Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Of Hummingbirds and Memories: The Art and Legacy of Caroline Muchmore

I actually had another blog planned for this week, but after doing some thinking, I realize that writing all this out and sharing it with you all is infinitely much more important to me.

"The Lightbearer" - Completed on July 7th, 2012

I lost a few people that were dear to me last year or so in succession, and one of them was a fellow artist, and nature and bird enthusiast named Caroline Muchmore, who passed away from Cystic Fibrosis last July. She was 26 years young.

We all have people that touch our lives and leave a lasting impression, and Caroline was certainly one of those people for me. She was dear friend and inspiration to me, and was actually the first person I told about the surreal hummingbird experience I had shortly before my maternal grandmother's passing.

The Hummingbird Experience

My mother and I are incredibly close, and this closeness carried over into our longstanding love for my maternal grandmother. My grandmother and I share the same birthday, and truly she and I were in so many ways cut from the same stone. Over the years, her health began to fail her, but her spirit stayed strong, and even up to her last month with us, a simple tune or familiar melody could send her “booping,” singing, and smiling as she stood with her walker. Her smile and love could light up a room.

A Photo of My Maternal Grandmother, Gertrude Taylor

As my grandmother’s health worsened, I went from visiting with she and my mother on an almost-weekly basis to staying with them at length and using up every drop of my stored vacation time to support them. To this day, I would not have done it differently, and my time could not have been better spent.

In any case, on the days leading up to her passing, I, as many people in my position probably have done, continued to look for signs that would tell us how much time she had left. To reassure my mother and I and let us know it was okay, much as we spent countless hours at her bed-side talking with her, reassuring her, reading books to her, singing to her, listening to music with her, we still were not sure how much longer she would be with us. At one point, she had a burst of incredible clarity and alertness that she’d seemed to save up for me that I will keep with me the rest of my life, and which utterly, truly made me believe that even if those close to passing seem unresponsive, they can still hear us, but I digress.

On the morning before my grandmother’s passing, my mother and I took a quick break to have some breakfast while someone from hospice watched over my grandmother in her room at home. The last few days had been utterly stormy, rainy, and miserable, and it was my mother that pointed out that the storm had broken and it was warm and clear outside. She suggested we step outside into the garden for a quick breather, and I agreed that the fresh air could do us some good.

When we stepped out, however, my mother motioned for me to be still, and pointed to a hummingbird some five feet away or so that was behaving quite peculiarly. Now, in Southern California hummingbirds aren’t exceptionally rare, but they also aren’t very common in that area, and there really weren’t any flowers around, so it was strange it was there to begin with.

The hummingbird was hovering an inch or two from the ground, and it was moving back and forth in odd patterns that seemed to form a line along the screen door inside which my grandmother was resting. It would pause, fly along it, come near to my mom and I, then go back, over and over, sometimes coming within inches of us, and we watched on with awe.

This went on for over four breathtaking minutes.

Had I not thought to record some of it on my iPhone (which I realized midway through was in my hand), I wouldn’t have believed it. But it went on and on. The little hummingbird hovering, then zooming just over the grass, parallel to the screen door, then over or around my mom and I, higher-up and eye-level, and then back again.

It was an incredibly surreal experience.

I have shown the video I took to a number of avid bird-watching friends including Caroline, and none of them could explain it either. It just… was. And I’m sure there are a lot of possible explanations out there: might it have been my grandfather in spirit? An angel? Simply a sign meant only for my mother and I? I know in some Native American mythologies they are symbols of resurrection or messengers of the dead, but I don’t pretend to know what it was or how it came to be there, other than to know it was powerful. And even as my uncle unknowingly hollered to us from inside and the hummingbird flew off, I just knew it was going to be okay. That my grandmother was going to be okay, and my mother and I were going to be okay.

Hummingbird Memory Mug

A couple weeks after my grandmother’s passing, my mother and I went to a pottery-painting studio called Color Me Mine to relax from everything (including all the funeral arrangements) and paint some ceramics together. It was the first time we’d done this in probably 15+ years. But I already knew what I wanted to paint.

"Hummingbird Memory Mug" - Completed on April 1st, 2012

I ended up later giving this mug to my mother for Mother’s Day, and though it didn't turn out quite as I intended, it really means a lot to me. I tried to paint the colors similar to how I remembered them, and opted to also put the blades of around the bottom to try and recapture the moment I’ll forever have in my mind, and heart.

