Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rhubarb Redux

I had some rhubarb left from the pie I made last week, so in the interest of “waste not want not,” and to celebrate the summer season, I made a recipe that a long-time friend gave me when I was first married. It has a sort of shortbread crust, and a custard-like rhubarb topping. I like it plain for breakfast or warmed up with ice cream as an evening treat. It is not going to do anything to improve my waistline, but it makes my mouth happy.

Rosemary’s Rhubarb Squares

preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

1 cup sifted flour
5 Tblsp. powdered sugar (I sometimes use 3 Tblsp. regular white sugar)
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter cut into chunks
Combine all this in a bowl and use a pastry blender (or two knives) to cut the butter into the sugar and flour until the mixture looks like small peas. Pour into an 7x11 inch pan and pat gently. You can use and 8x8 inch pan, but your crust will be thicker. Bake 15 minutes or until browned. Cool.

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
pinch salt,
about 2 cups chopped rhubarb - use what you have
Mix this together and pour on the prepared crust.

Bake 35 minutes.

Here’s a poem that features rhubarb. It makes me sorry that my single rhubarb plant died, victim of the spreading shade of my neighbor’s red maple.

Shirley Buettner

While clearing the west
quarter for more cropland,
the Cat quarried
a porcelain doorknob

oystered in earth,
grained and crazed
like an historic egg,
with a screwless stem of

rusted and pitted iron.
I turn its cold white roundness
with my palm and
open the oak door

fitted with oval glass,
fretted with wood ivy,
and call my frontier neighbor.
Her voice comes distant but

clear, scolding children
in overalls
and highbutton shoes.
A bucket of fresh eggs and

a clutch of rhubarb rest
on her daisied oil-cloth.
She knew I would knock someday,
wanting in.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Considering Carp

Watercolor monoprint enhanced with colored pencil, inspired by watching carp attempt to spawn in the United Way parking lot, in the flooded Rock River

There is a lot of disdain around here for the carp, big, brown bottom feeder that it is. These days though we have a sort of fascination watching the big fish try to get away from the fast current of the flooded river, and head for calmer water in which to reproduce. I decided to try to make some art to remember the event. It was hard finding a good carp poem to go with the picture, but I like this one.

Loyal Carp
Gerald Stern

I myself a bottom feeder I knew what
a chanson a la carp was I a lover
of carp music for I heard carp singing
behind glass on the Delaware river,
keeping the shad themselves company
and always it was basso, in that range there
was space for a song compleat, it was profundo
enough and just to stop and drink in that
melody and just to hum behind those
whiskers, that was muck enough for my life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bogged Down in a Soggy Town

The setting sun cast a silvery gleam on the water running in Main Street. The waters look peaceful but there is a strong current here on the far side of the sand bags.

Hundreds of carp spawn in Firemen's Park, an area where people usually walk or sip coffee. As of last evening there still were knots of people watching, chatting and taking photos. All those speckles under the fence are fishy fins.

I've posted several photos of water in peaceful reflections but this one of the Milwaukee Street bridge shows how high and fast the Rock River is running. It crested Saturday, but I couldn't see any change in the water level yet Sunday evening.

On the different subject, I am feeling amazingly uncreative, and I'm not sure why. All winter and spring I drew and painted every day, feeling good about it, pleased and surprised at some of the results I achieved. But since the show at the library has gone up, despite supportive calls and notes from friends, I have little enthusiasm for picking up a pen or paint brush. I did participate in the Beloit plein air event (before the park flooded out), and I did submit some experimental work to a Wisconsin Regional Artists Program show in Whitewater. But my heart isn't in it. It could be that I just had lots of nervous energy going getting ready for the library show, and now that it's hanging, I'm tired. It could be that I just need to look for more balance in my life, take more advantage of the nice summer weather to work outside in the garden. It could be that minor disappointments like my aunt not being able to see the show the one day the library closed, or not receiving awards at competitions bothered me more than I want to admit. I don't know. But I hope it passes soon.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Looking for Beauty

I know I should be doing other things (painting, weeding), but the powerful waters of the Rock River are amazing to see, and I find myself watching in awe and counting my blessings that my family is not directly affected by the flood. This week has been dry, so no new water has added to the problem, but that doesn't change the fact that the river is still rising, and even buildings away from the river are having to pump out basements because of rising ground water. At least our city isn't cut in half by closed bridges, as Jefferson is, further upstream.

