Almost 10 years ago Linda was looking for vintage Fisher Price toys on etsy when she ran across my paintings. She’s been collecting original art ever since. Our email exchange over the years reminds me of the book 84, Charing Cross Road because in the process of exchanging information about art purchases we've shared meaningful experiences and events in our lives: weddings, grandchildren, my son was then a toddler and now is headed for high school. After all these years it was a joy to talk with Linda and hear about how she found art and what it means to her.
Margaret Owen: What was the first artwork you remember collecting?
Linda Tiller: When I was 10 years old and living in California -my dad was a Navy pilot, we moved around a lot- Through my elementary school you could order prints, a great artists series of some kind-do you remember the mail order books you could get? Well they sold prints too.- I had seen paintings in books and when I discovered that you could buy these things, I was beside myself! I showed them to my mom and she was bewildered that I had ordered so many. She asked me if I had any idea how much it cost to frame a picture. She unknowingly dampened my spark. I thought “if I can't afford to frame it what's the use?” but I loved having those pictures.
Where had you seen the paintings before?
Linda Tiller: We lived in Key West and had a great public school art education. I was 8 years old and had a girl crush on a high school neighbor. She had a doll with one ear and told me she made it for art class. Vincent Van Gogh. I realized, seeing her doll, that real people made art. Since then I’ve been fascinated by Van Gogh.
Linda Tiller:...I have to tell you this story! My 3 year old grandson - at Christmas, I opened the fig painting of yours that Jake and Brenna gave me. As soon as I had unwrapped it little William marched into the kitchen and held it up next to your other fruit still lifes and said “Look Grandma!” I have named my kitchen wall “The Wall of Margaret”.
I grew up in Farmville, Virginia and have fond (but vague) memories of the Richmond Museum. Chesterfield is near Richmond,do you ever go?
Linda Tiller: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I saw a wonderful Chihuly exhibit there. It has a lovely garden, my son Jake and his wife Brenna go there for lunch, I buy Christmas gifts in the shop. The Mellons donated impressionist paintings and they have several Van Gogh’s.
OH and look at all those Vuillard's!
Linda Tiller: I am fascinated by how museums have so much art in storage that we never see! It must be so hard to decide what to show.
You have a lot of artwork, how do you manage your collection?
Linda Tiller: My friend Lisa was a framer, she helped with my poster addiction. She’d help me cut the glass and I’d put them together.
When did you start collecting originals?
Linda Tiller: I used to go to craft shows, but I didn't start buying originals until I found your work. At the same time I found the Crossroads Gallery and started collecting from artist T.L. Shaver. His paintings of water caught my eye. I buy art for my father from Terry. He doesn’t get out much and this way-through the landscapes and seascapes- he has great beauty to look at every day.
Linda Tiller: How do you know what you have down is worth working on?
MO: That depends on 1. how much information I have such as the actual reference-the thing I am painting, and in the right light- or a sketch or a photograph and 2. my own interest. In the example I found (Two Pomegranates, at right) I painted some potted succulents on-site at the botanical gardens. The light was not particularly inspiring and I didn't finish the painting there. Afterwards I didn't have photo references or sketches to refer to and no desire to work back into it.
Linda Tiller: I love your new little panel paintings because-okay this is going to sound crazy- but, I like to take them from room to room and even to the office.
Oh! Funny, but not crazy! "Portable paintings." Its so nice for me to hear. It is satisfying to know that the hunger I have to make art is matched by your appetite.
Tiller:Another favorite painting of mine is your Butter and Salt; when I bought it one of my kids said “Mom, if it had a bowl of sugar it would be your 3 favorite foods!”
Margaret Owen, Butter and Salt.
Linda Tiller: Sharing art with my family, my kids, my dad, my friends, is one of the things I enjoy most-I like seeing their reactions and hearing their responses.
Calder is one of my favorites. I love his Circus at the Whitney and his giant mobiles at the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington D.C.
A poster for Alexander Calder's Circus at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Linda Tiller: I've had this one hanging in my laundry room for as long as I can remember.
Berthe Morisot, Hanging the Laundry Out to Dry, 1875.
Linda Tiller: I have a question for you: when did you know that you had talent.
Well, and thanks, I don't know about that exactly but, and here I completely resonate with you,
MO-I just remember registering what felt like an inexplicable, and inexplicably powerful, appetite to paint.
