Read about where Denise Fitzsimmons’ artistic inspiration comes from and take a trip down memory lane with her! 

Last week's newsletter made me start thinking about inspiration and in particular where I get my inspiration from as an artist. When people ask me how I got into polymer clay I usually just say that about “10 years ago I discovered jewelry making, which led to wire working, which led to torch enameling, and then I finally discovered polymer clay, my final love. Now I like to combine all of those different things into my pieces.” I think that is exactly what is on my bio page. Yikes!

Fitzsimmons Beth
My mom, late 1960’s.
Denise and Mom dancing
My favorite picture of the two of us, early 2000s.

But that isn’t inspiration. If I really think about where my inspiration comes from, it started a very long time ago. My mother, Beth, was a crafty woman. She made all her own dance and prom dresses and often made her own clothing. After getting married, she had her own side business in a room that my father built for her attached to our house in Pennsylvania. It was called The Busy Bee. She made hand-knit and hand crocheted items as well as hand-sewn animals and outfits for children. She made many of our Halloween costumes, which of course, I hated at the time. I wanted store-bought costumes like my friends had. I now cherish those costumes and still have a few of them. 

As the youngest child, I was often left to her care while my brother and sister went off to school. These were the most amazing days of my life; I loved crafting with my mom. My mother taught me how to knit, crochet, and sew and to make all kinds of arts and crafts. She encouraged me to do whatever craft I wanted to do that day, even rock painting and mud pie making. She just wanted me to be creative and to have fun…and to be with her. And honestly, there's nothing more I would rather have been doing. I remember that her Busy Bee shop had a piano in it and on lunch breaks she would play the piano and sing to me…. And on a very lucky day she would sing in Swedish. How I wish I could remember those songs now! 

It took me years and years to recognize the influence and the inspiration that my mother had and remains to have on my art and on each and every piece I create. My mother was and is still my best friend even though she passed from breast cancer about 13 years ago. She is with me every moment of every day and she is in every piece I make. She allowed me to be who I was; she encouraged me to be who I wanted to be. She even talked to the fairies that I would see in the garden! 

I remember one day towards the holidays in fourth grade, my best friend, Suzie, passed away. My mother sprang into action and called the school to say that she thought that our class should perhaps not have class that day. We should spend the day telling stories and making crafts for the holidays. The principal agreed. She arrived at school with bags and bags of scraps of fabric, yarn, thread, and some needles. She proceeded to teach my class how to create the most easy and fun wreaths that any fourth grader could ever create. And we did sit around tables and tell stories of my friend Suzie and craft together and make new memories together. I was so proud of my mom that day because she knew the power that crafting together would have on that difficult day. 

Then there was the Christmas that my mom and I lived together and between the two of us, we had about $3. It was a difficult year. We did not have money for presents or decorations. We did have wrapping paper and popcorn, however! So we spent Christmas Eve making popcorn garland and wrapping paper garland while listening to seasonal music and watching the Yule log fire on TV. Once again, crafting saved the day, brought my mother and I together, and created a beautiful memory that inspires me to this day. 

My mother has been instrumental in me finding my voice as an artist. When people ask me “well, what is your voice as an artist?” I reply by saying that I'm a storyteller. Each one of my original pieces is based on a memory and I'm basically telling the story of that memory through the piece. These memories consist of my mother, brother, and father (who have now all passed) and my sister and her family, the good times, the bad times, the tragic times and the precious times. When really searching to find my voice this past year, I often asked myself WWMD? What Would Mom Do? The answer always came back to me in her voice. And whether I am working on my art or going through a difficult time, I still ask, “WWMD?”. And I always hear her voice saying, “You already know the answer.” She is right; Deep down, I do know the answer…..after all, she taught me what Mom would do!

Holiday wreath ornaments
Little holiday wreaths like the ones we made in 4th grade.
Denise and her brother
Me and my brother. I am wearing a dress that my mother made. Circa 1976.