Rock County was added to the growing list of Wisconsin counties qualifying for federal disaster assistance, with upwards of $45 million dollars estimated loss in housing, business and agriculture. But on a morning "walk and gawk" tour there was also beauty to be found. Here trees and caution cones are mirrored in water filling the library parking lot.

Near the United Way building, closed, the power shut off, carp swim upstream in the parking lot. This shot only shows one, but there were dozens of the big fish swimming where once there were sidewalks, summer plantings, and parking spaces.

Janesville is fortunate to have miles of rails to trails conversions, all heavily used by hikers, bicyclists, and people on roller blades. This part of the trail and a rail line leading to a nearby chemical factory (now closed) will be under water for quite a while though there is beauty here too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Still Experimenting

Sometimes things happen unplanned, but wonderful. I had a photo of a woman selling eggs from the back of her truck at a farmers' market, and I tried several gesture drawings, and blind contour drawings, trying to come up with an interesting design. This was sitting on my desk yesterday, when a reflection from a window crystal painted it with color for a moment.

I took the drawing and used it as a basis for a 12x16 inch watercolor. I wanted to incorporate the figure into an overall design, and I wanted to combine transparent watercolor with gouache. I'm not in love with the results, but I think I want to keep trying a few more in this direction.

On a different note, the waters of the Rock River are still rising. Yesterday we took a bike ride to see how close to the library the water has risen. This is the lower level of the parking area. The water has not reached the doors, though they are pumping water from the basement. So far the building is still open for business. I thought the reflections of the lights in the water was interesting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pie Plant Time

Even though I am supposedly trying to shed some winter pounds that had been hiding under my big brown Scottish sweater, I couldn't resist buying a sack full of rhubarb at last week's farmers market. When I was a kid growing up on the farm, we had a patch of what my grandpa called "pie plant," what everyone else in the world I know now calls rhubarb. I loved going out into the old apple orchard with a big butcher knife and whacking off big frilly leaves, then bringing the stalks in for a pie. Trouble is, I sometimes had difficulty distinguishing between rhubarb and burdock, but that's another story (I couldn't tell mint from nettles either, which is worse).

Anyway, rhubarb is emblematic to me of early summer, just as strawberries and asparagus are. I like the stalks cooked with sugar into sauce to pour on ice cream or spoon on hot buttered toast. I like it made into crumbles with crunchy topping. I have a nice custardy rhubarb dessert my friend Rosemary gave me about 30 years ago that is tasty. But this time I made pie.

Rhubarb Pie

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

Chop up about six cups of rhubarb. Mix it with 1/2 cup sugar and about 1/3 cup flour. I like to grate in a little lemon peel, and I like to sprinkle in a bit of cinnamon, your choice. Stir it all together and put it in a prepared pie crust. Dot the rhubarb mixture with some butter. I quit making pie crusts once I figured out Pillsbury did a better job that I did. Score the top of the pie to let steam escape. If you want you can brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle sugar on it, but it's up to you.

Bake 45-55 minutes, or until nice and brown.

I like mine with a few sliced strawberries on the side and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Creek's Risin'

Fast sketch of pumping station no.3, sandbagged

Hedberg library parking lot, flooded by the Rock River

Shot from inside the library, in the Ground Level coffee shop

The Hedberg library parking lot is filled like a bathtub with the chemical and sewage laced Rock River. Sandbags surround water pumping station no.3, and the doors to the lower level of the library. The building's back side faces the river, and has huge windows that show the rising and racing water. Chatter is that two more large buildings downtown have had their power turned off and are now closed. The river is supposed to crest Wednesday, and then take at least a week to return to normal levels, though when it does the city is going to need to find a new place for their annual 4th of July fireworks display. Everyone is grateful for a clear and sunny forecast for the next several days.

