Whose Story Is It

Embrace, 39″ x 34″ x 2.75″, Mixed media on board, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

Sometimes I feel that I am not so much the painter as the conduit for a painting. That is the case with many of the pieces in my current series about dementia. “Embrace,” the one you are viewing here, is about my personal journey with my mother, but it is also about other people. First, it is a story created by people who traveled the same path before me, though with less science and perhaps less support. It is also a story about those that traveled with me, those that cared for and about my mother. Finally, it is also about the people who are still on this path.

My Story

To me an embrace is normally a good feeling, a comforting feeling. But the term also describes how the lead and partner function on the dance floor as they glide across the floor. I always thought dancing was magical. Yet, after taking lessons, I found out about the hard work and frustrations as well as the rewards.

My husband and I were taking ballroom dance lessons just about the time my mother was diagnosed with dementia with Lewy Bodies. My father had already died; my brother was in another state and ill as well. So her care fell to me. I usually just take charge, but that doesn’t always work with someone whose judgement is impaired. She resisted strongly; I became frustrated. Much like a dance, we went back and forth and back and forth. I came to wonder was I her lead, or her partner?

Her Story

In reading Daniel Siegel’s The Developing Mind, one quote stood out : “A story is created by both teller and listener.” The quote made me question if this could also true of the visual story in my paintings.  When I paint, is it my story alone or is the viewer involved?

With my mother I attempted to understand how she was feeling? But I also realized that my capacity for endurance, pain, and suffering was different from hers or even my husband’s. I was left with my imagination and hopefully, my empathy. But I did wonder how she felt about being told she must move into assisted living, that someone would to be there when she showered to make sure she didn’t fall, and when she toileted to keep her clean.

Their Story

So what about the viewer or the listener?  I now recognize their part and know that they can add to the story or even change it.

I look at myself and other artists as both archeologists and architects.  We are diggers of history and truth, gatherers of ideas, and manipulators of bits and pieces. Perhaps none of my of my paintings are completely my own for I am history, a bit of this and a piece of that, a part of her and some of them.

Art Stops Us In Our Tracks

“Can-Can,” Jane DeDecker, Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina

This past weekend I had the experience of a sculpture stopping me in my tracks, moving me to tears, and sending me on my way—feeling better and almost hopeful.

The Moment of Intrigue

My husband and I were camping at a state park on the coast of South Carolina and decided to visit Brookgreen Gardens on our way home. We were leisurely walking the paths admiring the plants as much as the sculptures when a small piece drew me forward. At first all I saw was movement, then I recognized them as figures. Finally, I saw them dancing. And since I’ve been working on a painting called “Come, Dance,” I was intrigued.

The Moment of Connection

Called, “Can-Can,” the artist Jane DeDecker, shows five dancers, which represents a cancer victim with four friends helping her through the process of dying. It was possibly more moving because of my mother’s recent death or because I could see the stroke of fingers in the work and was moved by the intimacy. Whatever the reason, I stood for a long time and walked on with a sense of awe in the human spirit.

That is art. It takes you in and moves you forward.


Natural Turn, 15.5″ x 15.5″, mixed media on board

For about 3 years my husband and I enjoyed ballroom dancing and liked the time we spent learning together despite the fact that I had great difficulty following his lead. He is the better dancer, often having to count in my ear as we learned the tango (4 beats to a three beat count), the foxtrot (4 beats with a slide), or the waltz (3 beats with a rise and fall). As part of the basics of the waltz we learned the natural turn, the promenade, the twinkle, and the reverse turn.

Although the waltz has always been my favorite, I suspect I will always have trouble following. This piece is how the natural turn feels when the music takes possession and you are in the moment.