• Stephanie Mummert

Painting the Passage of Time

As a painter, I have always had a fascination with rust. Not only does it hold colors unseen to the glancing eye, but the texture is appealing and if you look hard enough, tells a story. It's rough. Rugged. Scarred. But when you wipe it with your finger it mixes like chalk into something totally different. Lighter. Smoother. All its colors blending together as if it were just waiting for someone to reveal what lie beneath and what it had become over time.

When I moved to Wyoming and began exploring the specialties of this magnificent state, I came across a row of old, rusty silos along Hwy 16 in Osage. They had obviously not been used for some time, evidenced by the marks Time had imposed upon them. I dogeared them in my memory and told myself that I would paint them someday. Why, I didn't really know at the time other than they looked cool. But as time passed and the opportunity arose, the deeper meaning became evident.

I came across them again about ten years later on a trip to Newcastle for a Wayback cheeseburger with my husband. I made him pull over so I could take some pictures. If I could have, I would have set up my plein air easel and spent the afternoon capturing the iron-oxide oranges, touches of sky blue and sea green and cavities deep with violet-black hues. Because I was equipped to eat at the time and not to paint, I had to settle for quick iPhone photo references for future studio endeavors.

8" x 11" oil/cwm sketch on paper

Back in my art studio, I painted a small oil and cold wax sketch of the silos on Arches oil paper. While waiting for the canvas to deliver so I could paint the larger painting, a blog surfaced in my ever-growing collection of art emails. This one was concerning the art of Wabi-Sabi (which is just fun to say even if you don't know what it means):

"Before the 14th century, the term wabi was only awkwardly translated into English as an idea: the loneliness of living remotely in nature. Sabi meant roughly to "chill" or "lean". The term suggested an indifferent universe inherently beautiful in her austerity. Modern definitions are more gentle and include the possibility of an artist's hand -- wabi is translated to rustic simplicity, freshness, quiet and understated elegance, and sabi is connected to the serenity that comes with age, including an object's patina or signs of wear and even repair: Think of rust, the patched eye of a child's stuffed animal or the coaxed and grafted limb of a hybrid plum." (Read more by Sara Genn about Wabi-Sabi at

In other words, Wabi-Sabi is the Art of Impermanence...i.e., the passage of time. It's about the inevitable. The experience of life and the transition from young to old. It's about the beauty in the aging, the triumphs and the failures, the joys and the sorrows. The invaluable wisdom delivered by time. Not just in material things, but in our own lives as children...sons and daughters...husbands and wives...parents...friends.

Transferring sketch to canvas

When I painted these silos I thought of my grandparents and the stories they used to tell. I thought of my own parents and the lessons they tried to teach me through their own experiences. I thought of my self and the passage of my time here on earth, evidenced by physical ailments, graying hair and lines on my face. What lessons, what treasures, do I have to share? What colors will my granddaughters remember of me?

What do you choose to see when you look in the mirror? Is it painful imperfections or serenity in the scars? I always say there is beauty in the broken ones, and I have several jars around my home full of broken sea shells that remind me I don't have to be flawless to be elegant. If it's one lesson I could share, it would be that we are all worn and rusted in one way or another. We all have scars. But we are all made in the image of God for a purpose -- beautifully broken, cherished works of Art.

Forsaken Silos 12" x 24" x 2" oil/cwm on cradled board

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