When neighbors Shonnie Brown and Karen Miller met years ago, it was over Miller’s yard. Brown had just moved into Healdsburg in May 1998 when she admired Miller’s blooming irises. She stopped and chatted, but the two women didn’t become more than friendly acquaintances for years.
Miller and her husband, Michael, renovated their Victorian home in one of the historic sections of Healdsburg east of the plaza, paying attention to the smallest details. They moved to town in 1990. Brown’s home is just a block away. When she first arrived in Healdsburg in 1998, she was lonely. Visiting with Miller over her yard offered her the connection she hadn’t yet found.
“Karen’s friendliness offered hope. It was hard to make new friends for a very long time,” Brown said.
Over time Miller, 62, disappeared from her yard, and Brown went about her activities, working as a psychoanalyst, writing local history and memoirs through her business Sonoma Life Stories, teaching writing classes at the Healdsburg Senior Center and taking art classes. And she watched Miller’s yard grow disheveled, lacking the artist who once exercised her green thumb in the yard.
But in October 2014, Brown was taking a pastel class with Joyce Powers at the Healdsburg Senior Center when in walked her friend, Karen Miller. Brown learned that Miller had suffered from serious Lyme disease for a decade and had been spending her free time working as an advocate for Lyme disease patients fighting to have their chronic illness recognized.
“I still have to conserve my energy,” Miller said last week in Healdsburg. “But the pastel class made me say, ‘Oh, yes, this is my medium.’ ” Miller had been an art student during her years in college.
At the end of their course with Powers, the women continued to paint together, using the craft room at the Senior Center, “with its wonderful light,” Miller said, and Powers’ pastels.
While their friendship doesn’t lend itself to their hanging out together, they continue to find bonds through art. As Miller said, “(I’m) so thankful that one of her endeavors coincides with one of mine these days.”
“We’re art buddies,” said Brown, who described herself as a “youthful senior” and declined to disclose her age.
And now, the two friends and neighbors are holding their first art show together, at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa. The show, “Delicacy and Drama: A Celebration of Landscape,” will hang through June 25.
Miller’s art practice includes working in her combination sunroom-breakfast room in a home she shares with her son, Aaron, who is a forager. She conserves her finite energy by not working on consecutive days. She attends class at Riley Street Art Supply in Santa Rosa once a week with Brown, where Jan Thomas, also a local artist, teaches pastels. Miller also attends painting workshops.
Brown began her painting practice by painting Healdsburg’s alleys. When she sold two of her paintings at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts members’ show last year, she was encouraged to do more. She works in her kitchen, which sports the sign, “Art before work.” She uses a spare bedroom for framing and matting.
Both women frame and mat their own works. Both are former printmakers, a skill that helps keep the costs of framing down.