What She Looks Like: Elizabeth Barrett Groth, Designer

I remember watching Liz perform at the Yale School Cabaret, stunned by her acting ability. She was in the design program of the graduate school and created some of my favorite work, but here she had expanded herself even further – she had proposed and starred in her own adaptation at the black box theater. A talented, fierce lady and friend, years later when she told me she was pregnant, my admiration lit up yet again. Her creativity and expansion of her life knows no bounds, and her honesty in the crucial and trial-by-fire transition of newborn stage reveals the generosity of her person.

One of my favorite qualities about Liz is the multi-generational aspect to artists raising little lives. Her mother did the same with Liz and her siblings, and now Liz has already begun discovering the creative and cultured nature of her own little human. The beauty that peeks in through the wildness of life here is stunning. Enjoy!


Name: Elizabeth Barrett Groth

Profession: Scenic/Costume Designer

Parent Status: Jo, 5 months


What surprised you:
What was really surprising was how physically demanding pregnancy was, almost right from the very beginning, and how it limited how I worked. I had awful morning sickness (more like 24/7 sickness) at first and it was crippling- I did not want to barf on the bus or the subway! And as summer and my pregnancy progressed and I got bigger and bigger I found myself doing something I never thought I would, turning down job after job. With low budgets and no way to hire assistants, I just couldn’t work physically the same way I did before. I couldn’t carry my body-weight in props and costumes on my back all over the city on the subway. Schlepping is like, 90% of the job. That realization was really hard for me. So I had to start looking for jobs I could do at home, with less heavy lifting- alterations and sewing work, and I did a bunch of illustrations for an upcoming film. In addition to working in theater, I also give educational tours of The Metropolitan Museum of Art to 4th-12th graders, and luckily I was able to continue that work until about a month before I was due, otherwise I would have gone nuts. I will freely admit I did not like being pregnant. Not many people will say that, but there it is. It was extremely uncomfortable for me, I was so, so happy when it was over. Josephine is much easier to handle out than in.

What excited you:
Feeling her move! She was a little pistol, I first felt her kick at 14 weeks. No one believed me, it was so early for that. But I was falling asleep one night and it felt like a piece of popcorn popped inside me. I was awestruck. We didn’t know our Josephine was a girl until she was born, so I was excited to see what kind of little person would come out of me. So, I guess normal pregnant-lady excitement.

What challenged you:
In pregnancy, the physical aspects. I had huge hip/back/pelvis problems which got really bad by the end. That was tough to deal with, loosing my physical independence. Now, Im trying to figure out how to be a better mom, and I’m very lucky to have a great example in my own mother, a wonderful mother-in-law, and really capable friends to look to and ask questions of. We are fortunate in that my husband’s job can support us all right now, so I don’t have to work, but going from a total focus on my career to being a primary caregiver has been tough. I’m glad to do it, I’m glad I can do it, but it was a jarring transition- one day I woke up a mom and a housewife and I had no idea what to do. I can’t go back to working as I was before, the hours were grueling and I couldn’t even pay for the childcare with what I was making. So now I am currently career-less, which is both really liberating and completely terrifying. Time to figure out a new way to keep creating. Huge challenge.

What you look forward to:
Learning more about her as a person and figuring out her tastes. Traveling with her, showing her more of the world. My husband is English and we are going on our first visit to see his side of the family in late May. I’m really looking forward to taking her to her first Broadway show, her first concert. She LOVES music. She’s very cultured already, she’s a big fan of her Uncle Patrick Groth’s paintings, and went to his gallery show downtown. About a month ago I got to take her for her first visit to the Met Museum, and she’s been back a lot since. She loves modern art, anything really big and graphic. I can’t wait to take her to some of the other museums in town to see what she likes to really kickstart her visual education. I’m excited to hear what she has to say when she starts talking. I’m also slowly starting to rejoin the creative world which is very difficult but makes me feel like a real person again, so I look forward to getting my artistic mojo back.

What you think people should know:
Pregnancy is pretty unpredictable, and so is caring for a newborn. Jo was born in early December, so between paternity leave and the holidays my husband Christopher was home with us for almost the whole first month, that was a huge help to start us off. Even when the baby is on a schedule, things shift and change everyday. It’s both very monotonous (I feel really isolated and brain dead a lot) but it’s also totally different everyday and really fun, which doesn’t make sense at all… Breastfeeding takes up a huge amount of time and is exhausting but very rewarding to me. It’s hard to find time for yourself and your own work when they are so little. I barely have time to do the things I need to do, let alone what I’d like to do. And there’s a lot of pressure to parent in certain ways, or give birth in certain ways. Screw all that judgement. Do what works for you and your family. Don’t pay attention- follow your gut and work with your baby, they are all so different. Take all the advice with a huge grain of salt. BUT THAT SAID-if you can afford it, hire a cleaning lady to come every couple of weeks. Seriously. It forces you to keep things in some semblance of order but also takes the pressure off you to care for the baby and do all the housework and it rids you of any marital strife related who swept the floors more last week. And it’s nice to have a clean bathroom for when you actually have time to take a shower.

Bonus/optional: your favorite mommy-artist story:
My mother is an artist (Mary Brigid Barrett – buy her baby board books “All Fall Down” and “Pat A Cake”!) and when my brother was a toddler she basically toted him around everywhere while my sister and I were at school, she had to. So Patrick sat and played blocks while she worked in her studio, or went to her drawing classes with David Macaulay at Rhode Island School of Design, or hung out in the illustration department when she taught classes at RISD later. So he really absorbed all this amazing art and instruction from when he was tiny. We are all artists in our family, but Patrick is far and away the most talented, and I think his early exposure to it is part of that. He went on to get his BFA in painting from RISD, and got his MFA from the Yale School of Art last year, and has had his work in shows here in NYC, Miami and London. I hope I can do the same for my Jo, who knows what talents she has waiting to erupt.


 

My favorite quotes:

I’m glad to do it, I’m glad I can do it, but it was a jarring transition – one day I woke up a mom and a housewife and I had no idea what to do…Time to figure out a new way to keep creating.

– Elizabeth Barett Groth, Designer NYC

“Screw all that judgement.”

– Elizabeth Barett Groth, Designer NYC

“…who knows what talents she has waiting to erupt.”

– Elizabeth Barett Groth, Designer NYC


What was the biggest transition for you? Whenever it may have been – a while ago, you’re in it, or you feel it coming – don’t be afraid to make time to create or reinvent yourself. You’re already creating something incredible. Keep going.

More profiles coming soon!

If you are or you know a performing artist professional and mom who wants to share thoughts, answer these questions and shoot them to me at this contact form!

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