To see more pictures of area flooding, this link to the local newspaper is interesting:  http://gazettextra/galleries/flooding-photos/

Talk in stores and on the street has temporarily turned from the closing of the General Motors plant, which is probably OK. While we are not directly affected by either of these memorable events, I find that I am too distracted to do much reading or artwork. I sketched the pumping station, and started a painting, but have little enthusiasm for finishing either one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise

Janesville police remind bicyclists to stay out of flooded areas.

The Rock River and the Traxler Park lagoon have merged, flooding the sidewalks, parking areas and the veteran's memorial. Carp thrash where cars once parked. The riverside biking trail is underwater.

The Rock River has completely submerged Traxler Park, canceling all water ski shows and closing all boat ramps. The river is expected to crest later this week.

They're calling it a "100 year"flood, and although other areas are hit harder, it's till amazing to see the power of river water here. I have never seen so many people out walking, taking pictures, and chatting with strangers. The library has reopened, though the Rock River is slowly creeping up the parking lot. I tried to work out yesterday, but that building is closed while they pump out the lower level. Walking and gawking will have to take the place of using the machines.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Ralph Pierce, 1930-1983

I miss you, Dad.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Into Every Life

Lower level of the Hedberg Library, sandbagged

Library parking lot about 10:00 AM

Workers at Beeline Alignment, sitting on sand bags as the Rock River rises

Into every life some rain must fall, Wordsworth says.  

My dear aunt and her two daughters and granddaughter drove down to Janesville from Green Bay today to see my art show at the library.  After a frantic week of painting and framing for the Edge of the Rock plein air painting event, we got the house cleaned, the lawn mowed, and lunch prepared for their visit.   But an hour before my family arrived we lost power at the house.  It was strange, since in a week of thunder storms power had stayed on, and this morning was clear and sunny.  The power was off almost 60 minutes, but we were OK because we had already cooked and cleaned. Earlier in the morning I had gone down to gawk at the rising Rock River, and see what was at the farmers market.  That's when I took these photos.  But after lunch when we got to the library paper signs were taped on the doors saying the library was closed indefinitely.  They came all that way and never got to see my paintings.  After checking the Hedberg website this evening it says that the library closed because of a power failure, and it expects to reopen tomorrow.  This was the first time since 1990 my aunt had come to visit and my cousins had never been here, so I felt awful about this unexpected turn of events.  We did make a short visit to Rotary Gardens, which is always pretty.  But then they needed to get back, and I needed to get to Beloit for the judging of the paintings there.  I didn't win anything (which didn't surprise me), and my paintings did not sell, though they will be displayed until the end of the month. Someone still might decide to purchase one.  I drove home from Beloit this evening in another storm.  

The rain will stop some time; the river will stop rising (it's supposed to crest Wednesday). Things will start looking better.  I could remind myself that our town isn't nearly as bad off as others further west and north; our downtown isn't totally under water.   I could be happy that I live high and dry on a hill; my house isn't going to tumble into a river.   I could remind myself that we had a nice lunch and visit today; it was great seeing everyone again.   But I sort of feel like the best thing might be to pour myself a glass of wine, and see if I can find my boots and umbrella.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Entries Ready

10x14 inches, watercolor

Here's what I painted as my last entry for the Friends of Riverside plein air event. This painting of boys hiking along the path that winds by the Rock River was a combination of a sketch I did Sunday and direct observation. It's idealized, the sun was never so bright, the colors so strong. I wanted to try a painting that involved people, since one of the charms of this park is how heavily it is used by walkers, joggers, people fishing, and those playing tennis. I also wanted a new source of color, something that wasn't trees or water. That said, I'm not altogether pleased with how the boys turned out. They look stiff to me, and I wish I had overlapped them a little, but this was what I was able to do while sitting at a park bench, so there you are.

