Arts & Culture

Home is where the art is: Decade-old sculpture helps carry on legacy of beloved Houston woman

Houston artist Elisabet González recently gifted her 2014 piece called “GODess,” which was inspired and partly created by late breast cancer patient Lou Richardson, to Richardson’s oldest daughter.

Tamika Perry GODess
Elisabet González
Houston resident Tamika Perry admires a piece of art called “GODess,” which was inspired and partly created by her mother, Lou Richardson, a breast cancer patient who died in 2021. Perry was gifted the piece on Dec. 30, 2023, by Houston artist Elisabet González.

The artwork had been hanging in Elisabet González's Galleria-area studio for nearly a decade, not forgotten but perpetually in waiting. She wanted to give it to the Houston woman who inspired and helped create it, who also made a profound impact on González, but never got the chance.

Lou Richardson, one of the breast cancer patients who participated in González's fundraising exhibition at the Bisong Art Gallery in 2014, had beaten back the disease at the time but continued to have bouts with cancer. It returned in 2015 and then again in 2020, according to Richardson's oldest daughter, Tamika Perry, who said her mother ultimately transitioned to the afterlife in January 2021, at age 62.

Meanwhile, González's piece called "GODess," created from a cast formed around Richardson's remaining breast after a mastectomy and subsequently turned into a three-dimensional canvas that was painted orange and yellow and decorated with pearls, stones and other jewelry, continued to hang in González's gallery. And it continued to speak to her, said the Houston artist who claims a connection to the spiritual world.

"Every time I passed by, I felt her energy," González said. "I felt like she wanted to be reunited with her family."

That finally happened on Dec. 30 when, after connecting with Richardson’s family at her funeral and later communicating back and forth with Perry for about a year-and-a-half, they arranged to meet at González's studio. Perry said she had never seen the artwork created in the image of her mom and didn't know what to expect until González removed a cover she had draped over the piece.

What ensued was an experience both women described as beautiful and emotional, with González and Perry both saying they felt Richardson's presence in the studio. It also made Perry realize she was still mourning the death of her mother nearly three years beforehand.

"It represents my mom to the T," Perry said. "The piece is named ‘GODess," and goddess to me means superior, it means beautiful, it means unique. The jewelry that's on the piece is amazing. That's what my mom was."

Lou Richardson Cast
Elisabet González
Late Houston resident Lou Richardson has a cast made of her torso, which was subsequently turned into a piece of art called “GODess” that was displayed in a 2014 exhibition by Houston artist Elisabet González.

Richardson, who had four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, worked as an accountant for an engineering firm. She also was fashionable and liked to dress nicely, according to Perry, who said her mom loved all types of jewelry and owned 215 pairs of shoes.

Richardson's wishes were to donate her wardrobe instead of selling it, and Perry said she has taken steps toward creating a nonprofit called Lou's Closet to give her mother’s clothing to women with breast cancer. Wherever Lou's Closet ends up being located, Perry said her plan is to prominently display the "GODess" piece.

Aiming to inspire and empower

The artwork was created because Richardson responded to González's 2013 call-out for breast cancer survivors to participate in her exhibition called "Stories Behind the Scars," which she set up as a fundraiser for The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. González did breast and torso castings of 11 cancer survivors and five supporters and then turned each into a customized work of art.

The exhibit earned González, who is known as Artista Elisabet, a proclamation from the City of Houston and also was recognized by then-President Barack Obama, she said. The piece created in the image of Richardson was among González's favorites, partly because Richardson had elected not to have an implant after her 2008 mastectomy.

Richardson herself also made an impression on González, who said she had an "angelic aura with an immense positivity."

"The one of Lou was very, very special," González said. "She was very powerful, her way of thinking and her faith."

Richardson also served as a church minister, according to Perry, who said her mother wrote a 2017 book called "Running the Race with the One: I Love You, I'm With You & All Is Well." It was about her faith in the midst of her battle against cancer, with Perry saying the book aimed to help other cancer patients with their own journeys.

Richardson participated in González's 2014 art exhibition for the same reason, Perry said, because she wanted to share her story and be an advocate. Richardson was a speaker at the exhibit, which Perry did not attend.

Artista Elisabet González
Houston artist Elisabet González, right, creates a cast around the body of Lou Richardson that was used for a piece called “GODess.”

"I remember the day that occurred. She was so excited about doing it," Perry said. "She was so happy and said it came out so beautiful. She talked to a lot of ladies and prayed over a lot of them."

Richardson loved the "GODess" artwork and wanted to have it, Perry said. Even though that did not happen while she was alive, her daughter now has it and said she’ll share it with the rest of the family to help keep Richardson’s memory and spirit alive.

Perry said the piece is now in a room in her home she has dedicated to her late parents, sitting in a green upholstery chair that belonged to her father, who died in 2017. Perry said she can feel her mother's energy from the artwork and greets it every day by saying, "Good morning, gorgeous." Then, when she opens the blinds, Perry said the "GODess" piece radiates in the sunlight.

Perry said it also "exemplifies artwork at its best," adding that González's "talent is astonishing." Perry also appreciates the artist's thoughtfulness and generosity and the fact she kept a piece of Richardson in her studio for nearly a decade, saying it's now an "everyday present."

"Sometimes I just wish it didn't have to be this way," Perry said while fighting back tears, "but to have that piece and so many others to remind me how awesome my mom was ... She was a lady of character, a lady of personality, and she just exhibited grace.

"It's amazing to have it," Perry added. "Since I've had it, I go in there sometimes, I smile, I make sure the pieces are put in place and nothing has fallen off. It's just become a value to my life."