Artword: “Glass Menagerie” by Crystal Haueter
Article By Elizabeth Christensen
I first met Crystal Haueter when we were young mothers living in Sacramento, California. Petite, with dark hair and a few freckles, slender features, alert eyes, full of purpose; there was something about Crystal that was striking. Maybe it was her quiet seriousness or early maturity that drew me to her.
We became good friends in the Sutter Ward, where we were both raising our young families. Our husbands were students at neighboring universities, and we were learning to manage it all: babies, schedules, budgets, callings.
I remember it mostly as a time of longing for more sleep. There was always so much to do, and yet at that time in our lives, getting together with other moms to swap childrearing disasters and successes, recipes and bargains, was as critical to our daily sustenance as the peanut butter and jelly lunches we ate while our kids played and we talked.
I can still feel the sand in my toes and the sun on my arms, the days when we brought our conversations straight to the buckets and shovels so we could help our two-year olds dig and mold while we solved all of our (and their) problems. They were conversations frequently interrupted by “Jessica! Sit down before you fall off the slide!” or “Just a minute! There goes David toward the gate!” as one of us would run to capture an escaping toddler.
We were so busy just learning to be moms, that it was a long time before I realized what great artistic talent Crystal had. I knew that her husband painted the apartments in the student complex where they lived and that Crystal mentioned painting occasionally, but I just assumed it was a small hobby. It wasn’t until another friend in our ward mentioned one Sunday that a painting of Crystal’s had been chosen for the inside cover of the Ensign magazine that I was even aware that somewhere, somehow, Crystal was able to squeeze brilliant, creative moments into her life.
The next time I visited her apartment, I remember looking with heightened interest at the carved pumpkins lining the top of the fence around the tiny porch and feeling a tinge of jealousy – not that the pumpkins demonstrated great talent. They were simply the creations of 2-, 4- and 6-year olds. But rather that Halloween was still three weeks away and somehow Crystal had already found the time to carve them with her kids. That was just Crystal.
Priorities in Line
I always knew that family came first with her. By her conversation and actions, it was clear that she had her priorities in line. I learned much later that an art teacher had once told Crystal she should put her kids in daycare and paint full time. But Crystal just continued painting when she could and taking an art class when it worked into the family’s schedule.
Crystal’s philosophy was, “When I chose to have children, I also chose to raise them.” And she lived what she professed. Crystal would choose helping her 6-year-old daughter prepare a Primary talk over a chance for extra girlfriend time at a Tupperware party.
Crystal was always one of the first to sign up to bring a casserole to a new mother, and she might be unavailable for social events if there was a need within her extended family. But if I really needed to sit and talk just a little longer because something was bothering me, I knew Crystal would stay and listen. I trusted her insight and knew that when it came to Gospel values, there were no gray areas. I was looking hard for examples at that time in my life. I was looking for people who I wanted to pattern my life after. Crystal was one of the best.
Several years passed. Crystal and her family moved to another part of town and into another ward. It’s funny how that can feel almost the same as moving to another state or even clear across the country. But then, we didn’t have cell phones or email back then. Maybe it would be different now.
I saw Crystal infrequently during the next few years, but always searched each issue of the Ensign for something she’d created. More years passed. We must have run in to each other at the grocery store or at a women’s conference; I can’t remember. But even in short conversations, she touched my life.
Somehow the subject of school dances came up. Our oldest daughters were the same age. Jessica, 12 now, had been begging and begging to go to the first junior high dance. Her pleas were fresh on my mind as we took five minutes to catch up on the time that had passed. I mentioned the dance to Crystal. She said without hesitation, “We’re asking Naomi to wait until she’s 14 to go to dances, just like the Church recommends.” She didn’t say it piously, just casually and naturally. It came easily from a life comfortable with keeping Church standards. It was the calm and unbothered way that she said it that taught me.
Joy and Passion
Another few years passed. I almost didn’t recognize Crystal as we passed each other in the parking lot at California State University. “Wow! What are you up to?” “Are you taking classes here too?” I asked.
Crystal was finishing up her fine arts degree. I could tell the experience agreed with her. There was joy and passion in her face. How can you catch up on several years in the space between classes? My heart ached for the days when we had had hours at the park with our babies. I knew she wouldn’t disappoint me, though. She would say something that I would be able to think about for a long time.
“I have this art class,” I heard her say. “The instructor showed us a palette of ten or eleven shades of gray and asked us to look at the difference. Everyone in the class began to search for some way to tell them apart.” They strained, asked for more light, but still could not distinguish any difference. Crystal’s voice became passionate. “But I could see it! I could see the different shades!”
It was many more years before I would understand what it means for an artist to distinguish between shades of gray so subtle, that it is only the final effect of their uses in a painting that the untrained, ungifted eye can see. But the final effect is remarkable, breathtaking.
