When I was a young art student and I walked into my first figure drawing class, I was very uncomfortable. When the unclothed model took her first pose, I was flush and red in the face. It didn’t take long even on that first day, that I got over being uncomfortable and enjoyed the challenge of drawing the human body. I soon realized the benefit of practicing figure drawing. Each model presented a new challenge and my ability to draw improved. During countless sessions, I drew and painted all body types: female and male, tall, short, thin, heavy, black, white, duos, dancers, construction workers, and even a couple of very pregnant models. I thought each and every one was beautiful in his/her own way. That is until I encountered Breda. She was old.
While living in Saint Louis, I took painting courses at Washington University. In one of my painting classes, our subject matter was the human body. Breda was one of the instructor’s favorite models. The first time she showed up to model, I thought, “Yuk, I don’t want to see this old woman naked.” Breda was seventy-something-years-old. As a twenty-two year old, I thought no way could anyone that old would look good and be worthy of drawing. When Breda removed her robe, she revealed a pot belly, saggy flesh, and veins showing through her thin skin. I thought, “Okay, get over it and draw.”
By the end of that first session, Breda had become my favorite model. Her body revealed great character and I could sense the history of a lifetime of living. What I noticed more than anything is that Breda’s gentle beautiful spirit shone through even though she was not saying anything and sitting perfectly still. Her beauty radiated.
I was particularly drawn to the beauty of her hands. They were somewhat gnarled with knotty joints, veins showing through, and with age spots. I loved her hands. Even though most people think the eyes tell a story, I thought and still think, “The hands tell the story and are a true reflection of a life lived.The older the hands, the more chapters that are revealed.”
For the next two semesters of that class, Breda was our only model. Most of the time she was nude but at times she was would add accent accessories such as a large hat or feather boa. During breaks, Breda and I chatted and soon became good friends. Many times she would bring me homemade goodies. She was an excellent cookie baker.
I appreciate the time I spent with Breda. I learned a great deal. Not only did my drawing and painting skills improve, I learned that age has nothing to do with beauty. Beauty truly does come from the inside.