Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorite Books of 2011

It’s January 31st, and time to finally make my list of favorite books read for 2011.  This year I read twenty fewer books than last year, and I imagine I can chalk it up to more time spent watching movies, more time painting, and yes, more time spent playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. 

Many of the books I read in 2011 were art related, and I eliminated them from this list, since books on the qualities of watercolor paint, or the history of the Fauves probably aren’t very interesting to most of my other reader friends.  I also eliminated books I read for a second or third time, even though both Ann Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces and Johanna’s Spyri’s Heidi gave me hours of delight.  Ditto with the excellent Travels of Jaimie McPheeters

All book lists are personal, and I will resist the urge justify my choices.  These were simply books those rose like cream to the top of my annual list of books completed, titles that I thought about after I closed the covers of the book, or popped the last disc out of the CD player in the car. These were titles I found myself talking about to my husband, recommending to friends, and going to the internet to learn more about.

In alphabetical order, there are my top ten favorites for this year.

1.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Fiction. I found this book in the young adult section of the library, and while the main character is a high school freshman, I found the story to be funny, touching, and altogether enjoyable.  The main character is Junior, a want-to-be cartoonist, who leaves the Spokane reservation to attend mostly white high school.  I loved his determination to make something of himself.

2.  American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Fiction. I discovered Gaiman through listening to Coraline in audio format, and the going on and also listening to Anansi Boys and Stardust. I read and adored his young adult novel The Graveyard book last year. This year was the 10th anniversary of the publication of American Gods so I dove in.  It’s hard to write a short summary, the the idea for it is, what if gods from all sorts of religions around the world came to the New World with immigrants, and had to do battle with the things people worship today - like commerce?  A young man, Shadow, gets out of prison, and soon after his wife is killed.  Then strange people come and Shadow is involved in an epic battle between old gods and new.  There is a great scene set at my all-time weird favorite local roadside attraction, the House on the Rock.

3.  Hideous Kinky, by Esther Freud. Fiction.  Hideous Kinky is an awful title for a charming and interesting book,  The story follows two young English girls and their rather Hippie-like mother on her travels through Morocco.  The  author is the daughter of artist Lucian Freud, and the story is a fictionalized version of events that happened to her and her sister.  We rented the movie afterward, and liked that too.

4.  Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. Fiction.  While I have mostly dropped out of organized book groups, I read this title with a discussion group that meets at our library.  This luminous book is about the intertwined lives of a Nigerian refugee and an English magazine editor. The title character differs hideous cruelty in her homeland, but her determination and optimism shine.  The ending was the only thing I disliked, but it was probably realistic.

5.  My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy. Nonfiction. I listened to Conroy read his memoir about growing up in the deep South, and of the people and books who shaped him as a reader and as a writer.  I found myself driving around, sitting in parking lots with the CD running, just so I could listen to that man talk.  I even ended up reading a whole book of challenging poetry by James Dickey as a result of having spent time with this memoir.

6.  Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fiction. My husband had started and abandoned this novel, and it does start slowly.  It takes a long time to come to understand that the young people in the English boarding school are being raised to be organ donors in a future time.  They will gradually sacrifice their lives so that others may live.  In a time when people do donate organs, and genetic research does make cloning possible, Ishiguro creates a story that is haunting, about everyone’s need to be loved and to feel important, and about the implications of certain lines of scientific inquiry.  I’m glad I read it before I watched the film version. It was also interesting to read just before I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book that also looks at scientific ethics, though it is nonfiction, and was less compelling for me.

7.  Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, by J. Maarten Troost.  Nonfiction. I actually listened to two of Troost’s autobiographical travel stories on CD.  Both were informative, sometimes a bit shocking, and always very very funny.  Troost went to Tarawa , a South Pacific island with his girlfriend and later wife.  He reports on the tremendous heat, some horrific critters, incompetent government officials and all sorts of colorful locals.  Remind me not to book a cruise to this place.

8.  The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt. Fiction. I find myself being attracted to Westerns in my dotage, something I would never have predicted as a younger woman.  Maybe it’s all the family history work I’ve been doing, or maybe its just having enjoyed the Deadwood series.  I don’t know.  This story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, two guns for hire, has everything I like, interesting characters, entertaining dialog, action, history, and humor. 

9.  Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Fiction. I read this one after hearing it recommended on an NPR podcast (I listen to these items while I play games online).  This is another book with with unusual characters, entertaining dialog, and a little magical realism.  It probably isn’t for every reader.  The story centers on a family in Florida who run a roadside attraction, an alligator wrestling place, and who are losing the enterprise to a bigger amusement park - World of Darkness.  I couldn’t help thinking of Noahs Ark, at the Wisconsin Dells.  Anyway, this one kept me happily turning pages and sometimes scratching my head, right up to the end.

