Maxine Townsend-Broderick is an artist, photographer and retired art school teacher. She first ‘crossed my path’ some four decades ago as she is -- I am very proud to say -- my mother. All my life - and at least for a good decade prior to it - my mother has produced art. And it has come in a variety of forms; oil painting, sculpture, jewelry making, watercolors, etchings and doll making just to name a few. And her art came with a multitude of themes; political, religious, Caribbean culture, family and abstract. But despite the variety there was also consistency; in all of my mother’s work I can see pieces of her – the woman I remember throughout the decades of my life – her watercolor period, her sand and fabric period, her Caribbean period are just some of many. And in those periods I see my life chronicled as well. So I am therefore very pleased to share with you the woman behind the art that I grew up with. Thank you, Mom, for sharing your creative story.
How did the arts live and breathe in your childhood?
As a child our family’s Sunday after church ritual, was purchasing the newspaper from the corner store and rushing home to read ‘The Funnies’. While my sisters usually fought to be the first to read the comics section, I always waited until they were done. Less concerned with the words, I wanted to study the pictures. Then I would get paper and crayons and try to recreate what I saw. When I attended Catholic elementary school we had art classes only every couple of months but it was these times that I found myself looking forward to the most. So I’ve always been a visual person with words being less important to me.
How was the artist in you born?
I will always remember getting from my mother reinforcement of the notion that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. She knew of my early interest and always encouraged me in my art. While my father was not enthusiastic about me going to art school my mother encouraged me to pursue the talent that I had and trusted that I would be able to support myself from it.
Who are (have been) your creative mentors?
My mother was my first mentor. She was a dress maker and my father was a tailor. I watched both my parents sew for us children and observed closely how they would fit all our clothes to us. The time and precision they gave to these custom fit garments; sewing, pulling apart and then re-sewing to get the fit just right. My mother would always say about this time consuming work that “…anything worthwhile doing is worthwhile doing well.” So I learned early that when you create it is alright to take it apart, rework it and fix it anew, because this is part of the creative process. She also felt you should try to do your best every time and so I’ve always striven for that in my work. This doesn’t always mean that you are the best at what you do, but that you’ve, at the least, done the best that you are capable of doing. I realized many years ago when I had my first opportunity to teach arts and crafts how much these lessons molded me. While instructing a group of mothers in macramé I explained to a student that to correct a problem in her work would require dismantling a section and reworking it. The student replied “no that’s ok, it’s good enough”. I discovered then it wasn’t everyone’s philosophy.
I have been blessed to study different art media under many skilled artists including learning sculpture under James Counts at the Art Workshop Gallery in Roosevelt, etching under Otto Neils at the Bob Blackburn Printmakers Workshop in Manhattan and portrait photography under Monte Zucker and Don Blair at the Long Island Professional Photography Associations summer workshops.
Do you have a spiritual practice that informs your art and life?
I go to church regularly and I sing in my church's choir. I try to be a good Catholic, a good Christian, I believe in God and I believe in being kind to my neighbor. And over the years I have produced some artwork with religious themes. I pray and meditate everyday while I swim and I get ideas for my artistic creations during this time. So my swimming has become part of my spiritual practice.
How do you nurture creativity in your daily life?
I sit down and work on my art every day; I can’t sit idle. As soon as I finish one project I am already starting the next. I am always creating and I do it because I have to do it. I just can’t help it; it’s what I’m driven to do.
Please describe your creative process.
What inspires you artistically? Where do you find inspiration?
Sometimes ideas come to me when I’m trying to sleep, during my quiet time, when I’m lying in bed and ideas of what I want to do or what I next want to work on comes to me. Depending on the idea, I may get up and execute it right then and there or sometimes I just file it. Some ideas also come in my dreams and those ideas are usually ways of pulling or meshing different media techniques together to make something new.
What do you do when you are not feeling particularly creative?
It depends on what medium I’m working in – currently I’m quilting and lately what I’ve done if I get 'stuck', I go to my library of quilt books and look through them. They may not be related to what I’m working on at the time but they give me inspiration. I don’t like to copy quilt patterns, I like to create my own designs and looking at the technique of others can sometimes help me find the spark I need to move forward and create something new. Afterwards I usually begin sketching and a new plan for a quilt eventually develops. I also get inspiration from listening to speakers at quilt guilds because listening to other creative people sparks my own creativity.
