Thursday, July 30, 2009

Recycling Again

Old postcard, coated with gesso, hand drawn boarder, gel transfer of women on the beach. Before I added the gel transfer to the card I wrote a message that shows through underneath, since this card had never been mailed.

Another old postcard, coated with thinned gesso so that the original message, stamp and postmark shows. The heart was cut from an old dictionary page I had stamped with a pattern. I added a blue butterfly.

Another experiment with a gel transfer. This time I scanned an old postcard, altered the colored to age it, then made the transfer from the scanned image. I used gesso on the card, allowing some writing and the stamp and cancellation to show. Then I added a strip of dictionary page, then the gel transfer. I finally used a date stamp and the letters SWAK.

I hate wasting things, and am fascinated by old paper ephemera. It has been drizzly and cool here, so yesterday I played with a stack of very mundane postcards (Motel 6, for example) , seeing how I could change them, use some of the stacks and drawers of images and materials I have acquired.

What do you think? What appeals or falls short? I'd love feedback on this project. Would people buy them? Would demoonstrating the process make an interesting workshop?

I have also simply coated cards with gesso, thinking I'd try little watercolors on our upcoming trip to Colorado. Maybe I should try one ahead of time...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Last Figure Drawing for the Summer

Janesville artists are represented at the Sweet Spot Coffe Shoppe in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The building was formerly an old hotel, which had become decrepit. But the owners renovated it, and now the building houses this popular place to eat, drink, meet and view local artwork.

This is a group show. My contributions were the red and white striped candy and the two small portraits of little girls.

I think the ochre colored walls are inviting, and make a nice background for these shows, which change monthly. I wonder how many paintings ever sell in places like this? I'm sure it benefits the coffee shop, which always has changing art on the walls, and must draw in some people. I was lucky that a Whitewater friend took my work over to be hung, since I was otherwise engaged the day the show was hung. It was a lot of work for her to transport and hang the art. I hope she at least sold something. I've had art in lots of shows in galleries and in places like this, but I've sold little. The question is always, why? Is it that people don't come to coffee houses to buy art, but rather to drink coffee? Is it the fact I show mostly watercolors, and that medium is seen as less desirable than paintings that aren't framed under glass? Is it the tight economy? Or is it that the art is pleasant but not good enough to compel people to purchase it. Maybe it's a combination of these factors.

The figure drawing class I took in Madison ends next week, but we're leaving for Colorado on Sunday, so this was my last class. All the poses were fairly short this time, none over twenty minutes. If I'd had more time I probably could have built in more contrast here. There were two other poses with props. In one the model sat on a car tire, and in the other she sat in a wooden school chair with a desktop. I learned that these extras distracted me from what I was really interested in, which was drawing the model accurately and creating a good composition. I found trying to get the perspective and shape of a student desk to be very trying, so I concentrated on the shape of her body. I'm not posting the results, which are at best humbling.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mystery of Agnes - Solved

I know I posted this picture before. All Grandma wrote on the back of the photo was "Agnes." I asked my aunt who Agnes was, and she thought Agnes was a friend, but didn't know any more. Then tonight as I was typing the tape Grandma made for me in 1994, I heard her talk about Agnes McLean. You just wait.

This is the house on Diamond Ave in Hillyard, now part of Spokane, she describes in the tape. When we visited in May we drove all over trying to find the place, and I think we did. This is an old photo of the time it was one of the Smith undertaking parlors. There was a much larger one in downtown Spokane, but this one served Hillyard, which was more working class.

Here is what I typed.

Carol: Tell about when you were in the hospital when you had - what was it? Scarlet fever?
Or what was it? And about how they didn’t tell Grandma Smith what it was.

Well, I think that’s in my autobiography, but when I was going to school in Milwaukee, both DuRell and I came down with scarlet fever. I got it first. Probably I passed it on to him and being that we were in the hospital with a lot of other people, so they quarantined the whole house. If we stayed there, but we had to move to the isolation hospital. And, I never saw my mother again from the day I went in that hospital until eight weeks later when they finally let me come home.

My brother got better but I developed heart disease and they didn’t think I was going to live. I can barely remember being put down at the end of the long corridor where they put those who die, and having a sheet wrapped, turned around all of my bed so that nobody could see me. And of course we were not allowed visitors, but my father would come up with the doctor because he was a junior doctor,. I guess by then he was an intern, so they would allow him to come up once in a while. But all the time Mother was calling and asking about me they would tell her, “As good as can be expected, as good as can be expected.” And she thought that meant I was getting well.

