Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thank You

3x5 inches, paper collage on vintage post card, 
loosely based on a painting by John Marin

It's Thanksgiving, a day set aside for considering our blessings, for cooking and eating, for parades, and endless marathons of televised football.  When I was a child, and our family had one small black and white television, no remote, lousy reception, my dad was king of the day.  No food was put o the table that he did not like.  No television program was watched that he did not select.  I remember him watching a Thanksgiving Day football game, and since even then I did not like or pretend to understand football, I went into my bedroom to read.  I came out occasionally, checking to see if the prostrate and apparently sleeping form of my father still had a football game on.  Sometimes, if he looked unconscious, I would try to switch the channel, but he would mumble that he was awake, to leave the game on where it was.  I remember crying out in frustration that the game HAD to be over. I'll never forget the Thanksgiving so long ago.  He looked me in the eye and told me the first one WAS over.  This was the next one, and that there would be another after that.  This may be part of what turned me into a reader. 

Today, though I miss my dad very much, and though my sweet husband is taking his turn in watching the Thanksgiving football marathon, I am thankful for my own television, tucked away in my studio.  Of course I am also thankful for my health, my current family, friends, security.  But I thought I'd take a moment to thank all the online folks I have met through this blog an other web sites.  I consider many of them to be great sources of inspiration, instruction, and encouragement.  I started participating in online book groups back in 1995, and nothing has spurred on my reading like knowing these fellow readers, with whom I could discuss books any time of the day or night.  Since then I have added artists to my online friends and acquaintances, and they too have helped me think about my art more seriously, and have been a wonderful source of ideas and support.  Thank you, all of you who have stopped by to read and to comment.  I appreciate every one of you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Musing on Art and Blood Donation

Sketch done in pocket moleskine notebook - about 20 minutes

Yesterday I decided to go out and give blood.  I have been giving blood pretty regularly since I was eighteen, probably because my dad, who I admired greatly, often donated.  When I was in sixth grade, attending class in the National Guard armory (since I was a Baby Boomer and there were not enough classrooms in Elkhorn to accommodate all of us in the regular elementary school) I watched him donating in the gymnasium area.  I was fascinated.  In college I gave as often as I could because the ladies at the Whitewater armory not only had homemade cookies, they provided egg salad sandwiches, which I adore.

I miss sometimes.  Once in a while we are out of town, or I'm not feeling chipper enough.  One time the Red Cross deferred my for a whole year because I had the audacity to visit the Dominican Republic.  I assured them that I never left the pool at the resort we visited, and that I was protected by the rum and pineapple drinks with little umbrellas I consumed, but they were adamant.  Take a year off and be sure I hadn't contracted malaria.  I hadn't.

But, on the whole, I give regularly. Now that I am retired, I can wander in any time, and don't have to be part of the after-work rush and long lines.  Yesterday was interesting for two reasons though.  First, they asked me to give double red cells.  This was a first.  They hook you up to a machine that takes twice as many red cells as a regular donation, and returns all your plasma and platelets back to you, along with a little extra saline, as a bonus.  The up side is that you get to give twice as many red cells, and they use a finer needle than in regular donation, which improves comfort.  The down side is that it takes a half hour - oh, and the saline solution is colder than your blood.  I was warned that I might get chilled - nothing new for me there. Since the nurses couldn't get me started for a while, I had time to go out for a latte, and to locate a novel and my sketchbook.  I thought I'd pass the time drawing and/or reading.  My little Moleskine sketchbook and a pen ended up keeping me occupied most of the time. 

The machine, pictured in my rudimentary sketch, looks a little like an old fashioned tape recorder, except with all sorts of clear plastic tubes.  I was engaged pretty fully, and I didn't notice any discomfort in my arm, didn't feel cold.  Occasionally a nurse would call to see if I was OK, or a volunteer would try to offer me coffee (not necessary after a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte), but mostly I drew.  When I tired of that and tried to read I discovered something interesting.  I felt squirmy.  My hands and feet were cold.  My lips were cold.  The book made no sense.  Now I imagine that those sensations were there all along, but when my attention was diverted by trying to draw the machine, none of them registered.  What is it about the way art takes us completely out of our situation into a different place? 

