By Molly Barber
“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing”- Camille Pissarro
We encounter beautiful things everyday. The internet has given us the ability to view and share beauty, all of which couldn’t be sifted through in a lifetime. Andyet the thing about beauty that absolutely blows my mind is the sublime subjectiveness of it. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is no beauty like the raw vocals of Nina Simone, the soulful wave riding of Dave Rastovich, the powerful storytelling of Harper Lee, or photographer Steve McCurry’s ability to capture moments that evoke such powerful responses. I can tell you about these things, I can show them to you but ultimately you’ll judge them by your own tastes and perceptions. This is what’s so incredible to me- that someone might have the ability to see beauty in an object that others have neglected to. Carol Ross is a wonderful example of this.
Now I’m not going to lie to you, when Eileen told me I was supposed to interview a local woman who drew pictures of the old houses here in town, I was a little skeptical. “I’ve seen these houses all my life” I thought to myself, “Shoot, I live in one of them and it’s not that beautiful” But Eileen being the boss, I shut up and went to the interview.
Lesson one, don’t assume things. So Carol Ross is not only a superb artist, but she’s also hilarious. This is one of the funnest interviews I’ve been lucky enough to do. She had me rolling with her wit and stories. But what really caught me off guard was the beauty in the art she created. It was odd for me to be able to recognize some of the places she’d drawn and to immediately see them in a different light, from her perspective.
Lesson two, beauty is in the places you least expect. As I was looking at these drawings of houses and garages I knew to be in kind of rough shape, I asked her why she chose to draw these. “I walk a lot. I walk up and down these alleys and that’s where a lot of these houses are, except the one in Pinetown. And there’s a whole life in the alley. And as homely as it could be or as ugly as it could be, I found those things gorgeous. So I got out my little school pencil and just started drawing.” I think she saw that I needed a little bit more so she added, “Being a teacher I love history, I absolutely love history. And there’s a story- I mean each one of these houses- people lived here, starved here, loved here. There were great victories and sad things, and yet they survived. There’s people who live here and have lived here all their lives; they are survivors. That’s what’s in these houses. It’s just awesome.” And that’s when I got it, I understood.
Lesson three , don’t take your surroundings for granted. Carol was seeing the buildings for everything they are and were. The history and stories inside them and how they wore it. I have lived here all my life and never have I taken the time to see the buildings in town like that. “I have a love for this place, it’s unbelievable. It’s just this connection. A connection I haven’t had since my first husband died in 2000. I’ve been kind of like without an anchor and I got here and I just went ‘Wow, this is it.’…I’ve been revitalized by this old town.” As I looked through her artwork, feeling revitalized myself I asked her if she had a piece that was her favorite. She told me the Fir Street alley house was her favorite and that she’d actually forgotten how to get to it. “I lost it, I didn’t know where it was. I showed it to Tim Heffley and he goes ‘Oh, that’s over there.’ And he told me where it was and I went and found it again. And it’s my favorite so far… There’s still a lot in my pencil that hasn’t come out yet.” She concluded with a little sparkle in her eye.
Lesson four, expect the unexpected. Carol also showed me the birdhouses that her cousin Diana Hackbarth makes. They are actually replicas of the buildings that Carol draws. She then lets Diana use the drawings as references for the birdhouses. And when I say bird houses, I don’t mean the dinky little ones, I mean full on reproduction, it’s incredible. Oh, and did I mention that Diana is clinically blind? Yeah, so there’s that too. As if these two couldn’t get more impressive.
Lesson five, seek beauty out, it’s everywhere. “My grandmother lived in Reno and she lived in houses just like this and I loved it. They had a tough life, but there was love and I think that’s what I grasp, the family going on. Maybe it wasn’t so pretty but in my mind thats what made us, that’s why we’re here.” Everything she was saying could be seen in these drawings. They were in there cracks of the boards, the rust of the metal, the broken glass. It is amazing to see these sketches and see not only what we know but the beauty that she’s seen in them and has captured to share with us.