January 27, 2015; two days after the first #GirlNoticed mural has been created by Lori Pratico of my daughter Veronica; I felt the real need to express what this project has meant to me....
It goes way back.... When I was a little girl; around 5 years old, I was captivated by a small and realistic oil painting of a parrot that hung in my mother's room. As most children do, I asked a lot of questions. I was amazed to know that it was my late Grandmother (my mom's mom) who had painted it, and also shocked that she had only been 13! Her talent had been incredible!! I had never met my Grandmother Winifred Tolly, because she died when she was just 42. I asked my mom if she had been a famous artist, and my mother began to describe her life; She married very young to an Army Colonel, and had 3 children( my mom Pamela, and two younger brothers). They moved all over the world throughout my Grandfather's service. She was a housewife and made art as a hobby. My mom remembered and described fondly some of the art she witnessed her creating throughout the years. When my Grandmother's marriage fell apart, due to my Grandfather's alcoholism, she filed for divorce, only to fall into another alcoholic marriage. Grandma Winifred ended up getting pregnant at age 40, and gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but her own health deteriorated rapidly. She had been a smoker, and although she had quit, her emphysema took over her frail and tiny body, and Winfred passed away at just 42 years old. My own mother was 21 years old at the time, and was expecting her first child (my oldest sister Lynea) and the loss was devastating. My question again and again, was why didn't she pursue her art?! She was so incredibly talented!! Didn't anyone NOTICE that??!! My mom didn't have an answer for me that could appease me; 'It was a different time' she said. 'She didn't' think she was good enough'. 'She didn't know how'. I felt tremendous sadness, even at this young age whenever I would look at her parrot painting, and when I discovered that I too had a talent for art, I felt determined to do what my late Grandmother felt she couldn't. I was stubborn like that.
As I entered my teen years, my stubborn, and head strong determination began to waiver. I began feeling very insecure around 13 years old. I started caring too much what others thought of me and wanted desperately to feel like I belonged. I became aware of not only my insecurities but also my Mom's insecurities. She would say things like, 'I'm not smart enough', 'I could never make it on my own'. She too had a talent for art at a young age, and when I asked her why she didn't follow it, her answer was' I wasn't good enough'. I began to get really confused and wonder was I good enough? Would anyone NOTICE me or my art? I began to distance myself from everyone and throughout High School , became quite a loner. I felt very broken,alone, and in the dark. This was not a good time for me. I had lost that enthusiasm for a lot of the things that I had loved as a child. The only thing that I held onto during this time was my art. It was my last year in High School, when I was just barely getting by to graduate, when I was thrown into an AP English class. A teacher had recognized that I could write, and sent me to this advanced class. When I showed up, among the college prep kids, I felt like I didn't belong there.I felt like I would be just lucky to graduate! It was the most challenging class, but I happened to love it. One day after class had ended, I felt compelled to share with the teacher, Mr Fett, a couple of drawings that I was inspired to do after viewing a replica of Michael Angelo's 'La Pieta' of a 'Vatican Treasures' exhibition in the Denver Museum. One was of Christ and one of his Mother. Mr Fett, held the drawings for a very long time. He appeared to get emotional. I began to feel a little uncomfortable. After a long moment, of holding and looking at the drawings, he looked me in the eyes and said,
"Padilla (that's what he called me), You are going to do something really big in your life".
Time seemed to stand still in that moment. His words and sincerity touched me in a way I couldn't' describe. I felt NOTICED.
I never forgot that moment, and would always go back to it, whenever I felt I was in a bind, or had doubt about what I was doing. It fueled my high ambitions with my art all throughout my life.
Moving into the future, when I had my own daughter, Veronica, I strived to be the role model, that she deserved. When I recognized that she too carried on the talent of art that runs in the family, I tried to encourage her any way possible. I wanted her to feel strong, and invincible!! I wanted her to not doubt herself like I had, and not have a rough time like I had, through the teen years. But as she entered 11,12,13, I saw that glimmering spark of determination begin to dwindle. I saw her become more and more quiet and isolated; full of self doubt and lacking confidence. This deeply saddened me, and I felt helpless. What was happening to my daughter to cause this break down of self esteem?! It made me have to take a look at my own experience again and ask the same questions. What was this?!
Just at this point in time, when this a real experience for my daughter and myself, in walks Lori Pratico. We are fellow artists at Gallery 2014 and we were painting live for an art walk. I happened to bring along Veronica that night, because she loves to attend and sketch in the ambiance of the beautiful Gallery 2014, and I thought it was good for her. During the night, Lori approached me, and casually asks, "Heather, is your daughter here tonight?" I said" yes, she's over on the other side drawing in her sketch book haha!" Lori had seen my daughter maybe once before but wasn't sure. She had just NOTICED a quiet girl, sitting off to the side, drawing in her sketchbook, but said there was just something about this girl that had intrigued her; like there was 'a story behind her eyes'. At the end of the night, Lori surprised me by asking me if it would be okay if she painted my daughter!! I felt incredibly touched and special that she had found my daughter as one of her subjects to paint. Lori is a portrait artist, but doesn't just paint anybody. She seems to have this sixth sense about her, that points her to who she needs to paint. It's an incredible gift, and I think not even Lori herself knew how this would play out. I can't tell the story of how Lori got the idea to create this project, but as a witness to what has transpired, I see an artist who has asked the question, 'how can I help the world' and has opened her heart and let herself be guided to create the #GirlNoticed project. That night she NOTICED my daughter.
Lori created the first #GirlNoticed charcoal mural of Veronica on the corner of Harrison St and Win Dixie Highway in Hollywood, Florida. It's created in charcoal because there is only a window of opportunity to catch someone's attention and NOTICE them. As time passes, and life moves, on, so too will the charcoal mural fade away. "NOTICE ME; My eyes dream your future" reads the inscription below Veronica's face.
#GIRLNOTICED which will be a nationwide charcoal mural project is a gift for girls like my daughter, Veronica and all the girls who have felt broken down by society, have low self esteem, and felt insignificant and unnoticed in their developing lives. It gives them the gift of being NOTICED . Lori's project brings #HEALING not only to these young girls, but also to the generations, like me in my family of women who are passing this down subconsciously to each other. Along with Lori Pratico, Owner of Gallery 2014 and Photographer Elizabeth Sanjuan has been a key instrument in helping Lori to deliver this powerful message to the people. She will document their journey through her photography as they travel all 50 states together, choosing a #GIRLNOTICED in each charcoal mural created .
Thank you Lori Pratico and Elizabeth Sanjuan for listening to your hearts. This is an incredible gift!!! We feel #NOTICED!!!
When we #HEAL ourselves, we HEAL each other.