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Crown of Leaves

In honor of Women's History Month, The Cheyenne Creativity Center is showcasing the art of local artists in a show titled, Silhouette: Women in Art and as Artists.

As a representation of my artistic journey so far, I chose a self portrait that I painted 22 years ago. It was an assignment for an oil painting class during my junior year at CSU. The requirements involved using a palette knife in the construction of a self portrait. Up until this point, I had some experience with self-rendering and knew that if the painting was going to be interesting (at least to me) I needed to dress-up my appearance somehow. I reached for a crown of leaves, most likely the remains of a halloween costume, and set to work. It was due the next day.

When I view my self portrait, I can see a young woman who has laid upon herself a concentrated and critical eye. Even though she was in art school, she did not believe she could be an artist. Her fierce gaze was undoubtedly cast upon the world, and I can understand why she had to steel herself to the future at hand. She had an intuition about the storms on the horizon, as she would spend the following decades fitting herself into the traditional worlds of teaching and business. Practicing her art in private, she wondered if she would ever stand in the light.

The symbolism behind a crown of leaves goes back to ancient Greece. The god Apollo, who was the patron of poetry, music, and athletics was often adorned with a laurel wreath. Champions in the Olympic Games and virtuosos in music and poetry were awarded leafy crowns. The Romans, in their admiration of the Greeks, adopted the wreath and it was worn as a symbol of martial victory. Thus, legendary generals like Julius Caesar were depicted with leafy crowns in their triumph of war. Laurel wreaths are also a symbol for academic achievement, and even today are often bestowed to a graduating student at their commencement ceremony.

The greatest fear of my 20-year-old-self was to be on a gallery wall for all to see. With the gift of time, I've been able to overcome my overwhelming fears of being seen, and have been able to step wholeheartedly into my artistry. I did not know the ancient symbolism of wearing a wreath; but I know that my victory was hard won, and thus deserving of such a crown.

Nowadays, I might choose to paint myself with a different expression. Nevertheless, it is important that I remember my origin story. There's still two weeks left to see the show and have a look at the young champion!

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