Beauty, charm and goodness – the three graces in Greek mythology – inspired the colorful painting by Maya Rose on the cover of the May 2015 issue. The artwork depicts a sisterhood of three women – “the three graces with the divine mother watching over all,” Rose says. “It expresses joy and a feeling of well-being. That’s the feeling I got, too, when I painted it.”
The strength of women is a thread throughout Rose’s artwork. There’s a sense of community, plus a touch of the magical. She is a painter and a doll-maker, whose colorful, often playful, artwork is inspired by Eastern European and Mexican folk art, African patterns, and her own family.
Developing a sisterhood
Although she doesn’t have a biological sister, Rose appreciates a sisterhood of cousins and friends. She grew up in a large, extended family with many cousins – 31 on her mother’s side and many on her paternal side, too.
“As I grew up, my Polish grandmother was a strong influence in my life,” she says. “The kitchen was really the heart of our home, everything was done there – cooking, visiting, eating, homework – so I think the women figures I paint have a strong, colorful, ethnic flavor to them, like the family I grew up in.”
When her son and daughter were young, Rose was a single parent with limited resources. She began sewing clothes for them and herself and made quilts from the scraps. She recognizes this time as the start of her artistic path. She took classes in pottery and sculpture, and for 17 years focused on creating with clay. Then, due to a back injury from a car accident, she changed her focus to painting and dollmaking, which are less physically demanding. “Creating dolls brought healing and inspiration to me,” Rose says.
Being in community also gives Rose a sense of strength and inspiration. “I can’t create in a vacuum,” she says. “I create from a sense of community.”
Over the years she has found connections and friendships with other women artists through WARM (Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota), the Wild Woman Artisans Guild, Women Create and the Art of the Doll Minnesota group. In 2012, Rose and her husband moved into the Northern Warehouse Artists’ Cooperative in the Lowertown district of downtown St. Paul, where she enjoys the vitality of being surrounded by other artists.
Rose tends to work in series. She has painted several versions of the three graces and other powerful women figures. The divine mother and angels show up often as protectors in her paintings. The magic of nature – most often trees – is a recurrent theme in her work. Her “Garden Ladies” are a series of whimsical, mixed-media dolls that incorporate fabric painting, needle-felting, embroidery and tree branches. She is currently working on a series of paintings she calls “laughing flowers” – “they are very feminine, inspired by thoughts of springtime,” she says.
Retired now, Rose feels fortunate to have been able to be an artist while working at a variety of office jobs, as well as teaching art to children through community education and after-school programs. She has worked with adults with disabilities through an artist-in-residence program. “Teaching really helped me in my own creative process,” she says. “You have to think ‘how do I do this,’ ‘what works for me,’ so it really helped me in my own journey.”
“The important thing about creativity,” Rose says, “is to get the inner critic out of the way. When I taught kids, that’s what I tried to do. I tried to give them the tools that they could believe in that creative voice they heard and to believe that they had something important to contribute. It really starts with self-esteem and what we think about ourselves: that we have something valuable to contribute, that we have a voice. You have to find it first, and then you have to listen to it.
Then, Rose says, “You practice, practice, practice. Be gentle with yourself. I’ve always said, give your inner critic another job.”