Vincent said "The best way to know God is to love many things" and I do.
Linda and I discussed our moms and family dynamics. We discovered that, not surprisingly, we have more in common than we knew.
Linda Tiller: It was 1965, I felt my dad was in danger. My mother was a Red Cross volunteer, there was tension in the house. I cared for my baby brother. Often I was left on my own. But Key West was beautiful, we lived in base housing on the water and I had the run of the island on my bike.
I escaped to the library. My parents stayed married but they were not happy, I was afraid for them.
I would get on my bike and go to the library. It was my REFUGE. I remember the cool air, the old book smell.
What happens to me with your paintings, they bring back the tropical colors that I loved in Key West. There is a lot of pain and horror when parents hurt each other. I found peace. There were hidden gardens in Key West that were magical. Your paintings remind me of this beauty.
At the library I found out more about Van Gogh. I was struck by his bedroom in Arles...this man painted a picture of his bedroom?!
Now, when I come down the stairs in the morning, it's the first thing I see. I bought a print of one when I went to a Van Gogh exhibit at the MET in 1987. Back then from DC you could get the Eastern Airlines shuttle every hour. We stayed in the Milford Plaza-
-The Milford Plaza in Times Square! I remember staying there with my mom.
It was a very strange time, I found out my mother had died while I was there, on a payphone in the lobby of the Milford Plaza. She was 51 years old. Emily was 3 years old and for the first time I left her. My friend had a Phd in African art, it felt so luxurious to go to the city with her. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it. Saint-Rémy and Auvers. I could hardly recover for days.
She died on March 12.
!32 years ago this week.
[Not in my notes to transcribe: Linda and I spoke at length about this and about my own mother’s death at age 53.]
Where else have you lived?
Linda Tiller: New York, Warwick, East Greenwich-
-Here in Rhode Island?
Linda Tiller: Yesl! Then we lived in upstate NY, the adirondacks with their rugged lushness. The Adirondacks are a watery world of every color green you can imagine! But no magenta! I love that there are lakes and ponds and moving streams and brooks there, and amazing rocks-I love rocks, too… but. Drab colors. When we moved to Key West I was struck by the COLORS. Your paintings remind me of that luscious world.
In 10th grade we moved to VA beach.
My family went there on summer vacations-sunshine, light!
Linda Tiller: When I lived in CA I did not like it. It is a world of brown and khaki and dusty green. The mountains are naked, and dry, the landscape is harsh and wanting. It is difficult for me to feel alive or to see the beauty in that environment. I felt as thought I was starving. I sent you a photo of my window box so that you could see that I live in a world of lush magentaI think that is why I love your work and why it fills me up with so much joy.
MO: Linda’s mention of “bringing meaningfulness to the mundane” reminds me of Wayne Thiebaud. I found this card in my correspondence with Linda. She guessed rightly that I am a big fan of Thiebaud.
Linda Tiller: It helps to see art with a friend and know that they can share that intensity, that they are experiencing it too. It was important to see the Van Gogh exhibit with my friend who understood the pull of the art and the pull of my toddler at home-all the parts of my feeling experience.
Linda Tiller: It blew me away to find out there were THREE bedroom paintings!… When I learned that great artists often painted over paintings that killed me.
OH! Okay, I can reframe that for you, in my case, the first painting informs the second in powerful ways.
Linda Tiller: I need to understand more about how and when you know that what you have put down is worth working on. If you were sketching something with a pencil and erased it to begin again I would not have the same feeling at all!
Even when the colors do not seem to correspond to the new subject matter, those colors always inform the next painting in a thrilling way. Every time. Let's come back to this, I’ll look for an example.
MO: Painting on top of an existing composition forces me to make quick, concise decisions while also providing all sorts of unexpected color inspiration. It’s thrilling.
MO: I hear you about the way witnessing art with a friend changes the experience, you know how I love going on art trips with my friend Elizabeth [Hutchinson].
Linda Tiller: You know, my middle name is Hutchinson!
Too funny. And you’ve collected art from those trips. In actuality you’ve sponsored them as one of my patrons. The trips with Elizabeth really feed my inspiration. The two roses gouache paintings you purchased in June, that theme has evolved for me. I’ve used those along with other paintings and sketches to create a much larger scale (30”x40”) oil painting that I’m excited about.
