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Inspire Me

Why does the artist create? What makes us want to do this? We are always wanting to make something out of our thoughts and to express our feelings without talking. We artists simply have a need to express ourselves this way. Here is my story about growing up as an artist.

Chapter 1: This Is What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

I remember 3 things in Kindergarten: coloring, drawing and story time. Story time was only good if the teacher held the book up high so we could all see the pictures.

First grade was especially fun about twice that year when Mrs. Kennedy passed out the big white papers. Then she walked up and down each row and spooned a big dollup of bright blue goo right in the middle of the paper.

The goo felt oozy and cold and I wanted to squeeze it but I was not sure if that would be a good idea. I did it anyway and then began to dream as I swirled and pressed and slid my fingers across the page. The paper wasn’t white anymore and I wasn’t sure what I was doing but this stuff was something that could be moved and changed.

Soon there was blue everywhere and finger painting was something that I liked, I loved! Too soon Mrs. Kennedy came by my desk and made me stop. Art class was over.

But my inspiration wasn't over. This was the beginning of my career. Now I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would be a teacher and teach finger painting every day!

Chapter 2: Mary Tyler Moore

My second grade teacher didn't last long; hardly a year from graduating with her teaching degree and getting married. She was beautiful and everyone said it right out loud. She looked like Mary Tyler Moore in 1961 with dark brunette hair in a flip and red lipstick. She wore dresses like all girls did in those days; big skirts with petticoats and belted waists.
I drew her portrait, secretly, of course. She deserved it but it didn't turn out quite like I wanted.  Her profile filled the page but her nose was crooked and her hair didn't fit on the paper. This was a disaster and I wasted no time in crumpling the paper into nothingness. I threw it in the giant waste can on the other side of the room and marched back to my seat. I was determined that no one would see this morbid creation.

Just as I was sitting down I saw Arthur leaning over the garbage can. He was digging around for something and I was mortified. He found it, smoothed out the paper and held it up for everyone in the room to see! Then he lifted his desk top and placed the original there. He looked at me with a crazy smirk as he dropped the desk shut. He had stolen my artwork!

My heart sank but I remembered that I didn't sign it and no one needed to know who I was trying to draw. I ignored Arthur for the rest of second grade. It was easy to do since he sat on the opposite side of the room.

Chapter 3: Miss Personious

It was a contest and we were all judges. The charcoal drawings were held up by the teacher, Miss Personious. She was exactly like her name; Precise, smart, well dressed and predictable. That was what every student yearned for. Above all else she was fair. You knew what to expect and knew that she would always understand and come through for you.

Everyone agreed that there were 2 especially good drawings and for some reason we needed to decide which one was best. Maybe the kids all had to know or there was an exhibition that the one drawing would enter. I don't remember that and I don't know why my drawing wasn't up there. Maybe I had been sick and wasn't there for the art class.

My favorite drawing was of a tree. It showed the texture of the bark and was an unusually close up look at the tree trunk with just one or two branches. The other drawing was of a horse. Again close up with just the profile of the horses head. But I wasn't impressed because I refused to let the subject matter influence my vote.

The votes were split and there was lots of disagreement and loud chatter about which one was number one. Then Miss Personious asked me,  "Anna what do you think? Which one do you like best?"
There I sat in the back of the row of desks and then stood up like many of the kids who were too exited to keep their seats. "The tree", I said  with conviction. There was silence and then everyone started chattering and debating all over again. We voted again and this time the tree won.

I walked up to the front of the class and stared at the two drawings. The horse has nice but the tree was odd. I couldn't understand why it looked so different. The bark was represented by short course lines and the outline was so primitive. I was really surprised that I liked it from my seat in the back of the room. It looked different back there.

Miss Personious was one of the best teachers in the world and she knew her class well. It wasn't long before I was getting used to wearing glasses. Now I would see the world differently.

Chapter 4: No making Ashtrays in Ceramics Classs

  Seventh grade art class was a mandatory class. Everyone had to take this class. I was in heaven -  an entire hour dedicated to nothing but art every single day! 

