Babushka Madonna

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Babushka Madonna’s image developed during a time in my life when I was hunting for sacred feminine images that were more real and accessible than the typical Madonna image that is frozen in time as the demure, blue-cloaked young woman with downward-focused eyes. Only a fraction of women (maybe none) can truly live up to and relate to the image of the typical Madonna figure. I wanted more images of the Sacred Feminine that I could relate to. In particular, I was looking for sacred images that spoke to me at my stage of midlife looking forward to elderhood.

We never see Madonna images of the elder, wise, crone Madonna. Yet there is such beauty and strength in aging. There is sacredness in the wisdom that comes from living life. I wanted something that I could grow into. I wanted someone that could embrace me and guide me and be my mentor. I needed Babushka Madonna. The image of an older woman akin to an elderly Mother Theresa came to me.

As I was painting her, I took a jaunt to New York City and went to Ellis Island. I looked up my grandmother, Barbara (Bara) Súc, who emigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1919 at the age of 19. After a ‘phone a friend’ call to my maternal aunt to verify what I was uncovering, I found her.

I was stunned by the information gained via the ship’s manifests and my aunt’s knowledge. Bara Súc was a petite, but strong woman. She loved me enough to follow her pioneer spirit and her dreams and desires, and in doing so, she gave up the ‘known’.

Upon returning home, I set aside my Ellis Island discovery and continued painting Babushka Madonna. When my teenage son came into my studio and asked me why I was painting a picture of Grandma (my mother), I realized that I had indeed created an image of the Sacred Feminine that was very close to home. She embodied the spirit of my grandmother’s journey from young adult through elderhood and I could see myself in her, both in my past as a young woman eager to make my way and in my future as an elder woman filled with the wisdom of life’s lessons. I had created an elder Madonna image in her and in me that I could indeed relate to and embrace, that could guide me and be my mentor.

On the back of the original’s frame I wrote:

Grandma Bara Suc, my Babushka Madonna. So brave. Fear in every cell. Trusting. Left behind known – never seen again – because there was more, is more to be. Choosing more. Opening to me. An example to me. Risk it. Get on the boat, cross the deep water, land on the shore. Step into the unknown without pain, past fear. Life awaits. LIFE awaits. Life.

The original piece is 20 x 24″, oil on canvas. Completed 2005. It is not for sale, but images can be purchased on Fine Art America or RedBubble.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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