That’s what one mother told her child. Her child loved art, and had aspirations to be an artist. The mother advised her daughter to find a job as an illustrator for a greeting card company.
According to an essay I read, the mother later regretted giving that advice. Her daughter didn’t take the advice, and instead followed her dream and became a nationally known artist. Her work has been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and is currently on display at the Dallas Museum of Art.
That daughter is Laura Owens, who grew up in Norwalk and graduated from Norwalk High School in 1988.
We were in Dallas recently, visiting our son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons. Almost as amazing as seeing our grandchildren and how quickly they are growing was our amazement when we went to Owens’ art exhibition at the Dallas museum.
We were greeted by a gigantic sign looming over the museum that said “Laura Owens.” Norwalk’s own Laura Owens.
The biography of Owens, which was posted as we entered her exhibit at the museum, must have been written by someone who has never been to Norwalk, because it described her as having grown up in “suburban Norwalk.” Suburban Norwalk? No such thing.
Owens’ own description of her time in Norwalk, as written in the introduction to a book which contains pictures of her artwork, is not always complimentary. It is hard to find a place that actually says she graduated from Norwalk High School — instead, her biographical information speaks about having attended Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan and Rhode Island School of Design, and how she is now based in Los Angeles.
She does mention, however, her time in Norwalk — how she was often late to high school and yet graduated as salutatorian of her class; how her art teacher, Mrs. Magi, took her art students on field trips to museums in Cleveland and Toledo; how her history teacher criticized her for dressing as a “flower child” for Halloween. She couldn’t wait to get out of this small town. And she did.
But she did grow up here. And my heart swelled with pride as I saw her artwork in a major city’s museum, knowing that at least part of her past was in the place I now call home.
I am not a museum fan, but I enjoyed her artwork. It is very varied. There were huge paintings and small paintings. Some were of people, some were of animals. There were two paintings across from each other, with numbers on them, and they were mirror reflections of each other. Some made me smile or laugh. All made me think.
If you’re interested in knowing more about her and her work, she has a website: Go to https://www.owenslaura.com/
Also, she was written up in a major national magazine — the New Yorker — and if you follow this link, you can read the article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/30/the-radical-paintings-of-laura-owens
Maybe, like me, you will feel proud to walk the streets she once walked. I am proud to teach at the high school she attended. Our art program is still excellent, and our art teachers still take art students on a museum field trip each year.
I don’t know which of my students will someday be famous. But maybe one will. I will be the last person to tell them to choose something practical. I will advise students to follow their dreams. They could be the next Laura Owens.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]