The following inspiring essay reveals Ingrid’s creative journey into art. She wrote this in gratitude to all the people who have influenced her creative endeavors, but also to inspire hope in budding artists. Truly anything is possible.
Originally published in the book Madness of the Muses – The Art of Ingrid Dee Magidson, Stratumentis Publishing, 2013, all rights reserved.
Looking Forward and Back by Ingrid Dee Magidson
I was born an artist.
It took me nearly 40 years to discover that. Looking back, it all lines up in a pattern or design that I couldn’t have arranged better if I had planned it. My whole family are artists or creative sorts. My father is a painter and sculptor and my mother a fiber artists. My twin sister is also an artist, one of my brothers is a musician and hair stylist and my other brother a collector of wild and endangered animals. I grew up surrounded by art and the creative insanity that goes with it.
My parents were born in New York City, got married very young, as so many did in those days, moved to Dallas, Texas and had four children before they were in their mid-20s. Everything was creative; my father would paint and invent crazy (and not so crazy) things to sell and my mother would weave magical worlds in her wall hangings. She made everything: our clothes and our ridiculously healthy meals (gray protein shakes with brewer’s yeast and god-knows-what-else inside). She was a ball of energy constantly doing something. Sometimes I would awake in the middle of the night to the noise of heavy objects being dragged across the floor. Rubbing my tired eyes in wonder, I would find my mom rearranging all the furniture in the house and polishing the wood floors. When you grow up with it you don’t know it’s any different from anyone else. But later I would learn that my home was far different from those of my friends.
Dallas in the late 1960s was a pretty conservative place. Bohemian families were certainly not the norm. My twin sister and I would be greeted at school dressed in our matching designer handmade outfits to wide eyed wonder. And my young and beautiful mother would come to PTA meetings dressed in her sexy modern clothes that would raise more than a few eyebrows.
Mostly it was crazy and positive, but sometimes the stress of all those creative spirits in our home would turn dark. One day I witnessed my father burning all his painting in a fit of rage and frustration. I’ll never forget my thoughts at the time. “If being an artist brings this kind of misery and pain, I don’t ever want to be one.” I vowed at that moment to live my life on the surface, never to dig past the emotional barrier of my soul. Eventually, the creative pressure proved too much for my parents too. They broke up when I was about 14 and divorced some time after that. From that point on, we all seemed to blow around, apart and together like leaves in a storm.
My sister and I had been dancing and modeling professionally during our high school years. After graduating, we decided to go to Europe and try our luck there. We had quite a bit of success and a lot of adventure, perhaps more than 18 year olds were ready for, but life decides what you can and can’t handle. A little older and a lot wiser, we worked our way back to Dallas.
The next several years were spent doing various jobs. It was a dark time. My vow of living on the surface was not producing much happiness. I felt lost and rudderless.
Having a twin sister is a blessing that it is hard to describe to those who don’t. Sybil understands me in a way I miss in myself sometimes and I do that for her too. We are unique parts of a greater whole, siblings, friends, confidants, and therapists, often feeling each other’s joy and sorrow. So many times we’ll pick up the phone to tell each other of a certain event, and find the other just had the same experience. I remember as a child, both of us being taken to the dentist for a checkup and finding the same cavity (our only one, ever) in the same place for both of us. It is no surprise to me we are both artists.
We challenge each other, of course, pointing out each other’s flaws, competing to see who can do better. I prefer to look at it as inspiring each other, however. We’ve taken turns leading each other through the forest of life. By the mid-1980s we had taken some interesting jobs (selling high-end computer systems, modeling, acting), but I was still unsettled. A Swiss man who had fallen in love with me while we were in Europe came out to Dallas to see me. He begged me to come back to Switzerland and live there. He offered stability, consistency, and safety, those things I thought I needed. I said goodbye to Dallas and my family, not expecting to return.
In October of 1986, my middle brother, Peter, had a terrible car accident, driving head-on into a concrete wall. He was thrown through the windshield and into the wall breaking his neck. Peter is a great looking man and if he had the temperament, could have been a model. Calling Europe in those days was not like it is now. You did it for birthdays or emergencies. So when I heard my sister’s voice on the phone, I knew it was bad news before she said hello. It grew worse from there. What would happen to Peter, would he live, be disfigured, or ever walk again? We didn’t know at the time. I spoke with my boyfriend and his family. These dear people didn’t hesitate to tell me that I must be with my family at this time. But it was my boyfriend who said with a kind of premonition, “If you leave now, you will never come back.” I assured him that was nonsense, of course I would.