Well, she went to the dime store one day and she met one of the doctors and he had met her socially with Dr. Smith, so he knew her. And he walked up to her and shook her hand, and she in the course of the conversation she very casually asked him how I was, because DuRell had gone home quite a while before this. He had gotten over it and went home. And he said, “Well,” and he put his hand on her arm, and he said, “We think maybe we can save her now. We have hopes that she will...”

and Mother said everything got black and she thought was going to hit the floor. She grabbed a hold of the nearest counter and she said “What are you talking about?”

And he said, “Well, it has been several weeks and we haven’t known if she was going to live or die.” But he said “Now she is getting better.” and that was the first she knew of it or heard of it. And I had wondered all this time why I never heard anything from her, in any way shape or manner. But of course we couldn’t get any word through either. And Dr. Smith wasn’t about to tell her.

But it all ended all right. I came out with a bad heart, and I’ve had one all my life, and I’m still here, so I guess it doesn’t matter. I have a pacemaker, and also a patch, a nitrogen patch,. But I’m still here. I think my long life is due to my ancestry, because I come from the Adams family on my father’s side, and his brothers all lived long long lives. My aunts and uncles were into their late 90s, some were over 100 before they died, which was very unusual in those days when there were no antibiotics or anything to keep people healthy. So I think I inherited some of those genes. I don’t know why else I’d be here today, at 92.

Carol: She asks here about jokes and tricks. I remember you telling about DuRell and some flowers. Didn’t DuRell paint some flowers or something?

Oh yes.

Carol: What was that?

When we were in Troy, we lived at the cherry orchard, that belonged to the Dewitt family. And they - the boys - had kind of a flower garden out in the front lawn. And it had lilies in it. Some kind of, variety of lilies that I didn’t know anything about. And over night they got painted. Beautiful colors, pink and red and green, every color there was. And the boys were not too appreciative of it. They were very upset because they were their prize lilies. And they found out that Durell had found some paint out in the barn, and had decided to liven them up a little bit, so he painted them. But he wasn’t very popular around the Dewitt place after a while.

Carol: I think DuRell was a little spoiled,

Yes, he always liked pretty things,

Speaking of jokes...

Carol: Go on, tell us some more.

Speaking of jokes. this practical joke I didn’t commit, but it was played on me when we lived in Hillyard in the undertaking parlor. My step grandparents owned a very large undertaking parlor in Spokane. Hillyard was a suburb of Spokane, and we had the Hillyard, suburb, undertaking parlor. Well, two things happened there that were very weird.

The first one was when we moved the fat man out of the embalming room. Mother called me from school and had me come home to help her because she had gotten a call, an emergency call, from Dr. Smith that the wife of the man, or the corpse, who was in the embalming room, was coming to visit him. And he was in no position to be visited. So we had to get him into the living room, out of the embalming room, and that was quite a chore. There was a step there, where you had to step up. And oh yes, I said I was equal to the occasion, I was strong, I was strong as mother was, and we could do it. So come to find out, he was quite a heavy man, and sort of round in the stomach. And we put a sheet over him, and we pulled him out as far as the porch, this was the back porch of course, not the front, and we had to turn him around, and lift one side of him so we could get him into the door that went to the undertaking parlor living room where they showed the caskets and had the funerals. So we started to lift him up and he started to roll. And we wanted to grab him, hold him, but it was terrible. We thought we were going to lose him for sure, over the sidel, and both of us somehow or other we managed and we got him back into the room. And then we tried to put the sheet over him, because we couldn’t dress him. It was impossible for us to lift him him and put clothes on him, so we improvised. We put the sheet over him and used his arms to hold the sheet down, because it kept sliding off his stomach. And then we improvised and we decided we had to put something around his neck and chin because his top part looked so bare. So we got a pillow case, and draped it around his top and tucked it under his shoulder blades, and then just his bare arms stuck out holding the sheet on. So we straightened everything all up, and we decided he didn’t look too bad, and we waited for his folks to come. And they were coming in the front door when we were putting the sheet around his shoulders, and we had to explain the reason he wasn’t dressed was because we couldn’t dress him, But they were very nice about it, and that ended. But I have never never forgotten moving that corpse.

Carol: Wasn’t there a story about a casket and the lining...

