Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Thief of Time

I got an email today with some sad family news and it led to an afternoon spent working in my studio with periods of reflection on time, family and loss. I would find myself sitting and staring blindly out the windows, my mind wandering down pathways of the past. The news was not unexpected and indeed was merciful in its own way, but sad nonetheless. There was also news of another relation, a person I have always felt close to in spirit- a first-cousin of my father's, so my first-cousin-once-removed. Just as with my Great Aunt Jean Webb, she was a powerful creator; she is still with us but again, time has taken its toll.
Where is all this leading... I took an image of her housewarming gift to me when I purchased Thrums End in 1993. She made a mirror frame that is as laden with references and memory as it is with wit and inventiveness. The frame is a wooden bracket from the house my father grew up in in Jamestown, PA., the house burned down but some architectural bits were salvaged. The covering is a scrap of a quilt top I gave her when we were holidaying in Grasmere, in the Lake District of England many years ago. We were staying in a lovely house immediately up the hill from Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth's home- so some lines from one of his poems are stamped on the frame. There are also twigs and dried, pressed ferns gathered during that sojourn, and small photographs of the landscape vignetted in the circular cut-outs.
This piece is so typical of her creativity and sly wit. I love this mirror and proudly show it off to visitors and tell its story.
The rest of the decoration of the small anteroom is my own work -the mosaic tabletop and the freehand leaves painted on the walls.
The tabletop rests on an aquarium stand gleaned from a yard sale. There is also a house-blessing written on the lintel over the doorway into the rest of the hallway: "Pax intrantibus, Salus exeuntibus, Benedicto habitantibus.*" Even though the space is small, scarcely 30 square feet, it is one of my favorite spaces in my home. The mirror and the other pieces made by family members that I am fortunate to own remind me that I and my work owe so much to my genetic and aesthetic forebearers.

* "Peace to all who enter, Health to all who leave, and Blessings on all who abide"
I found these words in a Quaker meeting house in Rye, England, that had been converted into a lovely B&B.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nascent Spring

I am enjoying a lovely, clear, cold day- after having enjoyed the stunning lunar eclipse last night- and prior to a storm out of the south that will bring over 6" of snow to us tomorrow. I noticed yesterday that the buds on the Cornelian Cherry were fat and expectant and took the opportunity to photograph them and a few other optimists in my landscape. (I have written about my philosophy on gardens on my website and will not repeat that here.)
The Cornelain Cherry (Cornus mas) is actually a relative of our native Dogwood, but instead of the large, showy white blossoms of late spring, the Cornelian Cherry has small, lime-green fragrant blossoms very early in the spring. The fruit is like a small, hard dry, somewhat sweet, cherry- beloved by birds but not invasive or aggressive. The sight of those chubby nubs of growth in late winter always cheers me.
Then I noticed the velvety catkins of the Red-leaved Hazelnut and the tiny lanterns of the Andromeda, too. I love this time of the year- you can focus on the details without being overwhelmed by the welter of sights and scents vying for your attention. But then I notice that I need to attend to some pruning and some preparatory tearing down of a fence that has come to the end of its usefullness. Indeed the fence is no longer a fence, it is just a jumble of sticks loosely nailed together- entropy rears its ugly head and then it sinks to the ground again.
But for today, I have the jolly expectation of Cornelian Cherry.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Its about time I got around to talking a bit about tea. I love drinking tea and I especially love teapots. Is there any other useful object that has inspired so many to flights of fancy, endless explorations of form and function, or to nostalgia for the almost mythical comfort of the cozy hearth? The teapot is all these and more. It is a canvas for the artist, icon for the homesick, company in the darkest hours, boon companion in contentment, care for the ailing in body or spirit, sympathy in grief, conspirator in schemes and gossip, repository for omens of the future. (If you have visited my website:, you might recognize this last bit, but I like it so I will repeat it.)
I have been known to drink coffee, especially since a decent cup of tea is not often to be found whilst on the road, but, if I am weary in body, mind or soul- it must be tea. And, due to the advances of time and age, decaffeinated tea (sigh.) But there are some decent decaf Earl Grey teas out there and that is my brew of choice- milky in the morning, straight after noon. I have some dear friends in London who drink a brew of 1/2 darjeeling and 1/2 Earl Grey which is quite nice too. I am also very fond of iced-tea any time of the year- but not that horrid overly-sweetened fruity concoction that some people seem to think is iced-tea. Brewed, unsweetned darjeeling or ceylon. Lemon in the winter, mint and lemon in the hot weather, both with just a touch of sweetening, thank you very much. I have never understood the taste for teas like Lapsang Souchong, but I have also never eschewed the idea that I am not that refined.
This is one of those times of the year when I drink quite a bit of tea- it is cold, icy, rainy, sleety, and muddy out there- just on the brink of the change of seasons. I am hungry for spring, but if I can't have spring yet - and in these days of climate change, I would rather be hungry for spring than have it thrust upon me prematurely- I can have a lovely steaming mug of tea and a biscuit while I read the seed catalogs.
The teapots? I will talk about them later- the kettle is almost at the boil, must run....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bah, Humbug!

