Pentimenti – my new favorite word. It’s derived from the Italian word for repentance.
While waiting for a student tour to arrive, Timothy David Mayhew – a recent artist in residence and expert in Old Master natural-chalk technique – curator of education Catie Anderson and I were admiring chalk drawings from the Woodson Art Museum’s collection. Tiepolo’s Head of an Old Bearded Man with the faint lines of the first attempts still visible elicited a discussion about the unforgiving nature of chalk; once drawn it cannot be erased or removed. The merciless nature of the medium trains the artist to master a light touch and embrace the ghostly remains of previous efforts – the pentimenti.
What a gorgeous sing-song word loaded with pithy connotation. The singular pentimento also describes “an underlying image in a painting, as an earlier painting, part of a painting, or original draft, that shows through, usually when the top layer of paint has become transparent with age” (The American Heritage Dictionary).
I thrill at the adoption of a new vocabulary word, and for me, this word serendipitously packs a larger metaphorical wallop. The galleries filling with artworks for Birds in Art signals the beginning of a new school year. As I excitedly welcomed the 2016 exhibition, I felt a bittersweet twinge because in my family the fall marked the advent of our high school students’ freshman and senior years. The requisite first-day-of-school photo – once capturing ponytails, toothless smiles, and Disney backpacks – now was a selfie snapped while my son and daughter walked to her car.
Master Artist Karen Bondarchuk describes her current Woodson Art Museum installation, Ergo Sum: A Crow a Day, as evoking “the overwhelming labor and repetitious activities of motherhood.” Childrearing. The ghostly remains of previous efforts. The transparency of aging. Repentance.
I am exceedingly proud of the two young adults lovingly raised by my husband and me. I embrace the maternal pentimenti imprinted on their hearts, souls, and minds. All efforts were born of love, well meaning, a light guiding touch, and care. May I ultimately celebrate more than I repent for those efforts.
Bring your children or parents to the Woodson Art Museum. Celebrate family. Embrace life’s transitions. Visit Art Park – the Museum’s interactive family gallery – and grab a crayon to create a rubbing inspired by artworks in the galleries. Share time in Ergo Sum. Smile at S.V. Medaris’s whimsical Chicken Pot Pie. Make new mementos pentimenti.