  Mrs. Byberg was good at teaching this class. She wasn't the kind of art teacher to reach for your paint brush and show you 'how it's done'. She never stood behind you and peered over your shoulder and made weird noises. 

  This was art, not crafts. We heard lectures on the masters and saw photographs of famous works of art. Then we learned the fundamentals of drawing and painting. 'Learn by doing' was Mrs. Byberg's motto.  

  The only rule I remember hearing was, "no making ashtrays in ceramics class." She gave very pointed instructions which everyone followed. It was dangerous not to because there were chemicals and other questionable substances around. But creativity was never discouraged.

  After seventh grade there was no more art class until Junior year when it was offered as an elective.  I would miss the art room with its random collection of supplies and its fresh paint smells. For the next three years I daydreamed during school as usual but I wasn't challenged to put those dreams on paper until my brother and I had private lessons.
  Our mother saw this gift, this talent that we possessed. My brother John was especially gifted and everyone knew it. He was known as a natural born artist from an early age and not just because he could draw like crazy. Many people thought he was crazy. One of his elementary teachers for example thought he was retarded and wanted to flunk him. My mother marched into the principles office and insisted on having him tested. This was quite an unusual circumstance because in the 60's no one ever heard of A.D.D. or dislexia or any other learning disorder. If there were problems in school you were either stupid or lazy. 

  John wasn't stupid because he scored in the genious percentile on that test. He wasn't lazy because he was very active as a school yard athlete. And he could draw like crazy. So it wasn't long before mom introduced us to 'private art lessons'.

The lessons were at the teachers home. Kitchen table art was what it was. There was a single rose in a vase in the middle of the table. She presented us with water color paper that was stiff and thick and we began to draw with special drawing pencils. Then the india ink came out with old fashioned quills. This was different and fun. We drew over the pencil with the ink and then rubbed out the graphite with gum erasers.

Another step added color to our drawings which now became paintings. Water color filled in between the lines and shaded the petals of the flower.
I loved the process and wanted to continue with these classes forever. John impressed the teacher who proclaimed him a gifted protege. We came back for more and more until the teacher moved away.

                           Chapter 5: The Painter Lady

My mother gave me every opportunity to express myself through painting. She was the driving force behind most new opportunities that came my way.

"Anna, do you want to paint your bedroom? You can choose the color." That meant if my bedroom survived the paint job I would have the privilege of painting the rest of the house!

"Anna, there's a lady painting a new house down the street. If you go there right now you can watch her paint." That meant the lady was expecting me and was ready to teach me everything she knew about house painting.

"Anna, Mrs. McKay needs a painter and she will pay you. " That meant I got my first real paint job and earned real money.

That really was an experience. I had no equipment of my own so relied on Mrs. McKay to provide all the tools. There was no extension pole, something that every professional painter uses to paint a ceiling. I had no idea what that was anyway. I just dug in and climbed the ladder with roller in hand.

The bed was not to be moved and, of course, we couldn't put the ladder on top of the bed. The only solution for me was to stand on the bed and bounce up and down while swiping the roller across the ceiling on every up bounce. If only I could freeze like one of those photos with everyone jumping. I would have given anything for wings but my method worked….eventually. I remember Mrs. McKay standing in the doorway, wringing her hands, worried and questioning, "maybe we should have someone come and move the bed?"

I assured her that everything would turn out fine and it did. Thanks, Mom, for all of the references and encouragement along the way. I learned early that contracting paint jobs paid better than minimum wage. My career as a house painter began early and laid the foundation for a successful decorative painting company, called AK Donahue Design.

What is that secret thing that makes ordinary people desire to create? I'll tell you about my life and maybe it will answer a little bit of that question. Come with me and experience things, see places and meet people that inspire me to create.

Chapter 6: Turquoise Sky and Red Mesas

We met in Northern Minnesota near Bob Dylan's home town. We were married there and moved to Arizona to live with the Navajos.
How we met and why we lived with the Navajos is a story I will tell you in the next chapters.  I still dream about the turquoise sky and red mesas. The high dessert in the southwest is an artist's mecca. Some day I will go back there and paint. 

