Once upon a time, I was one of a group of young women artists who spent the day at the LBJ Ranch, a few years after Lyndon's death, with Lady Bird and some of her women friends, a group including former press secretary Liz Carpenter, a senator's wife of two, and a couple of other close friends, including Patsy Steves, a San Antonian friend of the educational foundation where I worked. These women had made a tradition of spending a week together each year to create, enjoy, relax and rejuvenate their friendships. They invited artists, noteworthy speakers, chefs and others to teach at their informal gathering, and obviously took pleasure in each other's company. I remember that Lady Bird was as gracious a hostess as her reputation predicted, but that she also had an unexpected quietly wicked sense of humor. She, along with the other women, journaled, played with clay, collaged and even acted in skits in this morning-long creativity workshop in the ranch's living room and outside on the patio.
This gathering seemed to me, then and now, a measure of their open curiousity, their willingness to step outside their usual roles, and it certainly deflated any notions I might have held about "famous people" being fundamentally different than other people. (I was still that young!) And, as I am now not too much younger than Lady Bird was during that gathering, I appreciate that she and her friends took time for each other, time to be together, laugh, eat, get their toes done, speak in their own inimitable voices.
Some may fault Lady Bird for chosing wildflowers as a special cause. She answered the criticism this way:
“Some may wonder why I chose wildflowers when there are hunger and unemployment and the big bomb in the world. Well, I, for one, think we will survive, and I hope that along the way we can keep alive our experience with the flowering earth. For the bounty of nature is also one of the deep needs of man.”
As an artist, I, too, wonder if what I do is "important." If making the art that calls forth from my heart is justified in a world that has such pain, anger, violence and damage. I've come to feel much as Lady Bird did about her flowers. We each have something that our heart calls us to do. To do otherwise is unwise at best, at worst, can make ones life misery. Right now I am called to art and teaching, and so that is what I do.
One of my wildflower inspired Borderland altars. This one features a photograph of a Texas thistle.
As a Texan I appreciate the legacy of wildflowers Lady BIrd left us. We who live in the Hill Country owe much of the beauty of our roadsides to her work, the awards she gave annually to the highway maintanence divisions who preserved flowers, and to her continuing advocacy for beautiful parks -- state and federal -- near the ranch and across the country.