I didn’t grow up in this town. As a child, coming to the Capitol City was a treat. I remember, even then, marveling at the array of bluffs surrounding the buildings, a town nestled within its own protective wall, built ages ago by the river as it cut through to create what is now miles of lush green farmland.
And the city had a sound to me, a jazzy sound. As a pre-teen, I’d walk behind my dad as we made our way downtown to a local restaurant, the sun setting behind historical stone buildings, casting long shadows on busy sidewalks.
The best treats were the field trips we took every now and then from our rural town to a city that seemed like a metropolis to a tiny kid like me. We’d go to the local conservation center, walk the many trails, before heading to the air conditioned building to watch a movie on the big screen and make faces at the wild turkeys pecking at the stream beyond the large windows. Finally, we’d have brown bag lunches on the sidewalk beside the bus, and I remember this moment. I remember sitting there with my sandwich and thinking that this was one of the best places in the world.
Today I live here, in the town labeled as “The Most Beautiful Small Town in America” by Rand McNally, and I am not kidding you guys, I am awed every morning on the way to taking my daughter to school, at the many layers of bluffs fading into the morning mist that rises from the river. This place is my home. I freaking live here!
Now if it would just cool down for autumn. Then I could get really excited.
This town is where my art career began. I was in my first show at the Capital Arts Gallery, when I still couldn’t believe my art was any good, but I sheepishly entered anyway. I won an honorable mention in that show, and still I couldn’t believe it. One year later and I’m the featured artist in their latest exhibition, with fourteen pieces carefully framed and hung on the wall. I’m to give a talk during the reception, about my career and my process, maybe provide a demo and sell a few prints. And still I can’t believe it. Cue the impostor syndrome, am I right?
This town is also where I painted live during my first Porchfest, on a beautiful street that is now in shambles because of a May tornado. Every time I drive downtown, my heart hurts. They don’t tell you how long the cleanup really takes. They don’t tell you that even four months later, the roofs are still covered in blue tarps to keep out the rain, the bricks are still in piles on the sides of the road, and the people are still mourning the loss of their livelihood. And people like me, who are only a couple of miles from the chaos, are still counting their blessings.
I’ve been in the Missouri State Fair two times now because of the roots I’ve taken here in Jefferson City, because of the friends I’ve made, and the mentors I’ve gained. I’m insanely thankful to everyone who has pushed me along, who has given me both critiques and compliments, to my Twinkie who has given me so much mentoring I now have the confidence to do some of this on my own.
But what about that place, that local conservation center I loved so much as a kid?
Runge Nature Center is about a ten minute drive from where I live. We have been taking our daughter there since she was a newborn, walking the trails, finding rocks, searching for arrowheads in the creeks, and making more faces at the wild turkeys. And just a few weeks ago, I finished matting, framing, and wiring twenty-five pieces for a solo show in the same building we’d watch those movies on the big screen–the big screen which still plays nature movies on Saturdays–in the same hall as the room where they hold puppet shows, the same hall as the library with the big snake in a glass terrarium.
I honestly couldn’t ask for a better place to have my first solo exhibition. My art has always been about nature, about its need for our help in its preservation, about its deep roots that we pretend to know everything about and yet have only grasped the bud at the very surface.
But seriously? A solo exhibition? I still can’t believe it.
There is another artist in a different area of the building holding her own solo exhibition. Not sure if it’s her first, but she has some awesome work! So congrats to her. And I suppose I can pat my own self on the back too. Because, well, I worked hard to get here. It’s hard to tell myself that, but after listening to a ton of podcasts I know I’m not the only artist who deals with that inner critic whispering things like well…maybe you’ve just gotten lucky.
I am lucky, though, lucky to live in this town with the inspiring hills and the rolling river that sometimes gets a little overexcited and creeps over the main roads, with the awesome people who have come together to form their own little art community, and have invited me into it. Before my friends, I didn’t know how to wire a painting. Without one of my best friends helping me hang this show, I wouldn’t have been able to get each piece in its best light.
So even though these are my paintings on the wall, it isn’t just my hard work that got them there. And maybe this will be the only solo exhibition I ever get, or maybe it’s only the first of many. All I know is I never ever want to forget what it means to be displayed here in the local conservation center, in this little town-city that I call home.
My artwork will be displayed at Runge during September and October. If you’re in the neighborhood, come check it out! And don’t forget to make some faces at the turkeys.
All images/artwork © Lina Forrester