A Room of My Own: Lizzie Cheatham McNairy’s Art-Filled Office

Matrons & Mistresses founder and writer Lizzie Cheatham McNairy reflects on the serenity of a space filled with beauty.
by Lizzie Cheatham McNairy

Art shown, left to right: Chrysalis by Heather Gordon, Moon by Susan Harbage Page, Blue Bird by Natalie Frank.

The sun is still rising as I arrive. The day is quiet and young, and I decide to leave my door open so I can hear the hum of the factory below. It’s funny, the things that calm. 

This is my favorite time of the day, when stillness is met with possibility, and I feel I might have a part in creating a day that I would be proud of. It is on mornings like these, especially in this new world of hunkering down and staying at home, that I am most grateful for a room of my own. 

A little over a year ago, I started Matrons & Mistresses, a digital community where I could share the stories of incredible women in the arts and speak to the works that inspired me. It was three years earlier that I began to feel the pull of the pen and found a subject that captivated me more than the fear which told me I should not write. 

Early on, I wrote from home, or at least I tried. And, as my precious and rather wild boys—Mac, eight at the time, and Keats, three—ran around me, I found myself somewhat fixated with the words of French-American artist Louise Bourgeois: “To be an artist, you need to exist in a world of silence.” While my home and my life were full of so many wonderful things, silence was not one of them. So I tried to remind myself of the famous photo of Ruth Asawa in her living room, successfully creating her intricate wire sculptures as four of her six children played around her, the youngest diaper-less and self-sufficiently drinking from a bottle. Yes, all I needed was to learn to be more like her. 

The problem was that, try as I might, I was not wired like Asawa, and I longed for the silence that Bourgeois cherished. So, when a little office opened up less than a mile from my home, I jumped at the opportunity. The fact that it smelled of lavender and once served as a place of meditation and crystal sound baths—well, I was finished. And now it is mine, and I feel as though I can breathe every time I enter. 

I love it here, surrounded by my art. 

Heather Gordon’s Chrysalis reflects not only change in intervals, but the skyline of the city I love; Susan Harbage Page’s Moon, a symbol of feminine strength; Stacy Lynn Waddell’s Every Body Loves the Sunshine, a reminder of our inherent right to walk in the light. Natalie Frank’s Blue Bird serves as a testament of the power of love to overcome; Stacey Kirby’s Bronze VALIDity stamp, which made me cry the first time I saw it, and Andrea Donnelly’s Four Exposures, for Anna (No. 2, Poppy) speaks to the art and beauty of textiles and pays homage to Anna Atkins, considered to be the first female photographer to publish a book of her work.

Among these incredible artists hangs a painting by my sweet Mac, for he, too, comes alive when he creates—and he has a way with color. 

The newest work to join the mix is I Have My Own, a commissioned piece by the enchanting Zoe Buckman. Upon a vintage lingerie piece, sewn in red by Buckman’s hand, are the words of the great Toni Morrison: 

‘Well, if you want my opinion—’ 
‘I don’t,’ she said. ‘I have my own.’ 

So now I call this little corner mine: art I love on the walls, piles of books from every discipline laying everywhere, a desk that could be neater (but what would be the fun in that?) and a cozy sofa that’s perfect for fighting writer’s block. This is my sacred place… my place to write, to learn, to sit in silence when I need to be still and to create alone when inspiration comes.