Oh yes, yes. That was my two best friends. One of them was two years older than I was, They were the McLeans, who had a little house in Hillyard when we were married to my father. When we were married to my father, that’s the way I always thought of it.

I had two best friends. And they were the McLean girls, that lived next door. So when we came back married to Dr. Smith and running the funeral parlor, they were delighted to come a visit me. And the first place they wanted to go was the casket room, So we showed the caskets, and they were very pretty all lined and soft looking, and the girls were very impressed. Well, Agnes was supposed to go home that night for supper, but Evelyn was going to spend the night with me. She was the one my age. So we had a very nice meal and we talked til late at night, and finally we turned the light out. And we hadn’t gotten to sleep,, and we heard this terrible - we were talking about the casket room, and Eveylyn said she would not like to sleep next to it. She wasn’t sorry that she lived in a big house because she would not like to live right next to a casket room.

“Oh,” I said, “there’s nothing to it.”

With that we commenced to hear moans and groans, horrible ones, from the casket room. I said, “Oh, that’s just the wind blowing.”

“No, no it isn’t, Evelyn said. “ That’s no wind. It doesn’t sound like wind to me.”

And they kept on going, and then she started to scream, And she screamed at the top of her life, and of course it woke up Mother and Dr. Smith. And they came in and said “Well we’ll see what’s going on next door.”

So they opened up the door and walked in and found Agnes in one of the caskets, roaring and groaning and moaning to beat the band. Well, she got out of there in a hurry, and she got sent home in a hurry. And she was told to never darken the door of that casket room again. But Agnes was always full of tricks. If you were around her very long you got yourself into trouble, or she got you into it, one or the other.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Friends' Playhouse

I belong to the Wee Travelers doll club, though I have stopped actively collecting. These days I have no real desire to acquire more dolls, though I like them for their artistry, their history and for their place in children's lives.

Recently our club met on the farm owned by one of the members. We had a potluck supper on the lawn and talked about favorite dolls. The best part of the evening was seeing her playhouse, an old shed cleaned out, furnished with white curtains, inhabited by old dolls, both from her childhood and collected more recently. It was a small, quiet space, and I wanted to share.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 20 Figure Study

Last night was my figure drawing class in Madison. We had a model, though a clothed one. She was graceful and lovely, though not what I expected. We're still working with vine charcoal, covering the background with a medium value, then adding in darks and lifting out the highlights. She positioned herself for a forty minute pose, and I drew her twice in that time, once in crayon on newsprint, and this one on nicer paper.

There are two weeks left, though I can only attend next week, since we're going away for a week at the beginning of August. We'll see what model we get for next week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Scenes from Door Co. and Dickinson

Pleasure craft replace fishing tugs in Algoma's harbor.

Multicolored chairs brighten a shade garden in Ephraim.

The sunset at Bailey's Harbor as seen from the breakwater

Graffiti at the Francis Hardy Gallery

A Western Fox Snake near Woodwalk Gallery

I love taking a few days every summer to head north to visit my aunt and drive around Door County, the thumb shaped peninsula that sticks out into the water between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. This year the weather was nice, so I took the convertible, and enjoyed the sunshine, lake breezes and scents of fields and gardens. I also like to take photographs, either to just remember the weekend, or as potential subjects to paint. These altered photos show some of the sights.

The fox snake surprised me in a couple ways. I almost stepped on him, sunning himself near a former dairy barn, now converted into an art gallery. I surprised myself at not being frightened. There are no poisonous snakes in Door County, though this bad boy shook his rattle-less tail at me. He's a constrictor whose diet is birds eggs and small mammals. No "zero at th e bone" this time, just admiration for a beautiful creature.

The Snake
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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

From Last Night's Figure Drawing

45 minute pose, vine charcoal

another 45 minute pose

We had a model for last night's figure drawing session, though we had a substitute instructor. We're still working on this reduction method, laying down vine charcoal, then lifting out highlights and adding darker values. I wish I could have done a better job on his legs in the top sketch; his are sturdier than the ones I drew. Obviously I miscalculated on the bottom sketch, though the instructor called the composition "dynamic." I love it when people dignify your mistakes. Actually, I like the range of values better on the bottom attempt.