Well, its that time of year again- the holiday that is not for me- Valentine's Day. I think I know somewhat what a non-christian* feels like at Xmas during this annual orgy of small candy hearts stamped with platitudes, cheap red-satin and acetate-lace-covered cardboard boxes, and dozens of organo-phosphated, steroid-pumped red roses. "Not for you, not for you," whisper the store windows, "pass us by," say the candy displays-"you're not a member of this club."

This afternoon, a store clerk I had never met before chirped "Happy Valentine's Day" to me as I hefted a bag of cat kibble into my cart. I toyed momentarily with the idea of saying to him- "Oh, you want to be my Valentine! Are you asking me out on a date?" To me, it is like wishing someone "Happy Birthday" when it is not their birthday- there is no context for the wish, it is meaningless. And, most importantly- Valentine's Day is not a public holiday- it is for couples, and as a singleton of long-standing, it is not on my calendar. If I had a sweetheart, I would gladly wish that person
"Happy Valentine's Day" with all the trimmings; but I don't, so I don't.

Am I looking for someone on whom to bestow these wishes the next time V-Day rolls around- especially since it appears V-Day is with us for at least the half-life of all that acetate pseudo-satin?

As my motto says: Stranger Things Have Happened.

The artwork is from a larger piece I did last year, entitled: "The Genus Amor," for a Valentine's themed art show. I sought to conjure up the image of an old-fashioned collector's case in which one would display butterflies one had caught (and impaled.) Instead of butterflies, there is a collection of little cupids, each depicting a different type of love, each with a little pin through its thorax...

* I no longer consider myself a christian but I have very nostalgic and proprietory feelings about Xmas and revel in many of the traditions. Hypocrite? Yeah, so what else is new.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Words at rest and at play

I have been playing Scrabble® on the web with another illustrator, Mark Monlux, and having a grand time. He lives on the west coast, I on the east, but we got to know each other through serving on the Board of the Graphic Artists Guild for many, many, many years. We used to play Scrabble® during down times at the annual Board conventions. He is as positive and energetic as I tend to be a bit sour and withdrawn (hmmmm, maybe I still am a sullen teen in a middle-aged body...)so he is always like a breath of fresh Northwestern Ocean air. He is also the author of the Comic Critic, a very funny illustrated movie guide, and a fan of those torrid paperback covers from the 40's & 50's.
Our games are slow- no timers here. Usually a week or two for a game but who's counting? Ever since I came out The Word Project, no one here wants to play with me. I am at pains to remind them that words like many in the WP probably aren't in the Scrabble dictionary in the first place and much of the success in any game depends upon the luck of the draw of tiles. But that does not convince them, more's the pity.
So, hail to thee, blithe spirit, for flinging those virtual tiles back and forth across the ether with me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

I've written a bit about art, so now a few words about words. My "Word Project: Odd & Obscure Words- Illustrated," to be more precise. Most of the pieces from the WP have been packed in bins in my studio for the past 16 months, a few were trotted out last September along with a few new word/dolls but the whole collection has not been seen for a while. I am happy to announce that they will be on display in Albany, NY at Sage College's Little Gallery from April 1-18. I am an adjunct professor in the art dept. at Sage, teaching Business Practices and Professional Practices to graphic art and studio art students respectively.
The Word Project is the result when my love of language runs smack-dab into my 'dolls.' I cannot do my art without infusing it with language, myth and symbolism: old-fashioned methods of communicating in this age of computers, text messages, sound-bites and well, blogs. I think we lost something when we no longer relied on pictures to convey ideas- when writing became the primary vehicle for expression. My writer friends will no doubt disagree- and, I am using words now....
I fear our culture suffers from language and image anorexia- there is no shortage of words and images out there but so many of them are low-calorie- lacking in the deep, luscious fattiness of myth or history, the unctuousness of a word you love to roll around on your tongue before you bestow it on the ear of your listener, the spicy delight of a shared taste for symbol. Instead we get fast-food, non-nutritional, junk-food words and images. Everyone recognizes Britney- I don't even have to write her surname, few grasp the myriad references in Botticelli's "Birth of Venus."
The Word Project is one small defiant act in the face of such cultural downward-mobility. So, I invite you to cock-a-snoot at the middle-brow! Proudly declare your visual and linguistic aspirations! Unite! You have nothing to lose but your boredom!

