For nearly two decades Ulrike Guthrie has not had to worry about how to fill her free time.
Like so many other women she has rarely had any.
She’s a wife, she and her husband own a home where they’ve raised their two children, and she works as a professional book editor.
Hobbies were but a distant memory.
Two years ago as she and her husband were in the midst of a quiet drive home from a friend’s wedding out of state, Guthrie realized that her life was entering a new phase.
With one child away at boarding school and another gaining more independence each day, Guthrie found that space and time were slowly creeping back into her life.
“It sort of dawned on me that I was finding myself with more time on my hands, and it had been so long since I’d had any that I didn’t quite know what to do with it,” she said recently from the living room of her Bangor home.
In pondering her future, Guthrie reached into her past.
She dug out a treasured but long-unused set of Rembrandt pastels that her German grandmother had given her 30 years earlier. She opened long-closed tablets of pencil sketches she had made as a child.
Guthrie is one of five children. Each summer when the family was on holiday in the Swiss Alps her mother insisted that each day the children sit quietly for a time and sketch.
“I think it was her way of ensuring that we stopped to appreciate our surroundings,” Guthrie said. “She wanted us to be aware.”
The small tablets from that time in the 1970s are filled with tiny, detailed drawings of fields and fences and outbuildings.
“I was pretty good,” she said recently, “but drawing is not just an innate talent, I can see now that I got better as I practiced.”
When she was 14 and it was time, as a student in the European school system, for her to choose the direction of her education, Guthrie’s parents discouraged her from studying certain subject areas.
“They said no art, no religion and no music. I’m certain they had my best interest at heart. They just didn’t see a future in those things,” she said.
The sketch pads were tucked away.
Her higher education eventually took her from Berlin to Emery College in Georgia where she met her husband. The couple moved to Bangor when he started working at Bangor Theological Seminary and they started a family.
Life became busy with the day-to-day business of raising a family. The sketch pads and the pastels remained packed away — until the day after that drive in 2008.
The very next day, Guthrie enrolled in an introduction to drawing class at Husson University.
“It was the very last day of add, drop,” she recalled.”
Her first day of class presented her with her first in a series of challenges.
“Of course, I was twice everybody’s age and then we start off with this big pad of newsprint and charcoal sticks,” she said.
Guthrie had used only a pencil to draw, and the drawings and the tablets last used in her teens were filled with tiny, almost painfully precise drawings.
This teacher was looking for something else.
“He gave us two minutes to put something on the paper, using both hands,” she said. He wanted us to let go. It was a very foreign concept to me, but once I did it I realized that it didn’t hurt.”
Later came work with color, which nearly paralyzed her with fear.
“I had never worked with colors. ‘What do I do?’ I thought. Then I began to recognize that I was an artist and I could do whatever the hell I wanted. It was my own interpretation. That was a very freeing moment for me,” she said.
Soon Guthrie was attending meetings for the Bangor Art Society and was helping plan for the society’s winter auction.
“I asked them what kind of things we should be entering and he finally blurted out, ‘Anything but nudes,’” Guthrie recalled. “He said you couldn’t show nudes in Bangor. It just wasn’t done.”
Guthrie was stunned.
“Nudes are fundamental to drawing,” she said.
Hence, Mom’s Nudie Group was formed.
A small group of artists would gather regularly at the Guthries’ home where they would practice sketching a nude model.
Throughout the year Guthrie became comfortable with big canvases and bright colors, pastels and acrylics.
Her innate talent, so long tucked away, was bolstered by practice and the learning of new techniques — sort of artistic gene on steroids.
Within a year she was teaching her own art classes and had become the vice president of the Bangor Art Society.
She regularly slips into the nooks and crannies of Bangor’s downtown streets where she sits and paints the city’s varied landscape.
During the fading days of last winter, hungry for something fresh and green, Guthrie grabbed handfuls of vegetables, placed them on her table and began to paint.
Just a year earlier, color had frightened her, now she found herself longing for it and seeking it out.
Her paintings are selling, which helps with the bills. Perhaps as importantly, Guthrie seems to have recaptured a sense of joy and a sense of herself.
“I think there are probably a lot of moms who are our age who, like me, have simply forgotten what they like to do because there hasn’t been much time for it. I’m having great fun right now,” she said.
She has entered into and won prizes at many art shows throughout the area, she has her paintings posted on her own website, ulrikeguthrie.com, and she has had notecards made up that depict the city of Bangor from different vantage points. She also sells her artwork every Saturday at the farmer’s market on Buck Street in Bangor.
“I truly had never seen Bangor the way I do now. There is a lot of beauty and interest downtown. It’s just a matter of recognizing it — being attentive and appreciative of your surroundings.
A lesson, it would seem, now unearthed, from all those years ago as a young teenage girl in the Swiss Alps.