For the last several years I have been creating art that is inspired by a particular song. Why? To bring awareness to dementia, because you NEVER EVER lose you musical memory. This was inspired by my mother’s dementia and noticing the effect music had on dementia patients. The reason this is happens (without getting all scientific) is because the place where music is stored in our brains is the last place affected by dementia. Music  is often referred to as “THE LAST MEMORY”.

 Several months ago I declared a quest to create work that is inspired by a song beginning with every letter of the alphabet, documenting the journey as I go. (You can read it  HERE. )

The first song for my quest is AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH.  To get inspiration for the painting not only do I listen to several versions of the song and learn to play it on the piano, I also research the story behind the song.

I always “assumed” this song was about finding a great love. Did you? If you did, we were both WRONG!

The song was written by Nicolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson in 1966 hoping it would be their ticket to join Mo-Town.

In 1962, Nick Ashford moved to New York City after graduating high school to become a dancer. When this didn’t work out, he ended up homeless. Meanwhile, while still in high school, Valerie Simpson was singing in a choir in Harlem. One day Nick showed up there, basically looking for a hot meal. And, you know what happened next – right? Valerie persuaded him to join their group.  They eventually began collaborating, and in Valerie’s own words, “Nick was the perfect mouthpiece for my melodies, and my piano inspired his lyrics. It was an easy relationship.”  

Nick had already written the lyrics for this song. He said the words came to him while walking the city, worried about whether he could stay in NYC. He noticed the buildings along the park looked like mountains, and these lyrics came to him:

“Ain’t no mountain high enough/Ain’t no valley low enough/Ain’t no river wide enough/to keep me from getting to you.” So, the “you” was not a love interest, it was SUCCESS.

As you can see, I put texture on each piece and while listening to several versions of the song, I handwrite the lyrics directly on the canvas. This is my way of really meditating on the piece.

The next thing I do is to get the piano music and start playing.

To create the mountains, used canvas I reclaimed from old paintings, which gave it the kind of texture usually found in nature.

To add more texture, I played around a little with fire (I guess I was in that kind of mood that particular day).

I love to experiment and try new things, but I always keep the spirit of the song in the forefront. While I cover up the lyrics, I always have them, along with the sheet music, close by.

Here is the resulting image. If you look closely, you can see the images of city buildings in the mist on the right.

AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH, ©vickiemartin2021 24×18 mixed media on canvas

Here are more interesting facts about the song:

  • Dusty Springfield wanted to record it, but Ashford and Simpson felt it was their ticket to Motown (it was, it was recorded on the Tamla label, which was a division of Mo-Town).
  • Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell recorded it in 1967 becoming a Top 20 hit on the Billboard charts (#2 on the R&B Charts).
  • The Supremes recorded it as a duet with The Temptations.
  • Ashford and Simpson produced Diana Ross’s first solo album, of which this song was the 2nd song released from.
  • All of the music and background vocals were recorded before Diana recorded her part. She was able to hear it while recording it.

ONE FACT ABOUT DEMENTIA: Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States for older people. Some estimates rank as high as third in older people, behind only heart disease and cancer. AND THERE IS NO CURE.

What’s up next in my quest? Since I’ll be traveling to a song that begins with a “B”, I’m going to a BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER.






3. helen frankenthaler 1957 images 17. helen frankenthaler

“The only rule is that there are no rules. Anything is possible…It’s all about risks, deliberate risks.”

This is how Helen Frankenthaler refers to the art she practiced for over 60 years, making history before she was 30 years old. This is my sixth installment of my Weekly Women in Art series.

How did she make history so young? By taking the technique accredited to Jackson Pollock  of pouring paint directly onto the canvas,  she adapted it to her own needs. Pollack used enamel paint that sat on top of the canvas. Frankenthaler used oil that was thinned with turpentine which soaked into the canvas, seemingly staining the canvas.

“It was all there. I wanted to live in this land. I had to live there, and master the language.”

That is what she said after seeing the Pollock show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950 or 1951.


Mountains and Sea


She painted this before her 24th birthday. Measuring 9 feet wide by 7 feet high Mountains and Sea directly affected both Kenneth Nolan and Morris Louis. Louis later said it was a

“Bridge betwen Pollack and what was possible.”

Helen was grew up on the New York’s Upper East Side. Her father was a New York State Supreme Judge, her mother a German emigre’.  It is safe to say she had a privileged background!

