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“Cash In” Your Future Family Heirlooms—for Hugs!

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 by Jeremy Rowland

Several heirlooms have been passed down through the generations in my family:  antique furniture, a couple of vintage dolls, and a few ornate quilts. These are great ties to my past, and I most definitely appreciate them; but in all honesty, I don’t feel much of a connection to them. For the most part, these items stay safely tucked away in airtight boxes or sit in my relatives’ homes as decorations or conversation pieces. 

Maybe the fact that I never met the family members who bequeathed these items is what leaves me feeling a bit unfulfilled. I can’t help but think that if I had been able to watch my great-grandfather sweat over a plank of cedar, or if I had been there as my great-grandmother developed her quilting skills, these heirlooms would hold more personal value. 

That’s why I was so intrigued when I saw a picture of two young girls standing in front of a fireplace, proudly smiling and holding neatly framed pencil-drawn portraits of themselves. It’s a somewhat surreal sight, like a picture within a picture. The drawings are spot on. The girls pictured are the granddaughters of artist Barbara LaChapelle, and the moment captured was one that I wanted to know more about, so I gave Barbara a call.

Barbara has been seriously pursuing her love of drawing for about a year now. She is blessed with many grandchildren and, as her drawing skills have improved, she has realized the amazing opportunities afforded to artistic grandmas. One of those is her endless supply of subjects to draw. Barbara plans to make portraits of them all. It’s no small task, but it’s one that has already proven hugely rewarding. With so many adorable grandchildren at her disposal, the only hard part is deciding whom to draw first.

Barbara’s first payoff came just last month when she presented two of her granddaughters with hand-drawn portraits of themselves. The girls were in town with their parents for a visit, and Barbara surprised them with these “living heirlooms.” Barbara had shown the girls scans of their portraits before, and they were amazed at what their grandma had accomplished. “I knew they [the girls] would have loved to have the drawings, but I wasn’t ready to give them up,” explains Barbara.

Several months later, with her granddaughters standing in her living room, Barbara realized that these portraits should be a part of their lives. She took them down from her ever-growing hallway gallery and handed them over to their rightful owners. “They were all smiles,” remembers Barbara, “excited and anxious to take them home and hang them in their rooms.”

Although she didn’t expect it, as Barbara handed the drawings over, she found herself struggling with her emotions. “As I was telling them I had something to give them, it was really an emotional thing,” she says. “I didn’t realize how attached I was.” 

As Barbara’s drawing skills have continued to improve, she has become more and more convinced that her art is an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy. “It’s fun to be able to share this now that I’ve reached the point of feeling like I can continue to make more drawings,” says Barbara. “It’s time to share them with the people who are excited to receive them.” 

During our talk, Barbara was reminded of a drawing of her grandfather that currently hangs on the wall in her sister’s home. It was drawn over 100 years ago, and yet it still captures the attention of everyone who sees it. “I wonder who drew that picture of my grandfather, because here it is today,” she says. 

Thankfully Barbara doesn’t have to wait a hundred years to see the effect her art has on its viewers. By giving away her art now, she’s able to share in the joy it brings to her family. Each of Barbara’s family heirlooms inspire a hug and kiss from their grateful recipients—a scenario far more rewarding than a wall full of hanging portraits.

As I think of the antique furniture, quilts, and dolls that remain a valuable link to my past, I realize that what makes heirlooms personal is having a relationship with the person who passes them down. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to form a relationship with my great-grandparents, I can be sure to develop and share my own talents with my loved ones now. That’s what Barbara has done, and judging by the smiles on her granddaughters’ faces, I have to believe it’s working well.

What about you? Do you have a story of how you’ve used your artistic talent to create “living heirlooms”? Does your family know about your artistic talent? If not, why? Leave a comment below with your story.

You can see more of Barbara's work at the 5-Pencil Method Community.

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