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Artist and Mother Shines God's Light in Her Work
Artist Interview with Melissa Dayton, Pearls of Grace Fine Arts
By Lisa M. Hendey
Imagine the blessing of being able to glorify God through the gift of art – wife and mother of six Melissa Dayton is living this blessing through her new endeavor, Pearls of Grace Fine Arts. Dayton, an accomplished artist, has set to work creating and making available high quality prints of her inspired religious artwork. A visit to Dayton’s web site at www.pearlsofgracefineart.com is indeed a treat to both the spirit and the senses.
While each of Dayton’s works is special, her lovely painting “God’s Escort” is sure to touch your heart. Her intent for this work is that it be “a source of healing for mothers who have lost a child, suffered a miscarriage or had an abortion.” Another highlight is her newly available portrait of Pope Benedict XVI, which lovingly captures his personality and grace.
Inspired by Dayton’s talent and her drive to create work that glorifies God and inspires the soul, I took the occasion to speak with Dayton about her life as wife, mother and artist. I am pleased to share her responses to my queries, and invite you to visit her website at www.pearlsofgracefineart.com.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
I am a wife and mother of six children ages; 18,12,10,6,4, and 2 years. Our kids are great, smart athletic and very funny. We spend most of our time on the beach or on the soccer field. My husband and I were high school sweet hearts, and had our first son while we were still in college. Being young and in a situation that was not easy, my faith slowly became important. I began to read, mostly about Our Lady, and attend Mass again. When our 2nd child was 5 months old, I started to attend an ecumenical Bible study. The more I studied, the more I was drawn back into the Church. It was there that I met Laurie Manhardt, the author of the Come and See scripture studies. Over the years Laurie became a good friend and was instrumental in my husband’s coming into the Church Jubilee year.
A very important part of my adult life has been being a part of and leading different small group studies. The incredible women I have met have changed how I parent and have inspired me to pull through the days that are “muck”. Since my husband’s conversion, we have been involved together. Our marriage has been blessed thanks to our faith and the tools given by the Church, we like to share that with other couples.
Q: How did you become interested in art and your vocation as artist?
Art has always been my “thing”. When my first 2 children were little, I didn’t paint. I went back to school in between my #1 and #2. Although I studied fine art, I actually have a 3 year degree in interior design that I have never used. I just wanted to be a mom. When our 3rd child was a baby, a painting I gave as a gift was seen by someone who worked for a mail order catalog. Through that catalog I painted 350 portraits. God’s way of preparing me for my business which up until now has been children’s portraits. I do see art as my gift, the vocation aspect is still a baby. I have always felt much joy in giving paintings, usually to people who have lost a child. Probably if we didn’t have a need for me to work, I would not be painting. God knows that, so he keeps me “needing” to paint.
I always wanted to use the gift for faith based work, but the timing was never right. Before Pearls of Grace, I had done a couple of pieces that were great fun to do. I also illustrated the coloring book pages for Laurie’s first children’s book. Those drawings aren’t being used anymore because were deemed by the publisher too complicated for small children. But, a great confidence booster that led to Pearls of Grace.
Q: How does your faith impact upon your creations?
I know that the ability to paint is not something I can take credit for. On my own, the paintings aren’t quite right. It is only when I pray intently while painting that the compositions are what God wants them to be. It is a gift of self, or rather an abandonment of self, and being able to allow God to paint through me that leads to something beautiful. As soon as painting becomes a means to an end for me, the work is lousy.
Q: How would you describe your work? What motivates you?
Hopefully inspired, soft, expressive. I prefer personality coming through in a portrait rather than the perfect smile. I would like to think that perhaps the Holy Spirit hovers in a state of joy, or peace while I work. For example I will sometimes paint portraits of children who have died. Once, the death was very sad. It was heavy, dark and difficult to paint. I prayed that the eyes I painted would touch the mother’s heart. Instead of painting in silence, which I sometimes do, I listened to music of praise the entire time. When it was finished there was a lightness and a joy to the face, it was a feeling of relief when you saw the painting. A woman who didn’t know the background of the young man, saw the painting and asked if he was a laughing Jesus.
My children motivate me their eyes, their profiles. Or something beautiful in nature, usually a color combination or certain lighting. I would say mostly the Holy Spirit motivates me, the ideas come quickly and I can “see them” in my minds eye. When there is no motivation, I don’t even want to look at a paint brush. When I am inspired, it is hard to keep me away from the easel.
Q: How do you select your subjects?
