Catholic wife and mother of six Melissa Dayton, an accomplished painter and founder of Pearls of Grace Fine Arts (pearlsofgracefineart.com), uses her artist’s gift to educate her children, glorify God and promote respect for life.
Her work “God’s Escort,” depicting a human-like angel bearing a small baby to heaven, is intended as a help to healing for mothers who have lost a child, suffered a miscarriage or had an abortion. (Another highlight is her recent portrait of Pope Benedict XVI.) She spoke with Lisa M. Hendey about life, work and family.
How did you become interested in art and your vocation as artist?
Art has always been my thing. When my first two children were little, I didn’t paint. I went back to school in between those first two. Although I studied fine art, I actually have a degree in interior design that I have never used. I just wanted to be a mom. When our third child was a baby, a painting I gave as a gift was seen by someone who worked for a mail-order catalog. Through that catalog I painted 350 portraits.
That was God’s way of preparing me for my business, which up until now has been children’s portraits. I do see art as my gift; the vocation aspect is still a baby. I have always felt much joy in giving paintings, usually to people who have lost a child. Probably if we didn’t have a need for me to work, I would not be painting. God knows that, so he keeps me “needing” to paint.
I always wanted to use the gift for faith-based work, but the timing was never right. Before Pearls of Grace, I had done a couple of pieces that were great fun to do. I also illustrated the coloring-book pages for [a friend’s] first children’s book. Those drawings aren’t being used anymore because they were deemed by the publisher too complicated for small children. But they were a great confidence booster that led to Pearls of Grace.
Tell us a bit about your wonderful “Escort to God” ministry and your goal for this project.
“Escort to God” is my special painting. I had wanted to paint the image for many years. It actually started to take place when my oldest son was a baby. When I left college to have him, I started receiving letters and phone calls from friends and even people I didn’t know very well telling me about their abortions. It was frustrating that I couldn’t respond properly or console them. Over the years there have been more stories. I have felt such grief for them, perhaps survivor’s guilt because I had my baby. It is an awful loss.
As Christians, we are all called to reflect God’s mercy and love to one another. If we could only do that properly, no matter what the sin, the children of God wouldn’t be afraid to approach the throne.
I wanted “Escort to God” to be that: God’s instrument to heal those wounded hearts, to call the person gently to him. Not just for abortion victims, but for women suffering the grief of miscarriage or the loss of a baby.
My goal for the ministry is to see the painting bring healing or consolation to broken hearts and draw people back into communion with God. I would love to see it used in pregnancy centers and in post-abortion counseling like Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard.
How does a busy wife and mother of six find time to paint?
By the grace of God! It amazes me sometimes. It’s all in finding the balance if I have a job to work on. The older four children are in school. Usually nap time is best for working. Sometimes my mother or a friend will take my 4-year-old so she is not neglected while I work. There are days when dinner is grilled cheese and grapes, the house is a mess and the laundry? If you have a large family you know what skipping a day or two leads to. My husband is Superman and does more than the average husband. The older kids really help when I have a deadline, too.
There are days when everyone is sick, or someone needs Mom and I just can’t paint. Usually God’s timing gives me breaks when I need them.
An old friend told me nine years ago that, over the years for her business, she had never advertised. She trusts that God would adjust the work load accordingly. It is a leap of faith, but a good exercise in trust. For the portraits, it worked like a charm. His plan seems to be a little different for Pearls of Grace.
Are any of your children following your footsteps?
All of the kids are creative. My oldest is into drama and has the lead in his school play. My oldest daughter wants to be a writer. The next in line is very artistic, but doesn’t think he is — [a] sure sign of genius. The younger three keep their work to the refrigerator, their arms and occasionally the walls, but there is hope for one or two more in the bunch.
What would you say to women who have a dream or hear a calling similar to yours?
Pray, pray, pray. Make sure before you pursue anything that it is God’s lead and in God’s timing. Talk with your husband. Anything self-motivated usually fizzles out and distracts us from our priorities. There is a real push for women to do more than mother, to be a “productive” member of society by being involved. While sometimes we are called to service, remember: If Satan can’t make you bad, he makes you busy.
God brought us honest, good, faith-filled people to work with. Be willing to wait, which can be painful when you have invested so much of yourself. The reason he calls you to something or gives you a gift may be for something you haven’t even imagined.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two
and webmaster of catholicmom.com.