Getting to school extra, extra early isn’t top priority with many children, but when Walla Walla painter Brenda Trapani was a girl, she made the proverbial early bird look like a sluggard.
“When I was little, we didn’t have money for art paper, markers, or any sort of drawing or painting materials,” Trapani explains. “When I went to school in the first grade, I found that if I came in early, my very creative teacher would let us draw on paper that was piled high, and use big ink markers that were in a shoe box.
“I didn’t have any of those at home, but I had time, and I couldn’t get to school early enough.”
Paper, pens, markers, pencils, brushes — throughout a childhood that Trapani describes as “shy and introverted” — the artist employed her creativity not only through drawing and painting, but in finding the material to do so, and no scrap of paper — especially the highly prized backs of used envelopes — escaped her.
“It has taken over 40 years for me to throw away an envelope or paper with a blank side, without habitually pausing and thinking about the doodling and scribbling it could hold,” Trapani says, adding that those childhood scraps of paper were direct answers to prayer, although she did not realize it at the time.
“I often didn’t think that God was even listening or helping,” Trapani remembers. “I was desperate. I didn’t pray for paper; I prayed for help.
“I prayed for things to get better in my life and home.
“God did not force His will by preventing people’s bad choices, but He gave me a way to escape — a way to cope — a way for things to be better for me.”
In fourth grade, Trapani’s interest in art solidified into a long-term, lifetime passion as she found herself in the classroom of teacher Anne Bullock, who created pottery and paintings founded in the skills of ancient, indigenous people. To a young girl, Bullock’s encouragement was life changing:
“Not only did she read to us wonderful, insightful, imaginative and compellingly deep stories, she encouraged us to do the same.
“Write! Read! Draw! Speak! Express yourself! Share! Make a big deal out of simple things! Tell your story!”
Telling that story is something Trapani has been doing ever since, both through her artwork — which encompasses watercolor, India ink, colored pencils, and oil pastels — as well as through her “day job” as a massage therapist, a skill she has practiced for the last 27 years.
“Like art, massage is a quiet, sacred type of work,” Trapani says. “People often hold their stories, memories, traumas, and joys inside. Massage can help get the bad effects of pain and trauma out.
“Art can do this as well.”
Because of her own challenging past, and the influence that adults like Bullock had upon her, Trapani donates her time and talent to the lives of others, and has taught art to children and teens in public and private settings, including the “Action Zone” drop-in care at the YMCA. She marvels at the impact that doing art has upon children, especially those she describes as being “sweet, but troubled.”
“I am reminded that art is a gift from God. It may not seem like an answer to a hurting child’s prayer, but since the family often isn’t well, and God does not force his will on people, God still hears the cries of the children.
“Even if they do not see it then, like myself, hopefully (they) will see God sent them powerful teachers, kind grandparents, at least one dependable parent, a cool college kid to look up to.”
If there is any statement that Trapani makes in her art, it is this — that God is real, and that He hears the cries of those who hurt. Another statement she makes is that there is no inflexibly right or wrong way to do things — people frequently comment that she uses paint, ink, and pens “incorrectly” — and it’s no use letting the perceived or potential criticisms of others get in one’s way.
As she tells the young people she teaches, if they have a dinner plate to put blobs of paint on, some wads of paper towel for a brush, and some scraps of paper — even the backs of envelopes — they can create art as unique as they are themselves.
“I feel sad when people say, ‘I wish I was artistic!’ or, ‘I don’t have any talent!’ That’s nonsense!”
And that’s commonsense encouragement from someone who knows how to draw — quite literally — the most out of the back of a used envelope.
Brenda Trapani is the featured Art Event artist at Wenaha Gallery, 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA from Tuesday, September 22 through Saturday, October 17. Many of the works in Trapani’s Event were created using watercolor paints, India inks, and paper given to her by David Bullock, after the death of his wife, Anne Bullock, in 2014. “She was, and still is, in the lives of many of her former students,” Trapani says.
Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.
Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists. Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.
This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.