I skipped last week, though I had been in Madison all day with my husband. We had intended to take in a couple museums, forgetting that they are closed on Monday. So we had a nice lunch, wandered down to the Memorial Union and sat in the shade by Lake Mendota, then just went home.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Elkhorn Postcards

My mother collected post cards. She gave me several of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, the town where she grew up, and where I went to high school. The most impressive building downtown is the old hotel on Wisconsin Street. The building dates from 1893 when it was the Elkhorn House hotel, and it became the Loraine Hotel in 1929. The building once was also a bus station. It hasn't had an operating hotel since the 1960s. These days there is a popular Chinese restaurant called Moys in the spot. I realized this morning that I have several cards showing the hotel from about 1907 until the 1950s. I wonder when the clock on the top level was removed, also the top level of the spire in the corner. It's interesting to see what businesses have come and gone in the location, how people dressed, and even the vehicles they drove.

Anyway, I've fallen into collecting cards since Mother died a few years ago. I always considered it to be an old lady sort of hobby, so maybe that's what I am becoming. Other than cards my relatives sent (I like to see their handwriting), I only collect linen cards of places I have actually visited. I like looking at the old stamps, reading the messages, and I like the colors on the vintage cards. Plus they don't take much room, which gives them an edge over other things I have collected, such as dolls, or old glassware.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Baby Birds and a Poem

Baby birds, spotted at the Rusty Rabbit Shop, Ephraim, WI

Weekend Work
Jeanie Tomasko, in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

First light, and already the clover
bends and rises to the small weight

of bees, snatching nectar.
The white faces of lace allow

the sweet nuzzle of want,
then let go. There is so much to do

the wrens say,gathering sticks
the oaks say, widening.

So much work, I say, letting morning
ripen blackberries till they shine.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Grandma Smith's Mystery Teapot

Great Grandma Smith, married first in 1900, later in 1914, both times in Seattle. She is nineteen years old in this wedding portrait.

Hotel Butler, a formerly grand hotel in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle. The hotel has been torn down and is now a parking garage. Notice the insignia; it's the same as on the teapot below.

The teapot with the engraved insignia of the Hotel Butler

I was "up north" this week visiting my aunt, a woman I adore, and who has agreed to be my "substitute mom" since my mother died a few years ago. She was having a rummage sale, and asked me to help her get a few items down from high shelves for the sale. When she saw this 8 oz. silver teapot, she said that it had belonged to her grandmother, my great-grandmother.

I did a little online digging around. It turns out that this is a Reed and Barton teapot. They were produced between 1900 and 1940 for use in restaurants and hotels, and usually had the hotel's name engraved on the bottom. This one said "Hotel Butler." At first I thought that was a brand name, but then reconsidered. I knew she was married in Seattle, twice (two different men). Her second husband came from a well-to-do family, and the Hotel Butler was once one of Seattle most elegant hotels, catering to those returning successfully from the Yukon gold rush. It stood in the Pioneer Square Skid Road district, a place I visited in May. I also found an image of a postcard of the hotel, and the little symbol engraved on the teapot is also on the postcard.

I wonder if my oh-so-proper English grandmother walked off with a souvenir of her honeymoon?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Memories of Cars, Boys, the End of WWI

This is the first automobile Grandma remembered. It belonged to her step father's parents. Here she is inside the car. I am interested in the chains on the tires, which must have helped drive in the sand of southeastern Washington.

Here is my grandfather, Howard Tess, holding a puppy. He was ten years older than Grandma, a veteran of the first world war.

This is my grandmother before her marriage.