But now here we are,  living in Michigan. It's like having a bit of eastern city life with the midwestern culture still in tact.
My smart and funny husband makes life entertaining and interesting. We love to hear our names, Neena and Greepa, spoken by our 2 lovely little granddaughters.

Yes, life is good here and I thank the Lord for all the gifts of life and love bestowed on me. He has blessed this family with good health and strong ties to one another; all three totally different sons and their beautiful wives live here in Michigan.
They call this the midwest but I remember the open prairies in North Dakota with miles and miles of nothing but grass. There are no trees to obstruct the view. You can see the storm clouds brewing far far away and know they will never touch you. In Michigan there are trees everywhere and you can't see the sun rise and set unless you are on the open water.

This is where Tim's family lived since he was fifteen. Before that they lived in Chicago's south side where his uncle who worked for the health department got him a job at MacDonalds when he was 14. Tim and his four brothers always had jobs starting out with newspaper routes when they were 10. Then in 1971 'white flight' moved them to Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were the second to last white family to leave the neighborhood and very disappointed with the change of lifestyle. They loved the city buses and the busy-ness of life in the city. Grand Rapids didn't even have a baseball team!

Summers brought him to northern Minnesota where he worked at Story Book Bible Camp and that is where we met.

Chapter 7: Giving Up My Art

Story Book Lodge Christian Camp is in the middle of the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. This is where Tim and I met. He spent summers there as a camp counselor and I came to help out in the kitchen.

On a starry night I worked late in the dining hall painting a poster.  Tim came around to turn out the lights and insisted that we must follow the camp rules. I laughed and kept working. He came back about 15 minutes later and proved he was serious by turning out the lights. I suggested that he should escort me to my cabin since it was now very dark. It took about 5 minutes to walk to my cabin and that was the end of our first date.

In 1979 I graduated from College in Billings Montana with an art degree and moved to Minneapolis. Finding a job was tough since there was a recession going on and work was scarce. After several promising interviews that didn't pan out I took a temp job as a Nurse Assistant. I worked in several different rest homes or nursing homes as they were called back then. 

My employer was an odd religious group that started an enterprise to support their cause called Selfless Service to Others and I think they were Buddhists. They didn't say exactly. At the time I had no interest in religion and wanted to keep that subject out of my life. But one day as I stepped outside into a winter wonderland I saw the most beautiful bright red cardinal alight on a snow covered branch within arm's reach. My footsteps crunched on the icy snow. The cardinal flitted away and bounced from one branch to another disrupting the snow. The white powdery stuff floated slowly to the ground.

Earlier that day I read an article in the newspaper about evolution. There was evidence now that man did not evolve from apes. It caught my attention because I was questioning my beliefs and wondering if there really was a God.

Within a day or two my brother called and asked me to stay with Grandma while he and his wife, Ann, took some time to travel. They lived with Grandma Bjorlie in Pekin, ND.  John was a Christian and had been saved since I was 17. I remember him telling me one thing. "Anna, if you ever want to know that your sins are forgiven you can pray to God and He will hear your prayers. His Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for your sins." I knew then that he was serious about this Jesus stuff and he had the answers. But I kept on my merry way living a wild and crazy life for 8 more years.

I agreed to go to North Dakota for 2 or 3 weeks. Grandma was born in 1891 and lived a simple quiet life. My job was to keep her company and take care of her daily needs. There was no TV reception and one old radio that worked but there wasn't much to listen to. My brother hung framed Bible verses in every room. After the first week I had read every Gospel text on every wall at least 24 times. After the second I had them memorized. I pondered them but could not understand what "fleeing the wrath to come" and "wages of sin" and "neglect so great salvation" meant.

That is when I decided that if there is a God I really should find out what He has to say. So I found a Bible and began reading. It wasn't long before I was bogged down in Leviticus and decided to try the New Testament. After Matthew, Mark and Luke I entered the book of John. This is where I met the Savior and finally understood exactly who He is and what He did.