Painters are allowed to submit two framed pieces for the contest, and they are due tomorrow. So it looks like today I need to get out and get framing materials. Awards and a sale are Saturday.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Good Day, Sunshine

5x15 inches watercolor

Today was the first day of the week log Beloit plein air event that had sunshine. After a week of heavy rainfall, flooding and wind damage in the area, the sun was out. The wind was still fierce, but as I drove to the park I chanted to myself: You LOVE painting outside. The wind is NO problem. You LIKE talking to interested people. You can DO this. I did, too. Sure there were folks who looked much more painterly with their French easels, big canvases and sun umbrellas, but I got it done today. Even if I was sitting with my legs splayed in the grass with my watercolor paper stapled to a ratty board propped up with a roll of Bounty paper towels.

I like this poem by William Carlos Williams, and I decided to post it even though summer is not over.

    It is a willow when summer is over,
    a willow by the river
    from which no leaf has fallen nor
    bitten by the sun
    turned orange or crimson.
    The leaves cling and grow paler,
    swing and grow paler
    over the swirling waters of the river
    as if loath to let go,
    they are so cool, so drunk with
    the swirl of the wind and of the river--
    oblivious to winter,
    the last to let go and fall
    into the water and on the ground.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays

pen and ink, watercolor, Beloit Riverside Park

It took me a while to recover from almost being blown away Saturday while trying to paint outside. Sunday, between thunderstorms, I drove back to try a scout a new place to work. I bumped into my friend Mary Ann who was busy painting. She admitted to having stapled her watercolor paper to the picnic table to keep it in place in the wind, only to have it begin raining and then not be able to snatch up the paper and find shelter.

Leaving her in peace, I went looking for a likely spot to paint next time it dries out. There were lots of people fishing, and quite a few graduation picnics. I especially enjoyed a family with preschool children peering into the water's edge at two jumbo bullfrogs, and a clutch of small boys on a bridge who spotted a garter snake. That reminded me of this Emily Dickinson poem I used to teach.

by Emily Dickinson

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him, -did you not?
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, -
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blown Away in Beloit

8x10 inch watercolor on Crescent board

The Beloit plein air event has begun.  Painters have a week, June 6-13, to paint and put together up to two framed pieces for a contest and sale.  Unfortunately for inexperienced wimps like myself, we are in the middle of a week of thunderstorms and high winds.  I'm learning new things every day. For example, Friday I took advantage of a break in the weather to take several watercolor sheets and pieces of Crescent illustration board to registration to be stamped "Edge of the Rock Plein Air."  All canvases and papers must be stamped before starting to work.  It was 85 degrees and very humid, and for the first time this season I was perspiring enough to wish I had wee windshield wipers on my eyeglasses.  Here's what I learned:  antiperspirant, applied to the forehead will stop the steady drip.  Strange but true.

Saturday I packed all my gear and headed to Riverside Park to stake out a spot.  I had scouted a couple a couple weeks ago.  The spot with the tree in the river that I thought was so charming had been altered, the felled tree carted away.  Further along, the spot I had tried before also had been changed, several trees along the water cut down.  At least the water in the park had been turned on, so I didn't need to dip my water bucket in the Rock River.  When I tried painting outside previously I had real problems with my papers and palette blowing around. This time I came prepared with lots of butterfly clips, a big improvement.  But I couldn't believe how quickly colors dried on the palette, almost instantly, it seemed.  My experiment in trying to do a watercolor monoprint on illustration board that had worked so well in my studio was a flop.  I couldn't control the dampness on the surface of the Crescent board, so that when I lifted the acrylic plate all I had was speckles for about two hours work.  So I tried overpainting with limited success.  Here's what I learned: I need little plastic containers of prepared paint that won't evaporate on the spot.  I also learned that sometimes the best part of working outside doesn't have much to do with painting.  My favorite parts of the morning were seeing a little girl squeal with delight at catching her first fish, and seeing a slender garter snake hurrying through the grass.  It was fun listening to the graduation ceremonies at Memorial High School, across the river, too.