After graduating from Bennington College, she inherited money from her father (who had died in 1940) and was able to get a New York apartment AND have a separate studio! And, she began painting full-time.

When she organized an exhibition in 1950 at Bennington College she met Clement Greenberg, considered one of the foremost art critics of the day, and began a five year relationship with him. Through him she met Pollock, David Smith, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner and other members of the New York artworld at the time.

When she separated from Greenberg, she met Robert Motherwell and married him in 1958. He  was also from a well-to-do family, and they were suddenly the “golden couple” of the artworld. They spent months honeymooning in Spain and France.

images-2 tumblr_lwvmgxbsTL1qbv4q2o1_1280

When they returned, they left the downtown art scene and moved uptown and began entertaining. British sculptor Anthony Caro recalled a dinner party on his first trip to New York which was attended by over 100 people. He sat between David Smith and Hedy Lamarr.

Helen loved entertaining, and she loved to dance. She attended a function at the White House in 1985 honoring the Prince and Princess of Wales. After dancing with a partner that twirled her around, she said:

“I’ve waited a lifetime for a dance like this. He was Great!!!”

When she returned to New York, she showed her assistant his card – “John Travolta”.

The awards she received are numerous. among them:

  • First Prize for Painting, Premiere Biennale de Paris, 1959
  • National Medal of Arts 2001
  • served on the National Council for the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts
  • New York City Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture 1986
  • Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, College Art Association 1994

Honorary degrees received include:

  • Smith College 1973
  • Radcliffe College 1978
  • Amherst College 1979
  • New York Univerisity 1979
  • Harvard University 1980
  • Philadelphia College of Art 1980
  • Yale University 1981
  • Brandeis University 1982

Her exhibitions are just as impressive

  • two New York retrospectives before the end of the 1960s, at the Jewish Museum and at the Whitney Museum
  • Guggenheim Museum 1985 – works on paper retrospective
  • Museum of Modern Art, 1989

“Being the person I was and am, exposed to the things I have been exposed to, I could only make my painting with the methods – and with the wrist i have.”

“I have always been concerned with painting that simultaneously insists on a flat surface and then denies it.”

“My pictures are full of climates, abstract climates. They’re not nature per se, but a feeling.”

“Art has a will of its own. It has nothing to do with the taste of the moment or what’s expected of you. That’s a formula for dead art, or fashionable art.”

“There are three subjects I don’t like discussing. My former marriage, women artists, and what I think of my contemporaries.”

Helen Frankenthaler – December 12, 1928 – December 27, 2011


Adirondacks 1992


Painted on 21st Street 1951



9. helen frankenthalerimages-1



On July 24, 2023 I embarked on a QUEST to do a collage a day for 28 straight days. I started out knowing each collage would be based by an individual song, as is all my art. After all, depending on who you listen to, there are estimated to be between 82 and 200+ million songs on the planet at any given time.   That’s a bigger number than there are rivers and mountains in the world (in case you are wondering, rivers and mountains on the planet adding up to about 1.3 million). Can you think of a better way to find inspiration?

What did I learn?  I learned how to maintain consistency, to choose quality over quantity, and to express myself without using words.  It wasn’t just about cutting and pasting paper, it was a lesson in planning, and finding inspiration within a song that told a story. 

I'll Fly Away 5x7 collage matted 8x10

I’ll Fly Away, collage 5×7

WEEKS 1 and 2:  In the first two weeks I began with a list of songs I put together that told a story. Each morning I picked a song then took a walk after reading the lyrics of the song. I thought about how to translate the lyrics and the back story of the song into visual cues. I learned to embrace quirkiness and I suddenly realized I was having FUN! It ruled my creativity and I found new ways of using images. BUT – after 14 days I realized I needed more structure.




Rainy Days and Mondays 5×7 collage


WEEK 3: I was on the verge of  hitting the proverbial creative block. I needed more structure in choosing the songs I was using. So – what should I do? I decided to use the days of the weeks as the springboard for choosing a different song each day. 




Beethoven’s 9th


WEEK 4: I chose songs that were about a specific color. BUT – I ended the entire quest with what I feel is the most magnificent piece of music ever written – Beethoven’s 9th. My research expanded to studying synesthesia – which is the fancy name for when you experience one of your senses through another. Some examples include tasting words or linking colors to music. My research had begun to expand. I was becoming more resourceful – viewing every day images differently than before. There was a feeling of playfulness, spontaneity and curiosity that was not as apparent to me before.