And He did it for me. He died on the cross for me. This was amazing and I literally saw my life flash before my eyes. It was a strange experience remembering everything I almost ever did. That is when I gave it all over to Jesus and he cleansed my heart and it was all gone. It was a burden of sin lifted. All of those past grievances and problems and difficulties. Whatever it's called it all boils down to sin.

But art was a significant part of my life. I was an artist. It was part of my identity. Could I give it up for Christianity? Should I? At the time I needed to give it up because it was the most important part of myself. I didn't know at the time that God gave me this gift of art and I could use it for His glory. I thought that I would say goodbye to ever calling myself an artist again.  I really did have a cathartic moment of cleansing and rebirth. My life was saved, regenerated. I was new again and now I was Anna Bjorlie, the person, not the artist.

That was the first day of Spring in 1980. About 2 months later I was at Story Book Lodge flipping flapjacks at five o'clock in the morning and painting posters at ten o'clock at night and getting to know my future husband.

Check out the website below to find out more about the history and mission of SBL.  http://www.storybooklodge.org/history.html

Chapter 8: The Bowling Ministry

"Oh, look at this book! You've got to read it!" I was talking about 'Evidence That Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowel. I read it shortly after becoming a Christian and it helped me to realize how the Word of God is really true and not just a collection of stories with deep meaning. There were a bunch of people in the book room, a small bookstore set up for the Bible Conference in Fargo, North Dakota. Tim was there and I was thinking how I couldn't believe I just yelled that comment out. I don't even know if I was talking to anyone in particular.

He struck up a conversation with me after that. We talked about nothing and finally he asked me a pointed question, "What do you think about the bowling ministry?" I said, "The bowling what?" Then the conversation dwindled into nothing again and I kept thinking why couldn't he just ask me out for ice cream...or something. I hated bowling.

So that was the end of our almost 2nd date.

Playing the piano is what kept us close for the next three weeks. We didn't have a lot to talk about but we had a common mission: spreading the Gospel. A group of young men, Tim being one, were brought together by Jabe Nicholson, Boyd Nicholson and my brother, John Bjorlie. I was the designated pianist. Every morning was Bible teaching by Jabe and Boyd and every afternoon was knocking on doors with a Gospel meeting every night. This was the schedule for 3 weeks as we traveled across the state of North Dakota.

During the last week of meetings which were held in my home town of Valley City, ND, Tim and I actually had several conversations. We talked about everything including our dreams for the future. He wanted to kiss me but I insisted that he explain his intensions first. That is when he asked me to marry him. I admit, I forced the issue.

We were engaged. We didn't even really know each other. We just knew that we were both Christians, both wanted to serve the Lord and both were infatuated with each other. We were married 2 months later and drove across the country to Navajoland.

Chapter 9: Touching The Clouds

We turned off the pavement onto sand. You could see where the road grader had smoothed the red earthy surface and it was very smooth except for the washboard rivets. Our car was sailing along on a bed that sat below the surrounding flat land. The roads weren't built up here with gravel and pavement. They were carved into the landscape and when they got too deep the road grader moved over and cut a fresh path in the sandy terrain. This was the high dessert in northern Arizona and the road into Navajoland.

I peered over the dashboard to see a herd of horses with one lonely rider. I wanted to get a closer look at them. They were multi-colored and all sizes but as we drove nearer the rider backed away from the road as if to say, "keep your distance."

Low shrubbery and tufts of grass dotted the scene. The horizon was sculpted with two or three mesas at all times. You could see only one in every direction except for East where the mountain range sat.

Clouds like puffy cotton balls rested in the bright turquoise sky. I felt I could reach up and touch them if I wanted to.

The 14 mile drive to Immanuel Mission took about 45 minutes. We saw only one other vehicle on the road ahead of us. We kept our distance because of the cloud of dust it kicked up. The truck veered off to the left eventually. There were lots of smaller roads that y'ed off the main road. The only real intersection was at the junction for Sweet Water, a small town that wasn't really a town but a trading post with a bunch of old satellite dishes in a fenced yard.

