Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recovering from a Dream Come True

Ever since I was a freshman Spanish student (about 1966) looking at a strange and wonderful photograph of Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city, I have wanted to visit Peru. I enjoy travel, and am lucky to have married a man who also loves to roam the world. We talked about taking a trip for years, but something always stood in our way - money, time, political unrest. So last fall when our University of Wisconsin, Whitewater alumni magazine came out with an ad announcing a trip to Peru, we decided this was our time to visit South America.

The university used a company called Pilgrim Tours to organize the trip, and we had a university representative to come along with us, so really all we needed to do was find the funds, read up on Peru, and decide what to pack. We always have up-to-date passports, so that was no problem.

The trip, overall, was wonderful, everything I hoped it would be. But the getting there and coming back was a challenge. The first day was a week ago Sunday, and we were in Whitewater at 6:30 in the morning to load a charter bus to Chicago O'Hare. We left our cars at the university. The plan was to leave Chicago just before noon, fly to Houston, then an hour later catch another flight for the 3, 100 miles to Lima. We were supposed to have a Sunday city tour and a welcome dinner and folklore show.

Three traits every traveler needs are flexibility, patience, and stamina. We have the first two, but I learned that my stamina is not what it used to be. Air travel can be exhausting. Our first flight was delayed two hours, which caused us to miss our flight from Houston to Lima. The airline put our group up in a hotel for the night, and we took a morning flight on Monday. Actually, some of our group went directly to Lima, but several of us were diverted to Panama for six hours first.

Going to Panama turned out to be interesting. We could have waited in the airport, but as a group we decided to try to get to see the Panama Canal. We had to purchase a visa, go through security, explain that we did not have a hotel, and then find a way to get to the Miraflores lock. While the group rented a locker for our carry-on luggage, my husband negotiated with a couple of taxi drivers. He finally found a van to take us to the canal and back in time for our flight to Lima - $25 a person round trip.

One man in the group had passable Spanish, so he communicated with Denise, our amiable driver, who spoke a tiny bit of English. She drove us the 45 minute trip through Panama City, pointing out places where both the rich and poor live, schools, churches, the cemetery for the men who built the canal.

I gather that the Panama Canal has three sets of lock. The closest one to the airport is the Miraflores lock. There is a nice visitor's center with a museum and an explanatory video, but we had just 35 minutes to watch ships go through the lock, and to get back to the airport.

To me, a lock is a lock, But to my dear husband, a lock is an endless source of wonder and entertainment. Still, it was interesting to find myself in a new country looking at one of the world's marvels of engineering. Here he is, in his element. We saw two ships passing through the Miraflores lock, then we paused for a group photo (taken by a couple from Venezuela celebrating their 50th anniversary), and finally we made our way back through rush hour traffic to the Panama City-Bay County International Airport.

We made it to Lima and our hotel by midnight, and we set our wake-up call for 4:30 in the morning, because we had a morning flight to catch over the Andes to Cusco.

To be continued.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Re-imagining Local Landmarks

Here's a vintage linen postcard of Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.  The back says, Williams Bay on the west shore of Lake Geneva is a recreational center with an excellent beach.  Nearby is the famous Yerkes Observatory, home of a large refracting telescope.  The Observatory is open to the public Saturday afternoons.  The observatory, created in 1897, was the largest refracting telescope used for scientific research.  It was owned by the University of Chicago, but I believe it has been sold, and I am not sure if the public can tour it anymore.  THe large dome is visible for miles around.

I had an idea to use vintage postcards of places that mean something to me to design simple collages.  I've seen this done as quilt patterns, and thought that I could simplify the shapes enough to do a postcard size miniature collage.  This was my plan.

Here is the collage so far,  not so interesting as I hoped, but a start.  It is the same size as the original postcard, three and a half by five and a half inches.  The hardest part of the project was the small size.  It's time consuming and tricky to cut such tiny pieces and glue them down accurately.  A friend recently gave me a large bag of magazines to replenish my stock of colors and textures, so finding paper was not difficult, but the detail on the telescopes was harder than I thought it would be.  I had an idea to do several Wisconsin collages like this of landscapes or landmarks, but I'm not sure how interesting the result so far is.  Maybe it's too soon to tell.  If any of you have reactions, I'd be interested in hearing them.

