Can a house have a soul?
A woman who paints portraits of them thinks so.
One Tuesday in November, two weeks after her husband died, a breeze blew through Nancy Henderson's house from front to back. It was possible to hear the big oaks whispering as water slipped through a fountain in the backyard.
A conch shell in the window caught a slanting shaft of setting sun, turning it rosy.
Just for a moment, the intangible energy that Henderson manages to capture in her portraits of other people's houses was palpable in her own.
It's a phenomenon, she believes, best described as the emotional breathing space shared by parents and children and grandchildren. It is a kind of presence, generated by those who know each other most deeply.
With pen and ink and watercolor paints and brushes, Henderson captures the soul of homes all over Hillsborough County: a cottage in Port Tampa; a Charleston-inspired house on Hawthorne Street; an Italianate beauty built of limestone in what was once an orchard right off Bayshore Boulevard.
Her portraits sell for $500 to $2,000, depending on size and medium and the amount of time a project demands. One typically takes her 20 hours.
Clients learn of her from others. Some have seen her portraits in the house tour literature for Tampa Preservation Inc., a cause to which she's deeply committed.
Others know her booth at the outdoor weekend market in Ybor where she sells coffee mugs and magnets of her own design as well as prints of historic Tampa. Henderson was commissioned by the city to depict historic streetcars for a commemorative poster, which she sells signed for $5.
For the last decade, her house portraits have made her a name.
Some customers ask her to make prints of the original for their children who carry the image of the family home to college and then down the road into their own adult lives.
"As I did these, it began to dawn on me that most people who go to the trouble of hiring me are very proud of what they've restored or built," she says.
"I realized there's so much more involved in the portrait of these homes than just what the house looks like. There's something very comforting about being able to look at a picture of your house and know this was the way it looked at a certain time in your life."
A house might not change much in 30 years, but life does.
Henderson talks about this with fragile certainty because her husband, Jim, a talented woodworker who worked in the tool rental department at Home Depot for 12 years, died Nov. 3.
His struggle with gastric cancer was brief, only five months from his diagnosis this June.
He died in their 150-year old bed from the mountains of Pennsylvania, his wife sleeping by his side, "peacefully, all night, like some sort of gift," Henderson says.
"It was so comforting to know that it could happen this way, the two of us sleeping beside each other in this bed as we have every night."
Their tiny, 1,200-square-foot bungalow on North A Street in Oakford Park looks every much as it did when she and her husband bought it 30 years ago for $28,000.
Jim picked out this 1925 bungalow. All these years later - children long since grown and moved out - Henderson knows it was absolutely the right place for all of them.
On the dining room wall hang framed pictures of their two children, a grandchild, weddings, graduations, honeymoons, a christening.
Henderson has no intention of moving.
She still cranks open the jalousie window in the kitchen, switches on an attic fan at night, walks barefoot across the oak floors.
But the house feels different, somehow - changing, moving, the cycle of life shifting its gears.
Already, an outline takes shape on her drawing board.
It is a sketch of her house, now home to one woman and two dogs.
Soon, her paints will give it color.