Linda Tiller: We’ve really grown together.
So true, what changes do you see in my art?
Linda Tiller: Well, that's interesting, because, on the one hand, you’ve gotten more skillful, but I absolutely loved all of it from the start. I so wanted the Bobbin and Thread-Early Margaret- But you had sold it.
I loved your art so much I wanted it in every room. I was delighted to have original art in my sewing room, the spools of thread were just perfect. How could life get any better?
Linda Tiller: Small things are easy to change up. Then, there's that great big cloud painting-
Gosh, you really do have a wide variety of my work-we have to talk about the moon's…
Linda Tiller: -Dad gave me the clouds at my insistence.- I love giving art at Christmas and watching everyone else's faces. And hearing what they have to say, each one so different. This is what I love about my adult children we continue to talk about these things.
I think I wanted art in my sewing room because that is where I was able to express my own creativity. It helps me to understand the original creative expression in every form of art; painting, sewing, woodworking, pottery.
And in my laundry room I have clothesline art of many varieties! Because I want to remember that art can represent majesty and ecstasy but also the dailiness of our lives.
To represent laundry in art brings meaningfulness to the mundane.
Once, you posted a photo on Daily Painting of the clothes you had made for yourself before going on a trip..I think with Elizabeth? I loved seeing that..your sewing room is your studio, is your laundry room, your clothes are created by you, you will wear them on a trip to paint. I could imagine you in exotic and myserious places like Essaouira in your brand new clothes, and follow you on the website! Sewing and painting, to me it is all part of the creative urge to express the idea in your head of what could be.
This seems to be part of being an artist that fascinates me, the authenic life.
I think you asked me once in a e-mail what was my form of artistic expression? And I said: APPRECIATION is all I got! But I am really good at it.
MO: You certainly are! And you are a curator of objects.
How did you choose the latest painting, your most recent acquisition? (It happens to be a landmark piece for me, I’m thrilled with it.)
Linda Tiller: I realized last year that I wanted another big piece of yours, that I was buying small things because they were affordable and easy to commit to, but that I wanted to invest in something special. I had really wanted to come to your open studio with Brenna but it didn't work out. When I opened your December e-mail and saw those roses I just knew right away, that’s the one.
Having different subjects and sizes is meaningful to me, I like to choose between little snacks and big feasts.
The fact that my kids gave me the little fig painting. It meant a lot to me that they understand how much original art means to me, how much happiness it brings me and that we can share that.
How did art factor into your kids’ childhoods?
Linda Tiller: I got them where their interest was at different times. When they were little I would read them books about artists, we read about the Calder Circus and watched the video. They all remember that book.
I got them a book of Montessori postcards called “Mommy, it’s a Renoir!”. I would sit down with them and explain who the artist was by their technique. A part of having children was making space for them, a room that appealed. I hung low art and kept it moving.
WOW what a great mom and art teacher you are!
And different art for each child… posters from the Library of Congress, a series of block prints for my youngest…
My son and I both enjoyed the Moon Book you recommended for years, with the cut outs.
Do they all love art, your kids?
Linda Tiller: Well, yes, but differently. My daughter enjoys it but not with the YEARNING that my sons and I have. But she does enjoy it. She went to Europe for her senior year and wrote to me about Childe Hassam, whose work I hadn’t known.
Those wonderful flags hanging in the Oval Office.
…Where were your kids born, where were you born?
Linda Tiller: My kids were born in Richmond, VA, their father and I met at the College of William & Mary. I was born in Glens Falls.
Glens Falls, NY?! I just learned about that town this summer. We were going to a wedding in NY. I thought I had missed my chance to see a Jane Peterson exhibit that had been at the Mattatuck Museum in CT, but I noticed in the exhibition catalog that it was in little town on our vacation route. We stopped there at a charming house museum.
Linda Tiller: The Hyde Collection, my grandmother lived up the street from that museum! We were all baptized in Saint Mary’s church, where my parents were married.
Wow! You know, while we were eating lunch-in a burger king- we were marveling at a lovely church.
