An Artist Spreads Her Wings
Category: Contemporary
Written by Dale Kiefer
Editor: Kellie A. Hanna

In her published poem "Sparrow," writer and artist Ivy Linda Keegan regards a fledgling bird fallen from the nest--not as the victim of an unfortunate accident, but rather as the noble casualty of an act of courage. She tells us that the tiny sparrow spread his fragile wings and "stuck his nose/ out and grabbed/ for the wind,/ felt the high/ that comes from/ believing/ he could fly."

"Maybe that's me," says Linda.

Maybe so. Like the sparrow, Linda Keegan is petite; so delicate of bone and enviably light as to seem fragile. But her inner strength and resolve are evident in her commitment to the pursuit of her art. Like the brave sparrow of her poem, Linda is not satisfied with comfort and safety. She, too, recently went out on a limb and took a courageous plunge opening her own art studio in suburban Pittsburgh.

A Dream Come True

"This studio is my dream come true," says Linda. "I've had [this dream] forever." With her own grown children flown from the nest and two novel manuscripts completed, the time seemed right for her latest foray into the unknown. Linda did not discuss the matter with her husband, Richard. "I told myself, we're not discussing it; I'm doing it. I'll make it work."

For the past year, Linda has been teaching watercolor and "Poetry as Self-Expression," to children, teens, and adults at her studio. "A lot of people want to know how to do watercolors," says Linda. "Something about it attracts people. You have to learn how to control it. What I teach is technique."

One class, billed as "Musical Watercolors-the fun way to unwind," is targeted at frazzled mothers and working women who want to relax, learn and express their creativity in a noncompetitive forum. "It's just plain fun," says Linda, of the unusual class format. "It's designed to work around the inhibitions of adults. No one leaves feeling they're worse or better than anyone else." In spite of people's skepticism regarding that claim, she says, she can guarantee it.

Other classes are aimed at promoting and encouraging artistic talent in youngsters aged 9 to 12. Linda is particularly fond of that age group because of their lack of inhibitions. "They're still at the age where they enjoy learning, but they're not influenced by their hormones or other social concerns yet." notes Linda.

A virtual Renaissance woman for the nineties, Linda seems to do it all. Make no mistake; this is no bored housewife who has thrown up a shingle in the local strip mall in an effort to get out of the house. Linda Keegan is an award-winning poet who also happens to be an accomplished watercolor artist. She has worked as a paramedic in West Virginia, an English teacher in Germany, a reporter and advertising manager, a mother and corporate wife, and a guitar and piano teacher. She has won two fellowships to foster her poetry, published two books of poetry, and completed two novels.

Her impression of her four years as an Emergency Medical Technician echo the opening lines of Dickens' " A Tale of Two Cities." In some ways, it was the best of times for Linda, but in others, the worst. "I got totally burned out," she recalls. "It's high adrenaline. You get to the point where you don't want it any more, and yet, I miss it at times," she says, wistfully. But she found her true calling only after devoting her energy full time to her art, expressing her feelings and impressions with words and watercolors. "I wasn't me until I was doing what I am doing," she observes matter-of-factly.

Artistic Roots

That she became an artist was perhaps inevitable. Her great grandfather and great aunt Helen were both artists who played important roles in her formative years. Her grandmother taught her to love the written word, with weekly treks made on foot to the local library in the small New Hampshire town where Linda grew up. Her great aunt made a lasting impression on Linda.

"She was an exotic person...she came back to New Hampshire each summer and taught me." Linda fondly recalls those lessons, held in an old barn. Accompanied by the scratchy strains of opera recordings played on an old Victrola, Helen showed Linda how to be expressive and resourceful. She recalls trips to the garden for basil and beets. Helen showed her how to extract juices from the fresh-picked produce and transform them into paints. "I learned creativity from her," says Linda. "I know it's silly to say that, but for example, if you didn't have paints, you made them."

An Affinity for Nature

Linda's work in both poetry and watercolor media tends to reflect her affinity for nature. "I'm a nature nut," she admits, standing in her studio surrounded by still lifes of birds, floral arrangements, mangrove swamps and sea-battered lighthouses.

But look beyond the surface of her poems before dismissing her subject matter, in either medium, as light-weight or irrelevant. "Sparrow" concerns more than a hapless bird. "Back forty" is not just about a fallen tree. Like most good art, her subjects are metaphors for the human condition. Of women poets, she says, "We're not writing about birds and flowers. It's emotion, depth; a way to express fear, excitement, grief, love. And that's something that everybody has. Many people have a need to express emotion, and poetry is a wonderful way to do it."


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