10.   The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. Fiction.  This was another library book discussion title that I ended up liking.  Apparently it is the second book in a trilogy, with the third book still to come.  Oryx and Crake is the first title in the trilogy, though I have not read it. Atwood is back writing literary quality speculative fiction, this time imagining that most of the world has been killed off by a waterless flood, some sort of virus.  The world is run by giant multinational corporations. The survivors of the “flood”, young women Ren and Toby, must use their survival skills to get along in a very frightening imagined future.  I loved the way Atwood played with language in this book, and the way she takes current trends in science, pop culture and even music and spins them out into what they could some day become.  I also enjoyed the dystopian future novel The Hunger Games, but it could not compare to this book in scope or quality of writing.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Painted Turtles Monotype

4x6 inches, monotype with added watercolor

Yesterday I turned 61, and it turned out to be an excellent day.  We went to Madison Wednesday evening, went out to hear some music, stayed at a nice hotel, and Thursday ate out some more, saw a movie in a theater - something we rarely do any more - and saw the Harlem Globetrotters.  I had fun, but I kept thinking about how I wanted to get into the studio.

Today I did get into the studio, and ended up not painting this pair of painted turtles the way I thought I would.  I had an urge to get out my Createx paints and try a monoprint.  I usually put the base coat and paint on a plate made from a piece of plexiglass, but I couldn't find it anywhere.  So I improvised and used a ratty piece of Yupo that I saved after I washed off an an unsuccessful watercolor.  Yupo is just a smooth piece of plastic, and it ended up working really well for the plate.  I just drew on the Yupo with a Sharpie so I would have the basic design, added a base coat and a layer of black monotype paint and manipulated that until I was satisfied.  After that dried I took a wet sheet of rice paper and lay it on the plate, turned the two sheets over and rubbed the back of the Yupo with an old wooden doorknob I use as a bale, and voila!  After the paper dried I went back in with some watercolor and a bit of white gouache. 

I'd like to try more prints of this pair, perhaps adding some collage elements, and also painting them more traditionally.  I'm not sure why I have always been attracted to painted turtles, but I find myself looking at them, photographing them, and now painting them.  Maybe it was that chapter in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, the one where the turtle struggles to get across a road, is flipped over on its back, but keeps struggling until it rights itself, and carries on to the other side.  Or maybe it was those tiny painted turtles Mom bought from the dime store for us kids as pets, who lived in a little plastic swimming pool, until they finally expired.  Anyway, I like them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Old Team

farm horses  - between 1925 - 1935?

My husband and I drove to my brother's house for Christmas Eve.  Our family doesn't get together often, but since Mother died a few years ago we've agreed to meet on that day.  This year I gave my brother a CD copy of the extended family tree, a project I've been working on about five years.  It has photographs, stories, and a cast of several thousand characters going back to pre Revolution days.  Brother wanted to know who all these people were, and that, of course, is what I have been trying to discover since I started the project.  Who are these people, and how do their lives inform us who we are today?  Why bother with events and people long past and often forgotten?

Sometimes there are clues, as with these photos that Mother had kept from our paternal grandparents. There are others of farm animals, horses, and many of chickens and geese.  I suspect my grandmother was the photographer, since she is rarely in the photographs, and she was the one who kept hens for their eggs.  I recognize the corn crib in the background, so I know this picture was taken on our farm.  Perhaps the sleigh was stored in the center, the place where Dad kept a tractor when I was small.  But there is much I don't know.  When did Grandpa finally stop using horses?  Did he keep them out of affection until they finally died, or did he sell them out of economic necessity?  There is nobody to ask any more, so I find myself inventing stories, which is what I sometimes do for people who are distantly related on the family tree.  I gather clues were I can, and make up stories for myself when that is the only thing I can do.

Inventing a Horse
By Meghan O'Rourke

Inventing a horse is not easy.
One must not only think of the horse.
One must dig fence posts around him.
One must include a place where horses like to live;

or do when they live with humans like you.
Slowly, you must walk him in the cold;
feed him bran mash, apples;
accustom him to the harness;

holding in mind even when you are tired
harnesses and tack cloths and saddle oil
to keep the saddle clean as a face in the sun;
one must imagine teaching him to run

among the knuckles of tree roots,
not to be skittish at first sight of timber wolves,
and not to grow thin in the city,
where at some point you will have to live;

and one must imagine the absence of money.
Most of all, though: the living weight,
the sound of his feet on the needles,
and, since he is heavy, and real,

and sometimes tired after a run
down the river with a light whip at his side,
one must imagine love
in the mind that does not know love,

an animal mind, a love that does not depend
on your image of it,
your understanding of it;
indifferent to all that it lacks:

a muzzle and two black eyes
looking the day away, a field empty
of everything but witchgrass, fluent trees,
and some piles of hay.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Longest Night, and Lights

Winter Solstice Chant
By Annie Finch

Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
now you are uncurled and cover our eyes
with the edge of winter sky
leaning over us in icy stars.
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bucky Cat

