Small Art|Big Stories Exhibit

Marilyn Cummins at reception

I was honored to be invited to submit a small group of small works (8×10 or smaller) to this summer’s show at the Montminy Gallery in Columbia, Missouri. Each artist was to submit a story or statement of how the works fit together.

Small Art|Big Stories Show Card

My exhibit and story was titled: “Heavenly Garden: Remembering Helen,” in honor of my paternal grandmother, Helen Cummins. You can read it here:

My Grandma Cummins, Helen, was an artist in the garden, in the kitchen and at the quilting frame. I loved growing up across the highway from her Northwest Missouri farm house, with its huge garden and our shared barnyard. I can remember her patiently showing me how to plant zinnia seeds as a little girl; the African violets on the white metal cart in her front room; her beloved roses.

Hollyhock detail

I learned to make dolls from the hollyhocks growing next to her cinder-block garage, and loved the fragrant peonies north of her house. I don’t “garden” like she did, but I enjoy using her garden tools as I pot annual flowers, prune our spirea and rose bushes, and encourage the native plants in my woodland meditation garden behind our suburban home.

Grandmother's Pruners

I did inherit Helen’s green thumb and love for house plants, and I keep an African violet blooming in my kitchen window in her memory.

 African violet

We lost Grandma to an undiagnosed brain tumor at the start of my 8th-grade year. She was 68, only 8 years older than I am now. The works I created for this exhibit are an homage to her talents and to ways I feel still connected to her spirit through plants, flowers and gardens. Ode on a Hull Art Vase.

Part of the name of this series, “Heavenly Garden,” comes from discovering that we were devoted to the same saint, years and half a country apart. I’d never heard of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “The Little Flower,” until I moved to Philadelphia in the 1980s and was drawn to her.

The Little Flower

Then, just a few years ago, I was given Helen’s prayer book. When I opened it, I found a slip of pink paper with these words written in her handwriting:

St. Therese, the Little Flower, please pick me a rose from the heavenly garden and send it to me with a message of love. Ask God to grant me the favor I thee implore, and tell Him I will love Him each day more and more.

Table at the show.

Around the same time, my mother gave me a beautiful quilt, the last one Grandma designed and pieced together, hexagon by hexagon.

Her Last Quilt

The name of the pattern? “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.” Thank you, St. Thérèse, and thank you, Grandma.


My mother, Louise Cummins, reminded me this week that it was her mother, my Grandma Wilkerson, who, in her 80s, finished the row of flowers on one end of the quilt top, using purple fabric from the dressing gown my mother wore when she went to the hospital to give birth to me. Then Grandma Wilkerson’s neighbor in their independent living apartments did the hand-quilting. 

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