Martha's Mandala

Martha Oliver-Smith

Martha Oliver-Smith presented the following piece based on her book Martha's Mandala at the 2015 Friends of ARAS Event in New York this fall. A review of the book was published in the last issue of ARAS Connections. Enjoy!

I would like to begin by explaining a few things about how Martha’s Mandala came to be a book. The text seen on this mandala comes from an essay called “Time,” written by my grandmother. Both her words and the image of the mandala itself, whirling on in its endless circle, seem to be telling the story.  Her words and the image itself.

It is the story of Martha Stringham Bacon, my grandmother, who was an artist, though she was reluctant to call herself that. She was never formally trained though she took art classes after high school and in her early married life. Her work was highly illustrative and influenced by other illustrators such as N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham and Kai Neilson. She was a fine draftsman with a gorgeous sense of color. Perhaps due to her lack of formal education, she was extremely self-deprecating about her work and for the most part kept it to herself and her family.

I spent much of my childhood living in her house and growing up in her care. Over the years, she told me much of the story, her ideas, dreams and visions. She showed me her paintings and drawings; she also read to me and taught me to read. From there I was launched into the world of fairy tales, mythology, and poetry, onward to reading and studying novels and other literary forms, and thus to a long and rewarding career teaching English to high school and college students. Ultimately, because of my grandmother’s influence, I would eventually find my own rather tortuous way to my own writing.

As a child, I was unaware of how unusual my grandmother’s story was. Much later, when I was in my forties, I came across a letter when I was visiting my Aunt Alice, the youngest Bacon daughter.  I found it in a paper box moldering in a damp storage shed in Princeton, New Jersey.  Left in that shed for almost thirty years, Aunt Alice had finally allowed me to wade through the sea of archival materials after many years of me gently but persistently trying to persuade her to let me look through the papers and drawings.  The letter, floating loose among the old envelopes and scraps of drawings was from Carl Jung.

Read this piece in its entirety.