Paige Crosland Anderson, 26
Lives: Salt Lake City, Utah
Nominated by: Carolin Siebert
Part way through my conversation with Paige Crosland Anderson, we are interrupted by a tiny, blonde girl dressed as a mermaid. It is Paige’s daughter Ada, or Merm-Ada as I am introduced to her. Paige and I had just been talking about the criticisms from other women that Paige had experienced as a young mum, she was telling me that she hoped her girls could grow up in a world where women were empowered and felt powerful no matter what situation they were in.
I watched Paige gently convince her three year old to return to bed and wondered at what point we all decided that there was only one way to do things, one way to be successful, one type of life to lead.
Paige has spent her life being led by her heart, being guided only by the next immediate choice she has to make and I think that’s what I like most about her. She married her husband Michael in 2009 when she was only 20 years old because she was in love. She had her first daughter, Ada, very soon after. Since that time she has had another daughter, Olive, graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Valedictorian title, earned a name for herself as an artist, relocated from Salt Lake City in Utah, to Washington D.C., to Bologna in Italy and back again where she has found herself renewing a twelve month lease for the first time in a long time.
Despite ditching the blueprint a long time ago, Paige is proud of who she is and believes there’s plenty more to come, so long as she keeps working hard, taking it one day at a time and embracing the unexpected.
Her sentiments are lovely, so is her art. Check it out here.
I was on your website and I was really struck by this line on your ‘About’ page that said you have come to understand your life and personal history as an outgrowth of your family’s, kind of like you see yourself as part of a bigger tapestry or part of a bigger story. I wondered if you could talk to us more about that idea and what it means in your art and in your life?
When I was starting my final thesis in school, I decided to do it on family history because I was really interested in genealogy and the stories that came before me. It began by me just looking up my family tree and reading all these names then looking at where they were born, where they had come from. I had ancestors who survived revolutionary war. I had ancestors that came across on the Mayflower. My grandma’s grandparents were French and immigrated to Canada then to California. There were so many stories! I was impressed by this reality that so many other people’s choices and legacies affected where I was born, where I am, my expectations of myself, what I expect from my daughters.
During this time I was also pregnant with my first daughter. I was painting and going through all this family history and kind of thinking about the legacy I want to leave her, what I want to pass on to her and what I want her to feel is important and worthwhile. I hope that came out in my work.
Did you always want to be a mother?
I did. I’m grew up surrounded by many beautiful, confident and talented mothers. My own mother balanced rearing children and working full-time with finesse, so I never looked at motherhood as something that would limit my choices in any way. As a girl, I didn’t anticipate being a mother so young, though! When I found out I was pregnant I was just sobbing. I told my husband, Michael, I felt like I was way too young. I was 22 when Ada was born.
Fast-forward seven months: we had moved to Italy and it was such a blessing to have this little travel companion. Because of her I had a reason to get out everyday, experience the city, and a reason to learn the language. I know it sounds a little counter-intuitive because of the messages we sometimes hear about motherhood, but she enabled me to learn more and do more and experience more. Plus the Italians love babies so I was always treated like a queen!
Sounds amazing. So what does being a mother mean to you? How has it changed you?
I always knew that I wanted kids…it’s funny I was in my Bachelor of Fine Art program finishing my final show and my studio mate had a difficult relationship with her mum. Her dad had left when she was young, she was her only child, and she saw her mum give up everything for her. She worked several jobs and just completely sacrificed everything for her daughter. My studio mate saw her mother’s identity get swallowed by her own and told me something like, ‘I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to lose myself for someone.’
While I was pregnant, she asked me several iterations of the question, ‘Do you feel like you’re dying?’ [Laughs] I was like ‘No! I don’t feel like I’m dying!’
There is this kind of death of selfishness though that I didn’t anticipate. But it’s way more than dying…it’s like rebirth. It’s like you become something new and better. I like who I am as a mum better, I feel like I am more other-oriented and more empathetic and more creative.
Motherhood has also taught me economise my time really well because the time I have while both of my kids are sleeping is limited. I get two hours on a good day so I have to jump right in and be productive.
My kids mean everything to me. They’re why I want to do art, they’re why I want to be successful, they’re why I want to make good choices. I think kids make you want to be your best.
I don’t want us to make a view of what the ideal woman looks like so narrow that there isn’t room for a thousand right choices.
Back to your art for a bit, what’s the full story? How did you arrive at the very accomplished artist that you are?
I always liked painting and drawing when I was little and I would do it all the time. As I grew, people often told me I should do something more practical like architecture or industrial design and I thought about it for like a minute but I just loved painting. I remember going on a drive with my parents and telling them I was worried about pursuing fine art because ‘making it’ felt like winning the lottery. My parents were nothing but supportive and told me they’d always have my back. Their support and that conversation has always meant so much to me.