Once “inspired”, I fine tune it by looking through different resources for colors and details. I am constantly looking at Church windows and art work. God puts the subjects on my heart. One day in early summer I had parked my car in front of the most spectacular row of pink cabbage roses. “St. Terese” rang in my head, and then my friend’s daughter sitting with a basket of the roses in front of a sunlit window came to my mind. Her mother also happens to have a devotion. I am hoping to start that painting in the spring. For “Escort to God” my oldest daughter had to be the model, she was perfect, her age, her face. That’s usually how it goes. Or it is the client that has an image or asks for something specific.
Q: Could you please tell us a bit about your wonderful "Escort to God" ministry and your goal for this project?
“Escort to God” is my special painting. I have wanted to paint the image for many years. It actually started to take place when my oldest son was a baby. When I left college to have him, I started receiving letters and phone calls from friends and even people I didn’t know very well telling me about their abortions. It was frustrating that I couldn’t respond properly, or console them. Over the years there have been more stories. I have felt such grief for them, perhaps survivor’s guilt because I had my baby. It is an awful loss.
As Christians we are all called to reflect Gods mercy and love to one another. If we could only do that properly, no matter what the sin, the children of God wouldn’t be afraid to approach the throne. I wanted “Escort to God” to be that. God’s instrument to heal those wounded hearts. To call the person gently to him. Not just for abortion victims, but for women suffering the grief of miscarriage, or the loss of a baby.
My Goal for the ministry is to see the painting bring healing or consolation to broken hearts and draw people back into communion with God. I would love to see it used in pregnancy centers and in post abortion counseling like Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard.
Q: How does a busy wife and mother of six find time to paint? Are any of your children exploring art?
By the grace of God!! It amazes me sometimes. It’s all in finding the balance if I have a job to work on. The older 4 children are in school. Usually nap time is best for working. Sometimes my mother or a friend will take my 4 year old so she is not neglected while I work. There are days when dinner is grilled cheese and grapes, the house is a mess and the laundry? If you have a large family you know what skipping a day or two leads to. My husband is superman and does more than the average husband. The older kids rally to help when I have a deadline too.
There are days when everyone is sick, or someone needs Mom and I just can’t paint. Usually Gods timing gives me breaks when I need them. An old friend told me 9 years ago that over the years for her business, she had never advertised. She trusts that God would adjust the work load accordingly. It is a leap of faith, but a good exercise in trust. For the portraits, it worked like a charm. His plan seems to be a little different for Pearls of Grace.
All of the kids are creative. My oldest is into drama and has the lead in his school play. My oldest daughter wants to be a writer. The next in line is very artistic, but doesn’t think he is sure - sign of genius. The younger 3 keep their work to the refrigerator, their arms and occasionally the walls, but there is hope for one or two more in the bunch.
Q: What would you say to women who have a dream about how they can make their dream a reality?
Pray, pray, pray. Make sure before you pursue anything that it is God’s lead and in God’s timing. Talk with your husband! Any thing self motivated usually fizzles out and distracts us from our priorities. There is a real push for women to do more than mother. To be a “productive” member of society by being involved. While sometimes we are called to service, remember if Satan can’t make you bad, he makes you busy.
God brought us honest, good faith filled people to work with. Be willing to wait, which can be painful when you have invested so much of yourself. The reason he calls you to something or gives you a gift may be for something you haven’t even imagined. We joke that our grandchildren will love grandma for the mortgage free life they’ll have from the sales of the originals.
Q: How can readers obtain more information or order your work?
Go to my website, email me or call me. Most of the information is on the site. I do have a brochure I can send out also. www.pearlsofgracefineart.com
Q: Are there any closing thoughts or ideas you'd like to share with our readers?
No matter what road you’re on it is essential that your relationship with God is intimate and personal. That is directly related to level of intimacy in your prayer life. Take time to study scripture and read the Catechism. Find a small group of even 2 other moms to meet with and delve deeper into your faith. Having good women around you will help you persevere and give your children like minded homes to be in. It will be a priceless gift you give your family.
The dreams a woman dreams are how the world has become such a diverse place, but the most important role we have is being the helpmate our husband needs and the nurturer our children need. The world is starving for a generation strong in faith and character. As mothers we shouldn’t lose sight of the impact a strong faith and marriage will have on our kids. If you have a family, that is your primary vocation.
For more information on the artwork of Melissa Dayton, visit her web site at http://www.pearlsofgracefineart.com.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com