A heritage of fingerpainting

The focusing and refinement of an artist’s way of seeing always has a degree of complexity to it, and only rarely do single influences take hold the way one did for Parks Reece. You could say this single influence was really two, and as it turned out they were both women. One was his mother, Gwyn Finley Reece, and the other was her mentor, Ruth Faison Shaw. They were close, they were very serious artists, and to the young Parks they made it clear that he was one of them, and that he too would always be free to see things the way he liked. Having no notion of possibility in mind, he learned from them for certain he could have a future in visual expression if he wanted it. And fortunately for us, he did.

Read on to hear what Parks has to say about his late mother and enjoy some of her finger-paintings:
My mother, Gwyn Finley Reece, was an artistic child, always drawing, painting and acting in little plays. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying Drama and Art. Each summer her job was acting in the popular outdoor pageant, “Unto These Hills”. One of her fellow actors was classmate and friend Andy Griffith who went on to become the famous sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina.

After college, Gwyn put down her brushes, became a third grade teacher and eventually married my Father, Charlie Reece. Soon, at the age of 26, she gave birth to me. Unfortunately, pregnancy helped to trigger a severe type of diabetes which would cruelly alter the rest of her life, making her sick much of the time and regularly dodging the Grim Reaper. During this time her perception changed markedly. She began to see apparitions, and to sense events that happened many miles away. Waking with a scream late one night Mom yelled, “Ruth is dead”. A phone call the next morning confirmed her beloved friend and mentor Ruth Shaw had indeed died. I remember riding off into the night with Mom looking for ghosts of Indians sighted by generations of locals crossing a certain curve in the road. I did not see the ghosts but decided right then that life was like a giant iceberg in the ocean-and that most of us saw only the tiny tip of it. Mother began her art again, with the intensity and passion of one determined to see and paint the whole iceberg.

On one of her many stops at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill she befriended Ruth Shaw, the originator of finger-painting as we know it today. The two went on to develop a serious and beautiful method of finger-painting that sent them to exhibits from New York to Los Angeles and landed their finger-paintings in collections around the world. From age 3 to 7 years I was fortunate enough to finger-paint long hours daily under the tutelage of these ladies, a few of my efforts always included in their exhibitions. It’s been said, “most of what we need to know in life was learned in kindergarten”. That is at least true of my art education.

Gwyn Finley Reece died in 1973 due to an insulin shock caused by diabetes. She was 46 years old, the age I am now. These original finger-paintings are but a few of the dozens we are now restoring for a future traveling museum exhibit. Many of what she considered her best works are long since sold or given away, but I love them all.

Parks Reece, June 30, 2000, Livingston, Montana.

Paintings above are by Gwyn Reece, c1961