I'll be away for a week, and look forward to seeing the landscapes and landmarks of Peru.  I'm taking my sketchbook and camera, so I hope to share some of our adventure here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring - old images and a poem

old illustration from 1880s children's book

Grandma's childhood friends, fishing in southeast Washington, c. 1911

The vernal equinox is today, and people on other blogs talk about their green grass and daffodils.  It'll be a while before that kind of spring comes to southern Wisconsin.  There are signs.  We picked watercress the other day, and I have a little vase full of pussy willows.  The cat has stopped keeping me company in bed, and I finally removed one of the blankets.  Some other signs are not tied to the weather, like the high school basketball tournaments, and the orange road construction cones coming out of hibernation.  I have faith; spring will come when it's good and ready.

Ice Age
by Pam Lewis, in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

Sixteen thousand years ago
a cold clockwork brought the ice
to this ridge and the land beyond,
the earth still combed and pitted,
giant bones of mammoths buried
in our own marrow.

Now the prairie grasses sprout
in choruses of cowlicks at our feet,
while pleated black roofs
stretch in hosts of triangles to the horizon;
and a shiver runs up the spine
as an unseen landscape advances like a glacier.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness

Vintage postcard from Rock City, with collage elements from a school science text and National Geographic.  I visited the Fairyland Gardens with my grandparents in about 1961.

Part of a larger collage cut into postcard size, including maps, vintage ad, wallpaper, text and personal photos from long-ago summer vacations to New York and Tarpon Springs.

Recently several friends have given me gifts of old magazines, calendars, and printed material from foreign countries, all because I've been fascinated with cutting and pasting.  I have fashion catalogs, travel brochures, golf calendars, vintage Post, Life, and National Geographic magazines, and a couple of French newspapers.    This is in addition to the old postcards and children's books I've bought for pennies from my friendly consignment shop.  The challenge is starting to be how to organize, store, and easily access the material.  I have oversized manilla envelopes in hanging files stored in a plastic milk crate, but it will soon be too heavy to lift easily.  

These two little postcards are examples of different ways I've been experimenting.  The top card adds completely unrelated elements to an old linen postcard.  This one is of a place I've actually visited, though often I choose old black and white cards whose subjects, such a relatively empty street scenes, have room to add other elements.  This time I added a figure from a Mexican mural and the painter.  The bottom card is very different, and perhaps not so effective.  I did a larger random sort of collage for a workshop last fall, and while the large collage didn't appeal to me, when I cut it into postcard or bookmark sized pieces, I liked the challenge of working with the little bits.  It doesn't show very well, but after I glaze over the whole image with either diluted burnt sienna or burnt umber acrylic to tie the elements together and age the image, I add touches of gold leaf.  The sparkle of the gold draws the eye immediately.

At any rate, I'll send these cards as thank you notes.  I just wish the postal service had postcard stamps with something beside tropical fruit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Watercress Soup

Natureland County Park, near Whitewater, Wisconsin

My husband gathers watercress from the spring fed stream

After cleaning the watercress, he adds it to potato soup, and blends it for a St. Patrick's Day treat.

It has been ages since we had such a warm and sunny day on March 17th. Today the sun shone and the temperature was in the upper 60s, a day when the snow is retreating fast, and the ground is soft and wet. In the early 1970s, when we were undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, there was a day like this, a day to shed jackets and get outside. My then boyfriend and I cut classes and took off to a county park I knew well from 4-H activities - there may have been green beer that day as well (though not at the park). In 1975 we were married there under the trees, near the springs and lake. Today the water was running freely and there were bright green clumps of watercress for the taking.

He says he doesn't have a recipe for the soup, but here is how he says to make it.

