Thursday, September 23, 2010

Steve's painting given as AWEE's Spirit of Volunteerism Award

Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award
"Promise" painted by Steve Atkinson

Hello Everybody,

I'm pleased to present you my latest painting titled "Promise". It's a very special painting to me, and I was excited to do it for many reasons, but I think the most important one is that it's been done to honor a very special woman by a very special organization. Arizona Women's Education and Employment, Inc (or AWEE, from now on), is doing some incredible work here in Prescott as well as Phoenix, Arizona. What do they do? Well, pretty much what their name implies. In 1981, a few trailblazing Arizona women took on the challenge of changing lives through the dignity of work for the growing number of individuals relying on welfare. AWEE has been successfully investing in women, families and local communities through life and career success planning, training and support. To date they have served and supported close to 100,000 individuals on their career journey to obtain quality employment that creates positive changes and successful beginnings for themselves and their families.
AWEE provides a number of programs and services to unemployed and underemployed men and women. Their participants may be re-entering the workforce or seeking to improve their current employment situation. But to boil it all down to the basics, their mission is all about changing lives through the dignity of work.

The image of a pioneer woman was chosen, in part, because of the can do spirit of the people of Arizona, and a strong belief in self reliance. She is standing proudly and facing into a sunrise of a new day. The wind is blowing into her face, breathing life into the scene. I chose to have her holding a child, because 70% or so of the women who are helped by AWEE are single heads of households. A staggering number, and one that reflects a breakdown in the traditional family, and the strength of the women in our society.

As I work on a painting, I have a lot of time to think about what it is I'm doing, and trying to accomplish in the piece. I'm constantly asked how I come up with the name of a painting. Well, there isn't an easy answer since it's never the same twice. But they all have one thing in common, I never force the name, and trust that it will come to me when the time is right. Since this piece was for the AWEE Spirit of Volunteerism Award, as I was painting it, I spent much time reflecting on how one person could make such a difference in the life of another. It really comes down to living up to the potential of our Humanness. The simplest things can make the biggest difference in the life of someone who is in need. The name "Promise" was an easy choice for this painting, as it can have so many meanings . It stands for the Promise we've made to each other, to be there in our time of need. The Promise of God's Love to give us strength and to see us through the good times and bad. The Promise of a Mother to her child; in teaching what needs to be taught, and the Promise to let go when the time comes. In a larger sense, it also means the Promise to accept help when it's needed and offered. And, of course, the Promise of the rewards of a life well lived.

This is the first year for the Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award, and as the name implies, the inaugural recipient is Barbara Jean Polk. Barbara's volunteer efforts are legendary in Yavapai County. She works tirelessly to make the community she lives in a better place. Since this painting was going to be awarded to her, I decided to ask her daughter Julie, who just happened to be visiting from London at the time, if she would be the model for the painting. I think she was a little reluctant at first, but she soon agreed. She fit perfectly into the pioneer dress my wife Ann had sown, and with the addition of a period apron and baby we had our models (Thanks Julie, you were GREAT!!). The setting in the painting is a pond on the Polk's ranch, with which Barbara is very familiar. So with all the elements, it is a painting that will have more meaning than just an image. It's the things that she loves, and it makes me very happy to have been able to be a small part in giving back to this incredible woman. And I join with AWEE to say, Thank you Barbara!!

First of all, Barbara is a person who has devoted more hours volunteering to her causes than most of us ever do in a work day and her volunteerism started virtually the first day she set foot in Prescott back in 1956. Her resume summarizing her volunteer activities covers 3 full pages and an array of areas concerned with children in foster care, homelessness, mental illness, infant drug exposure, child abuse, status offenders, permanency planning for abused and neglected children, Prescott Arts and Humanities, and Prescott recreational services. There is obviously not enough room for me to cover everything, so I’ll just highlight a few.

Barbara was a founding member of Catholic Social Services, now Catholic Charities, in Yavapai County in 1976, and she was instrumental in expanding the services from a small one- room office to a countywide agency with many programs for the underprivileged.

For at least 30 years, Barbara has been involved in every level of foster care from providing a home to infants, to her appointment as a charter member on both the Yavapai County and the State Foster Care Review Board where she has served since 1979. Today, Barbara volunteers as a CASA, a court appointed special advocate, for children in foster care where she advocates for the best interests of children in the court system. Barbara is a co-founding board member of the Yavapai Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and has been a Big Sister to several young girls over the years.

I have barely made a dent in recounting for you Barbara’s volunteer work and the significant impact and difference she has made in the lives of the less fortunate here in Y.C., nor have I told you about the many local, state and national awards far too numerous for me to cover. What I want to specifically mention is the uniqueness of Barbara’s model of volunteerism. I think what I have learned from Barbara's unselfish model is just how much of a difference one person can make in this world. It reminds me of that old story about a man that was walking along a beach in the early morning. As he walked he would stoop over, pick up a starfish that had been stranded on the beach by the receding tide, and toss it back into the ocean. Someone who was also walking the beach at that time asked the man, "why are you even making the effort to save these starfish, there are thousands of them on this beach alone. You surely can't think you're making a difference?" The man stooped over and picked up another starfish and tossed it back in the water. "Made a difference to that one", he said.


Kelley Sanford said...

Steve, what a beautiful painting honoring what sounds like an amazing woman. How special to have her daughter be the model. So glad I found your work.

Antonia Lucas-Ruppert said...

Steve, you have captured the spirit of this woman and many who venture to unselfishly pioneer to help others. What an amazing work of art!

Maggie Frisby said...

these are just incredible!

José said...

Hi Steve,

As you know, there are many paintings, some of them showing a great technique and knowledge about colour and so on, and I'm a person who really likes that.
But few touch our hearts like this one that you've acomplished.
To come up with a painting like this, technique is not enough.

Take care,


fairy fantasy art said...

Its a Beautiful painting......

Gracia Molloy said...

Your writing, as well as your artwork, touches my heart. Why? Because there is a great deal of substance and meaning in what you share with others. I find that very inspiring. "Thank you."
Best wishes,
Gracia Molloy