I, Edna Collazo, am a Puerto Rican-born and bred Bronx dweller who makes art every/almost every day. The reasons for this are varied. I was raised with a love of art in all its wonderful forms. My dad was a surveyor who worked as an engineer all his life without needing the title (he had the experience) and my Mom worked as a teacher for ten years and then kept on teaching her children and grand children all sorts of needful things… still does at 85. But the best example I had from my parents was a love for reading and a love for discovery. The best lessons from both parents came from the daily examples. From my Dad the most important one was to be the best I could ever be, no matter what my career choice was: “Mija: yo lo que quiero es que tu hagas tu trabajo lo mejor posible y que te sientas orgullosa, aunque escojas limpiar baños” (Daughter, what I want is for you to do your best job possible, and to feel proud of whatever you do, even if it is to clean bathrooms”)… Yep, that was Papi. From my Mom, the love of reading. I learned early on that if I could read, I could learn almost anything.
My Mom and older sister always had a project to work on. Mine was a stay-at-home mom by the time I was born. By then, my older sister was 16 and entering college. She did a B.A. in Home Economics, so when my Mom was not working on a project, it was my sister -Cele- who was doing it. When there was little money for Christmas presents, Mom would either bake, mold or sew the presents for each and every family member. There was a time when she started making crochet “ponchos” (they were in fashion sometime in the 70s, there is a picture somewhere of me wearing mine -it was green and white). Then there was the year when all the women in the family got gingham aprons with their matching pot holders and oven mittens -quilted like the commercial ones. Those were beautiful, she made them in green, red, yellow and blue checks, and were hand-monogramed on the front. That year the men got shirts, they were made by her too. There was the ceramics year, and the lemon pies year, etc… My mom was also teaching me to be both frugal and resourceful. That came really handy when both myself and my ex found ourselves without a job. To make ends meet, I learned how to make candles looking through internet websites. That became my first home-based business. It also came to me as an old memory from my sister’s college years. I remembered having seen square candles made inside milk cartons by her for a class project.
That is the way I have learned all of my art-related skills. I do hold a Graduate degree from a university which I love and cherish. But that which sustains my soul daily I learned by reading about it, either on the internet, or on books. It was great that one of my student jobs while in college was at the library. I was able to check out any number of books while I worked. And use the computers there too, since I did not own one. You see, my degree is not in Art, but in Literature, Victorian, to be precise. So the art bug came from the example at home. First from my Mom and sister, then later on, from my brother Federico, who studied Fine Art in the States. When he came on vacation from college, summers and Christmases, he’d always had stories from one class or another, and the first thing out of his luggage was his portfolio, to show everyone what he’d done in the semester, how much he had learned and how he was applying it.
I was a happy kid growing up, I guess in part because I learned early on that it was more satisfying to play with a Barbie doll you’d just dressed with clothes your mom had taught you how to make out of your own old socks. Or have the same Barbie living in a “condo” made out of cardboard boxes, complete with contact-paper-covered walls, ceiling and floor lamps made with pipe cleaners and foam egg cartons, pictures on the walls cut out from magazines… well, you get the picture. Every time they asked me for a project at school, I knew I would have help from either or both my Mom and my Dad. You see, I forgot to mention my Dad had a hobby which he lived for. He spent the whole week working like a dog to have the week-end for his wood-working projects. He did everything: from wood-burning to miniatures. He made little model cars in wood, he’d make toys for his grandchildren.
You see, it would be impossible with a household like that one to grow up without the slightest inkling to -at least- enjoy art. And it was ultimately art that saved me -yes, even before medication and therapy- from a very ugly and long bout of depression. Yes, the ugly green monster showed his mug after I had my son. When he was born I had the blues but it was Ok, after a couple of weeks I went back to teaching and I had Mom’s help with the baby. When he turned 5 months my husband and I got hitched and came to live in New York where he’d spent the last year and a half starting his PhD at CUNY. We had no family, no friends, nobody but each-other when I moved here with my son. My husband had a very simple routine. He’d get up, go teach, then go study; or get up, go study and then go and teach. We’d decided that since we did not know anyone in the city or the neighborhood we could trust to take care of our son, I would stay at home and take care of business in the wife and mommy front. I was totally oblivious to the extent of how hard it was going to be once I was “settled” in. In the beginning I had tons of projects and “stuff” to keep me busy during the day -besides taking care of our son- and also had endless nights of not sleeping because said baby woke up four times a night. Of course, with time I learned that I was just letting him enjoy too many naps during the day while I worked on my “projects”.
It was my son who kept me from going totally mad. He depended on me for everything and thank God(dess) I never felt the urge to take my own life like so many other women who fall into this abyss. So I would wake up and do all of the things I had to do for my son and my husband, and spent the day either sad, desperate or angry. By the time my poor husband came home I was a wreck who could not even pay attention to his stories from the day. I understood something had to be very wrong because I was unable to control my moods and my feelings. So, I started to do something I had never done, something I had always admired and enjoyed from afar but never felt I could accomplish myself. I started to paint. I had brought some old construction paper books with me from Puerto Rico when I moved here, I got some of my son’s finger paints and bought a cheap water-color set art the .99 cent store. That is how I began a healing process that is still ongoing. After that, I started on medication and then therapy, I did meditation and regression, everything worked together till I was able to stop the medication and the therapy. But I have kept on painting. Not just because I love it with all my heart, but because I believe that the ugly green monster that is my own depression will always be there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the slightest hint of a tear or a rough mood swing to show its ugly face. I have learned through therapy how to keep it under lock and key, but I know it is there. And I keep that beast soothed with what has become my own brand of therapy. My art. I make polymer clay jewelry, totally hand-made from beginning to end which has become a home-based business. And I also work on my mixed media pieces. I enjoy using acrylics and adding collage, telling a story. My favorite road is via the portrait, I believe there is so much you can tell with a face.
I will be writing about my journey through and with art, as I keep on growing and developing my style and learn lots of new things along the way. I also love to cook, and this will also be present here, as will my son and husband from time to time. Do come and join me, as I take you along with me on this road, making Art for My Sanity.