An Authentic Life

Sumi ink painting of mountains and river with haikuMother’s Day
her milk still flowing
through me

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers! Today I’d like to share a bit about my mother, Erika Makino.

A quiet woman with a strong spirit, she has always followed her own path. She grew up in Basel, Switzerland, but felt constrained by the narrowness of life there. At 29, she decided to move to the United States, a big country with big possibilities. Facing a two-year wait for a visa, she opted to spend the time in Peru, working as an au pair and later as a secretary in the Swiss embassy.

Once my mother got her US visa, she spent weeks traveling to the US overland from South America by bus, small plane and boat. In 1959 she arrived in California, the place that seemed the most open to new ideas and the closest to Japan, a country to which she had always felt drawn.

Laughing mother holding toddler

My mother, Erika Makino, holding me, circa 1965

She earned a Master’s degree at UCLA, then married a Japanese man and raised a family. She took us to live with our Japanese grandparents in Japan for some months. The marriage did not survive: a couple years after my parents divorced, my mom took my two sisters and me to Switzerland. We spent a year living first with our grandmother in Basel, and then in a Swiss commune in a village where farmers still delivered milk to the dairy in horse-drawn wagons.

On our return to California, my mother deepened her talent as a writer, self-publishing a book of her personal, sensitively observed short stories. Many of these stories drew on her work with developmentally disabled, autistic, or schizophrenic people. Here, her gift for perceiving other realities and energies allowed her to see through the labels to understand and appreciate these special children and adults.

In her 60s, my intrepid mother traveled solo through North Africa by bus and occasionally by camel, making friends and receiving several marriage proposals along the way. She ended up in Ghana for a while, working on a development project and teaching French. In her 70s she spent some months living in Guatemala, working on her writing. At 80 she took a few weeks by herself to walk the Way of St. James, a medieval pilgrimage route in northwestern Spain that had always fascinated her. From there she journeyed to Thailand for a couple months to travel alone and with a friend.

Woman in poncho with two llamas on beach

My mother with her llamas in Arcata, California in 2003

A gentle and sensitive grandmother, she helped care for my children when they were small, spending six years living with us in Arcata. She brought along her two llamas, whom she trained to carry packs so she could still go on overnight hiking trips.

In recent years my mother has been creating beautiful, semi-abstract sculptures of people and animals in clay, adobe and cement. She has written, “When working on a piece, I look for the meditative power that rests in lines that connect, and shapes that embrace and shelter. I like to express this stillness in my art.” Now pushing 84, she works on her sculptures most every day.

Being the child of a free spirit was not always easy. Money was tight growing up, and somehow we were always moving. By age 16 I had lived in three countries, eleven cities and 20 homes. This included two stints of living in campgrounds and a couple months of sleeping on the floor of the recreation room at her workplace, all while going to school. In my sophomore year in high school, my mom was able to buy some land in Mendocino County, California, and build a small house. We rejoiced in owning a home of our own at last.

Most people I know had childhoods that were outwardly far more stable than mine, but many emerged with emotional scars that can take a lifetime to heal. On balance, I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anyone else’s. Despite my offbeat upbringing, I have never doubted my mother’s unconditional love for me, as well as her respect and understanding for who I am. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

blazing your own trail
you have taught me how to live
an authentic life

I created the poem and painting above for my mother. It is painted in sumi ink on rice paper. A full gallery is viewable at You can read my newest haiku every day by “liking” the Makino Studios Facebook page or following @Ant99 on Twitter.

Coming Events

Group Show, Ink Annex Gallery. This show highlights artists participating in North Coast Open Studios in June. 47B West 3rd Street, Eureka, California. Show runs through May.

Group Show, MikkiMoves. Grand opening Saturday, June 2, 3-9 p.m. during Arts Alive. 7th and I Streets, Eureka, California. Show runs through June.

North Coast Open Studios. The public is invited to tour my studio Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, 2012. (Map)

Live Oak Park Fair. Juried arts and crafts fair, Berkeley, California, June 9-10, 2012.

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  1. Posted May 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Wow…very beautiful…

    • kathleen
      Posted February 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      A very touching write-up and reflection on a very inspiring woman and her path in life.
      Thank you! I’m going to catch the show in Ukiah on my to Santa Rosa this weekend.

  2. Posted February 1, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much, Kathleen! Yes, my mom is an inspiring woman. And thanks for stopping by our Corner Gallery show.

  3. Alison Hedlund
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful story about your mom. She sounds like a creative trailblazer and lovely person. What an inspiration she was for you, and now us!

    • Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Thanks so much, Alison! Yes, she continues to inspire, especially by modelling how to listen to your heart.

      • Alison Hedlund
        Posted May 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        When you mentioned her book, it touched a chord in me, and I realized I owned it. I found it at the Goodwill. I’ve moved it to my pile of current reads….

2 Trackbacks

  • By Heart Connections | Makino Studios on February 1, 2013 at 9:11 am

    [...] Clay, Straw, Paper: And speaking of family ties, tonight is the opening for an art show featuring my mother Erika, my sister Yoshi, and me. This is a special event for us, as it’s the first time we three have exhibited our art together. The show is one more manifestation of the encouragement my mother always gave her three daughters to express our creativity. (More about my remarkable mom in An Authentic Life.) [...]

  • By Ukiah Backwards | Makino Studios on May 12, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    [...] thank you for the love and care you bring to this most important role. Here is a piece called An Authentic Life that I wrote about my very special mother, Erika Makino, last [...]

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