When Alison’s mother first gave her a piece of chalk, she began drawing recognizable pictures, which, happily, both parents encouraged in every way. At the age of 4, her babysitter taught her how to use pastels, which is what she loves to do today. Says Alison, although I continued to study different art media throughout my schooling, the path my art took in college was interior design. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, I opened my own interior design firm and ran it for 20 years. But throughout that time, I always itched to recreate on paper the beauty I saw from my boat in Sausalito ‐ like a glowing sunset with Mt. Tam in the distance. Working initially in watercolors, I then saw a friend’s pastel and remembered the pastels from my youth. The next day I purchased my first professional soft pastels and the rest is history. I have now been drawing with soft pastels for almost 20 years, with many commissions and solo shows.
This year’s show focuses on our stunning California sunsets and landscapes. And I continue to be inspired by the unobstructed view of the water and Mt. Tam from my studio on the back of a 50′ yacht.
On Sunday May 14 2017 we thanked Alison Deal for her eight wonderful years in working to arrange beauty to our Sunday services, our Christmas services, and more. Below is the mystical story of how our beloved chancel windows came to be, interspersed with a few photos of our worship altar arrangements. Bless you, dear Alison!
Approximately ten years ago Sausalito Presbyterian Church started having art shows in Thomson Hall. I was intrigued by the idea of having a show of my own. My fellow choir members encouraged me to sign up for a month so I hesitantly did. I had only recently begun practicing my art again. I had re-found the media of soft pastel and remembered learning pastels as a child. The moment I picked up a piece of pastel the creativity I had lost for many years while working as an Interior Designer exploded out of me onto the paper. I was thrilled to do my art again and had many photographs waiting to be drawn.
So I signed up for a show that would start on Easter Sunday. I had several months to prepare. I began to collect pieces for a cohesive show. One Sunday I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary during church, which was unusual for me since I usually sat with the choir in front, on the side. This week we weren’t singing so I sat in the back in full view of our beautiful sanctuary. I noticed the curtains in the back of the altar and wondered what was behind them. I also noticed that there was a piece from the current artist showing downstairs on an easel in the altar area. I thought that was really nice and wondered if I could also put a piece of my art up in front during my show. After the service I went up and looked behind the curtains. What I saw through the diamond shaped mullions was San Francisco Bay and Angel Island. I thought it was a shame that the people sitting in the sanctuary couldn’t see the view of “angel island.” It seemed so appropriate.
I went home to my yacht in the harbor and threw my self into my work. In fact I threw myself into a fall and broke my left foot. For the next six weeks I was forced to strap on a walking cast and hobble around, which wasn’t easy. I decided to keep the show focused mostly on my sunsets. I am not a morning person. Most of my skyscapes are evening pictures since I’m rarely awake to see the sunrise. I worked and worked to get the eight or more pieces done that I would need to open the show.
Back then I would use my camera with regular film to photograph scenes. I never knew what I had until the pictures came back from development. I photographed many shots of the bay and Mt. Tam and lots of sunsets. The show was coming together but I still hadn’t found one that I thought would look good on the altar.
Since I was a new artist not too many people had seen my work. Joan Carter called me to make an appointment to see what I was up to. I think she wanted to make sure my work was appropriate for our church! When she came down to my boat and saw what I had she was happy to say that she thought my artwork would be fine! I was thrilled but nervous about showing my work to the public. I asked Joan about showing a piece on the altar.
She was not very positive about the idea; since I was opening on Easter, there would be many people working on the service, and flowers and banners and two services which would be packed full of people who only come to our church a few times a year. Joan said she’d try but I should probably not expect to be able to have any art on the altar that Sunday. I decided to pray about it.
A few weeks later I was awakened one morning with a loud bang or ringing or something went off in my head like an alarm! It was like a bomb and I woke up startled and sat up in the dark – it was only 5am! Something inside my head said, “GET UP and go out and photograph the morning!”
