Risa Tritabaugh and her painting, Womanspirit Rising.
Risa Tritabaugh and her painting, Womanspirit Rising.
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As a 7-year-old, Risa Tritabaugh re-members being inspired by an art poster that her oldest brother brought home from college. "I saw that and I thought 'I want to do that, I want to be able to paint.'" She grew up in small towns in Minnesota "where there weren't art museums or opportunities for art, except in school," she said. After graduating from Eden Valley-Watkins High School in 1979-where she would give up study hall to take extra art classes-she set off for the University of Minnesota to develop her creative path.

Survival mode
While an art student and working at the University library, she met her first husband. "My life took a different direction, especially when we had two children. My focus was working and raising children." Her artistic spirit gradually closed down when her husband became abusive.

"I think that often people don't understand abusive relationships," said Tritabaugh. "They are not that way at the very beginning. You fall in love with someone who is charming and offers you something. But over time, [my husband] became emotionally abusive and manipulative, and eventually physically abusive. And, I lost myself in that relationship" she said. "By the end of it, my energy was put into surviving."

It was a struggle for Tritabaugh to get out of the relationship, but eventually she was able to leave her husband. "I went the whole gamut of getting orders for protection, which as my advocate said, was just a piece of paper."

Saved by art
She left the Twin Cities with her children and was able find a place where she felt somewhat safe. And, she was able to rediscover her creative self. "Making art was really what saved me. It helped me to reinvent my life," Tritabaugh said.

Making art during the long battle through the court system to protect herself and her children, Tritabaugh said, "helped me work through all of the difficult emotions. [Art helped me] to come back and find myself, to see myself as not a victim, but as someone who was a survivor. I was in charge of my life again." She also found a circle of women for support-women who had had similar experiences.

Her painting "Force of Nature: Womanspirit Revisited" is a part of a series that had its beginnings in the early 1990s. "This painting came as my divorce was being finalized and I really could feel that I had come through all the bad crap, the hell that had been my life. I could really feel the strength of coming through that hard stuff," she said.

Positive turn
Tritabaugh described the paintings in the series prior to "Force of Nature" as more dark, exploring despair, grief and fear. But this painting was really about "coming to the place where I could actually feel my power. I was feeling that load lifted, feeling more positive energy. I was able to move forward. I wasn't reacting to something happening to me," she said, "but I had the power to propel myself in the direction that I wanted to go."

Life is different for Tritabaugh today. "I'm in a place that I couldn't even imagine 20 years ago, of being able to work on my art and pursue my dreams," she said. "That dream was always there, of having the life I'm having now, but I couldn't feel that it could be real."

Now, her children are grown and on their own. She works full time as a social worker, primarily with moms, at the Southside Family Nurturing Center, a small therapeutic preschool in Minneapolis' Phillips neighborhood. She now has an art studio in lowertown St. Paul and is married to a man who is supportive of her artist path. They live in an artists' cooperative, surrounded by artists.

"I feel like I am pursuing my dreams," Tritabaugh said. "It's never too late to pursue your dreams. You can't put them on hold forever."

If you go:
You can see Tritabaugh's artwork during the Fall Art Crawl, at the Tilsner Artist Co-op, 300 Broadway St., Studio #507, St. Paul
Fri, Oct. 9, 2009, 6-10 p.m.; Sat, Oct. 10, noon-8 p.m., and Sun, Oct. 11, noon-5 p.m.

FFI: www.createdbyrisa.blogspot.com