Potato Watercress Soup

a cup or so of fresh cleaned watercress, chopped
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 or two cloves of fresh garlic, minced
a can of chicken broth
a can of cream of potato soup, plus a can of milk

Saute the onion and garlic in butter or olive oil, then set aside. Mix together the butter and flour and make a roux, then stir in the chicken broth and the sauted garlic and onion. Cook until it starts to thicken. Stir in a can of condensed cream of potato soup and a can of milk, and at the end add the watercress. In small batches, whirl the soup in a blender until smooth, then return to the pan and heat through.

He says you can adjust it any way you like, with more or less chicken broth or milk. You probably could just make the cream of potato soup and then add the watercress, but I doubt it would taste as fresh and good as this soup tasted to me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Some Thoughts on Travel

Today has been a day for thinking about travel.  These are altered photos from old - say 1950 - National Geographic magazines.  I was at my favorite consignment place, down in the basement, looking for old articles about Peru, and I found these.  I've been thinking all sort of Peru thoughts, checking the weather for Peru (warm by the coast, cool and wet in the Andes), reading books by Peruvian authors (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa), watching movies that feature Peru (The Motorcycle Diaries, The Dancer Upstairs), listening to Peruvian music on my Pandora radio station. I bought new insoles for my hiking boots, and new batteries for my camera.  The neighbor will bring in the mail and care for the cat, and all should be well.  

I always take a sketchbook along, although over and over the same thing happens.  I never have time to draw except in the airport and on the plane.  I have many sketches of people reading, sleeping, or the backs of their heads.  I have sketches of backpacks and luggage.  But I never have cool sketches of churches, monuments, or landscapes.  It just doesn't happen.  This time we're on an escorted tour, so we'll be part of a group of two dozen, so I don't see me sitting anywhere long, except in transit.  Still, I'll take my Moleskine, pens, and a gluestick.  I'll end up drawing from snapshots - again.  

I thought today I'd go down to the local Red Cross and give blood.  On their one-day drives a local pizza joint furnishes free slices of pizza, and these short events never draw many people.  I made it through the required reading, passed the blood pressure and blood drop tests, and then admitted I had spent three days at Thanksgiving at a resort in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic.  I swear, all I ever did was lounge by the pool, walk on the beach and sip pina coladas, but the nurse wrinkled her brow and scurried off to confer with her supervisor, who came over and went through an official data base.  Too bad, so sad.  I am deferred from donating until December 2009, a year after my return from our warm Thanksgiving, because the area is a malaria risk.  I ate a slice pizza and came home.  We'll see what they say about Peru.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Robin! and a March poem

Down at the Riverfront Athletic Club, where some days I stroll on the treadmill and stare out the windows at pickups crossing the bridge over the Rock River, rumor was that the robins are back in town.  Sure enough, this morning, one was huddled in our back yard, all puffed up and forlorn on frozen water in the birdbath.  I tried to snap  a photo, but the bird was shy and flew off to the neighbor's side of the fence.  There's a bitterly cold and fierce wind roaring today, but the snow has melted and my snowdrops are blooming, so I have hope that spring will come.

March Forth, by Ralph Murre, in the Wisconsin Poets' Calendar, 2009

March came in like either a lamb or a lion
and left like an animal, too.  I forget which one.
April came in like Winnie-the-Pooh
and left kind of like Tigger and
May came in like Mickey Mantle
and left too soon.  Now it's a morning in June
coming in soft on moth wings,
or walking in lady slippers
over mossy things and I suppose
the month will leave in those
sandals people buy for river rafting
July will come in like a vacationer
with sunburn and probably will go out
like a thunderstorm receding in the night.
August will creep in when we least expect it,
like the neighbor's dog at a BBQ,
and leave like a back-to-work tourist
as the yellow school bus brings a Green Bay Packer
and leaves and leaves and leaves
after its coach turns into a pumpkin and
November may arrive in a t-shirt
or a heavy coat and will leave
like a turkey, not like December,
which will come in like a young buck
who's escaped the hunters
and will exit up the chimney.
January will come in all bubbly,
dragging February behind like a last-resort date,
and they will stay long after the party's over.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Barbie

