She Became Her Mother’s Caregiver — And Found A Creative Muse

Detroit artist Judy Bowman shares the reward in caregiving for her mom, Minnie Matthews.

Judy Bowman
Hanging Out On McDougall, Collage On Canvas, 48″×48″, Artist: Judy Bowman 

Judy Bowman left home when she was 18 years old.

At the time, she – as teens often do – had a limited perception of her mom, identifying care and caution as strict disciplinary action and a laundry list of do’s and don’ts. 

But, for the last two years, Bowman, a respected artist on the Detroit art scene has had the chance to really get to know her mother, Minnie Matthews, 91, and vice versa since becoming her primary caregiver. 

“She’s a little lady,” Bowman says. “She knows how she wants to look and dress and I have to make sure that all those things are taken care of, [in addition to] her medical needs and making sure she’s eating and sleeping well. And she wants to be engaged. It helps her to feel like she’s productive. I’m on a schedule and it’s funny because it reminds me of when I was mothering my children.” 

Listen: Detroit artist Judy Bowman discusses caring for her mom, their active adventures and blossoming relationship. 

The idea of being a caregiver hadn’t sunk in until recently. 

“I thought we’re just living together because of her age and medical needs,” she says. “I understand, now, that I am giving care and helping her to have a quality of life.” 

As an artist with a vibrant career, Bowman’s mom often appears in her mixed-media collages like the colorful, “Hanging Out on McDougall” — an homage to her mom and aunts that captures their sharp style and personality. 

Judy Bowman
  Lafayette and McDougall, Collage on canvas,  40″×36″, Artist: Judy Bowman and Minnie Matthews

The piece, however, that holds a special place in the hearts of both Bowman and mom is their most recent visual collaboration, titled, ‘Lafayette and McDougall.’ The collage, featured in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Black Bottom exhibition,  reimagines a photo of baby Judy being held by her mother, as they sit on the banister of their home in Black Bottom. 

“She is my muse,” Bowman says. “The last few pieces I’ve done, they’ve all kind of centered around her. I thought it would be pretty cool if she helped me to create the [Lafayette and McDougall] piece because it was a photo of us and when she signed her name, I said, ‘Ma, you’re a bonafide artist now. You have a piece!’ That piece is very special to me because it has my name and her name on it.” 

In a moment of reflection on her role as an artist and caregiver, Bowman says, “Sometimes, I get tired but it’s still rewarding. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else because of the memories, experience, and the relationship we’re sharing right now.” 

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  • Amanda LeClaire
    Amanda LeClaire is an award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. She’s a founding producer of WDET’s flagship news talk show Detroit Today, and a former host/reporter for Arizona Public Media. Amanda is also an artist, certified intuitive and energy healer, and professional tarot reader.
  • LaToya Cross