Mom’s House (part 2)

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(This is the second part of what I think will be a three-part series about the home of my mother, Marge Linton, who passed away recently. You might want to read Mom’s House (part 1) here, then this second part below.)

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Life-sized Borofsky poster on mom’s dining room door

The door to the dining room (which was downstairs next to the kitchen and the den – shown at the top of the earlier post) the  has a human-sized poster from the 1986 Jonathan Borofsky show at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA.) I think that the poster was attached with wallpaper paste. I remember going alone to that Borofsky show on my day off, and really enjoying it, then bringing mom back to it later. I think we got Borofsky posters in a discounted clearance bin well after the show had closed.

On the right side of the door frame, if you look closely you might be able to see some markings. Here’s a closer look at them:

Family height markings on the doorframe

Each year, my mom would paint how tall each of the four of us kids were. It was on the same date each year, though I don’t think that the date had any special significance. Entries were color coded (ie: yellow 1975, blue 1976, etc.) We would compare each other “Look, Mark is already taller than I was when I was his age.”

When friends would come over they would compare against us… though my friend Scott Storey called our family “Land of the Giants” (after a 1970s TV show) so it was more often a comment about how tall we all were. My mother was 6’0″ and very self-conscious about being too tall, especially while she was growing up. My father was 6’4″. We kids are as follows: Matt 6’6″, Joe 6’3″, Mark Fletcher (labeled as “Pookie” in the above photo) 6’7″, and Liz 5’10”.

Gradually the edge of the frame got too busy and the marks went onto the door jamb. I don’t know where mom got the idea for this, but we all thought it was cool… and I recommend it for other family’s homes.

There was a point when mom took down the very short drapes that hung at the top of the kitchen windows. Mom took down the drapes at some point, in the mid-1980s. (Just found notes on this in my sketchbook number 11 from 1987.) I think because they were getting ratty, and she was intending to replace them. That left some wood sitting bare for a while. I got the idea to paint this piece directly onto that bare wood:

Mrs. Lovett’s Kitchen in Mrs. Linton’s kitchen

It’s somewhat difficult to photograph really clearly, as it’s about 4-6 inches tall and about 10 feet long in all. Here’s another shot showing a closer view of the far end:

The right end of Mrs. Lovett’s Kitchen painting in mom’s kitchen

It’s Mrs. Lovett’s Kitchen, of course, a reference to Sweeney Todd, a musical by Stephen Sondheim. It’s a play (later a movie, too) that my mom loved and had seen in the theater numerous times and had listened to countless times. Mrs. Lovett is a pie-maker. Sweeney Todd is a barber upstairs. Todd kills people and Lovett bakes them into pies. It’s very dark, but also really incredibly moving and wonderful musically and lyrically

When I was initially proposing the idea to mom (and I think that my sister and maybe other folks were in this discussion) the suggestion came up to do the piece a bit more along the lines of the song A Little Priest – the song where Lovett and Todd initially get the idea to make corpses into pies. They muse about all sorts of professions that they might make into pies: “a politician so oily it’s served on a doily/put it on a bun/well you never know if it’s going to run”. It could have been fun to take lines from that song and put those on the board, stuff like “Try the priest – it’s too good at least!”

I wanted to, and did, make it a bit more subtler (that word is in the song “Butler? Subtler.”) Even when Lovett’s business was booming due to “fresh supplies” of Todd slayings, to the consuming public it remained a secret that there was human flesh in the meat.  So I figured it would be good to not be too overt… which is more just a made-up rule/approach that worked for me.

I ended up  mostly using phrases based on lyrics from the song The Worst Pies in London that comes earlier in the show. That song precedes humans being baked into pies. It’s clever, too, Lovett’s pies are awful (Todd takes one bite and spits it out) and her business is awful, until she hits on the idea of using the corpse of a rival barber who threatened to blackmail Todd, then Todd kills him. Once Lovett starts baking human flesh pies, her business becomes hugely popular. Anyway… go see the play or the movie (then listen to the soundtrack over and over), if you haven’t… it’s brilliant.