Peter was a body builder and health fanatic. Though he had a steel halo screwed into his skull to keep his neck straight, he never gave in to the dire predictions of the doctors. He was not disfigured nor was he destined to be an invalid. After coming home from the hospital, he moved in to my apartment and I cared and watched over him as he healed. His recovery was nothing less than miraculous, far exceeding the doctor’s expectations. Aside from tiny scars in his forehead where the stainless-steel screws went into his skull, there are no other lasting marks. We joked that it was his thick skull that saved him. I mused privately that maybe it was those horrible vitamin shakes my mom made us drink.
Several months had passed and Peter was on his own; it was time to go back to Switzerland. But I couldn’t. I saw now that it was not my path. It was not from lack of affection or anything like that, it was just a nagging pull that it was the wrong direction, that something important was going to happen, but that Europe was not the place. If I went back there, I would probably lead a happy, ordinary life, but it was not my destiny and I knew it. I felt my inner voice calling, pulling me on. I followed my sister to Los Angeles to find what life had in store for me there. At least it would be different.
I have always felt and heard the quiet voice of what I like to call “my angel.” It might be my higher self, intuition, an angel, even God. In the Talmud, it is said that “Every blade of grass has an angel over it whispering, ‘grow, grow.’” In Hinduism they call it Guru, or one’s higher self, a greater spiritual mind that lives on a higher frequency or plane guiding our growth. Christianity talks about angels and our soul, metaphysics about spirit guides and modern psychology simply calls it intuition, a leap of understanding from the subconscious mind. I leave it to each individual to discover their own belief and path. For me, this voice has been my guide, protecting me from danger and guiding me to my life’s purpose. But it is simple, when I listen, I always go the right way.
When I was a very young child, maybe three or four, my sister and I were outside playing in our front yard. It was a warm spring day in Texas, and my mother had left the screen door open so she could hear us. Two pretty blond twins by themselves playing in a suburban yard. We looked up and saw a black car drive past our house, slow down, then back up into our driveway. I remember it now, like watching a movie in my mind. There was a woman driving, too deep in the shadows to see, and a man sitting in the passenger seat. He opened his door and called to us. “Come on over, I have a special toy for you to play with. Come over, it’s OK, your mom said you should get in and see the toy.” My sister, Sybil, always the adventurous one, walked up to the open door to see this mysterious toy. I stood behind the open door looking into the man’s face. I’ll never forget his eyes, cold and dead, and he had a dark mole on his temple. My inner voice was now screaming at me “Evil. Stay away!” But at that age you are taught to listen to adults, trust their authority and I stood frozen in place. “Come in and you can have the toy.” The woman urged. Sybil edged closer, barely a hand’s grasp from this strange man, so curious about this special toy.
“Lunch time! Time to come in girls.” My mother called from inside our home, oblivious to the dark drama unfolding in the driveway.
Sybil had been leaning into the open door, reaching for the toy. When she heard my mom’s voice, she leaped back and said, “We have to eat lunch now. But you can join us.” She brightened. “Come have lunch with us. I’ll tell my mommy.” They mumbled something, but didn’t follow.
Once inside I told my mother about the strangers and the offer of a toy. Sybil asked if they could join us for lunch. My mom’s eyes went wide and she bolted from the house. The car had been facing outward for a quick escape and was already halfway down the block when we reached the street. We saw it turn the corner and disappear. I still shudder to think how my life could have changed that day if my mother hadn’t called when she did.
Once in Los Angeles, I found life not so different from Dallas, jobs, night-life, hangovers. The call for meaning scratched at my closed door. Once again it was a man who pulled me away, promising security and ease. He was from New York City and was visiting Los Angeles. My sister wasn’t pleased. “How can you be interested in this guy?” “I don’t know,” I said, “but I feel that he’s going to take me to the place I’m supposed to be.” Looking back, I realize how prophetic that was.