pen and ink, watercolor

The Everyday Matters group is sketching a favorite hobby, other than art.  Since it was Barbara Millicent Roberts' big Five-O yesterday, I thought I'd do a portrait of the vinyl goddess.  My original number one doll disappeared long ago, probably destroyed by my younger sisters and brother.  I got this number three doll a few years ago and had her hair restyled and her lips repainted.  A girl has to do a little maintenance to look good after five decades.  I got my original blonde ponytail doll for Christmas in 1959, just a few days before my ninth birthday, Mother and Grandma took the train to Milwaukee and stood in line to get the popular toy. Both of them loved dolls, and they spoiled us girls with Madame Alexander dolls, Shirley Temple, and of course Barbie.  Here is a link to the first television commercial, aired on the Mickey Mouse Club:  http://www.wikio/video/862007

Mother sewed all sorts of little dresses, coats for Barbie, and later Midge and Ken. She even knit little sweaters. The tiny high fashion dresses and accessories made by Mattel were too expensive, except for birthday treats.  Much later, as an adult, when Mother was quite ill, I began getting all the vintage outfits that we couldn't afford before.  That was something Mom and I could share, and I will always remember the pleasure it gave her to see all those little outfits, odes to the 1960s when my sisters and I were children.

Now Mom and Grandma are gone, but Barbie continues. I have a couple dozen different Barbies, and all the original outfits, purses, hats, shoes.  The dolls stand in a book case, and sometimes I think I should just sell them.  Let someone else enjoy them.  But for now,  they are a way to remember some happy times.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Godzilla! and The 64-65 World's Fair

Unisphere, New York World's Fair, 1964

Here's a postcard of the same event

I was thirteen when I took this snapshot at Sinclair Dinoland at the World's Fair

Here's what I did with a scanned copy of the old photo and a vintage German postcard.

Pretty soon this mania I seem to have acquired should play itself out.  Besides vintage line art from old textbooks, I have thousands of personal snapshots I have scanned.  The image of a vengeful lizard taking out a city isn't new, but I have a story about this one.  When I was thirteen my grandparents took me by Amtrak to New York City.  I was thrilled.  We rode the subway, saw Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford, ate cheesecake at Sardis, and spent a couple of days at the World's Fair.  I particularly remember the Wisconsin exhibit (the world's largest cheese), a Disney animated display that sang It's a Small World After All, and the Michelangelo's Pieta, viewed from a moving walkway, and an ultramodern Kodak pavilion with a huge movie screen that foreshadowed Imax.  We also went to the Sinclair Dinoland. That area featured life-sized fiberglass dinosaurs and had sidewalks edged with lava rocks. I backed up with my Brownie camera to take a photo of the T-Rex.  I didn't feel anything at first, but then a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew I was bleeding. Sure enough, I had lacerated my ankle on the sharp rock, and my canvas flat was soaked.  Dinosaurs can be dangerous.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Not Bedtime Reading

This is the old children's book I bought at the consignment shop, the one from which I have been scanning illustrations.  The only color in the book is on the cover, and what lurid color it is!  I have digitally repaired a few tears to show a better approximation of what it must have originally looked like.  I cannot imagine that any publisher of children's books would put such a bloody image on a cover, or anywhere.  Were children of earlier times made of sturdier emotional stuff?  Were they less prone to nightmares?  Tastes change, I suppose.  Perhaps the publishers saw this side-show style painting as emblematic of adventure.  

This is the postcard I assembled while sorting through my paper folders.  The sheep are at a Shaker farm, and the hand is from an old ad for Remington typewriters.  The sheet music is from something I vowed never to play again.  That hand is elegant, but also reminiscent of the nightmare scene in Carrie.  I have a friend whose parents, while watching that scene in a dark movie theater, were holding hands.  When her father jumped in startled terror, he sprained his wife's wrist.  The hand also reminds me of a tree. 

Maybe I should just go paint a vase of daffodils...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Scavenger Hunt Continues

This 1927 health textbook was hiding at the consignment shop for $1.00.  It was filled with vintage line drawings, photos and diagrams such as those which follow.

