Art Is the Tree of Life

Directors: Geoffrey Quinn, Christine Weicher

Synopsis: At 95 years old, Wilma Daubenspeck Cliff is an undiscovered American artist with a life well lived. But, her life also saw tragedy and that fact centered – and distinguished – her art. In this short documentary, the artist narrates her journey.

The film begins as she prepares for her first major gallery show. She had asked her neighbor and friend Geoffrey Quinn, MD, an amateur photographer, to document the undertaking. During this process her life story unexpectedly unfolds, witnessed naturally and unrehearsed by the camera. The power of that story impressed Christine Weicher, a television journalist who is married to Geoffrey Quinn. Together the two would team up to make this documentary.

Suburban San Francisco, in affluent Marin County — one of America’s most comfortable communities — is the setting for this woman’s unlikely journey. Wilma Daubenspeck started doing art playfully as a child. She would go on to study art in college, earning a degree that enabled her to teach art to children. For most of her years, she created personal art — portraits of her three daughters, for example. But, it was the untimely, accidental death of one of her children that would change her and transform her art.

“Death changes everything,” Wilma Daubenspeck Cliff tells the camera. A Catholic by background, she would look for meaning in the death of her teenage daughter: Her journey would lead her to a Carmelite monestary, through Buddhist training and then to a non-religious meditation center. “The person I am today is a result of that suffering,” she says.

Woven into her new-found art was the wisdom of her spiritual journey and powerful cultural influences plucked from her extensive travels years before. (Her husband worked for the airlines, so they had traveled the world.) At 68 years old, she enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute, where she obtained an advanced degree in Art and gained recognition as an outstanding student artist.

But she and her art remained a hidden treasure for nearly 30 years, until 2010, when two professors a local college arranged for an exhibit of her work. It was a seminal moment and one that was captured through this short film.

Release date: March 3, 2013 (United States)
Country of origin: United States
Language: English

Christine Weicher & Wilma filming documentary

Christine Weicher filming Wilma at Dominican University Show

Christine Weicher, Wilma, Patrick

From right to left: Christine Weicher (director), Wilma, and Patrick Vilan (helped hang Dominican show)

We create to echo earth’s creations. I paint from an emotional response to what I observe about me. I have an internal dialogue with a concept, evaluating and changing it until I feel, “That’s it” and it has a life of its own and is my response.  | Wilma Daubenspeck Cliff