But I met my husband while we were in Troy. He even made meals with me. One time when he invited himself to supper all we had was boiled cabbage and potatoes, and I thought that nobody ever would sit down to a meal like that, and pretend they liked it, but he did. He sat down and said it was delicious, although I found out later that he didn’t like that. He didn’t like cabbage at all. He didn’t like chocolate cake either, and I made that for him for a long time.
Carol: He liked spice cake, I know.
Yes, he liked spice cake.
Well, all of a sudden out of the clear blue sky we got a letter saying Dr. Smith was coming home. And for many reasons that I haven’t mentioned here, I did not want to follow his plans for my life. He had plans that I would become his secretary, and he would be my teacher, he would tell me exactly what to do, and he would pick out who I should go with, and who I should marry. And I just couldn’t face the idea of that. So, everybody got together, Howard’s folks and my mother, and it was decided that we would get married. It was a very very hasty affair.
Carol: Where’d you go on your honeymoon?
We went to Chicago on our honeymoon. We were married in Milwaukee, by two ministers, because the one wasn’t, he wasn’t, what do you call it? Ordained. Yes, although he had been out in East Troy, and had been ministering at the church there. He was the one that gave us advice on the sense of matrimony. And he was very nice, and we liked him. So this older preacher was there when we went to be married, in his apartment in Milwaukee, and the older preacher pronounced us man and wife, so we’d be securely married. Which we were for forty-five years. And had two beautiful daughters.
Carol: You moved in, didn’t you, when you were first married, with your in-laws in the other side of the house?
Yes, we did. We lived in, well, it was the living room, two rooms, three rooms, a kitchen and a living room, and a bedroom. And -
Carol: An outhouse out back
Yes, oh yes, the outhouse was out in back. And actually, there was no bathroom, we had to use our in-laws’ bathroom, which was if we wanted to take a bath. Otherwise we went to the place outside. But if we took a bath we had to go next door, and use their bathtub, because we didn’t have such a thing. We had a coal stove for heat and we had a coal stove that we put in storage later and we lost because they sold it while it was in storage and we were young and green and didn’t know enough to make a fuss about it. So we lost that completely when we moved to Elkhorn. It was brand new and our prized possession.
They’re going got ask me some more questions.
Carol: Mother, you told me about how out at the ranch you got around. But I know that you and Grandma didn’t drive, so how did you get around while Grandpa was gone and you were alone?
Well there weren’t even any cars to drive back in those early days. The only car I ever saw was when my stepfather’s brother - I don’t know how he managed to get out there – he got out to the ranch in one of the first cars that was ever built. And it was a wonder on wheels to all of us. Nobody will believe this.
And the first time I rode in a car was in Grandpa Smith’s in Milwaukee, and he had a Pierce-Arrow, and he took us for a ride. It was a great big mammoth thing. When you set in the back seat you felt as if you were in the living room. And it was carpeting had had seats that folded down from the front seat so four people could set and face each other and converse. And there was room to put a table in between, if you wanted to. You could even eat a lunch or play cards there. And when he came to us he would get out and light the lights by hand, And we’d chug along at fifteen likes an hour, and Grandma would say, “Oh, you’re going much too fast, much too fast. Slow down, slow down.” Of course there weren’t any cement roads then, It seemed we were going a lot faster, probably, than we were. But we never went very fast. And there weren’t very many cars on the road, because very few people had them at that time.
Carol: Yeah, but how did you and Grandma get around?
When we got out of Troy we didn’t have any transportation of any kind, and we would go with the neighbors who had horses and buggies. And finally somebody lent us a buggy and we found an old broken down horse. And the horse and the buggy were united and we tried to ride that to East Troy. But it was a sad and sorry state and the old mare did not have a good disposition. She was very balky. And she was apt to balk in the middle of the road and we couldn’t move her one way or the other. And she also nipped people.
Carol: Well you didn’t have much luck, You weren’t any child when you learned how to drive a car.
Oh my no. 
Carol: How old were you?
Oh my heavens!
Carol: I guess maybe you weren’t that old.. You must have been sixty.
Well I didn’t drive, you know, I never drove. Howard didn’t want me to drive.
Carol: Oh I remember when we were little you trying to learn to drive.
I tried to one time, but he was glad that I didn’t learn because he really didn’t want me to learn how to drive. He liked to be king of the road. Well, I scared myself to death. I pretty near had an accident a couple of times. Howard always kidded me about trying to run the sheriff down in the middle of Elkhorn because he pushed on my radiator and tried to push me back in the intersection. 
Carol: I remember another story that was interesting was after the first world war, I guess you were uptown Milwaukee and it was being celebrated.
Oh yes, that was in grade school. Yeah – 
Carol: You were probably in high school. 
No, I don’t think I was even in high school yet. They threw the talcum power –
Carol: Yeah, tell them about that story.
Well we let out from school when the wonderful news came that the first world war had ended, so of course everyone was on Grand Avenue down Milwaukee , which is now Wisconsin Avenue, but at that time it was Grand Avenue. And the stores were all closed because people were going crazy. They’d go in and loot them and help themselves to anything they wanted. And the clerks couldn’t stop them. The police didn’t stop them. So finally they locked all the doors, nobody could get – so they just wandered up and down the middle of the street, and screamed and yelled and threw things at each other. We got a whole handful of talcum thrown at us, and most of landed in my eyes. I couldn’t see anything, and my eyes were smarting and burning and I had to go home finally. Which was probably a good thing because it went on and on ‘til nearly all night long. It was a tremendous celebration, but there was a lot of damage done. Lot of people hurt.