Linda Tiller: Yep, that's the one. Funny, I have always loved Glens Falls but the charm of the town was lost on my mother, who could not wait to get out of there, and never looked back. I choose to go to Green Mtn College, just over the state line in Vermont, for my first year of college to be near Glens Falls and my Grandma Henrietta. I can't believe that you were there, my hometown that is so dear to me! I can view a weather cam of downtown online, and I check it every day. I can see the library where I got my first library card! I have a dream to buy a tiny house there one day, to volunteer at the Hyde Collection and ride my bike to work!
So, remind me, how did you find my art?
Linda Tiller: I was looking for replacement vintage Fisher Price Little People on etsy and stumbled on your paintings. I don't know that I would have thought to make an effort to collect original art. But, when I saw them, I wanted your paintings.
Wow, I always assumed you were an active online collector who decided to add me to your collection.
Here’s one of my favorites from that series. I used to think of her as "Girl with Baggage" but- that doesn’t fit anymore.
Linda Tiller: NO! That is clearly a hat box.
LOL, right! Shes ready to travel!
MO: We’ve been together a long time.
Linda Tiller: We’ve grown together. -I couldn't believe when you posted about Berthe Morisot this June! I went to the first major American museum retrospective devoted to her at the National Gallery in the fall of 1987!
I was so surprised to see all the books and prints you had of her work. [I’d been looking at Berthe Morisot in earnest for the first time, at the Musee Marmottan with Elizabeth.]
Linda Tiller: Philly, the Barnes Collection, that’s a Museum I want to visit.
Oh my gosh yes! Matisse, Van Gogh, Bonnnard, Cezanne...!!
Linda Tiller: I wish I could have seen the Morisot retrospective at the Barnes. Funny to me that she was considered a lesser painter than the other impressionists, I am drawn to her in a way that I am not drawn to the others. ... the Wet Nurse, outdoors, in the park, that's one of my favorites.
Linda Tiller: When I find something I love I want to dive deep into understanding the creative spirit behind it.
I have a hunger for art, a hunger for looking, I can’t relate it to anything else. Even wanting to read a book. I have no patience if I want more information about an artist. The Urgency, it's a mystery to me. How does that happen? Why? Not just painting, when I sit in my living room and see a decorated mirror I remember when I bought it, I remember the trip, who I was with, the whole story.
I think my intensity is not normal, but it fuels my enthusiasm to search for and recognize quality artworks and patronize those artists. Like the artist who made the tiles in my kitchen, Parran Collery, I have many of her pieces, and they brings me such joy.
Linda Tiller: I love it when you include the value study and the process photos... that is what made me fall in love with the Plate of Figs even more.
Linda Tiller: I do not know how to say this, and I have to work on getting the words right.. but being allowed into that mystery seems so raw to me; I want to cover my eyes and peek through my fingers as you are applying the paint.. like seeing a magician's tricks revealed, … we want to see how, we want to know how, but...maybe in some ways we don't? The first time you posted a value study I was amazed. I had no knowledge of how the painting began and progressed until your postings. …There was a little painting you did of your laundry room that I loved, because I knew it was in your basement with your studio, and part of the place from where the beauty emerged! I looked back through some of the older work, there are so many things I loved and would have liked to have. It was interesting to see the changes in your work and focus, and how it keeps getting more and more beautiful, but it was always beautiful, so how to distinguish, how to qualify?!
Ones that got away that I think about still: Orange Slice, Plate of Figs, Rainbow Radishes, 16 Clementines, Another Little Bunting, Black Capped Chick-a-dee, Off Shore Oil Rig..and a bird painting with snow that I loved...did I dream that up? I could not find it again!
You didn't dream it up, I actually painted many snowy birds paintings, several of which went to a collector in Africa (which I find delightful). Some of the others are still on the market at Sheldon Fine Art and the Darius Inn. They both have orange slices paintings but not on their websites. I think that little laundry room painting is still in my inventory. Neat that you remember the oil rig, I like that one too, lots of deep blue with orange and yellow.
Linda Tiller: What I thought about the oil rig was: Margaret has taken a dirty, stinky, offensive oil rig and made it beautiful and desirable. I want to understand how that happens, and to appreciate it.
Linda Tiller: There was a little painting you did of your laundry room that I loved, because I knew it was in your basement with your studio, and part of the place from where the beauty emerged!
Linda Tiller: I feel satisfied knowing my purchases support art making. I feel like I am part of the process that brings art work into the world.