What other things did I learn or do?

  • I bought better scissors
  • I began using an exacto knife for more intricate cutting
  • I totally reorganized my studio
  • I gave away a lot of old collage material – they no longer served my needs

Here are a few more images from the month of collage.


I have decided to repeat this exercise once a quarter for one week instead of four. The next week will be the week of September 23 – the first day of fall!   Want to join me?  Do you have any requests for a song, preferable about fall or the colors of fall? Let me know!




If you know me, you know I am a reader and a walker. When I looked through the books I read in 2022 (78 – not a record), I was amazed that less than 10% of the books I read were art related. So – 2023 is my year to devote more of my downtime to art. (more…)


This is a continuation of my quest to create a piece of art inspired by a song beginning with every letter of the alphabet. You can read about it HERE.

I always do a “deep dive” into the song, learning as much as I can about the story behind it, even learning to play it on the piano – and this is a great song to play because it is written in the gospel tradition.

Written in 1970 by Paul Simon and it is one of the Simon and Garfunkel’s biggest hits, even becoming their signature song. It won five Grammy’s in 1971, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Simon insisted Garfunkel sing this song (a decision he later came to regret).


BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER, 20×20 Mixed media ©2020VickieMartin

What was the inspiration for the song? When Simon heard the southern gospel group Swan Silvertones 1959 song “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”.  The line “I’ll be your bridge over deep water / if you trust in My name”  jumped out at him. In a rare interview with Dick Cavet in 1970, he said “I think that must have subconsciously influenced me, and I started to go to gospel (chord) changes”

The line “like a bridge over troubled water” is a metaphor for someone living through a tough time, and “I will lay me down” refers to the sacrifices made to find a way through them.

Bridge Over Troubled Water, ©2008 ink, charcoal, crayon on paper, 15×18

In the third verse, the line “Sail on silver girl / Sail on by / Your time has come to shine” shifts the rhythm and the mood changes. Simon later revealed it was a reference to his then-wife. But many interpret it being focused on someone who needs help during a difficult time.

It is important to remember the times in which it was written. In 1969 America was in turmoil. Viet Nam, Nixon, and the country was still dealing with the loss of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. This was a song that was needed for the times. In fact, It continued to be an uplifting anthem in bad times. In 2005, Simon and Garfunkel reunited to sing it to help raise money for those affected by Katrina.

In the past 50+ years, everyone from Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, The Jackson Five, Peggy Lee, Johnny Cash and more, with Aretha Franklin winning a Grammy for her cover in 1972.


Bridge Over Troubled Water, 6×6 collage on 10×10 board @2020 Vickie Martin

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
Oh when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
Oh when darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on, silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Check out the story behind AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH here.


As a reader, I am familiar with quests as a literary device (think of the knights of the round table or Odyseus).  In fact, I started my own reading quest a few years back.  But, I had NEVER considered applying a quest to my goal with my art work until I listened to Alyson Stanfield, founder of Art Biz Success.

During a recent talk on Instagram, Alyson began speaking of “legacy projects”, which is what I realized at that time applies to me. If you aren’t familiar with my work, all of my art is inspired by a particular song that I also learn to play on the piano. 

BUT THEN, she pulled out the book THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT, FINDING THE QUEST THAT WILL BRING PURPOSE BACK IN YOUR LIFE by Chris Gillebeau. I thought “Wait, I have that book” and walked to the bookshelf and pulled it out. 

SO – I looked at the book with new eyes. Oddly, the timing was strange. I had just finished a painting that had two tiny horses appear on the horizon, so it became a painting inspired by the song “THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM” from Man of LaMancha about Don Quixote, one of the most famous questers of all time!

It seemed as if the Universe was urging me to DO IT.  But – do what?  I needed a little more information to do a proper quest. There are certain things the “quester” (ME) must identify. Below is the list I came up with along with the actions I will take.

  • There must be a goal – I will paint a painting inspired by a song that represents every letter of the alphabet and I will also learn to play it on the piano and write a blog about each song. 
  • There must be an end point – I will complete this by the end of 2021.
  • It must present a challenge and sacrifice – In order to complete this by the end of 2021, I must stay focused and not deviate from my path.
  • It must be driven by a calling – I use music in the context of art to ultimately bring awareness to dementia. Why? Because your music memory will stay intact when all other memory is gone.

