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  • Writer's pictureChristine Shuck

A Mural for the Decades to Come


On February 6th, we will celebrate eleven years of ownership of our beautiful old house. I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating - our house truly is the Writer's House.


I dug into old records and found the initial ad from late 1899, describing it...


Later research revealed the 1900 census form, which detailed Louise Abney, age two, living in the house. Louise would grow up to be a teacher, public speaker, and have excerpts of her writing published in children's textbooks.


She lived here for nearly all of her life, selling the house in November 1979 and passing away in April of the following year.


And while I have little information on the second owner, who owned the house for just 18 months before selling it, I have better info on Harold Dellinger, a retired parole officer and history buff. He lived here for over 30 years and wrote historical non-fiction about Jesse James and Billy the Kid, as well as a guidebook. And when the house went into foreclosure and neighbors purchased it, they renovated it and eventually sold it to us. And I have written at least eleven books since moving here in February 2013. I guess that makes me the most prolific writer yet!


In any case, you can see why I call this the Writer's House - three out of the five owners have been writers!

In the upstairs double room, Harold Dellinger contracted with a woodworker to install floor to ceiling bookshelves, which was one of the biggest selling points for me, book nerd extraordinaire. I stood in that room and told our future neighbor, "Don't put this on the market, we will buy it." Four months later we moved in and I have never once regretted it.


And while many projects have been undertaken, and many more are planned, the space above this fireplace, here in the library, was a space I dreamed of and held off from decorating for a long time.


I knew what I wanted. I had seen an image of it and knew the space was perfect for a blend of books and nature. When I found an image of it online, I knew I needed to create a mural that encompassed the concept. A dam, constructed of books. Below, a library, with a reading chair and light. This image here, was a great start...


I printed out a black and white version of it (no color printer available at the time) and set it on the mantel to look at and visualize. I wanted to do it myself, even tried to pencil in the basic shape, but it was far too big a project and I felt completely intimidated. Not just that, but I had book projects stacking up and no time to try and learn how to create something as big as this.


And then I thought of Aliyah. I had known Aliyah since she was eleven years old, when I had run across a Craig's List ad where she was selling farm fresh eggs. A homeschooler, selling eggs, and I was at the time trying to get some readership for my now-defunct homeschool blog. I sent a message asking if I could interview her. Later, it resulted in a lovely friendship between us and her parents, that continues to this day. Aliyah and I worked on an art piano together for a public art project for Kansas City.



Aliyah is now in her mid-20s and so talented. Far more talented in art than I could ever be. And when she dropped by during a birthday party last November, I asked her if she would be interested in creating the mural for me. She had her hands full with knitting Christmas gifts, but yes, she was interested. She asked me if I would mind waiting until after Christmas and of course, I was fine with that.


She began work on the 10th...


By the end of the day, she had the basic shape of it down and from the details above, I knew I was in for a treat. I gave her artistic license to create what she wanted beyond the basic concept. I didn't want a cookie cutter reproduction of someone else's work, I wanted her unique take on it. And she didn't disappoint.


By the end of last Friday, she had progressed in unexpected and delightful ways...


After I fell asleep that night, my dreams centered around the books that comprised the dam. I dreamed of them filled not just with the titles of my favorite books, but also my own books, and beyond that, names. Of the people and pets who have occupied the spaces in my heart. Each book representing a book of their lives, both now and in the years and decades to come.


I asked Aliyah, "Would it be okay if I added to the books over time? Adding new titles and names?"

She seemed to really like the idea and offered to fill in some of the books if I gave her a list of book "titles" to include. So I did this as she arrived today to finish putting the last touches on her beautiful vision.


When I create my stain art, I find myself returning to the tree of life, over and over. Which is not so dissimilar from how I returned, over and over, to that image I found of the dam of books. If you imagine our lives as books, then it really is perfect!


I have a long list of spines I will fill with book titles and names, but Aliyah started me off with this handful...


My eldest, my two youngest, the name of my first cat, even Baby Bean, a baby I lost around 13 years ago. Strange to imagine he or she would be a teenager by now.

I like the idea of adding to this over time. Making it an essential part of our home, and this life, that we have created together.


It's been a joy having Aliyah here these past two weeks. I can't wait to see what beautiful art she will share with the world in the years to come and I feel proud to house her first ever mural. If you are interested in a mural, or picture, or original piece of art, please message me and I will put you in touch with her. She's here in the Kansas City area for at least the next five months, but then is moving to Portland, Oregon, I believe. Wherever she goes, art is sure to follow.

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