Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…


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“I’ll take that in mauve.”

I was reminded of a story yesterday. It seems as though I’ve told it so many times, but it was fresh to her — this woman purchasing my original painting of Brittany. Brand new. And as she got more excited to hear, I became more excited to tell. She had saved some of the first cards that I had ever sold, for over twenty years, one being “Mother’s Cloud.”

This particular poem I had written as a birthday gift for my mom. I wrote the words of my heart, and hers. Typeset them artistically. Printed. Framed. And it hung in her dining room. It was Rose Virnig who came into my mother’s dining room, looked at the picture, and said, “I’ll take that in mauve.” (As if I had some stock room filled with many colors.) I looked at my mom, and asked, without moving my lips, “Can I actually sell your birthday present?” Her response, in these exact words, “Take the money, Pea Brain.” It still makes me laugh these decades later.

It’s always been personal. Every sale. Every card. Every magnet. Every book. It’s my story. And yesterday, as I was sharing with this new customer (connection sounds better) some of the stories, they weren’t just fresh for her, they were fresh for me. And I shared them again with my mother, and they were fresh for her. Our stories are as real, as new, as powerful, as we allow them to be. They can transport us in time and space, and heart. They keep us living. They keep us alive.

The conversation with my mother switched from art to shopping, (as it often does.) What was the name of that store? The one where I bought that outfit? With shoulder pads? Oh, I got so many compliments on that outfit. You know the store – at Ridgedale – all the jewelry in front…It starts with a G. My brain kicked in after we ended the conversation and I had to call back immediately. It was Gantos. Oh, yes! Gantos. And we were young and in a dressing room in Minnetonka.

I will finish packing up the original painting today and send it off to California. It will carry with it a bit of France, a bit of my mother, a bit of Minnesota, a great deal of my heart. And it will gather in her stories, of why she saved the cards that she bought in Omaha. Why they gave her the courage to move to California. Why she bought the new painting. And the story will grow. Continue. Connecting us all.

As I look out the morning window, everything seems fresh, brand new, with just a hint of mauve.


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If she did worry, it never showed in her hands. She held. She gave. She touched.

It can’t be too personal. That’s what they taught me about writing at the University. The reader doesn’t want to know that anyone could have written it. They wanted to know that you wrote it. You knew it. You felt it. And you shared it with them. And so I did. 


When I paint. When I write, it is never generic. It is specific. It is personal. When I write about a house, it is a big, yellow, house, with a yellow so inviting, that if you were to walk by, just being you, it would call to you, “come in, you and your heart sit down.” When I write about my mother, people say, “Oh, that’s my mother.” “That’s my sister.” “That’s so me.” When I write about my heart, being overwhelmed or overjoyed, people say, “How did you know exactly what I was feeling?” And the power of these words show me, every day, I am not alone. We are not alone.


I made a painting of my grandmother’s hands. It has been purchased from Chicago to San Francisco. And I know that a piece of my grandmother gets to go there. She gets to pass over Wrigley Field, through the Magnificent Mile, into the loving arms of Illinois. She crosses the largest bridge a girl from Minnesota could ever imagine. And she shows them her hands. These strong and beautiful hands. These hands that could raise nine children, could also build bridges and stadiums, and we were not that different. We were a part of it all. She was. I am.

Each painting holds a story. Each picture, each phrase, is me, with my nose pressed up against the window pane, on Van Dyke Road, nearly wearing the window through with wishes and plans and dreams. Connecting us all, they would take me farther than I even dared to dream.