Today I’m declaring my quest that will be finished by end of the 2021. There is another reason to approach my art series this way – this give me structure to move forward.  

SO – my first step is to pick a song beginning with the letter “A”. Three pop up immediately for me, “AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH”, “A WHITER SHADE OF PALE”, and “APRIL IN PARIS”.  I don’t know which song I will choose at this point – but I will continue moving forward in the alphabet.

Back to my reading quest, I am reading a book by an author from each state. The last book I read was by Bill Bryson for Iowa, and you can read the blog here

This idea of the quest came from, as I mentioned above, Alyson Stanfield. If you are an artist, I highly recommend you look her up, from podcasts, training, blogs, just a wealth of information. Click here for the link to her page for SOCIAL MEDIA VISITORS

Follow me on my quest, subscribe to my blog and keep up with the songs I paint for every letter of the alphabet and the symbolism I use, and the stories many songs tell.

Do you have a favorite song that you think would make a great painting? Below are a few example of paintings I’ve already done.



AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH, ©vickiemartin2021 24×18 mixed media on canvas

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER, 20×20 Mixed media ©2020VickieMartin

Click below for the stories behind other songs used for inspiration:





I am currently on a quest to read a book written by an author from each state. I have finally reached Idaho, reading two books by Idahoan authors (yes, I looked up the word Idahoan!)

First – MOUNTAIN MAN by Vardis Fisher, the book the movie Jeremiah Johnson is  based on. Sam Minard is a hunter/trapper wandering through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.  This book isn’t for the faint of heart, beginning with Sam coming upon a horrific scene of an Indian massacre, where a lone woman is left alive after her three children are murdered and her husband is kidnapped and scalped. Sam builds her a cabin and get word out to other “mountain men” to look out for her. He takes an Indian Wife, and simplifies her name to Lotus. When it is time for him to leave in the winter to trap fur, he leaves her pregnant in the winter (in the comfort of their cabin). He returns to find his family has been slaughtered most likely by the Crowe tribe. This begins a murderous path of vengeance, vowing to kill every member of the tribe that killed his family. Again, this isn’t for the faint of heart.

Then I found another book that is probably stylistically on the other end of the spectrum! Echoes from the Hills of Idaho by Ruth Butler. This is the humorous, tragic and folksy memoir of Ruth, a girl who lived the first few years of her life on a thousand acre dry farm, which was near the Grand Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone Park was only a few miles away. Surrounded by the grandeur and beauty of the area, she also lived in a loving family. Her heartfelt stories are of growing up during the twenties and thirties. Complete with pictures, it is an endearing memoir and this childhood must have ignited a sense of adventure in Ruth because  she worked as an airplane mechanic in WWII, raised a family in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and traveled America solo in her motorhome after retirement. She wrote this book in her 90’s and even though she is in now in a wheelchair and suffers from glaucoma, she writes every days, writing her third memoir!



Idaho is called the “Gem State”, because nearly every known type of gemstone has been found in Idaho. 

Idaho is one of only two places in the world where star garnets are mined in significant quantities (the other place is India).

Idaho’s state capital building is the only one in the United States that is heated by geothermal water. 

Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls, drops 52 feet further than Niagara Falls

Known for potatoes, Idaho produces one-third of the potatoes grown in the U.S. (it also produces the most lentils).

Hells Canyon, (in the Western portion of the state) is 7,993 feet deep, making it the deepest river gorge in North America (The Grand Canyon is only about 6,000 fee deep).

The state seal of Idaho was designed by Emma Edwards Green, making this the only state seal that was designed by a woman. (The state seal is used in the flag too).

Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition as an intrepreter was born here (and so was Sarah Palin, but we’ll forgive that).

The Salmon River is the longest free-flowing river that flows within a single state.

63% of Idaho is public land

The capital city of Boise was named when French-Canadian trappers arrived in the early 1800s and were so relieved to see the forest and river that they exclaimed “Les bois! Les bois!” (“The trees”)

In 2004, the mayor of Wallace, Idaho, a town with a population under 800 people declared the town as the Center Of The Universe, complete with a manhole cover painted to mark the site.

The Boise State University  Broncos play on the only blue football field in the world, known as The Smurf Turf!

This football field is also immortalized in Matthew (my art isn’t for everyone) Barney’s Cremaster series (and Barney grew up in Idaho too.)

There are more than 3,100 miles of rivers in Idaho, more than anywhere else in the US!

