Envy and Surprise/ Silent Witness Series-original 72” X 46” Acrylic on Canvas, 2005 (Original not for sale)
Birthdays, the yearly ritual of who looks younger and who looks older, as witnessed by a beloved 1950’s tin wind-up toy- a man dancing with a cane, is the pivotal character of this series. Watching and listening to the family’s history and secrets, he see so much, but reveal nothing, he is the Silent Witness.
Envy and Surprise/ Silent Witness Series © 2005 Pegeen Shean
I was born in New York City and raised in New Jersey--sort of. Although my parents grew up in NYC, my father was adamant about raising his children in a house with a yard and a pool. My mother went along with the fantasy, but for her the reality was a different story. A loquacious New Yorker who didn’t drive, she was stuck in the middle of nowhere with two children under the age of five. She quickly hated the suburbs and came up with a compromise.
Every other morning she packed up my sister and me, and we joined the ranks of commuters climbing aboard the bus for a forty-five minute ride to the city and our busy day of socializing with family and friends. My father had the illusion his family was enjoying a country life, and my mother was happier when my father came home. It worked beautifully, until my father noticed the expense and insisted it stop.
But my mother was as stubborn as she was clever and set into motion a new creative plan that I marvel at to this day. She would scan the New York Post’s obituaries each morning, pick a deceased person and fabricate a fictitious friendship. Paying her final respects to a friend was a duty--not an option. As a good Irish Catholic woman, she had to help the family through this difficult time. There were times people she knew were dropping dead like crazy!
My family ignited the creative spark in me. My mother and her family laid the foundation for the appreciation of a good story. Every week, relatives and other colorful characters gathered at my grandparents’ apartment, laughing, singing and story telling. My father’s two sisters were both painters and showered me with art books and color by number painting sets as birthday and Christmas gifts.
In addition, my parents built a playroom in the garage and filled it with toys and art supplies. Although I shared it with my sister Nancy and, then three more siblings, I considered this my art studio, my sanctuary. When we were not in the city, I would spend hours creating: making drawings and paintings, once making a very convincing removable papier-mâché cast for a pretend broken arm, followed by a disastrous Plaster of Paris leg cast that began cutting off the circulation. No, Dad was not enthusiastic about art that day! Expletives were flying as he tried getting that cast off my leg.
At first, my family did not understand my decision to attend Kean University in Union, New Jersey for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts, but it made perfect sense. Theatre married art and drama within a strong social structure that I found very fulfilling. I worked for 15 years as a lighting designer, stagehand and occasionally, an actor. However, if you are not willing to live an itinerant life-style, you are limiting your options and success. Eventually, I chose to settle down in a city. Seattle was my choice and where I began exploring the fine arts again.