“Ugliness in nature can in art become full of great beauty. In art, only that which has character is beautiful. Character is the essential truth of any natural object.” – Auguste Rodin
I love this place. Hopes, dreams, struggles and sorrows, strewn about the walls telling stories of forever.The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas is one of my very most favorite places in the whole wide world. Being my hometown, I have much history inside these walls. I share knowing glances with my favorite paintings, remembering each time before and what my heart carried. This most recent spring housed a stunning exhibit of French Moderns imported from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. I languidly browsed Gauguin, Cassatt, Degas, and Matisse, impressed by their offerings of humanity. My daughter loves Cassatt because she draws mothers taking care of their babies and doing their hair in the morning. This gives me joy.
I wandered into the next portion of the exhibit, a few sculptures and castings of bronze. Wanting to hurry toward the Monet mural presiding over the exhibit on the back wall, I almost missed her. All at once, I stopped. A hushed holiness then followed each footstep towards a Rodin masterpiece titled “She Who Was the Helmet-Maker’s Once Beautiful Wife.” She beckoned me closer, wrecking me with her withering frame.
I knew that downcast gaze, eyes giving up in exhaustion and shame, trying to hide but also too tired to care who sees. I feel that way when I show up at the grocery store with greasy hair, stained clothes, and hairy legs, bags under my eyes so dark you’d think I hadn’t slept in years. I so desperately want my worth to be acknowledged beyond the shorts my postpartum thighs are trying to wear. I want the painful seconds of my days to communicate their worth to everyone around me. I want the sacrifice of my youth to carry eternal impact on this side of Heaven, storming the marketplace with pride and aplomb.
I stared at her, mesmerized by her hideous beauty; at all the sun and wind, toil and sacrifice, years her body had endured.
Women give the best of themselves to others, their bodies temples of life and sometimes death. Men love there, finding their courage. Children feed there, finding their strength, leaving behind ruins of the civilizations they once were in their mother’s womb. On and on and on, until one day all that’s left are wrinkles, stretch marks, bruises, scars, flab, and weary smiles; old souls timidly looking to be reborn and seen. Although my skin is far from flaccid, and I have just begun to grey, I saw myself in her.
I could not leave this woman. She needed me. Not my compassion. Not my pity. Just me.
Companionship, that excellent work of friendship: to be with someone, wherever they are, just as they are.
After a while, I said my goodbyes, resisting the urge to cradle her face and stroke her hair. I wished she could see my tears, see how her skin dripping from her bones took my breath away.
Rodin, you have immortalized Woman perfectly.
Her precious body seared in my memory, I carry her now in my own reflection, reminding myself, that weathered does not mean wasted. The deposits of my vim and vigor go largely unnoticed, lost in the daily toll of laundry, meal prep, discipline, bathing, chores, playtime, and outings, but I have to believe that it all adds up to something wildly sacred. As I dance with the hands of time, I am only gaining beauty, not losing it.
Kelsi Folsom is a singer, wife, mother, lover of art, and adventure seeker, currently making her home in Saba, Dutch Caribbean. With her, few topics are off limits; She enjoys entering into brokenness and offering a flotation device, or at least a friendly face to tread water with. When she is not putting on her best Cherubino while changing dirty diapers, you can find her picking mangoes, *gasp* reading, making donuts with a toddler, enjoying a nap, or trying to make sense of her life over french press. You can grab a cup with her here.
Simply stunning. Thank you for this beautiful, encouraging piece.
Thank you for reading, Christine! Your kind words mean a lot 🙂
“Women give the best of themselves to others, their bodies temples of life and sometimes death. Men love there, finding their courage. Children feed there, finding their strength, leaving behind ruins of the civilizations they once were in their mother’s womb.” Oh my, yes! Reading these words connected me again to the glory it is to be a woman…thank you!
Isn’t it amazing?! I love the passage of scripture that says woman is the crown of God’s creation. Such a noble picture of our worth. Thank you for reading, Janet 🙂
I share your love for the McNay. I am also from San Antonio currently residing in the Oklahoma City Area. Your response to the bronze by Rodin was very different than mine, your thoughts on her were a gift to me. An opportunity to see past the effects of time and heartache on the figure and your offering of love. Thank you for your perspective, it allowed me to re-live my visit that day.
Isn’t it amazing how the same work of art can have such different effects? I am curious what your response was. It is a lot to take in. Thank you for reading, Jaimi! Also the shoes in your picture are on point 🙂
I felt she was left exposed and not protected. The downward look and humped posture left me wanting to turn away so as not to further expose her. Thanks for asking.
I remember lingering in Rodin’s garden in Paris many years ago, not wanting to leave the anguished faces of his work as the rain began to chase other visitors away. Secretly I was glad to have the raindrops intermingle with my tears and I also had to resist the urge to comfort them. Your words touched me in a manner similar to how Rodin’s sculptures’ have always spoken to the depths of my existence. Thank you for sharing such glorious words about a woman as she enters a space in life where she may see only her age, but you saw the life she gave others.
Thank you for your kind words, Kristy. I love that art can have such an immediate, profound effect on us. Would love to visit Rodin’s garden someday 🙂
Loved this. At 62 I am experiencing all you talked about. It is startling to still feel like your youthful self on the inside and then be in front of the mirror. I don’t mind aging, it’s true, you’ve weathered much by this age and it shows. But there is also a comfort in knowing that you are indeed still you and have survived the slings and arrows. You can find that after all these years, God is indeed good, faithful and will never leave you. This was beautiful, thanks.♥
I am inspired by your words of God’s faithfulness. What a beautiful knowledge you must possess. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts 🙂
“On and on and on, until one day all that’s left are wrinkles, stretch marks, bruises, scars, flab, and weary smiles; old souls timidly looking to be reborn and seen.”
Kelsi, you have nearly walked with me during my journey to be a massage therapist and I continue to find inspiration in your words. This writing, particularly, has brought on the flood of tears. You see, I am gaining more woman into my service who have lived many years, and I am taken by these trademarks you have noted. Yes, trademarks. Marks they have traded for the service and care they have provided. I am blessed to hold these hands, soothe their aches beneath the wrinkles, bruises and flab. Some share their stories outwardly, some I just feel through the touch.
Thank you for opening your heart, your soul and sharing your words. Love you, my friend.
Powerful. Stunning. Thank you for stopping and being present in the moment at the gallery and for sharing here with honesty and eloquence.
Absolutely stunning Kelsi! I loved everything about this and the last paragraph is so needed. Hang in there lovely!