Happy Valentine's Day! I don't know if it's the memory of grade-school valentine exchanges or the connection with chocolate, but this has always been one of my favorite holidays.
This year I'm celebrating by kicking off a new, occasional (meaning whenever I feel like it) feature on creative couples. For the first installment, I'm profiling two all-around wonderful folks, George and Mallory Waldman. I first met the couple when George and I worked together at the Detroit Free Press—he as a photographer and I as a reporter. I always admired his honest, direct, and often surprising images.
Back then, Mallory was tirelessly working for a nonprofit organization that provided services for the elderly and people with HIV/AIDS, which didn't leave her much time or energy for other creative work. Now that she and George have retired and moved to Maine, she has flourished as a fiber artist.
Here's how Mallory describes her creations: "I play with color in fabrics which I've cut into one-inch-wide strips and woven together. It's almost like painting in a way, because the colors change when woven next to one another. It's fascinating, huge fun, and quite exciting."
George claims he doesn't do much photography any more. Mallory begs to differ. While he may not be practicing photojournalism, "I see such creativity in his photographs of the area around us," she says. "He can suddenly make you see what you really didn't do more than glance at before. He sharpens your sight."
In addition, George is carving wood and learning to draw and play piano, "working in different dimensions, rather than the two," he says. "It's all a challenge. Piano is really the tough one."
It surprised me when George added, "I'm beginning to think of myself as a creative person." Funny, I always thought he was.
He went on to explain that while he hasn't considered himself creative in an artistic sense, he's a creative problem solver. "I am, in my work, trying to find the essence of a situation and a person untainted by my own subjective impulses, and following that through to a final, beautiful and honest image that is useful and used and helpful in people understanding and appreciating each other."
In the beginning
I wondered if the couple's creative natures played any part in their attraction to each other when they met on a blind date 52 years ago.
"We were so young and didn't know each other well (and I didn't know myself), so the creative part of George was not what drew me to him," says Mallory. "I did think he was one of the nicest and most interesting guys I'd ever met." (She still thinks so, by the way.)
George agrees that he was "young and unformed" back then, and says this about Mallory: "At 22, she didn't seem to play games, which might suggest she wasn't very creative, but it made her very attractive to me. She was sincere, the kind of person who would do what she promised to do."
Perhaps it was that sincerity and mutual respect that helped them develop a partnership in which they could hone their own talents while encouraging each other's. That's a key to creative coupledom, say Katie and Gay Hendricks, husband-and-wife coauthors of Conscious Loving Ever After. "When people get in deeper communication with their own individual creative essence, their relationships blossom as a direct result," they write.
Or as George puts it, "Be true to oneself, or why would anyone else be interested in you?"
Space, Skills, Support
For George and Mallory, support goes beyond encouragement; they also help each other find space and time for creative pursuits. George might move a new loom into Mallory's studio, then do the laundry and fix dinner while she sets it up. Mallory will handle other logistics to give George a chance to "dream or wander or putz around with something."
They share their skills, too. George set up a Facebook page for technophobe Mallory, where she can display photos of her creations (photos taken by George, naturally).
"I see the play of light in her work, the texture, shapes and colors more deeply than others might," says George. "Photographic elements."
Once, another artist whose work George had photographed observed that the result was "about the photographs more than the art." With his photos of Mallory's weavings, he aims for images that capture both: the artful weaving itself, but also photographic elements such as the play of light on the warp of the loom.
That mix of literal representation and artistic expression "can be a good thing," George maintains. "A kind of collaboration. Right?"
Helpful as it as to have a supportive partner when things are going smoothly, it's even more appreciated during creative slumps and rough patches, the Waldmans have found.
"During a labor dispute with the Detroit newspapers, I had to struggle to make a living in depressing and often unfulfilling, problem-solving creative ways," George recalls. "Mallory was rock solid in support and understanding, never wavering a moment while she had her own problems to solve in funding and administering a program meeting the needs of HIV positive/AIDS people. Just earning a living is a creative challenge for most of us."
Giving George extra encouragement at that stressful time seemed like a no-brainer to Mallory. "One wants one's lover to be happy, fulfilled and eager to go on," she says.
Conscious Loving authors the Hendrickses see that sort of succor as essential in a creative partnership. In addition to asking oneself "What is my unique genius?", you can ask the same of your mate, Katie noted in an interview in the August 2017 issue of Mindful magazine. " 'What do you want to do in the world, and how can I support you and how can you support me?' That support is an expression of the genius of your relationship."
Recently, Mallory posed that very question to her spouse. "I asked George what would he really want to do if there were no constraints at all. Just dream and then tell me, and let's make it happen."
Passing It On
Though they don't collaborate on artistic work, George and Mallory did co-produce two exceptional creations: son Aaron and daughter Terrill. Not surprisingly, the parents applied their usual imagination and energy to nurturing their children's curiosity and creativity.
"We always had an art drawer for the kids, and George took them on an assignment once in a while so they could see him work," Mallory says. "We also supported their artistic impulses with classes and our general attitude that art was great."
Books were plentiful in the Waldman household, and George and Mallory encouraged creative thinking with daily questions: "What do you think of this? Do you like mustard on your eggs? What's the worst thing that could happen here?" (Mixed in with the occasional "Could you mow the damn lawn?")
Aaron and Terrill grew up to lead their own creative lives. Terrill and husband Charlie Jenkins, also a glassblower, create colorful and imaginative pieces in their studio, Tandem Glass. Aaron is "a very creative accountant in a good way and intent on the craft of it," says George.
Now grandparents, George and Mallory spend two days a week with their grandchildren and enjoy seeing their talents bloom.
"We're hoping to foster in them a freedom of thinking, problem-solving ability, and acceptance and understanding of life and its challenges," says George.
Come to think of it, those are exactly the qualities George and Mallory continue to cultivate in themselves in this phase of their creative couplehood.
"Life has several beginnings," says Mallory. "At 74, we feel this stage is another new beginning."
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.