My afternoon was even less successful in an artistic sense, though I found a spot behind a coffee shop where I was a little out of the wind.  What I learned: it's nice to be near a bathroom and a source of caffeine.  

It looks like more storms are on the way today, so I think I'll consider how to paint rainy weather.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Library Show

Today I went to the Hedberg library as soon as it opened, so as to avoid having people see me taking pictures of my own exhibit.  Anyway, for those of you who asked, here it is. There are 35 watercolors, prints and colored pencil pieces, and a display case with some illustrated journals. I also put in some books relating to journaling (The Zen of Seeing, Creative License, Diary of an Edwardian Lady), some pens and pencils, and a travel watercolor set.  I see people looking, but I haven't had the nerve to peek at the comment sheet yet.

Thanks to the Hedberg Public Library in Janesville, WI, for giving area artists an opportunity to show their work.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A New Palette

5x7 inches, Pitt pen and watercolor

12x16 inches, watercolor

The colors in my favorite watercolor palette hadn't been touched since the snow was on the ground, and I had a burning desire to try some new color combinations, so I dipped into my Stephen Quiller book on color choices (Color Choices: Making Sense Out of Color Theory).  I soaked the old dried blobs out, squeezed in some fresh paint, and gave it a go.  The colors he typically uses are much brighter than what I have been using, but I thought learning to use new colors might be good.  My old palette had more colors, and was arranged by light values, medium values, and dark values, but this one has cool colors on one side, warm on the other. The colors include permanent green light, viridian, turquoise, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, ultramarine violet, magenta, permanent rose, cadmium red, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow light, burnt sienna and cerulean blue.

The top one was small, just playing with a Pitt pen and color washes. I photographed the scene from a Washington ferry when we visited the San Juan islands last September.  The original was much paler and more misty.  The bottom sketch of a local railroad bridge was painted  on an Arches block, and the colors were mixed much more.  I'm not so sure about the ultramarine and violet I used as darks in the shadows, but I could learn to like it.  I wouldn't normally choose a bridge as a subject, but it was the challenge for this week in the Everyday Matters group.  I wanted to drive to the site and paint outside, but southern Wisconsin is in a rainy pattern this week, so I used a snapshot I took a couple years ago.  Such a wimp.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Artist of the Month

These are details of a few of the watercolors, monoprints, and colored pencil pieces I put in an exhibit at the Hedberg Public Library here in Janesville. For the past couple years I had a goal to have an exhibit of my work, so I applied and was accepted. My excitement at being chosen to show my work for a month in a busy public place was quickly followed by fear and anxiety. Would there be enough to fill the space? Would it be a problem that there is no obvious theme to tie the show together? Would people like them? Could I get them all framed in time? What on earth could I write as an "artist statement"?

Then there was the issue of the "Meet the Artist" interview that I had the option of doing. Many featured artists do a videotaped interview that is shown on local access television while the show runs. I worried that I would have nothing to say, or that what I did say would sound amateurish or foolish. I worried about the weight I gained over the winter (the camera adds ten pounds). In the end I did the interview. It helped that I know and like the interviewer, and she seemed interested in my drawings, paintings and sketchbooks. Actually, she made the interview fun, although I have not seen it yet, and don't know how I ended up sounding or looking.

Anyway, the show is hung, all thirty-five pieces. Many thanks to my friend Mary Ann who helped me decide where to put what. The interview is over. The artist statement is written. All I have left to do is arrange a display case of my collection of sketchbooks. Can you hear the sigh of relief?