I met Annette through a summer art program about six years ago. We would carpool from Winchester, Virginia to Ashburn, VA. Despite the distance traveled each day, to and from this job, not to mention the horrible noise humming from my left rear wheel, the drive seemed to go by quickly with Annette around. It shocked and surprised me that this person, so full of energy and life, also had cancer. One of the many artistic avenues Annette traveled included the keeping of an art journal. They were the inexpensive kind you can find at your local Borders, or Barnes, but the pages were rich with color, lines, words, stories and daily observations, much of them dealing with her disease. Many of her pages served as catalysts for bigger ideas - sculptures, prints, tiles, you name it.
Annette's art was her therapy and in many ways, her friend of friends. Her art touched the lives of others as well, including women who were in the same situation as her. Annette shared her art, wisdom and knowledge with others through workshops and gallery shows, the latter of which left a lasting impression on my mind. When I took some Masters Degree-level sculpture classes with Annette, she was the one who always raised the bar, even during her chemotherapy. And yet, despite all this, she remained incredibly humble, and was always willing to help others and encourage them. More than anything, she was a story teller. Usually, by the end of a long night of class, after a week of teaching and an evening of pounding away at a stone, she'd have us all in stitches. Her sense of humor could only be described as wicked, and I believe she probably could have made a living telling jokes, in addition to being an artist.
One of the last times I hung out with Annette was during a trip to NYC over a year-and-a-half ago. She had an extra ticket to go see Mama Mia on Broadway, and I was fortunate enough to have been invited to tag along. I didn't think I'd like the play, but this was Annette, so I was sure it would be a fun time. To my surprise, Mama Mia was excellent, so our trip turned out to be a blast. We even went with her oldest daughter Kim to that fabric shop they feature on one of those reality TV fashion shows (Project Runway ?) to pick up material for Kim's wedding dress, which Annette planned on making herself. I remember telling my wife Kris (who was then my girlfriend) how Annette was like the energizer bunny, running us all over town, showing us the sights (she was a New Yorker herself, before coming to Virginia) and telling us stories. We could barely keep up with her! Unfortunately, shortly after that weekend, Annette's cancer had spread to her lungs, nearly taking her life in an instant and causing her to go into intensive care and physical therapy. Still, through all this, even while short of breath during phone conversations, she kept her sense of humor intact and saw light where there was darkness.
While many would have passed on far earlier, Annette was a true fighter and a lover of life. Her art, especially her journals, kept her going, in addition to the love from and for her family and friends. I talked with Annette about featuring her and her journal pages here in the Artist Spotlight, but the therapy and wedding plans took priority of course. I'll miss those days when, after a tiring day on the job, a handful of us art teachers, including Annette would get together at the local coffee house or bar for a laugh and a drink. It's easy to take those things for granted.
Fortunately Annette stayed alive to witness her oldest daughter get married earlier this summer. Also, my wife finally got to meet her, after so many times of me hearing her say "I want to meet your Annette friend you always talk about - she sounds so cool!". I think, in many ways, her daughter's wedding helped her hold on just a little longer, and she even danced like crazy that day, giving John Travolta a run for his money.