Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Magpie Eating Cake

Here is a whimsical painting by Rubens Peale (1784 - 1865) called "Magpie Eating Cake." Aside from the painting's title being a chillingly close description of me and my activities this month, I adore it for the inspiration its creator provides. Rubens Peale was the fourth son of artist Charles Willson Peale (1741 - 1827) and turned to painting only later in life. Because of poor eyesight, he never obtained the artistic training received by his siblings. By the way, I love how the father named his sons: Rembrandt, Raphaelle, Titian...no pressure, there, guys. Rubens Peale pursued the sciences and spent much of his life as a museum administrator and owner. A financial panic in 1837 forced Peale to sell his collections to P.T. Barnum and retreat, financially destitute, to a farm owned by his wife's family. He managed the farm and used his training as a natural scientist to become the local taxidermist. Fourteen years later, his daughter, Mary Jane Peale, returned home after studying painting with her uncle Rembrandt. At age 71, and under his daughter's tutelage, Rubens Peale began to pursue painting in earnest, recording his progress in daily diary entries. The last 10 years of Peale's life were spent in a joyful pursuit of learning and creativity.

Do you find the Peale's story inspiring? I am immediately struck by his humility and perseverance. Despite physical infirmity, family obligation, even financial ruin, Peale continued to find his way. The spark of creative spirit ignited his days to the very end. Rubens Peale had the humility to accept instruction from his daughter, even using his new skills to copy some of his brothers paintings as gifts for his children. There doesn't seem to be much ego or what I like to call the "Fragile Genius" about Peale. I need stories like this: stories that feed the better part of the artistic nature. Living an authentically creative life means being a good steward of the gifts you possess. Being a good steward  requires generosity, wisdom, and faith. Faith that your offering, flawed or imperfect as it may be, is valuable and enough.


  1. Such a good reminder that, even though we (meaning me) are prone to give ourselves a pass at attempting something because we think it's too late for us to start a new endeavor, or because we fear failure. Why not just try it out and see what happens, without regrets?

    in other news, there are TONS of magpies in Spain, down by the river. I'm not surprised this one found a way to get at that cake...they seem to do nothing but get into mischief.

    1. The question for 2012 is "Why not?" Let's be brave risk takers and dazzle ourselves!
      "Grasp what is possible and seize it boldly by the hair" - Goethe, Faust I