If you were to ask me who I admire most in life, who inspires me, who do I call my "hero," my answer would be my Tutu. I already know what you're thinking. 'What is a tutu? Isn't it a ballet skirt?' Ha! Yes, yes it is. But it is also the hawaiian word for grandparent. In my case, I am speaking of my grandmother, Christine Hall Evans, who was better known in the Hawai'i art community as Chris H. Evans.
Eighty-two years ago today, she was born in a little place called Watertown, Tennessee. The oldest of three, she was born a child of the Great Depression. Times were hard. Families suffered. She found adventure and solace in books. A frequent visitor to the town's local library, she always had her "nose in a book," escaping to worlds far away and to a time and place much different than her own. Her dream was to one day become an artist. After graduating from high school, like most girls her age, she began working in Watertown's hosiery factory. Having only worked there for two weeks, she quit determined to live out her dream. Despite some discouragement from family members, she made her way to Nashville, enrolling at the Watkins School of Art and Design, and later becoming one of Nashville's top fashion artists at that time. Soon, she would find herself married, a mother of three and living the life of an artist in the South Pacific.
Although she worked with several different art mediums, she is probably most well known for her soft pastel portraits of the Hawaiian people.
One of her most favorite Hawaiian subjects was that of Princess Ka'iulani, the heir to Hawai'i's Royal Crown, following in the footsteps of her aunt, Queen Lili'uokalani. The above painting portrays Princess Ka'iulani as an adolescent.
My Tutu's talents seemed endless. She balanced life as a wife and mother beside art and craft fairs. She made porcelain dolls (the kind that don't scare me!) and handmade every outfit. She taught me how to sew, knit and crochet. She encouraged my sister and I to create. I'm sure part of it was to simply keep us occupied so she could work on a commisioned piece IN peace! Ha! Everything from art, to antiquing, to cooking, to the love of reading I can truly say I owe to my Tutu.
Words fail me as I try to shed more light on who this amazing woman was, and is to me, and to our family. To share it all would fill up an entire book, which is something I still hope to do one day. This soft spoken lady from Tennessee, who traveled across the Pacific and made her home in the hearts of the many who knew her, lost her life to a stroke 10 years ago last January, three days before my 21st birthday. I still can't believe that it's been that long ago. More and more, as the days go by, especially now that I am a mother, I see her spirit live on in me, in my daughter. I can see her in my sister, my aunt, and even in my brilliant uncle! The desire to learn, to love, to create, to dream thrives in us, her family. For all the beauty and strength that you are, Tutu, I thank you. I love you deeply and God knows, I miss you terribly. Happy Birthday.