I wasn’t used to having a voice yelling at me in my head quite so loud so I got up. I strapped on my walking cast and bundled up to the cold. I grabbed my camera and saw that I only had a few shots left and no fresh film. I went anyway and carefully navigated up the slippery predawn dock with my bum foot and bad back. I worked my way along the water heading towards the ferry dock. As the light began to change I could see that there was going to be an amazing sunrise, with lots of clouds! I snapped and snapped but had to stop since I didn’t have much film. Finally as I sat on the ferry dock I waited to take my last two shots. The sky was ablaze with colors. I had rarely witnessed such a beautiful morning so calm and quiet, with just the seagulls and me to see it. As the sun crept out from behind Angel Island the light hit me in the eye and I snapped the last two shots. I felt like God had pierced through my eye. The brightness was a thrill I can hardly express, it was warm and loving and I felt in that moment completely at peace, like something wonderful had just happened. And it had.
I went home and started working. I just knew this piece was meant to be. The more I thought about it I decided this piece was destined to be in those windows. They were supposed to show everyone Angel Island and God’s glorious wonder of the power of creation that happens every morning as the sun comes up!
I put on my Interior Designer hat and decided to come up with a solution to my idea about putting the art in the windows. I thought, ‘okay it’s window treatment how about using cotton paper.’ Cotton is one of the best covers to use for window treatment since it holds up well in sunlight. I knew about cotton Arches of France watercolor paper from my watercolor years. I found out I could special order paper that would fit the unusual space and ordered it. At first I thought the art would be watercolor since I was using the paper made for watercolor and I wanted the transparency. As I experimented the watercolor just wasn’t right, I couldn’t get it to work the way I wanted it to so I decided to use the pastels. I also thought that since the pastels are pure pigment they would hold up better to sunlight.
When I got my photos back I knew I had what I needed. Although I would have to split the picture I could see in my minds eye that it would work. After only a little practice I drew up the two pieces in a few days.
As soon as I got the basic picture done I decided to take the unfinished pieces up to the church to see how they fit and looked. I had told Joan about my project but she was very clear that I was probably not going to get to show them on Easter. The day I went up to the church I took a chance that someone would let me in. When I got there Shirley was preparing for a wedding and the sanctuary was wide open! She helped me balance the pieces up in the windows with a little masking tape to hold them in place. We stepped back to take a look and both our mouths dropped open. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The light from the window was shining through as I had hoped and the colors came alive! Just then Joan happened to come by and she also was amazed. She said, “Don’t do another thing to them,” which I began to argue with. I had a few more things I was going to add but both Shirley and Joan said, “No leave it.”
So I did. I then had to get my framer to order special sized mats and we figured out a way to frame them without a backing to let the light through. Originally there was glass on both sides to protect the art. I attached clear clips to keep them in place. We have since removed the front piece to get rid of glare from lights, etc. (This actually could be changed now since there is glare-proof glass.)
I had them framed, brought them over, and Joan convinced the church group members that we should let them be shown on Easter Sunday. I was very nervous that day. After all I was showing my work for the first time, it was Easter (I was singing with the choir), and I was worried that all the committees and church members wouldn’t like what I had done. I was so surprised when I walked in and saw the banners that matched like they were planned. The flowers were exactly what I would have picked to match the art. The new fabric on the drapes and seats even coordinated perfectly! The choir wore all their own clothes and all our colors matched. Even the bulletin matched, it was all perfect. Well, why wouldn’t it have been perfect – it was planned from above!
The church decided in one week to buy my art for the church. Never had there been such a quick decision made about something so important to the look in our sanctuary. I think everyone saw how special it was. Everyone who sees it thinks it’s stained glass or they just don’t know, but they like it. A wonderful thing about it is that it comes down if it needs to, so brides can have what they want. It’s flexible and real just like our church.
The last thing I will mention is the thing that happened without any help from me, and that’s the changing light that moves during morning worship. The mullions move as the sun rises so we have a living piece of art just like it was that first morning. A gift from our living God.
So that is my story. It was and continues to be an affirmation to me, every time I see the art glowing, that I have to trust God’s plan for me. I continue to do my art and am currently ready to take it worldwide on my own website. I am nervous again about what people will think of my artwork, but I think it will be okay.