It all seems so quick, in retrospect. I was only in my mid-twenties. But at the time it seemed like a lifetime. I won’t go into all the gory details, but give you just enough to know how I ended up in Aspen. We got married and I moved to New York, where I was desperately unhappy, but put on a brave front. This was the man who was to lead me to my destiny, so why didn’t it feel right? I made the most of my time in New York. One of my husband’s acquaintances, a woman close to my mother’s age, became a close friend. Her daughter had died of cancer as a teenager. My friend dedicated her life to finding a cure to childhood leukemia through cancer research and treatment. One of her goals was to raise enough money to add a special pediatric unit onto a prominent hospital in New York City. I helped with her fund raising efforts and am proud to have been a part of something so important. The pediatric cancer center, dedicated to her daughter’s memory, was built in 2006 and helps many children to this day.
In the first summer of our marriage, my husband suggested we go to Aspen, Colorado for a vacation. I initially refused, not wanting to be around all the glitz and glamour I imagined there. He had family in Colorado, so he insisted, and we went. Of course, once there, I fell in love with the place, the mountains, the air. I felt in my heart I was finally home. After all these years of traveling and searching, I knew this was where I was supposed to be, where I was to find my purpose. I cried most of the way on the flight back to New York. “I can’t raise a family and live in New York.” I had tasted my destiny and saw where I was supposed to live.
In 1991 we moved to Snowmass Village (the ski town just outside of Aspen). I was only 26 years old, but it felt as if my life had been very long and complicated up to that point. I began to feel the thin air of the mountains carrying me forward. I won’t go into all the reasons I shouldn’t have been married to my first husband. I will only say simply that it was a very poor fit, we were too different. He found my spiritual leanings foolish and had no interest in art or culture. I went out to find work so I would have some autonomy and my own money. That’s when everything changed.
My friend (the one who built the cancer center) and her husband were visiting us from New York. I told her that I wanted to work in an art gallery, to be around fine art. She was kind, but discouraged me heartily, “You have no experience, no art degree, not even a basic college degree, what can you offer?” She suggested I work at what I knew. I had done well selling high-end clothing in Los Angeles, there was plenty of that in Aspen. I know she was trying to be helpful, not see me get rejected, but her words burned in me like a challenge rather than motherly advice. During my walks around Aspen, I enjoyed window shopping. Every time I passed the Magidson Fine Art Gallery, I felt a strong pull.
Now things got interesting in my life, well, more interesting. It was a beautiful January afternoon, in 1992, clear and cold. The sky was cobalt blue, a color you see almost every day in the Rocky Mountains but never take for granted. I walked into the Magidson Fine Art Gallery to pick up an application, make an appointment or just see if there was a position available. Jay Magidson, the owner, was there in the back of the gallery. He stood up, walked up to me and said, “You’ve come for a job interview.” It wasn’t a question.
The previous salesperson had left in December. Jay had been running the gallery by himself since that time. He knew he needed to get help, but had hesitated to put an ad in the paper, “That’s not how you get good employees,” he mused, “the right one will come on his or her own.”
Jay and I sat down and talked about the job, about art, about a million things. I was supposed to take my friend and her husband to the airport that afternoon but stayed in the gallery, barely getting them there in time later. We had talked for almost two hours. By the end of the interview, he offered me the job. Jay told me years later that he had fallen in love with me as soon as I walked in, had heard a voice in his head say, “That is the woman you should be with, should marry.”
I started working as a salesperson for the Magidson Fine Art Gallery. It was a terrific job. The gallery was full of wonderful modern and contemporary masters and a handful of innovative emerging artists. Jay is a natural teacher and led me through whatever I didn’t know, never embarrassing me. “Anyone can learn art history,” he said, “but you are born knowing how to engage people, that’s why I hired you.” It didn’t take long before I was selling art like a seasoned pro. I loved working there and getting away from my unpleasant home-life.
Jay and I became great friends, sharing everything, sometimes talking an hour or two after closing. It was so easy, so natural. Don’t get me wrong, it was never inappropriate. Jay knew I was married and never crossed that line. He had ended his own marriage years before and would never interfere in mine. Besides, I put on a great show of telling everyone how happily married I was. Jay had no reason to think there would ever be anything more than friendship. It was an odd time for me, split between these two worlds; on one side an unhappy marriage and on the other, art, friendship and a growing love for Jay. My heart was telling me that this was the man I was supposed to be married to.
