Painted Flowers Shouldn't Talk Back: The Houston Garden Artists in the Seventies

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Texas A&M University Press, Dec 15, 2020 - Art - 140 pages

Painted Flowers Shouldn't Talk Back tells the story of a suburban women's art collective that painted together in Houston, Texas, from 1970 to 1977. They called themselves the Garden Artists, though their subjects were much more varied than just garden views. Author Margaret Killinger's artful narrative illustrates how these women creatively confronted profound sociocultural challenges through decorative art. Some discovered much-needed financial independence and personal freedom through the group; others, camaraderie and gratification outside home and marriage. Still others found a welcome reprieve from the demands of motherhood, the confines of suburban conformity, or the sinking weight of grief. They collectively learned to confront stark walls and to determine what they could and could not live with, all the while enjoying art and each other.

Framed by Killinger's 2008 group interview conducted in Houston, the story moves via memories and other interviews to El Paso, Austin, San Antonio, Santa Fe, and New Orleans. The women's story is furthermore told under the shadow of Killinger's own search for answers. She began exploring the women's lives after the sudden, quiet death of her mother, a portrait artist and peripheral member of the group who collapsed and died in 2004, when she was just sixty-five years old. Nancy Alvarez--the eccentric, hilarious leader of the Garden Artists who shaped each of their stories--died one year later, also sixty-five. To make sense of these losses, Killinger looks back to when the women were prolific Houston artists with Nancy as their quirky guide, a time when they were arguably most alive. Resolution comes through deciphering what their art meant to them back then and exploring what it could mean for readers today.

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About the author (2020)

MARGARET KILLINGER, Rezendes Preceptor for the Arts in the Honors College of the University of Maine, is also the author of The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing. She was raised in Houston and now resides in Orono, Maine.

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