Since there were many pages left after the illustrations were removed and filed, I cut a niche into the remaining pages with a box cutter, glued the pages together with gel medium, and collaged  the results with recycled materials - wallpaper samples, newsprint, saved buttons, a twig, a bird card, a vintage postcard, and so on.  The little assemblage sits nicely on a metal easel.  I can shut the book and store it on a shelf as well.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Seeking and Finding Vintage Images

vintage postcard of Holyrood, with collaged elements

two owls


Fieldfare and Ringed Ousel

two songbirds

I'm still cutting and pasting in the studio, but I've also been scanning illustrations from a children's book I bought at my favorite consignment shop for about the same money as a small vanilla latte.  The book is entitled Young Folks Jungle Stories, Aunt Virginia Series, published by Hurst and Company in New York, about 1903.  The cover, though damaged, features a rhino with a bloody tiger speared on its horn, not the sort of thing children's books feature today. The binding is completely destroyed, the paper yellowed and crumbling, but the illustrations are delightful.  I just have to find a way to store them in such a way they don't crumble even more until I can find a way to use them.  I plan to post a few more in the next days, and if you want to use them, feel free.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

vintage postcard of Berlin, with collage

Lately I haven't been in a mood to paint or draw much, but rather have been having way too much fun cutting and pasting.  It probably started when I read a book this winter on altered art, which led to other books about collage artists, and then on to the Griffin and Sabine trilogy.  It isn't only all the reading; I'm also a life-long collector of odds and ends.  When I was a child I was interested in the stamps and coins Mother collected, and I had my own collections of shells and rocks and minerals.  At other times in my life I have collected other things: milk glass plates, marbles, dolls, pottery, old photos and even vintage post cards.  My some of my favorite shopping has always been in thrift shops and antique stores.  One of my favorite ways to spend an hour or so is at a local consignment shop called Carousel Consignment, where I can have a cup of black coffee, catch up on local news, and forage for old postcards or paper ephemera.  If I'm lucky I my finds are paid for by household goods I've sold at the shop.

I've been playing around with recycled materials too.  I have  a series of framed pieces made with recycled styrofoam trays melted with spray fixative, and I've been making collages with recycled magazine and vintage book images on scraps of recycled mat board.  All of this combined has led to my experimenting with some postcard collages.  Many of the things I like come together with these, foraging, vintage imagery, words, recycling and the element of chance.   I'd like to mail some out, but I'm not sure what people would make of the strange and dreamlike juxtapositions of images that are appearing on my work table lately.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Winter Art Exchange, Part One, Laura (and a poem)

watercolor by Laura Starrett

Winter can be dark in dreary in my part of the world, but January and February were brightened for me when Sharon, from The Flat Sound of Wooden Clogs  http://flatsoundof woodenclogs.blogspot.com/  invited several online friends to participate in a winter art exchange.  The rules were simple.  Everyone who wanted to participate would create a work of art in the medium of choice that was at least five by seven inches, and then mail it by the first day of spring to the other participants.  

Everyone admitted to being excited, but also a bit nervous about the project.  There's that quiet voice in the deepest darkest corner of the mind that says I am not worthy...  Of course that's rubbish. We all have followed each other online for ages.  We all admire each other's work, and look forward to having an original piece of art from a friend to hang on the wall.  What a joy to be able to be inspired by someone else's painting!

Laura from Laura's Watercolors  http://lauraswatercolors.blogspot.com/  was the first person to send me a painting.  Laura lives near water, loves it, and paints it beautifully.  The colors on the painting I received were more delicate than my scanner showed, warm orange boat hulls with rosy reflections and bluish shadows in the water.  It has the quality I like of being realistic, but also having abstract qualities.  The shapes and colors are beautiful and interesting.

I have mailed out three of the four paintings and collages, and writing this inspires me to get up and go work on preparing the fourth.  In the meantime, I haven't posted a poem for quite a while, so here's one inspired by Laura's watercolor. 

A Boat beneath a Sunny Sky
by Lewis Carroll

A BOAT beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July --

Children three that nestle near,
Easger eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear --

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by, 
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream --
Lingering in the golden gleam --
Life, what is it but a dream?