Our lives are still busy. But it is a different kind of busy now. We have taken those long days of patience, of shoe tying, of answering a thousand “why’s” and have started our mid-life careers. We are working moms. Crystal is teaching art and working on her graduate degree back in California and I am on the East Coast, working in the development department at Southern Virginia University. One of my greatest joys is planning an annual art show to raise funds for student scholarships and for the fine and performing arts department. Dozens of talented and renowned artists come from all across the country to participate in this yearly show.
Last year, as I began contacting artists for the show, I thought of Crystal. I hadn’t spoken to her in years. I wondered how she was doing. I hadn’t seen any artwork of hers in the Ensign, but had kind of forgotten to keep looking. But now, with artists fresh in my mind, I searched her name on the internet.
On an obscure link, with all the text in Spanish, I found a painting by Crystal Haueter. It was stunning. It was a religious piece. Rich, deep colors filled my computer screen. A woman, seated at the feet of the Master, is wiping his feet with her long, black hair. She is staring intently into his face.
We can only see the Savior’s profile. But the faces of the others gathered in the room are intent and moving. They are listening, watching, learning. The painting, though there are no shades of gray that I can see, has great detail. It if full of life and color. I saved the image to the desktop of my computer, where it has since remained. I never tire of looking at the complex scene, with its interesting people and soul-stirring theme.
“Seest Thou This Woman” by Crystal Haueter
I searched for and found her contact information. She answered the phone herself when I made the call. I said hello and asked how she was doing. I explained what I was working on and asked if she would like to participate in the art show. She was flattered, but with her familiar and thoughtful manner, said she’d have to think about it and get back to me. She was just starting graduate school and had her senior art show to prepare for; she was teaching art classes. But in the end, it all worked out.
Less – Yet More
I remember the day her paintings arrived at the university in large, heavy crates. It felt a little like Christmas. I was anticipating rich and vibrant colors, interesting faces, curious clothing and water jugs, ancient items of curious workmanship. The crates were not easy to open. They were sealed as if to say, “It’ll take some work to see the beauty.”
The light in the sports arena where I was opening the crates was dim. The tough pressboard finally released its screws and I had the first cover off. The first painting was wrapped in a foam blanket. I was careful, but anxious to take a look. It was a still life. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I had been waiting to meet new characters from long ago. I was expecting rich color. And here, staring back at me was a menagerie of glass bowels, vases and electric insulators of slightly varying shades of white, beige and gray.
I set the painting aside, ready to view the next. This crate was just as hard to open. Even harder. Finally, I was pulling the foam-wrapped painting away from the crate, sure that this would be something similar to the computer desktop image I was so familiar with.
Again, there was not much color. It was a painting of the Savior, his mid torso, his hands modestly, barely, displaying two marks, almost as if to say, “Yes, there was a miracle here.”
I’m glad for this. I’m not particularly fond of paintings of the Savior. They rarely come close to what I feel. How can you possibly depict deity? But in Crystal’s painting, the view was obscured by a veil. That makes it easier, I decide. More reverent.
I bring the painting closer to the dim light fixture. The more I study the painting, the more reverent I feel. The veil. How did she do that? I turn back to the Glass Menagerie. I move it over toward the light too. The light. How does one paint glass or capture reflection and light beams and angles of light beams? I put the paintings against the wall and step back. Both paintings are nothing like I had expected, yet more than I had imagined. How is it that these two paintings can be so captivating without bold colors?
I think of my many trips from California to Utah to attend college and family reunions, and how most people always complain about the stark Nevada desert. I used to agree. I used to want lots of green, lots of definition, lots of color – until I married a man who had grown up in the Nevada desert; a botanist who loved the land and who taught me how to watch the mountains move as we drove past them, how to look for the hundreds of subtle colors in the rocks and the earth. I discovered that even the clouds are more beautiful over the desert as the sand reflects back to them.
Somehow, a willingness to be patient with life, to learn from others, young and old and to wait my turn had changed me. I remember my change of perspective about the desert’s subtle colors and look at the paintings with new eyes. They aren’t jumping and yelling – just quietly moving. I can see that now. And I like it.
There are hundreds of subtle colors. I can see beauty and light reflected. Now I understand. I now know how Crystal has achieved success and beauty without bold colors. She is teaching me again. She is sharing with me what she has learned from a life of perspective; the value of patience and listening and seeing. She is showing me shades of gray.
The Sacramento Bee has listed Crystal Haueter as “one of top ten up and coming Northern California artists worth watching.” Crystal has earned a B.F.A. Studio Art, from California State University, Sacramento (magna cum laude) and is a recipient of the Graduate Scholars Fellowship, working on her M.A. at the University of California, Davis. To see works by Crystal Haueter and other outstanding artists, visit www.svu.edu.