Somebody, somewhere knows.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Collage and a Poem

3x5 inches, mixed media collage, loosely based on a painting by John Marin

Emissary of Light
by Mary Jo Balistreri
in the 2010 Wisconsin Poets Calendar
tiniest mandarin
sun in my palm
without seed or netting
with no strings attached
segment after sweet segment
of spiraled radience
a the year spins cold
as the indigo mood lost lost jobs perisits
you give hope
from a baldchin of boughs
balls of orange fire
a taste of paradise for the taking.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When in Doubt - Tear and Paste

3x5 inch abstract collage on an old postcard

I'm in some sort of artistic limbo lately, not sure of what I want to do, sketch, do figure drawing, paint, or what.  So I've reverted back into something comfortable - collage.  I was at the library this past week thumbing through some withdrawn books for sale in the friends shop, and I found a ratty catalog from a show featuring painter John Marin.  The loose and abstract quality of many of his landscapes spoke to me, and I realized that doing a series of little abstract collages would be a way to get going and use some of the many prepared papers I have filed away.  It would also give me a chance to study Marin more. I use papers collected from old books, magazines and catalogs, maps, painted tissue papers, and pages from National Geographic that I've altered with Citra-Solv cleaner. Note to self - pay more attention to using a variety of values, as well as concentrating on color and texture.  This is a chance work on composition.

I did several of these little pieces last night, and was excited by the results.  It occurs to me that I might also paint over the top of the collage work, simplifying some of the shapes.  Or, I might paint a new abstract and use the little collage as a reference.  I'm not sure where this may go. The reception I've gotten from a couple people who have seen them was cool at best.  Oh well, sometimes you just have to please yourself.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Masonic Mystery Man

One of the pleasures of my ongoing family history project is that I occasionally stumble upon distant relatives from across the county in the course of my searching.  While looking into a great grandmother's family, I found a woman online who is related to the Leaver family.  She had posted this photo on Find-a-Grave, an online site that tells where people are buried, and sometimes has biographical information.  She said that the photo was of Henry Leaver (1825-1911) in vintage Masonic dress, 1870, Elkhorn, WI, and she let me have a copy.  She is sure of the photo's identification, but I am not.  I'm guessing that the man in the photo is great grandfather George Edmund Pierce (1854-1933).

I have some reasons for my belief.  Henry Leaver is a great-great grandfather.  He was born in England, and then lived in a number of places, according to census records, none of which is in Wisconsin.  He lived in Illinois, Iowa and Colorado - where he is buried.  In 1875 he lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  He could well have been a Mason, but I have no proof of that other than this photo.

On the other hand, George Edmund Pierce (1854-1933) lived his entire life in the Elkhorn area, was active in civic affairs, and was mayor of Elkhorn for two terms.  I have a stack of membership cards suggesting he was active in several Masonic groups. The problem with the cards is that they all say Geo. E. Pierce, which might be George Edmund Pierce, but could also be his son, my grandfather, George Earl Pierce, who also was a Mason for more than 60 years - as was his brother H. Leaver Pierce.  I received the cards in a stack of family materials after my mother died, so there is nobody in the family to ask.

The Masonic lodge in Elkhorn is no longer active, but I attended an open house this week in Delavan, WI.  I took along the photo in question and found out that the man is dressed in regalia belonging to the York Rites group, and my own internet research leads me to believe the crosses on his uniform and the elaborate hat are worn for the Knights Templar.  From the membership cards, I think Geo. E. Pierce was a member of that fraternity. In addition, at the open house there was a book that someone had assembled listing members from area lodges, and both my Pierce grandfathers are mentioned, though not Henry Leaver.

Finally, I think the man in the uniform looks more like George than Henry.  These are two group photos of George E. Pierce, with his spade beard.  One is him with his wife, Mary Leaver Pierce (Henry was her father), and children.  The other is of him and men I don't recognize.  He is seated in front on the left.

I have a picture of George alone, but it isn't good quality and he is much older in it.  The best picture I have of Henry when his beard was dark is this one:

It is possible that Henry Leaver was a Mason, and that the photo of the man in uniform is of him, though I think it would have had to have been taken in Iowa, rather than Wisconsin.

I showed some of this to a Mason at the open house  - who turned out to be my high school guidance counselor - who said he'd check with the national organization to see if it has records of George E. Pierce's or Henry Leaver's Masonic affiliation. 

