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Mother Guide

1986, oil on canvas, 4 x 6', by Jenny Badger Sultan

Acrylic painting, 'Mother Guide', by Jenny Badger Sultan. Click to enlarge


In 1986, I had been working on large paintings showing different aspects of the Goddess; that Fall, I knew it was time to work on the aspect of the Old Woman, the Crone.

I did drawings, thinking of different ways of showing her--seated, draped, massive. Finally, I knew I had to show her as standing and unclothed.

As I began to paint the thin, old body, and work on her face, I saw my own mother begin to appear. My mother was ailing and frail at this time, and in helping her to take baths and wash her hair I was closer to her bodily reality than I had been since I was little.

The containing shape around her arose spontaneously as I painted. It reminded me of a sarcophagus.

Instead of cloth drapery, the veils of imagery coming out of or going into her body began to take shape. They came to represent different things:

The grey-green staff she holds also came from an old dream image, and the colors painted on her face linked her somehow to Native American spiritual traditions.

I worked for months on the painting, slowly, as is my way. In the Spring, before it was finished, my mother died. I felt that I had somehow known that her death was near when I began the painting, and doing it had given me an opportunity to meditate on her and contemplate my relationship to her and to my own aging. I had to stop working on the painting for many months as the most intense part of my grief took over. In a while I was able to return to it and complete it.

The image represents for me both my own personal mother and the archetype of the Old Woman. I have titled it "Mother Guide" and on the back I wrote "This is a work of love."

Detail of acrylic painting, 'Mother Guide': girl catching baby, by Jenny Badger Sultan. Detail of acrylic painting, 'Mother Guide': pictograph of woman with labyrinth-tattoos chasing zigzag snakes, by Jenny Badger Sultan.
Detail of acrylic painting, 'Mother Guide': night, a bundled, hooded woman by rocks under netting, by Jenny Badger Sultan.

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