Friday, February 8, 2008

When the inspiration isn't there......

Today is one of those days when even though I have work on my desk(s) I have no heart to work on any of the projects. Yet they must get done- I have students to teach on Monday, I have a commission to finish, a piece to frame, some emails to answer, and then all the rest of the various works- housework, yardwork, artwork, needlework, etc. Where will the energy come from? Sometimes the best I can do is just put one foot in front of the other and then again and again and again. I need to turn over the project I finished this morning- one I know will not be greeted with unanimous approval, but one I did the best I could do under the circumstances- and move on.
Sometimes the best I can do is just show up....

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Remembering (fondly) Miss Jean Webb

The other evening I got an unexpected telephone call from a woman from the Ohio Arts Educators Organization. I grew up in Ohio, and I am a (part-time) arts educator- but I couldn't quite understand why someone was calling me from that group. Then it became clear: she was inquiring about my Great Aunt Jean Webb- who lived in Ohio and also was an arts educator. She wants me to write a few paragraphs about her and send some images of the art I have of hers in my own home.
That call brought back a flood of memories tinged with a few regrets.
My Aunt Jean was a true original. When I was younger I was a sullen idiot. I loved going to her house which was full of color and all of her odd and wonderful creations. Now, my parents were
no slouches in the home creating game, but Aunt Jean's house was even more eccentric and exotic. It was all done in shades of blue, green, aqua, grey and lilac, smelled of lilac and powder and even if the music wasn't playing it seemed you could hear DeBussy's "La Mer" in the background.......
But once I got there I clammed up and never asked the questions. I never made that connection with her that I know she would have welcomed. Oh, I soaked it all in and can see her influence in my own work and tastes now, but when I think of the opportunity I let slip by, I am abashed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

This is not WAAM blog.......

There seems to be some confusion- this is a personal blog about me and my enthusiasms, ideas and thoughts. Even though I may write about my experiences at the WAAM, this site is not, may I repeat- not, an official document for the WAAM. I will not conduct WAAM business on this site. Those looking for that sort of information must seek elsewhere.
Thank you.


Just saw a trio of woodpeckers at the suet feeder outside my studio window. A Red-bellied Woodpecker and 2 Downies. A good reminder to shift my focus from my work from time to time and appreciate the abundance and beauty around me.

New Work at the WAAM show

The new work at the "Recent Works" WAAM show is a triptych entitled "FEMA Dolls(#1, #2, #3)" and they are done in my bricolage, flat-3D style. Each piece is 5"x7" and individually framed but they are hung together (and hopefully will sell) as a unit. They depict dolls that might be found at the sites of recent disasters, the relics of lives irrevocably changed by forces beyond their control.
I neglected to take a shot of the piece in the "Winter" show and I am usually quite good about shooting before I frame the pieces- drat.
You can see some other pieces up for sale at my Etsy shop, "Loose Ends".
And, of course, my website --okay, putting "update website" on list of things to do.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

We all hang together.....

Spent most of the day assisting the juror and then hanging the "Recent Works" show in the Main Gallery at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum; then ducked downstairs to the Founders' Gallery to help finish hanging the "Winter/Snow" show. Both shows look very good and it was gratifying to see the downstairs show elicit such a good response from the members. This is the first juried show downstairs and there was, as usual, some grousing from some perpetually disgruntled members of the WAAM ...... what else is new.......
I am glad to say that my entries in both of the shows made the cut. It is imperative that I focus on just carrying the works back and forth at the direction of the juror during the selection of the works. Whenever the juror approached my piece, I turned my back and found something else to do so that I could not influence his decision in any way. It is helpful that the jurors we have secured in the past year and for the upcoming season for the Main Gallery shows are not from this area- they don't know the artists nor their styles. It is as anonymous as we can make it.
I do feel for the jurors- there were over a hundred and twenty pieces entered and and only about 40 or so chosen. This makes for nicely spaced walls but also many disappointments. I am glad I am not there when the rejected works are picked up. I do have to say that I have been on that side of this business- having to pick up a rejected work, and while it is not fatal, it isn't the best moment of the day either. But, having been an artist for over 30 years, rejection- either passive or active- is more the rule than the exception so I can't dwell on it too much or I just get stuck.

Here goes something!

Typical first post- I had to register to be able to post comments on my niece's blog placesinthesky so I figured why the heck not. I haven't the faintest idea if I will have anything interesting to say in the future, but as my motto says: Insolitores Res Contiguerunt!
(Stranger Things Have Happened- and indeed they have.)