When I was very small I had a premonition about my life. I knew I would marry and work with my best friend and we would have two children, a boy and a girl. It was such a simple and childish vision that I put it aside, though never forgetting it. During that first year of marriage, I would look sideways at my first husband and ask God, “You told me I would work with my husband who would be my best friend. Why is it so difficult to work and be with this man? This can’t be right.”
About a year and half went by in this way and finally, my marriage was done; I called an attorney and moved into my own apartment. In the winter of 1994, an art dealer friend of Jay’s was visiting Aspen from Belgium. We took him out to dinner and later went to a nightclub for cocktails and dancing. We all had a few drinks in us. Outside the club, without thinking, I grabbed Jay and kissed him, “put my tongue down his throat,” he likes to say. That’s all you get to hear about that, but needless to say, it was the beginning of a love affair that is 20 years old and counting.
Jay and I got married in June, 1996.
I continued to work with him at the gallery in Aspen, becoming his partner in most ways. There are so many parts to running an art gallery, exciting and different from any other business. One unique aspect is working with artists. Jay is naturally good at this, he says it is because he studied to be an artist as a youth. Maybe, but I think it takes something more, an honest curiosity and love about art. This was something we shared deeply. One of the artists, Eva Cellini, connected with Jay and me in a deep and lasting way. I was drawn – no, that’s not the right word – inspired by her work.
Eva was in her late 60s when I met her and I was in my late 20s. The age difference meant nothing to either of us; we became great friends, sometimes speaking for hours on the phone. She probably won’t admit it, but she is a philosopher and has taught me so much about life and art. During the years in the gallery, I sold dozens of her paintings, in love with each one. Sometimes regretting seeing them go, always happy for the collector who got to own them. I have several of her works in our home and am still inspired by them every day.
During the many times I visited Eva in New Jersey, I learned about the life of an artist. It was magical to me, intriguing and inspiring. I saw how she organized her home, her time and her life around her art. She did not paint at all hours of the night, wear ridiculous outfits or do any of the clichéd things that artists are reported to do. She was disciplined, focused and dedicated to her craft. Much later, when I was an artist myself, she told me, “An artist doesn’t always have to be painting to be working. The process goes on all the time. You are thinking about it, dreaming about it, working out problems and challenges when you are going through your day, cooking, cleaning or sleeping. You are always working.” It was this advice that helped me realize that I had always been an artist, far before I had picked up my first brush.
Eva is now 88 and still inspires me as an artist, as a person. Her health has slowed her down, but still she goes to her studio and paints nearly every day. Next to Jay, she is my best friend and mentor. I don’t know if I would have made the leap to become an artist without her inspiration. I know it would have been much harder. I love you Eva.
Through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Jay and I worked side by side in the gallery, making a wonderful life for ourselves. In 1998, I brought my first angel into the world, my daughter, Isabella. But I think I saw her long before that. Before I was pregnant, I woke to the vision of a young girl lying beside me in bed. She was turned away from me, her long dark hair laying on the pillow beside me. Her hair and chiffon blouse billowed as if by a soft breeze. I felt so much peace and love. When I realized that I was awake and looking at an apparition, it disturbed the moment and the angel swirled away. Dream, vision, whatever you want to call it, I am convinced it was Isabella’s spirit coming to me before she was born. She is a gift. In October, 2000, we had our second angel, a boy, Teagan. He is a ball of energy and wisdom, curious and alive. I am grateful for my children, how they have enriched my life and anchored me to this world. Any parent will share with you the challenges raising children, but they will also share with you the immense love that they bring to your life.
Being an artist and mother is a unique challenge. There will always be bumps in the road, unexpected distraction and daily interruptions; however I am reminded every day that I have been given a gift, that art and motherhood are my purpose and responsibility. It is my obligation to give it back. But mostly I want to be an inspiration for my family.
I didn’t come to be an artist easily, though it was always there. I resisted it terribly, unhappily going a different direction. It is easy to say that now, looking back, but looking forward in those years, I only saw unchanging sameness. It would take the anxiety of middle age to break through my carefully crafted walls. But break through I did and now I look forward, not at sameness, but at unending creativity and beauty. I wish this for every person alive – find what you love and do it.
One often meets his desiny on the road he takes to avoid it.
– Jean de La Fontaine