Memories of Caroline

In some ways, this is one of the hardest things I've ever had to write, simply for the fact that I want so desperately to share Caroline’s legacy with the world, but attempting to do so feels like an incredibly intimidating prospect. It's impossible to capture someone adequately in a few paragraphs and choice words, but I'll try my best.

The Late Caroline Muchmore's DA ID Photo

This piece was done as a gift to me by the late Caroline Muchmore on April 27, 2004, and on this evening, I want to help keep her legacy alive by telling you a bit about her impact on me and sharing some of her art and beautiful galleries with you.

"Heart of the Redtail" - by Caroline Muchmore - Completed on April 27th, 2004

So much of what we do touches others. Whether it is through our words, art, smiles, or kind gestures -- the possibility and potential is all there, but it's up to each of us to rise to the occasion and try to realize it in our own lives. I had the pleasure of knowing Caroline for around fifteen years, and it was amazing growing beside her as an artist. When some people would implore for me to draw the latest popular trends and tropes, she was one of those people who continued to encourage and inspire me to draw and create pieces that meant something to me. And her work inspired me SO much too.

Here’s a small selection of some of her art which spans way back to 2002. You can find her galleries on DeviantART and the Yerf Archives. I've also uploaded about eighty pieces of her art to this Google+ Gallery to make sure they have yet another location to reside for posterity, and aren't lost to the sometimes fickle winds of the internet.


In addition to supporting me and giving me heartfelt and much-needed advice during some incredibly hard times (such as when my grandmother was approaching her time to pass on), she was an authentic person during her own rough times, and she weathered the storms with grace and strength, and kept her humor all the while. 

"The Birth of Hummingbirds" - by Caroline Muchmore - 2008 

While Caroline and I never played World of Warcraft together on the same server or guild, I'd frequently hear stories of her exploits in Azeroth. Even after her identical sister, Grace (also a WoW player), passed away in October of 2010 from the same disease, Caroline enjoyed stepping foot back into Azeroth on as regular a basis as her hospital visits and internet connection could support. Like so many people out there with disabilities, WoW was a place where she could find relief. Though she eventually had to give up raiding due to the onset of the later stages of the disease, she continued to enjoy playing the game when she could, chatting with friends and trying for achievements and mounts such as the Raven Lord and Timeless Proto-Drake up to the very end (she managed to get both). Despite being in and out of the hospital, her awesome guild-mates also helped her finish her legendary weapon questline: Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest.

Caroline on her Raven Lord Mount

I am so incredibly thankful for the time we had, even if it didn't feel like nearly long enough. While it brings sadness to think that I won't get to babble with her more in this life, or see new art updates from her, but I am also so, so happy that she can finally breathe easy. I think after one-too-many episodes of Star Trek I always thought there might be some blessed cure to save she and her sister from Cystic Fibrosis at the last minute. But that was simply not to be.

The Lightbearer

When I found out Caroline's health had started to fail her at last, I began work on this piece, but only completed it after her passing. As such, it was a strangely haunting sort of mourning and art therapy for me. As is the case with most art, the scan of this piece truly does not do this piece justice, especially since there are a lot of iridescent inks mixed in there that make parts of it truly shimmer.

"The Lightbearer" - Wip _ ACEO Sketch - June 30th, 2012

"The Lightbearer" - WIP - Linework - July 2nd, 2012

"The Lightbearer" - WIP - First Paint - July 6th, 2012

I completed this piece on July 7th of 2012. It is a small ACEO-sized (2.5 x 3.5 inches) gift for the late Caroline Muchmore and her husband.

"The Lightbearer" - Completed on July 7th, 2012

Our Living Legacy

But like anyone else, living or dead: Caroline’s legacy doesn't really end there.

Her passing actually made me rethink and reevaluate quite a lot in my own life. While it makes me very sad that I will never again be treated to see new art done by her hand, in a way, part of her legacy and art lives on through everyone she touched. While I can't point to how deep that influence lays between some of her art and my own, I know it's there, and in a way when I do certain things in my art (ornate, jeweled birds high among them), I'd like to think that, in a way, it perpetuates some of this unique vision and artistry, and that whoever sees her art might be similarly touched. So in a way: her legacy lives on with all of us. And by proxy, everything we create and the people we inspire, well, in a way we live on through them too.

So, what will your legacy be?

Fly free with your sister, Caroline. And thank you, for everything.

If you feel so inclined, please share this blog and consider becoming an organ donor, or donating to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to help the many other "Carolines" and "Graces" out there.

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