The mission was hidden behind a long gray rock formation that created a cliff. The road curved around and sloped down to the main entrance where a marker stood with a sign reading Immanuel Mission, est. 1924.  Off to the east the cliff rose up gradually to the plateau where we had just been.  It seemed like the end of the trail but the road meandered on through the dessert towards the west and a stately red mesa called Tsetse-uh (pronounced sessa-uh). Tsetse means rock in Navajo and maybe all mesas have that name to them but this was Immanuel Mission's Tsetse-uh. After that there was another mesa and the road continued on and eventually lead to many more.

We were home now. This is where we would make our new life together. Tim taught kindergarten to 10 little 4 and 5 year olds and I found paper and pencils and began to draw.

Chapter 10: Drums and Generators
The sun was set and it was almost dark when we arrived at our new home. Tim knew the place well because he had already lived there for two years. It was hot and the windows were down so we could hear the drums in the distance.  How odd that was; here we were on the Indian reservation and there were drums just like in an old western movie.   

Don and Nona Perrault were the sentries and saw to all of the daily details at Immanuel Mission. As we got out of the car Nona trotted up with a serious but friendly smile. She was short and wiry and looked like she could fight a bear. Their trailer was near the entrance and right next to the well. In the morning you would see Nona running out to greet the steady stream of pick up trucks that came with their empty 55 gallon barrels. Wells were scarce because they had to be drilled over 500 feet to get to a good water supply. Some were as deep as one or two thousand feet.

Nona commented on the drums right away, "Yei-bi-chai", is all she said.  Tim explained later about how the Navajos have a ceremony to call on the spirits to protect their children before they send them off to school.

Tim asked her why it was so quiet. I didn't know that he was referring to the generator. Normally the drums would not be heard above the steady hum of the only power source for the mission compound. Nona motioned towards Don as he strode up with a wrench in his hand. 

Don was short and stout and always friendly. He also always seemed to have a wrench in his hand which reminded everyone about his duty as the master of the generator. He built it and knew every nut and bolt and it was his job to keep it running. The generator would have to wait for morning now.

We got the key and headed towards our new home. It was a deluxe trailer that once traveled across the country as a high end vacation tool. Exactly 8 feet wide and 30 feet long, the interior was finished  in birch veneer and the multitude of cabinets and cubby holes meant everything was automatically organized.

At the end of the trailer was the one bedroom with a window facing directly at the campsite where the Yei-bi-chai was happening. There was light from a huge fire that lit up the colorfully dressed people. There were people walking around in the shadows too and small children darting in and out. The outline of many pickup trucks faded in the background. I wanted to get a close up look and see this spectacle but everything was in miniature since the campsite was so far away. They were in another world and I felt like I was reading the National Geographic live. I fell asleep that first night with the sound of the drums echoing in my dreams.

I woke up to the sound of eggs crackling on the stove. "Tim was cooking? Hmmmm," I thought that was my job.  There were no drums.  Looking southwest was the beautiful earthy red rock, Tsetse-uh standing straight up towards the sky. The flat table top basking in the sun. To the west was the campsite, the Navajo's homestead where we heard the drums. All of the trucks were gone except one.

A mounded adobe hut, a hogan,  sat in the center with some other small wood buildings surrounding it. Two women slowly carried a gigantic tub across the yard and began to tip it over the fire pit. Smoke clouded up and engulfed the scene.  A dog and three small children ran through the smoke, barking and hollering and laughing.

There were no other people around. The women disappeared into the hogan followed by the children. 

Suddenly there was a loud noise in the distance, a muffled roar that didn't stop. It was the generator. There were no power lines leading to the mission but there were lines leading to the generator. I would get used to the noise and if it stopped it was like a breath of fresh air for an instant and then worry that something was wrong. As long as the pulsing motor drummed away we knew our refrigerators would keep running and our lights would stay on.