I got accepted into the art program before I finished high school and never really looked back. I always had in my head that I would pursue art full time when my kids were grown, that when they were in school I could devote myself full time to this. But life always seems to have more interesting plans than we do.
After Mike finished graduate school at Johns Hopkins, I left a painting with my landlord when we moved from DC to Utah. Our landlord’s friend visited her months later, saw the painting I left at her house, and, as it turned out, she was an art collector in Utah. So I got this phone call out of the blue one day and she asked to come over for a studio tour, (which I thought was hilarious because I didn’t have a studio! More like a desk in our living/dining room) So she comes over, I have maybe three water colours and an oil study and she was so excited by my work. She told me, ‘I want to do a show in December with your paintings!’
I had a six month old baby when this happened and I thought, I’m not really in the season of my life to do this now. I guess what I’ve learned is that seasons don’t come when we think they will. I mean, I didn’t plan to have kids as young as I did, I didn’t plan to launch my art career with a toddler and a nursing infant, but opportunities come and you just have to embrace them because I truly believe good things come to people who are embracing and who work hard…
I’ve also always had the unfailing support of my husband, which has really empowered me and meant the world.
What about inspiration? If you’re being pushed to create more and generate more, do you ever feel like you run out of ideas?
Yeah, sometimes. A few months ago I went to the library and checked out about 20 big quilting books and went through with sticky notes because I was just like tired of the patterns that I routinely painted. I started researching early Mormon pioneer quilts and have become interested in those veins because then the actual pattern adds another layer of meaning.
But at the end of the day, painting is an outlet for me, it’s a meditative time. When I make time for myself to do it, I find inspiration in that time and space. I’ve never produced more work as consistently in my life as I have recently, and so far I don’t feel like I’ve run dry. Something that is true for me is that creating leads to more creativity. If you don’t feel creative, you should start creating. Just start something, and creativity will come as you make.
A lot of meaning and titles come from things I’m meditating on as I paint. Recently, I’ve been thinking about getting stuck in these routines, stuck in these ruts of life where everything you do is monotonous (and making my paintings can be very monotonous, I paint like thirty thousand triangles). What I love is that when you step back from monotony or the daily grind of life, laundry and dishes and whatever, there’s beauty there. There’s progress and creation and signs of living and I think that’s where the true beauty lies.
I don’t think the criticisms or the questions came from a malicious place…I think it stems from a belief that you need total freedom to succeed, especially as a woman.
I know exactly what you mean…it’s all those little parts that make up a whole life and there is something beautiful in that. So, looking back, what have you been the most proud of?
That’s a tricky one. There are moments when we’re all at the park as a family and the sun is hitting us just right and I think, This is everything. This is the best thing I have created, these happy moments. Or when my daughter comes home from preschool and explains consonants and vowels to me and I think, I made you, you’re so brilliant! This is so exciting.
I guess I’m really proud of providing a space for the people who I love most to thrive, to be creative, to love each other, to learn how to be good people. When someone meets me I want them to see someone who loves her life, who loves her family and confidently owns the choices that she’s made.
I’ve had experiences of getting openly criticised for getting married young, for pursuing fine arts, for having kids in my early twenties. From the outside, you can look at my choices and say that maybe I was backed into making decisions or didn’t feel like I had other options, but maybe what I’m most proud of is that I have lived my life deliberately and I don’t regret the way my choices have played out. I have a beautiful family and a beautiful life and I’m proud of that.
Why do you think people criticise such personal things?
I think, especially these days, people want women to be powerful and in big-time leadership roles. I want women to be powerful too but I want them to feel empowered in whatever situation they’re in. I don’t want us to make a view of what the ideal woman looks like so narrow that there isn’t room for a thousand right choices.
We went straight to D.C. after we got married and I was nannying for a 45 year old power-lawyer who had raised tons of money for Obama’s campaign and was working on a supreme court justice confirmation. She was really cool and had obviously accomplished a lot. I would hang out with her two young sons in the neighbourhood and the women at the pool or the park would always ask me, ‘Why did you get married so young?!’ It was like they wanted some excuse from me, you know, like, ‘Oh, because I was pregnant,’ like I’d had no choice but to get married at such crazy-young age.
I don’t think the criticisms or the questions came from a malicious place, they don’t come from a place where they are trying to tear you down. I think it’s the opposite. I think it stems from a belief that you need total freedom to succeed, especially as a woman. I have friends though that are free in every sense of the word but they just seem lost…they could do anything they want, they have a couple of graduate degrees, they’ve travelled the world, but they don’t seem like they have a focus or a centre in their life. For me, having my children and having responsibilities beyond myself, gives me more motivation and reason to work hard and strive for success. I think sometimes that lack of responsibility actually opens the door for confusion and impotence. It can pave the way to a lot of hurt.
I think a better thing to do than plan, is to just prepare. Work so you’re prepared to embrace whatever good thing comes your way.