How does your creativity find form (what are some of your favorite media)?
This is difficult because I’ve worked in so many different media over the years. I like them all. The first things I learned were drawing and sewing, which I continue to do even now. And my first love was oil painting but I haven’t done that for many years. My initial formal training was in advertising design and later in life I went on to obtain a master's degree in web design, but I earned my formal living as a professional photographer. Since then photography has been the one media that is throughout all my work. I almost always start with my photography and use it to help me create works in other media, whether it be watercolor, sand and fabric, etching, colograph, acrylic and/or mixed media. Lately my favorites are photography, watercolor, printmaking, and quilting. I am on a quest for change, trying to move to a more nontraditional form of quilting – away from it roots as a craft, piecing fabrics and expanded into the visual art form meshing my watercolor, photos and printmaking as my design base for newer quilt patterns.
Why are you drawn to these media (what is attractive about these media)?
It has to do with what I like at any given time which is why I change media so often. I enjoy change and try and find ways to always be new and different. I will work with a media I find interesting, but I often eventually find myself trying to mesh it with another media form I already know, in order to create something unique. For example I had a period when I was making dolls traveling frequently to a local African merchant to purchase african designed cloth. The merchant inquired about my work and requested that I try and reproduce some artwork traditional to his country using sand and dried banana leaves. While this media was foreign to me I discovered, via experimentation, that combining watercolor paintings of my photography, with african print design cloth and using colored sand as my painting tool I created a newly integrated artform. I went onto work with this sand and fabric extensively for the next few years developing 3 dimensional paintings onto which I eventually incorporated metal, wood and other materials creating my own unique mixed media form.
How would you define your creative offerings?
Creating artwork is what I ‘have to do’ and not necessarily what I ‘set out to do’ so I see it as flowing from me. It is a form of my life. If I couldn’t create art I don’t know what I would do. For me it’s relaxing, it’s healing, it’s comforting in a time of sorrow. Much of my artwork has been done as a result of trying to get through difficult times in my life. Instead of internalizing feelings, I express them through my eyes and my hands, drawing from my life experiences, creating works that help to calm and sooth and allow me to think clearly about life’s everyday situations. The first time this was majorly true for a series of my work was in 1983, as I was coming to grips with the death of my cousin, Maurice Bishop, former prime minister of Grenada. Since he was so young and we never had a body to bury, acknowledging his death became a great difficulty for me. It took 5 years to achieve complete acceptance of the loss and during that time I produced a series of paintings as a tribute to him and his revolutionary work. Since then there have been many events in my life that have come to find expression in my artwork.
What music is on your current playlist (what cd/song do you have on repeat)?
Nancy Wilson - ‘mixed tape’ CD, Marvin Gaye - Vulnerable, Donny Hathaway - Collection CD, Teddy Pendergrass - Life is a song worth singing, Johnny Hartman - ‘mixed tape’ CD
What is the last (best) book you read?
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt – My twin sister in Texas read it along with me and we’d talk about it and laughed about the experiences we had growing up under the strict Catholic school rules of our childhood.
What is on your nightstand right now?
Albums of photographs that I took while I was in Nigeria, the book African Ark by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, the book Underground Railroad Sampler: Quilt in a Day by Eleanor Burns and Sue Bouchard, a sketch pad and a box of colored pencils.
What is one of your (not so) guilty pleasures?
Eating ice cream more than I should – I could eat it breakfast, lunch and dinner.
How do you love to pamper yourself?
Moisturizing my hair and skin daily after swimming – I’ve never been into massages or those other types of things. What I do for myself regularly is swim, take care of my skin and take care of my hair.
Favorite color: Red
Favorite season: Summer
Favorite word: Love
Facebook or Twitter: Facebook, but I only browse through it every now and then.
Home-cooked or microwave: Home-cooked, but I sometimes use the microwave to cook 'home-cooked' meals.
Book or movie: I’m not big on either one, but book, because they usually mess up the story in a movie.
Ice cream or frozen yogurt: Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream! Hallelujah for ice cream!
Shakespeare or Sondheim: Sondheim, I guess. Shakespeare is too dry.