"My Grandma's songs" a collaboration between writer, artist

BY LU SHEN | JULY 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Two Iowa natives are turning the song "My Grandma's Song" into a picture book for children.

"[When] two creative people come together, it's a meeting of the mind, hearts, and souls," said local singer/songwriter Gwendolyn Countryman.

She and artist Nancy Purington said the inspiration for the song and book comes from their time spent with their grandmothers.

Countryman wrote the song "My Grandma's Songs" in 2010 in remembrance of her grandmother. The song illustrates life in rural Iowa going back to '50s and '60s, with natural signs and the scene of a grandmother and a granddaughter singing together.

Countryman and Purington will present their collaborative project — a 32-page children's book with a song and illustrations about daily life in Iowa and grandmotherly love — at 2 p.m. in the Iowa Artisan's Gallery, 207 E. Washington St.

Countryman said her grandmother influenced her musically and helped her become a performer.

"My grandma, every time she saw me, she sang. 'Why don't you go to the piano and sing?' she said [to me]," Countryman said. "When you are a kid, you just do it. So I didn't have stage fright. And I kind of just sang, and I enjoyed it. I'm so grateful that she did that, because then I developed this identity as someone who can sing."

Countryman, who is also a reading teacher in Cedar Rapids, said her second-graders loved the song when she got the chance to perform for them. After hearing the song, she said, students asked if she would make it into a book.

Countryman then commissioned Purington to illustrate the book last summer. They have been working on the project for a year, and they hope it will be published locally.

"It's like a dream come true, putting all the stuff into a song and turning it into a children's book," said Countryman, a grandmother herself.

As a reading teacher, she said, she likes to watch the way students react to both the words and the illustrations.

"Over the years of reading books, I've noticed what grabs their attention, what they're connected with," she said. "And that's why I felt so strongly about turning the song into a children's book — because its elements really jump out."

Countryman, who said she saw one of Purington's paintings in the emergency room at the Mercy Hospital, 500 E. Market St., was inspired by the woman's art.

"When I write the songs, I have feelings and emotions and ideas," she said. "Then the illustrator just takes it to the next level."

The paintings illuminate the lyrics, Purington said, and she and Countryman share glimpses into aspects of rural Iowa culture. With sounds, verse, and color, they awaken expressions of a rural life on the prairie.

"Working with an Iowa songwriter who speaks from the rhythms and tides of changing weather and crop rotations echoes a familiar metaphor philosophically practiced in rural Iowa," Purington said.

People were closer to the earth and sky in the '50s and '60s, she contended.

"When people own about 180 acres of their own space, air space, and riparian rights for a family, they pay attention to the signs of the weather, Mother Nature," she said.

Astrid Bennett, the marketing director and a co-owner of Iowa Artisans Gallery, said she looks forward to the presentation.

"I know both of the artists," she said. "So I asked them if they want to be the guests for the reading on that day. It's a nice collaboration."

Bennett said in addition to the presentation, Countryman will sing the song that inspired the book, and Purington will show original pieces of illustrations for the song.

"My Grandma's Song is a story about love and caring, and it's an elemental and comforting book," Countryman said. "It's about a fundamental relationship between kids and their grandparents. They will be connected with it. It illustrates nature and beauty. Anyone can respond to it."

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