DREAMING UP A STORY — Painter and author Wende Essrow creates her art in her West Falls studio, which is attached to the home she bought to become closer to nature, her source of inspiration. Photo by Lizz Schumer.
WEST FALLS — Wende Essrow has been painting and writing since she was a child, as a way to connect with the natural world, which she calls her “spiritual home.
“I’ve always painted what is beautiful. It’s always been my way of saying ‘thank you.’ Art is my prayer,” Essrow said.
After losing her parents, at a young age, the painter said she turned to art, as a means of self-expression, and to the natural world as her inspiration.
The former Kenmore resident said that, after her three children grew up and moved out, she relocated to West Falls, to become closer to the woods that inform her art.
“The kids think we’re nuts,” she said, with a laugh. “The floor plan isn’t anything special. It’s the woods that’s special. This is my peace.”
Essrow said that she knew she had made the right decision, when she looked out the back window of her new home and saw the creek that runs behind the house, a scene that was almost exactly similar to a painting, hanging in her spare bedroom, that she had painted, 15 years previously.
“I got goosebumps,” she said, about discovering the similarity. “I felt like I had manifested this blissful space.”
Essrow said that she uses photography, as a reference for her paintings. “I run, I ski and I always have a camera in my pocket. I’m always outside. If you’re always outside at sunrise, you see more than most people. If you’re an artist, you know how to frame it.”
Although her photography has garnered a following online, Essrow said that she is a painter, first and foremost.
“It’s slower. You can put your soul into it more,” she said, of the medium. “Painting is like poetry in color.”
After Essrow’s son, a graphic designer, taught her how to make art books, she began turning her photographs and paintings into stories. She said she “got bold” after that, and decided to take one of her books to Talking Leaves, an independent bookstore in Buffalo, “to see if they thought they were any good.”
Jon Welch, owner of that bookstore, told Essrow to call Marti Gorman, executive director of Buffalo Heritage Unlimited, a local press that publishes books about Buffalo, by Buffalo area residents.
That press was not able to print Essrow’s books, since it does not publish children’s books, so Essrow decided to look elsewhere, for a publisher.
“I was about to sign on with [a publisher out of Denver], when I got an email from Marti, saying they were going to do a kids’ book,” Essrow said. Gorman told Essrow to call Mark Donnelly, who is heading up an imprint of BHU, called Rock Paper [Safety] Scissors, which will distribute books by Buffalo authors with subject matter other than the city itself.
“Mark met with me and was very happy with the book; very excited about it being local,” Essrow said. “I was thrilled.”
“The Paintbrush Dreamer” by Wende Essrow
With that, “The Paintbrush Dreamer,” a children’s book of Essrow’s paintings that tell the story of how she ended up in her woods haven, was born.
“I wrote the story of my epiphany,” Essrow said, about her new book’s storyline.
During the day, the artist teaches at the Olmsted Center for Sight-Early Education Program, in an integrated classroom for typically developing children and those with special needs. Based on her experience with her students, Essrow said she wanted to help children “fall in love with each day.
“So many of them come in and they’re so overstimulated by technology; by so much screen time, they’re not feeling the ground. They’re not seeing the colors,” Essrow said. “I want them to slow down, to breathe, to see outside, each day. I want to say to them, ‘This is your planet. If you don’t fall in love with it, it won’t be here.”
The author and painter said that she uses storytelling, art and painting, in her classroom, to help students get enthused about literacy and see how writing stories and creating correlating pictures can make learning fun.
“I want the inspiration I get from nature to go on, to the next generation,” she said. “The students take so much pride in helping solve a story. Art, nature and teaching come together very naturally. I want them to have the knowledge and the passion to take care of what’s left [of our planet].”
Donnelly called Essrow’s book “a fun, very interesting project.
“Wende is a local person with a great story,” he said. “[The imprint is] taking Buffalo authors who are not necessarily writing about Buffalo, to give them an outlet for their voices.”
There are a variety of other books in the RPSS pipeline right now, including cookbooks and children’s books.
“Wende’s book is marvelous,” Donnelly said, of “The Paintbrush Dreamer.”
“To combine a narrative with these paintings is very cool. We love what she talks about, through the book.”
To Essrow, it all comes back to nature.
“It’s a lot about staying grounded,” she said. “When you lose your parents early, you need stability. Trees are pretty stable. When I was a little girl, I used to do my homework under this willow tree, that was like a green, emerald cave. I never got past it. My poetry, my paintings, it’s all about getting back there.”
Essrow’s “The Paintbrush Dreamer” will be released on June 30 at a book launch open house at the Burchfield Nature and Art Center at 2001 Union Road in West Seneca, from 4 – 7 p.m. The event will include a book signing and children’s crafts.