Napoleon Dynamite lived in Preston, Idaho – in fact they whole a Napoleon Dynamite festival every summer. 

If you know of other authors that are FROM Idaho, let me know!

Next, I will be traveling (by book of course) to Illinois (Ray Bradbury, Indiana (Kurt Vonnegut) and then Iowa (Bill Bryson)!


I posted this blog a few years ago in honor of the 4th of July. Today I went back and added some additional American women artists. They are in no particular order. Enjoy – I know I left some out, if I left out your favorite, put it in the comment!

A Kiss for Baby Anne - by Mary Cassatt 1844-1926

A Kiss for Baby Anne – by Mary Cassatt 1844-1926


Dark Star by Betye Saar 1926 -

Dark Star by Betye Saar 1926 –

Sky Cathedral by Louise Nevelson 1899-1988

Sky Cathedral by Louise Nevelson 1899-1988

Maman by Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010

Black Iris, Georgia Okeefe 1887-1986

#180 Working Drawing, Ingrid Calame 1965

Life and Coca-Cola by Margaret Bourke-White 1904-1971

Life and Coca-Cola by Margaret Bourke-White 1904-1971

Mountains and Sea by Helen Fankenthaler 1928-2011

Mountains and Sea by Helen Fankenthaler 1928-2011

Wind and Water, Pat Steirs 1938

Alice Neel Young Woman by Alice Neel 1900-1984

Alice Neel Young Woman by Alice Neel 1900-1984

Garden of Praise by Grandma Moses 1860-1961

Garden of Praise by Grandma Moses 1860-1961

I Need Art and Coffee by Lee Krasner 1908-1984

I Need Art and Coffee by Lee Krasner 1908-1984

Still Life With Peaches by Sarah Peele 1800-1885

Still Life With Peaches by Sarah Peele 1800-1885

Yves by Joan Mitchell 1925-1992

Yves by Joan Mitchell 1925-1992

John F. Kennedy by Elaine De Kooning 19198 - 1989

John F. Kennedy by Elaine De Kooning 19198 – 1989

Max's Crush by Kady Noland - 1956 -

Max’s Crush by Kady Noland – 1956 –

Woman with a Fur Collar on the Street by Diane Arbus 1923-1971

Woman with a Fur Collar on the Street by Diane Arbus 1923-1971

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago 1939-

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago 1939-

Form of a Black Feather by Lee Miller 1907- 1977

Form of a Black Feather by Lee Miller 1907- 1977

Untitled film still by Cindy Sherman 1954 -

Untitled film still by Cindy Sherman 1954 –

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold 1930 -

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold 1930 –

Who would you add?







This is the 17th installment in my on-going series WOMEN IN ART. 

Master and Margarita

Master and Margarita

Nadya Rusheva may be one of the prolific artists I have ever encountered. In her short 17 years, (1952 – 1969) she managed to create more the 10,000 drawings, even though during the last years of her life she couldn’t draw more than half an hour a day.

Never heard of her? Neither had I!

Born in Mongolia, her father, Nikolai Konstantinovich Rusheva (1918-1975) was a theater artist. Her mother, Natalia Azhimaa-Rusheva (born 1926) was a prima ballerina in Tyva.Many of her drawings are at the National Museum of the Republic of Tyva, while most of them are located in the Pushkin Museum  in Moscow.

She began drawing incessantly at the age of five, but her family didn’t realiy pay attention to them until she was seven. She had begun painting and drawing daily, and once drew 36 illustrations (or 40 according to her mother) for The Tsar of Sultan, a poem by Aleksandr Pushkin, in one evening while her father read her the story. (The story was immortalized by Rimsky-Korsakov with an opera).

It is said she did not do preliminary sketches and rarely, if ever, used an eraser.

“I live the life of those I draw. I first see them … they appear on paper as watermarks, and I need to do something to lead around them.”

She also made about thirty drawings based on The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Rusheva, Little Prince

Rusheva, Little Prince

Her drawings were first shown in the offices of the magazine Yunost (meaning Youth), a literary magazine that appealed to the younger generation. They later published her drawings.

In 1966, the family moved to Moscow and the school she attended is now named The Nadia Rusheva Education Center No. 1466, where memorial dates of the Rusheva family are observed.

During her lifetime, she had approximately 15 exhibitions around Russia, Poland and the Ukraine.