For the record, here’s the text on the headboard in mom’s kitchen, in the order it appears left to right:

  • COME IN TO INHALE
  • MRS. LOVETT’S KITCHEN
  • HAVE A PIE – ONLY LARD AND NOTHING MORE
  • ALL GREASY AND GRITTY
  • BARBER UPSTAIRS

It’s funny, because for folks “unawares” of Sweeney Todd, it was a little confusing to come into the kitchen for the first time. A few people thought that Marge Linton’s last name might be Lovett… but that gave mom a chance to explain how great the Sweeney Todd musical is.

What’s a little sad is that I never really finished that piece. I did the lettering and roughed it in. I did little pictures of a pie, rolling-pin, kitchen knife, the barber pole… and I meant for it to look a bit uneven – not ultra-new and polished – because Lovett’s shop was undoubtedly ragged, at least near the start of the play. I meant to go back in and finish it a bit more – mostly to paint the white up to the edges of the lettering… but it stuck as it was, not quite finished, for something like 15 years… and I think mom really liked it a lot. (You can see the difference in the second image above – “Barber Upstairs” is done, “All Greasy and Gritty” not quite.)

Here are a couple more images of the Mrs. Lovett’s Kitchen piece:

Have a pie – Only lard and nothing more – sorry, blurry cell phone photo

Barber Upstairs

Directly below the Mrs. Lovett piece was this nook, that I am pretty sure my brother Matt installed.

Mom’s cactus nook

Mom loved cacti. I wrote some about it in the first part of this three-parter. She had a few large cacti, like Spiny Norman, but mostly she had hundreds of small ones. A few of them were in garden beds around her home, but most were in pots, mostly fairly small. She used to have a really huge collection, outside the dining room, stacked on series of benches and shelves… but over time the collection dwindled from several hundred to what I’d guess would be roughly a hundred. When she first retired, she used to spend a lot of time out there going through her cacti and succulents. She’d re-pot them, rearrange them, using tongs to avoid the sharp spines. She’d figure out how to combat diseases that they came down with.

It’s a bit hard to see in the above photo, but here’s what it looks like at the top of the nook:

This is cactus land – my mom’s kitchen

There was a board that my brother Matt installed a sort of spacer to make the nook fit into the existing window. The board was blank for a while, then my brother Fletcher hit upon a good phrase to paint there: “This is cactus land” – a line from T.S. Eliot‘s poem The Hollow Men. It’s not all that visible in the photo, but it does say T.S. Eliot to the bottom right on the board.

I figure I’ll close this post with this image:

Sketch of Chairs, Mom Sleeping and Surroundings at Mom’s House Christmas 1996 from my sketchbook number 35

I was home for the holidays in 1996, actually the year I moved to Los Angeles. I am pretty sure that I started just drawing the chair on the right panel… not setting out to do an interior… but then I kept drawing and filled up two facing pages.

I like the drawing because it shows various things I remember. We’ve generally opened our presents on Christmas Eve, so we end up staying up late that night, then sleeping in on Christmas Day, and even napping that afternoon. You can see scissors, tape and ribbons left out from wrapping activities.

The various chairs remind me of mom. The big one on the right panel was one that we had at home forever… I am not sure where it’s from, but it’s perhaps an antique. Mom liked the bent-wood chairs and would pick them up at garage sales. She had quite a few in the garage in various states of disrepair – project chairs that she’d picked up thinking that she’s make a project of putting them back together.

The overall image shows the large plate-glass windows and sliding glass door at the back of mom’s house. The lighter section of it is the sliding screen door. Barely visible behind the screen door is a cactus.

So that’s all for part 2… and if you didn’t think that I dwelled enough on my artwork for the first two pieces, the third will focus even more on my artwork. (I am thinking I may post it at my art blog… we’ll see.) I posted part 3 here.

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2 Responses to “Mom’s House (part 2)”

  1. Jenny Says:

    This is so touching Joe. I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. I send my love and support as you face life without your own special mother. This writing of yours helps the rest of us face the potential of loss and the actual loss of our own mothers, as I imagine it must help you too. Thank you for sharing these lovely thoughts and images.

  2. Briget Says:

    I stumbled upon this blog while looking at references for my old friend Paul Gulacy. What a wonderful tribute to your mother and the wonderful house you grew up in. I hope my kids have such nice memories of our home which is similar in a certain way. Art and plants everywhere. Thank you.

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