Spotlight is a new feature on the Exponent II blog to shine light on individuals or projects in the world of Mormon Feminism outside of book reviews. In launching this feature, I knew I wanted to interview Tiare Terrill. She is an artist and mother of five based in the Dallas area who I had the privilege of meeting when I was in her ward for a short time. This is part one of her spotlight, about her experience of being called back to art after years of mothering young children. Part two, discussing her cover art for The Book of Mormon for the Least of These, is forthcoming.
Tiare Terrill spent many years swept up in mothering her five children without picking up her paintbrush. But when Tiare’s oldest child and only daughter Kalee was nearly sixteen, she asked a question that changed everything. Tiare and Kalee were talking about Kalee’s future dreams and what she might want to study in school when Kalee said, “Mom, have you ever thought about painting? You should totally do it because you love art so much.”
The question was a record scratch moment. “I was like, oh my gosh, there’s a whole side of me that my kids don’t even know because I’ve been so immersed in motherhood.”
Tiare developed a love for art in high school and tried to keep it up as she worked, married, went to school part time, and had several kids in rapid succession. But an incident when Kalee was three years old led Tiare to put away her art supplies.
“I was into oils at the time. We were in a tiny little house, so the dining room table was where I painted. Kalee got into my oils and got it all over this brand new cloth dining set. Why I would have a cloth dining set with little kids, I have no idea. But I was like, alright, I’ll just pack it up until she is older.” Then with more kids and a move from California to Texas and all the challenges of mothering young children, nearly thirteen years went by and her daughter had never seen her paint.
“I was like, I don’t want this for her. When it came to myself, I was perfectly happy and fine with making that sacrifice. But when it comes to her, I don’t want her to give up these huge chunks of herself. I began to think about how I’m not mirroring what I’m teaching her.”
The thought of starting again after so much time was initially overwhelming. Insecurities crept in: Am I any good? What am I going to do with it? I’m going to spend all this money on art materials, and then what? But to quiet her fears, she decided she just had to jump in.
“I decided to take that part away, the questions about where this would lead to, or if it was going to just be for fun or if I was going to pursue this for work. That was my goal when I was younger, that was my dream. I decided to take that off the table and just focus on jumping back into it for the love of it.”
Tiare signed up for classes in painting and pottery at a local art studio. After a couple of weeks, she decided to keep the pottery class because that was new to her and she enjoyed it, but she realized she could continue painting at home on her own. Once she started, the work flowed out of her.
“If felt like my conversion again. I was painting like a mad woman. There was so much locked up in my heart for all those years that I hadn’t given the opportunity to get out. All of this was pouring out on canvas.”
Tiare was born and raised in Southern California. Her mom had been raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but left the Church and married her father who attended a different Christian church. When Tiare was about thirteen, her cousin’s family decided to reactivate in the LDS Church. This cousin became a lifeline to Tiare and led her to the gospel. One weekend when visiting her cousin’s family, she attended church with them. She had attended with her grandma before, but this time was different.
“I went to church and this feeling washed over me. It was this song, ‘I am a Child of God,’ and I was just done. Like, I don’t know what I need to do, but sign me up. I was like a sponge, I took everything in.”
Tiare felt she needed to get baptized, but being an active member of the Church wasn’t possible at home. She went to live with her cousin’s family for the remainder of middle school and high school.
After high school Tiare moved back home. She reconciled with her parents, whom she loved, and the Church remained a central part of her life. She met her husband David shortly after he returned from his mission and they immediately connected on a personal and spiritual level.
“We were two people who really had a love for the Savior. Although we come from different backgrounds that never felt like it was an issue for us. I think it was more of an issue for other people outside of our families. 25 years later it has never been an issue. At the end of the day, both of our hearts were going in the same direction. We were just compatible that way. We got married, and then had four kids very quickly. We were just in the trenches.”
Over the years, Tiare realized that while she loved the gospel and had a deep testimony, she had to unpack some the messages from church she had internalized in her youth and figure out the pieces she really believed. Like cleaning out the junk drawer, she went through a process of deconstructing her faith and identifying what was essential to keep. She learned to focus on certain core beliefs and let go of other ideas.
Like many women, being in the trenches of young motherhood meant Tiare put some interests and dreams aside, thinking she would one day circle back to them. So when Kalee’s question brought her back to her art, she decided to start again for herself and as an example to her children. Painting became an outlet for processing both the joys and hardships of life, and her completed canvasses began to pile up.
When an opportunity to submit to a local art show arose, it was her kids reciting her own words back to her that encouraged her to enter. After reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, Tiare had chosen the idea of jumping in and trying new things as a family theme for that school year. She wanted her children to try things they were interested in even if it scared them.
“So then my kids were like teasing me—’jump right in, Mom.’ So then I had to do it. But this was a juried art show. I think I ate a whole sleeve of Oreos after I submitted, because it was like, I don’t have an art background, I never finished school, I just took classes on the side to keep it up until Kalee was three. I was so out of my league. I had a major vulnerability hangover.”
Tiare submitted her work and a panel of art professionals admitted her to the show. But when she drove up on the morning of the art show, nerves overwhelmed her.
“I show up and see people, like real deal artists—the whole set up. And I have Home Depot wire, and clips, and we don’t know what we’re doing because I’ve never done an art show. I immediately got back in my car and started bawling. David had come to help me set up, but he was on his way to another job and drove separately. And Dave is knocking on my window like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t belong here. I’m just a stay-at-home mom. I’m not a real artist.’ And he says, ‘Obviously you got in, they saw something in your work. You’re here, let’s go.’”
Just like she was always telling her kids, she jumped in. She wiped away her tears and got out of the car. She set up her canvasses and as she started interacting with people, she began having fun. She sold one piece, and then another, until she sold nearly everything she had brought with her. Then there were requests for commissions. The response to her art was a sweet but overwhelming surprise.
In the years since that first art show, it has been a balancing act. Tiare seeks to find the right level of work without allowing painting to become all business and soul-sucking, and the right amount of time to devote to her family and other responsibilities. It’s been hard at times to find the right balance—at first it felt like she had to say yes to every opportunity that came her way. She’s had to get to a place where she says yes to the work she feels good about and decide it’s okay to turn away or say no to things when the timing is not right.
Tiare’s passion for art has been reignited, but so has her passion for mothers carving out time for things that feed their souls.
“As a young mom I felt that there was no other way to do it—to mother the way I wanted to mother without sacrificing this giant chunk of who I was. What I realized in the end was that was not the message I wanted to send to my daughter. Even though I was telling her to pursue all these dreams, I was not mirroring that. I am passionate about women carving out this time and not having shame attached to that. As women, we are really good at nurturing other people, but we also need to nurture ourselves.”