Something happened when Geraldine Lloyd entered her new home, a tall, red-brick rowhouse in historic Frederick. The 53-year-old artist took a slow look at the walls and, where others would see elements that divide or confine, she saw limitless possibility.
She'd raised her children in this city, and left after a painful divorce. Now she was back -- but she was sick, tired and aching with a need to heal. She'd battled throat cancer for two years, and a recent laryngectomy had robbed her of her ability to speak or eat and had drained her emotionally. "I was ready to be alone. To lick my wounds," she says.
Instead of feeling blue, however, Lloyd felt an overwhelming urge to paint. To spackle. To add texture. To install a sculpture here. To glue a found object there.
"When I would get fixated on negative things about myself -- knowing I couldn't eat and recognizing the limits on my life -- I would get up and get going. I would use whatever paint I had, whatever materials I had, and I began to decorate and create and paint and build," she says. "This house really embraced me."
That was two years ago this month -- and Lloyd hasn't stopped creating since.
Her home has become her canvas. The hallway ceilings on each floor depict the sky, each one lighter than the last, from night on the first floor, to morning at sunrise on the second, to "John and Yoko white" on the third.
The bathroom, when finished, will be decorated entirely in Ivory soap, the only scent that Lloyd has been able to smell since her surgery. In one bedroom, mannequins and hats line the shelves, fill cabinets, perch on bedposts. Another room is filled with works depicting the roles the artist has played -- girl, wife, mother, free spirit and friend.
In this room, a huge, Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired painting of a woman hangs across from the bed. Tiny photographs of Lloyd's children form a collage inside the woman's eyes, from which paint-smeared tears seep. "I call it my 'Empty Nest Painting,' " Lloyd explains.
This house has helped Lloyd to heal. Now she wants to open it -- perhaps next year, by which time, she will have been cancer free for five years -- to other women facing similar diagnoses and surgeries.
Her home could be a respite, she says. A place for gaining both physical and spiritual strength and for taking stock. "The women would bring their personal effects and a good pair of shoes, and I'd offer them a chance to find themselves through art -- textiles, music, painting."
It was in art, after all, that Lloyd found solace.
At the moment, the artist is perched high on a ladder, painting her second-floor hallway. She is small and wears her blond hair braided Pippi Longstocking style, topped with a velvet hat pulled low. Her overalls are black; her boots unlaced. Above her, the ceiling already resembles a morning sky at sunrise. Below her, Elvis, a Jack Russell terrier, races in small circles, his toenails scrabbling on the slick, wood floor. Lloyd pays no attention: With a large brush dipped in burnished gold paint, she creates a huge picket fence that leads to an altar, painted, complete with goddess, in the center of the hall.
Lloyd cannot paint and talk at the same time: She must put down her brush to press a Servox, which looks like a small microphone, against her throat muscles. The Servox picks up vibrations made by the muscles and produces sound. Her voice is electronic and expressionless. Her gray-blue eyes are not.
After her divorce in 1991, Lloyd traveled to Key West. Once there, she watched sunsets. Searched her soul. Bought an art gallery. For some reason, she says, dealing with the pain of divorce triggered an outburst of creativity. She introduced herself to Key West art circles by giving a series of performance art shows in honor of each of six Greek goddesses -- Aphrodite, who is associated with love; Hera, with marriage; Artemis, with wilderness; Athena with wisdom; Demeter with motherhood; Persephone, with the underworld. "They were just the symbols that I needed because I had such patriarchal influences in my life," she says.
She had a grand time. But in 1993, Lloyd was diagnosed with cancer. She was treated with radiation and surgery, sold her gallery and moved into a smaller space. Once again, her pain and anger triggered a feverish flurry of creativity. In quick succession, she produced sculptures made of found objects, titled "Power," "Love," "Independence." Then a friend donated a worn-out Mercedes Benz.
"The body was shot," Lloyd says of the car. "Kind of like me. We were parallel in ways."
Lloyd turned the Mercedes into a moving monument with the message, "Unchain My Love." Painted gold except for silver hub caps, the car is gaudy, exhilarating and shouts with explosive joy.