Anita White, age 70, “draws in the moment.” Anywhere, any time, the artist has blank sheets of paper, a pencil and sometimes even watercolor paint ready to capture the moments of daily life. Even emotionally difficult moments, like that of her husband passing away in the hospital.
White grew up in south Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue and now lives in Longfellow. White’s father, originally from Texas, taught English, film and poetry at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Her mother was born in Vienna, Austria, surrounded by a culture of opera. White has an entire folder of opera drawings inspired by her mother. In their house, there was no shortage of art.
“They both nurtured my creativity,” White said. “It wasn’t a particularly practical household.”
Her father’s side of the family is Greek Orthodox, and White was raised in the Christian faith. It wasn’t until after her maternal grandmother passed away that her mother began to lean into her Jewish heritage. White now identifies as a Jewish woman, which greatly impacts her art and spiritual life.
White has had many adventures throughout her life. At MCAD, she studied painting and drawing, and traveled to Maine through her studies. She visited Austria and Spain in 1969. After graduating, she visited England, and then lived on an island off the west coast of Ireland. She’s also been to Mexico and Romania. In each place, she developed her craft.
“It was kind of a wonderfully forlorn creative life,” White said. “I placed myself in a situation that was very beautiful and inspiring, but also kind of challenging.”
For 38 years, White taught art to elementary school students. Her teaching career began in 1982 in California. After she and her husband moved back to Minnesota, she continued teaching across the state.
Her drawings tell stories. White has many collections of moments and memories from her past and personal life, along with drawings of people and places. Many of her drawings are labeled with words and quotes that describe the moment. She also inserts her thoughts, and memories in between moments. Much like a story, her documentary-style drawings often have a beginning, middle and end.
“I would just say that I let life tell the story,” White said.
Love and loss
At 26 years old in 1980, White worked at Morningside Cafe in Edina as a baker. One day, a seven-foot man named Josh Bialik entered the cafe starting work as a dishwasher. Two years later he’d become her husband, as they’d fallen in love on the job.
During the last years of Bialik’s life, he suffered with many health issues. The two of them spent a lot of time at HCMC. Though many of her drawings at the time were of her husband, White also engaged with many others in the hospital, drawing their unique experiences. In 2017, White held a showing of her work at the hospital called, “Dancing Through Crisis with Courage and Humor.” Bialik was there to support her.
“It was really hard because I knew I was losing him,” White said. “It was kind of like a slow moving thing, but art helped me.”
To persevere, she imagined herself as a mountain goat. She’d routinely draw variations of a mountain goat climbing mountains, like “Mount Medical Concern,” “Mount Optimism” and “Mount Prayer.” The goat was sure-footed and tenacious, and helped her envision how she could hold on.
“The mountain goat represented being able to cope,” White said.
Her husband died at HCMC in April of 2019.
“I looked out,” White said. “It was nighttime. In the whole horizon was our life together; and considering all the stress he was under, I was able to be there with him.”
Navigating a life without her husband was very difficult and emotional for White. The two were life partners. White explained that Bialik was very practical and pragmatic, the opposite of her fluid and imaginative personality. After he passed, she drew the grief journey. She drew herself drinking wine and listening to music they’d enjoy together. She drew his spirit as a vapor. Lingering in the air above her in the drawings are Bialik, reminding her to sort out her tasks with the bank, and telling her that it’s okay to take off her wedding ring and move forward.
“I miss also his intellectual presence,” White said. “And he completely supported me on all of these paintings.”
White continued to return to the hospital they’d spent so much time in. She’d get permission to go into different areas of the hospital, drawing members of staff, babies in the NICU, and even end-of-life hospice patients. While looking at a drawing she made of a kitchen staff member, White explained that she likes to draw those who often go unnoticed. “He’s celebrating Ramadan and making cookies for everyone,” she said. Being in a hospital was no longer traumatic – instead she viewed her art as meaningful work.
“I showed my work to a doctor a week ago, and he was really moved,” White said. “He was like, ‘I see all of this, but moving so fast.’”
Moments of joy
Flamenco dancing captured White’s attention during a family trip to Spain. White fell in love with the movement, the colorful clothing and the energetic expression. “Ole!” White types at the ends of emails, a response she also yells while watching flamenco dancers stomp their feet and fan their arms during a performance by Anda Flamenco at Lake Harriet. The entire time her fingers capture the movements with a pencil and watercolor paint.
“It’s fun to be eccentric,” White said after asking strangers for water for her paint. After the show, White gifts the dancers her art. “Look I drew you!” she says, flipping through the pages.
White’s favorite things to draw are the beach, flowers, people and her inner feelings. While daydreaming, she often draws herself in mermaid form. The mermaid persona developed because she loves to swim. On the beaches of Lake Nokomis, White Bear Lake and Cedar Lake, White draws the people she sees, takes a photo of them with her drawing, then gives the drawing away.
“Swimming is very balancing for me,” White said. “My summer nickname is Aqua Nita.”
White is on the board at the Vine Arts Center (2637 27th Ave. S.). She occasionally teaches drawing classes at MCAD, writes poetry and plans to write a book about how art has helped her through difficult times. She hosts art sales on her front yard each month, from her studio she named, “Amaranth Art Studio” (4524 Minnehaha Ave S.). She also sells her work at Vine Arts Center and the Nokomis Beach Gallery (2726 E 50th St.). White describes the life she lives as “vivid,” and her personality as “eccentric.”
White expressed that she values humor, especially when coping with grief and life challenges. She is led by her Jewish faith, and is active in spiritual practices and communities. She is a caregiver for her brother who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, an experience which she is once again documenting through drawing. She explained that some of her truest passions are storytelling and art. Drawing in the moment allows her do to both.