She is most well known for her illustrations of the book Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Master and Margarita meeting for the first time

Master and Margarita




Originally banned in Russia, this  work was begun in 1928, with a 2nd highly edited version published in 1966 and 1967. It tells two parallel stories, featuring a visit of the Devil to the atheistic Soviet Union, with the second part taking place during Christ’s final days in Jerusalem



Sadly, she died from a brain hemorrhage caused by a congenital defect of the cerebral arteries.





The name Nadya means “hope” or “living eternally”. Her art will live on forever, her name will live on as far away as outer pace – as there is Asteroid 3516 Rusheva named for her, as is also a pass in the Caucasus Mountain.




Appollo and Daphne

Appollo and Daphne

Master and Margarita

Master and Margarita

Pushkin and Wife dancing

Pushkin and Wife dancing

A gifted artist, a life too short, but stunning nonetheless! 

If you can read Cyrillic – there is much more information about her on line! If you can read Cyrillic and find out more, let me know!





War and Peace Pierra and Natasha

War and Peace Pierra and Natasha



This is the third installment in my quest, which is to read a book by an author from each state!  This selection is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells. glasscastleJeannette Wells was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1960.  The daughter of Rex and Rose Mary, she lived a nomadic life, with a family that was constantly doing the “skeedadle” when bills were due. She left home at age 17, moving to New York City and eventually graduated from Barnard with honors. She was the gossip columnist for MSNBC and left in 2007 to pursue writing full time.

The Glass Castle is her memoir of growing up, beginning at age three. Actually, in  the opening of the book she sees her mother digging through a garbage dumpster in lower Manhatten as she retreats to her Park Avenue home. 

The 2nd chapter opens with the line “I was on fire”. That will get your attention. At three years old her favorite pink dress caught fire  as she tried to make herself a hot dog. When they asked her at the hospital why she was cooking, she said “Mom says I’m mature for my age and she lets me cook.”.   Her mother often consumed by finishing her latest painting, she often couldn’t be bothered to cook, why spend the time on something that will be consumed in 15 minutes when she can spend time on a painting that will last forever?   

This is the story of her family  – much of is pure horror. But it is told with love and affection for her nomadic parents. Her father is an alcoholic that often can’t hold a job. He doesn’t trust the government with his money, and is always talking about the “glass castle” they will build when he makes his fortune. Her mother often hoards candy bars when they children have no food. 

The family settles for a time in a mining town in Nevada and she spends much of her time exploring the desert with her brother Brian, while her sister Lori reads. Mom even takes a break from painting and teaches for a bit. But, when there is an altercation with the law, the family is forced to “skedaddle” again.  

Mom has inherited a house from her mother and they move to Phoenix, and they have some stability for awhile. Dad works, but the alcoholism always comes back.  In a touching scene, Jeannette asks her dad to give up drinking for her 10th birthday, which he valiantly tries to do. But, when the car breaks down, and mom decides she needs more adventure, they move to dad’s childhood home in West Virginia. 

West Virginia is terribly depressing. Rex’s mom is abusive and she tries to sexually abuse brother Brian. The town itself is depressing, segregated and impoverished. They buy a shack on a hill – no indoor plumbing or central heating. Dad’s drinking gets worse and the children are often hungry. She and sister Lori plan an to escape to New York, and the girls manage to do it! Brian joins them later (at this point there is a younger sister Maureen). 

Not to give too much away, the parents get a little lonely and follow the children to New York – but they are unwilling to work and instead live as squatters. Maureen doesn’t adjust well and ends up in a mental institution.

Somehow the story is told with genuine love for her parents, and also a sense of adventure in growing up.  This is a well written memoir, a tale of survival that includes near starvation, abuse and poverty, but also of love.  Jeannette current lives in Virginia with her husband, with her mother close by (her father died in 1994).200px-Jeannette_walls_2009

Some local sayings about Arizona:

Arizona looks like a battle on Mars.

Welcome to Arizona, where summer spends the winter – and hell spends the summer.

You know you are from Arizona when you feed your chickens ice cubes to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.


Copper is the most abundant mineral

The bola tie is the official state neckwear

Petrified wood is the official state fossil

Turquoise is the official state gemstone

The saguaro cactus blossom is the official state flower

The saguaro is the largest American cactus

Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon

Arizona observes Mountain Standard time year round – except in the Navajo Nation

Frank Lloyd Wrights studio Tallesin West was built near Phoenix

Arizona has the most land set aside and designated as Indian lands

Next – I will be reading from Arkansas!