, Mana read it much later.)
Raised in Appalachia, Siapno said it was instilled in her at a young age that her first purpose in life was to raise a family. And so she raised three children, lived in several places around the country, got divorced, worked with the Forest Service at Mount St. Helens in Washington and settled in Durango with her daughter as a wide-eyed 70-year-old eager for a change. And she started painting.
She had dallied a bit with painting as a girl and young adult, but obviously had no connections in the art world. She took a workshop at Snow College in Utah, some lessons and joined up with some like-minded painters in Durango who formed an informal plein-aire group that meets regularly.
We are a group that enjoys and loves nature. Durango seems to be the perfect place for us, and we enjoy all its offerings, she wrote in an artists statement prepared for todays reception.
Now at age 83, I can only hope that my watercolor expressions can give as much pleasure as I receive in painting them.