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Connecting the Dots • by Barbara Lewis

Barbara LewisRocky Start
I love what Steve Jobs said, “You can only connect the dots in retrospect.” When you’ve lived as long as I have, that’s a lot of dots … plus more than a few twists and turns. I had a rocky start in life, being from a family that struggled with alcohol addiction. But I was fortunate to have a benevolent grandmother, who became my source of inspiration. Born in 1899, Annie stood at 5’11” tall. Can you believe that? That’s tall for a woman by today’s standards, much less one born at the turn of the century – the 20th century, that is!  She was a strong woman. Widowed at a young age, she raised her son and the two young daughters of a friend. 

Her parents, my great-grandparents, owned a grocery store in downtown Washington, D.C. and employed a family cook to prepare the meals for their eight children and themselves. Because the cook did not tolerate children being in the kitchen, as a young bride my grandmother took cooking lessons to learn to prepare meals for her husband. A trip to the grocery store with her was like no other. Her focus on unit pricing (before there was “unit pricing!”) left me with a sense of awe and admiration.  She could figure out the best buy in a blink of the eye. Unfortunately, she did not pass this quality on to her granddaughter!

Annie's Ways
Annie was a fascinating woman. She was somewhat of a tomboy growing up. I remember her falling asleep in the evenings listening to the Washington Senators baseball games on the radio. She could talk sports with the best of them, including my husband, who’s an avid sports fan. But she was also the consummate hostess. Every consideration was given to her guests even down to the bite-sized lettuce leaves in their salads. Because Annie lost a great deal of her vision by her 50th birthday, reading the directions on convenience food packages was impossible. Everything she made was from scratch, but I also suspect she just liked to cook. 

During the summer of my 12th birthday, when my family was living in California, my sister and I flew back East to spend 6 weeks with my grandmother. It was during this time that I learned to sew on her treadle sewing machine. We made a simple pullover top. However, according to my grandmother, the inside had to look as good as the outside, so she taught me how to make French seams! I can remember this experience and that blouse fabric as if I made it yesterday.

Bathing Suits, Lingerie & Wedding Suit
Who would have known that this loving exchange between grandmother and granddaughter would shape my life as it did? For 20 years I sewed for my husband, my children, my friends, my house, and me – including my bathing suits, lingerie and my polyester, double-knit mini-skirted wedding suit! This was also a time when I realized I was prone to depression. On those dark, gray, wintry days, time at the sewing machine was the only thing that would lift my spirits. As the years progressed and more biochemical changes occurred, therapy and medication brought relief. I now was experiencing life as the rest of the world did! So this is how it felt!

It was through my sewing that I experienced child-like joy, pride, and self-esteem. My creative expression through fabric imbued in me a sense of competency, which I desperately needed. I decided to go back to college to study apparel design, which led to core classes in drawing, art theory and a pottery elective!  This is where my path takes a sharp turn toward earning a degree in Ceramics.

Glazes Licked by the Flame
Even though two rotator cuff surgeries halted my nearly 20 years of creating large vessel pottery, I began working on a smaller scale making my own ceramic beads. It was during this period I began to notice the work being done in torch-fired enamel that mimicked many of the results I sought in my ceramics work. I have been able to apply many of my ceramic firing techniques to my torch-fired enamel. I’ve always appreciated work that showed the mark of it’s making. For me it was glazes licked by the flame, which has evolved to enamels made crusty and over-fired by the torch.

Accept All Good Things
Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky … to find my passion more than once, to be married to a wonderful guy for nearly 40 years, to have young adult children who still want to be around me … and to have the Best Craft Book of 2011 at Amazon! My 27-year old daughter said to me recently, “I know you wish things had happened earlier for you, but then you wouldn’t have been able to take care of us!” (referring to herself and her 26 year-old brother.) She’s very insightful. So, I guess the moral of the story is to accept all good things that come your way, when they come your way, and with no regrets as to their timing!

To learn more about Barbara, visit her website here, or her blog here. Buy her book, Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry here.


Fantastic story, Barbara! I didn't know your history and now I understand how you understand! Thank you so much for sharing and through your sharing, encouraging.

wonderful barbara... and your week of sharing has been inspiring as well...

Thanks, Lori and Mary Jane! It's been fun for me to read over everyone's post! :-)

Definitely, no regrets Barbara!! Everything is going the way it supposed to I'm guessing, which is all good!! Wonderful story, thank you for sharing my friend. Love watching your success grow and grow!! xoxo Riki

Barbara, I was fascinated to learn more about your family history - extending back to your grandparents. My Grandfather was born in 1899 as well - doesn't it seem like worlds away? It is so interesting how your childhood and your relationship with your Grandmother had such an impact in shaping who you are today as an artist. Even since I met you a couple of years ago, I've watched how you continue to inspire and grow in success - in many ways (just as Riki mentions!). Your daughter is so wise with her comment about taking care of them as they grew up and how you're continuing to reach many achievements years later. That is great advice, Barbara, to accept all of our good fortunes no matter what the timing! :-)

What a story, and for you, like I, have our grandmother to thank for shaping so much of our life! I am so thankful our paths crossed, and if it is to be, we will meet in person one day...soon I hope =)

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