We shall see.

Friday, November 12, 2010

California Dreaming

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

It's too bad really, that having fun can be exhausting.  A few months ago we learned that my husband's college roommate, our best man from our wedding, was soon to be the father of a bride.  His oldest girl was getting married in Los Angeles.  We were invited.  Our first reaction pleasure at the event and our invitation, and our second was that Los Angles is pretty far to go for a wedding.  Los Angeles traffic is famous, and not for good reasons.  But then we thought more about it.  We have been friends with the family since about 1970.  He was our best man.  I wanted to see Disneyland. We really should visit my husband's brother who has been asking us to visit since about 1975.  In short, we booked our plane tickets, and I bought a little black dress.

It all worked out well.  We rented a a car, found our way to the downtown hotel, and started seeing how much we could see in four days.  We breakfasted at the central market, walked to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, then on impulse bought matinee tickets in the lobby to see the L.A. Philharmonic.  We went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, and we went to the wedding.  The wedding was outdoors at Cafe Pinot, near the Central Library.  I didn't understand that all festivities were to be al fresco, and my dress was sleeveless.  While the denim jacket I threw on for the walk made an interesting statement, I was glad when the mother of the bride loaned me a spare shawl.

The next day we left our hotel and headed south for my brother-in-law's house in Seal Beach.  I'll never forget the first time I saw him, when my husband and I were still dating.  We cut our college classes to sit in front of the television to see his brother as a contestant on The Dating Game.  Today he is a retired policeman, real estate salesman, and food writer.  He knows great places to eat.

 spotted at Tomorrowland, Disneyland

Tom Every's Forevertron, North Freedom, WI

I think my brother-in-law wanted to be our tour guide to the area, but I really really wanted to visit Disneyland once.  Call it an item on my "bucket list."  Like lots of Baby Boomers, I lived and breathed Disney movies and television shows as a child, and wanted desperately to ride the Tea Cups.  I was startled by some of the wonderful sculptures in Tomorrowland, and was reminded of a huge and fanciful scrap metal sculpture here in Wisconsin, the Forevertron, assembled by Dr. Evermor, aka Tom Every. Don't you see a similarity?

Anyway, we rode the Monorail, watched Steamboat Willie, rode the bobsled at the Matterhorn, visited the Pirates of the Caribbean, all sorts of things I should have done as a person without bifocals and silver hair. 

It was great fun

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Self Absorbed

I've been reading Peter Steinhart's interesting book, The Undressed Art: Why We Draw.  He mostly discusses his experiences in west coast life drawing classes, the delights and challenges of drawing from life, and how difficult it is to be a model in these classes.  I'm not currently going to the class I attended all summer, mostly because I don't like driving twenty or so miles and back in the dark, and also because the winter sessions are a little later, and I get so wound up I cannot sleep when I do finally make it home.  Still, I miss the experience, the excitement of drawing live, with a time limit, in the company of other people.

So, I have been drawing myself in a mirror.  I don't take any more than twenty minutes total, and I'm working without looking down at the page much, though I do glance down occasionally.  I thought I'd do a whole series of these between now and the end of December, and see how my renderings change over time.  They are not flattering, but they look weirdly like me.  I enjoy seeing what will happen under my pen each day, and am interested how different aspects of my face and posture are emphasized in each drawing. They aren't boring, and assigning myself to do these is getting me back in the habit of drawing every day, a habit I seem to have lost over recent weeks. I'm limited by the little notebook I'm trying to fill, maybe 3x5 inches, with flimsy paper that won't take water media.  Maybe it was supposed to be a journal, but I rarely keep a paper journal.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Grandma and Mom

8x8 inches, watercolor

I haven't painted in ages, most of the summer, in fact.  I decided the best way to get going again was to take an online challenge.  So I painted this little picture of my great grandmother and my mother as a child for Maury Kettle's blog "Watercolor Passion" - see the sidebar for a link. 

I'm guessing the photo was taken about 1931.  If course it was in black and white, and the scene was filled with a complicated background of trees and beach and water in the foreground.  I just didn't worry much about any of that, and went to the body language and expressions.  Mom looks much more unhappy in the photo; she never did like putting on a bathing suit.