What do you hope for Ada and Olive when they grow up?
More than anything I just want them to feel that they can do anything, that they are smart enough, that they are supported enough. I want them to tackle any dream they have for themselves and know that I am their biggest fan and cheerleader; that I’ll work to make everything good in their life happen for them.
I want them to know that if they want to be an astronaut or a princess or a teacher that’s okay. That there’s no ‘right’ just a ‘right-for-you.’ And I want them to be in a world where women are respected in whatever they choose to do, be it working as a CFO or working at home as a mother. I hope they don’t see Woman as one thing. I hope that they live in a world where women feel empowered and important in every role they take on, where there aren’t all of these false dichotomies creating various factions among women. I’m guess I’m pretty idealistic.
I don’t think so. I think that world can exist. Where do you see them, and you, in ten years time?
That’s such a good question. In ten years I see us in a house where I have a big studio that I can work side-by-side in with my kids. My girls bring in their homework or projects and we make together while talking about ideas and problems. I see us in a home that feels like a place where it is safe to let down your guard, to make mistakes, to make ourselves better. I see myself still trying to do it all, and still having to constantly recalibrate to make it all happen.
The thing is, in only five years my life is completely different that I would have planned—in a good way! I just had my fifth anniversary in April 2014. So five years ago I was single, in college, carefree. Now I’m married, with two kids, with art selling in a gallery. It’s worked out better than anything I could have planned so I’ve kind of given up on planning.
I was telling a friend yesterday, ‘I don’t plan anymore because what life has in store has been better so far,’ and I always just get frustrated that my plans don’t come to fruition. I think a better thing to do than plan, is to just prepare. Work so you’re prepared to embrace whatever good thing comes your way.
So many young women that we’ve spoken to have that same story. Why do you think it is that young women have all these grand plans? Like these blue prints that they think it’s imperative that they follow? Where does that come from?
Mostly likely from online. I think we’ve been told now that you can do anything you set your mind to. That’s true. We can. But the problem now is figuring out what we want and what we feel is expected of us and setting our mind to it. We stumble across these mindless Buzzfeeds like, ‘20 Things You Have To Do Before You’re 30’ and we read them and think, ‘Gosh, I haven’t been to Istanbul! What am I doing with my life?’ There are too many competing voices that don’t have a clue what your needs and goals are personally. They can throw us off.
There’s a lot of that and I know Buzzfeed isn’t serious but I think it lays this foundation in your subconscious that tells you: you need to travel, you need to become semi-famous, you need to be a top performer in your job and then you can settle down and think about yourself for a minute. I think it comes from a good place, people tell you when you are growing up that you are smart and capable and you can accomplish great things. I think it’s good to think big but it’s important to realize that as you’re shooting for one goal, you’ll probably hit another that’s different but just as good. And that’s okay.
So the last question that we ask everyone is, what should we be talking more about?
I think we should be talking more about encouraging each other. I think there’s a lot of talk about needing to be more tolerant, needing to be more open-minded and yes, that’s true, but we also need to be more encouraging towards one another. We need to accept that people will make choices that work for them, but would never work for us.’
Encouraging the good things in all of us can only bring about goodness in ourselves and others. We need to tell each other ‘It’s okay,’ and ‘I think you’re wonderful,’ and ‘I love you,’ a whole lot more.
I think it’s a great answer. So I will just throw in one last question then, what do you think the key to happiness is?
I think it’s a combination of two things. I think it’s other-orientedness. Inward thinking and inward looking only brings out the worst things in us. It makes us selfish and closed. I think when you focus on others, you realise Hang on, my life’s not so bad! and it enables you to form relationships that fill you. Maybe I’m an extrovert but I think other-orientedness is lacking in society generally. We’re told that your 20s is this time for you and only you. It can be the most selfish and mindless ten years of your life if you allow it to be. And you know what, in some important ways it has to be a little bit of that. You go to school to lay important foundations in your life. You figure out some core basics just for you. But too much of that, too much of this self-seeking and personal-gratification can just entrap you in yourself. It renders you incapable of truly seeing others and learning from them, and trusting them, and loving them. I don’t think it’s healthy and ultimately I don’t think it makes you happy
The other key to happiness is prayer. I am big believer in praying. I think it actually aids you in the first point I made. It allows you to look at yourself from the outside when you commune with a higher power. Most importantly, it makes you realise there are a lot of willing hands around you. That kind of assurance can sustain you through anything. When you’re struggling, there’s just a lot of peace and hope knowing that you have a network of support beyond what you could scrap together on your own. Prayer brings peace and it brings happiness.
Things I Love
Not just visual pattern, but the patterns that our lives weave and the tapestries of living we leave for those who follow.
It may sound cliche, but they are the best thing in my life. They have shaped me for the better and continue to shape me in ways I’d be unable to on my own.
Because really, is there anything better than seeing beautiful places and meeting beautiful people?