6x6 inches, acrylic on paper

I've been thinking about painting our cat, Bucky.  She is a charming black and white female, rescued from the Humane Society about five years ago, and better than an electric blanket in the winter.  I love 
her sweet nature, plush fur, and the two freckles on her pink nose.  The challenge here was to choose colors that are interesting, not just black, white and gray.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yupo Pose

11x14 inches, watercolor on Yupo synthetic paper

I had to laugh this week when a friend at our weekly art play date shared his reservations about painting on Yupo, which is a slick synthetic "paper" made of plastic.  He compared it to pushing around snot.  I guess you like non-absorbent surfaces, or you don't!  Certainly working on a surface that puddles if you are used to having paint soak in, can be disconcerting.  I like the challenge and the aspects of working this way that Yupo allows.  It automatically demands that you work a little looser, and it makes lifting out highlights wonderfully easy. 

I wish I could say I painted this from direct observation at the figure studio, but I worked from a reference photo our mode let me take last summer.  She always poses in yoga outfits, and obviously enjoys working with artists.  This makes for a very relaxed painting session, and I have lots of sketches of her done directly.  But these days I'm not going out on winter roads in the evening very much, so the pictures I took in July are coming in handy.  I also would never try to work on Yupo in the figure studio because I need to let layers dry as I alternately add darker passages and lift out whites.  This process works best for me at home.

I'm not unhappy with the results here, but I think I may use a clear acrylic spray to fig the image the way it is, and then go back and play with adding some acrylic glazes, just to see how it works. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another Snow Scene

10x10 inches, acrylic on paper

I've been wanting to paint a series of acrylic landscapes that were fairly loose and bordering on abstract, and then I just kept adding details.  Still, I did something I had been wanting to try.  I liked a reference photo I took of a road in the Palouse of eastern Washington, so I dug it out.  I took the picture in May, so the hills were a brilliant emerald, but here I decided to see if I could imagine the setting in winter.  I heard from a distant cousin there last week that there hasn't been much snow, but that didn't stop me. I spent way longer on it than I planned this morning, but I'm glad I gave the scene a try at last. Scenes like this are what I remember from growing up on my family farm - lots of brilliant sky morning and evening.

My plan is to mount the painting on a cradled board that I've painted a dark charcoal color.  After it dried, I'll varnish the whole thing, and wire it. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Snow, and Lack Of

6x6 inches, acrylic on paper

The other night I sat with a large group of retired friends for Friday night fish fry, listening to the hardiest of the group bemoan our lack of snow so far this year.  I had to bite my tongue, having already declared my lack of enthusiasm for football, about my similar lack of enthusiasm for snow. I didn't want to be ejected from the table.  Despite my northern European genetic background, and despite having lived almost sixty-one years in Wisconsin, I don't like snow.  I don't like being stiff and cold, don't enjoy being afraid to drive on icy country roads or nervous that I may slip and break one a bone.  When one long-time friend and happy grandmother said she was thinking of organizing a sledding party - once snow actually falls - I just chewed my potato pancake and smiled.  For me, sledding is only a memory.  As a child I dragged my little sled up the small hills on the farm, and once, wanting more of a thrill, hauled an aluminum saucer onto the roof of the chicken coop and slip off the snowy incline onto a pile of plowed snow near the driveway, but that was when I was more resilient.  I also slid down hills at UW Whitewater on fiberglass trays from the cafeteria, but that was when I was dumber.

Anyway, I decided to attempt a painting based on a small 1935 black and white photo I found of my mother and her older sister.  They are standing outside in a dim and snowy landscape, bits of snow falling past the camera lens.  It was interesting, mostly fun, and frustrating.  The little girl in red is my mother, and the painting actually resembles her.  The older girl is  OK in a general way,  maybe a little old looking, but she in no way resembles my dear aunt.  I wish I could have tweaked her features more, but I feared overworking the painting even more than I had already.  At least the girls call to mind a time a place, and painting them gave me time to imagine their life between the two world wars, on a cold day in Wisconsin.

The Snow Man    
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Small Landscape, and Some Good Advice

6x6 inches, acrylic on paper

I took a photo of our family farm across some late summer fields back in about 1998, and have tried several times to paint the scene.  This little landscape is loose and imprecise. I concentrated more on having strong contrast at the focal point and good color choices than I did on reproducing reality.  Oddly, it has more of the feel of the place than paintings I worked much harder on. 

I've been working through an anthology of poems assembled and introduced by Caroline Kennedy entitled She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems.  This one called From a Letter to His Daughter, by Ralph Waldo Emerson,  gave me some things to consider about the sensibility of looking forward, rather than backward. Of course his daughter was much younger than I am.

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with
your old nonsense.

This day is all that is
good and fair:
It is too dear
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on yesterdays.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Red Steps - Another Miniature Acrylic Painting

5x5 inches, acrylic on paper

I seem to be back in a miniature mode.  I've had a small vintage black and white photograph that I got from our local consignment place, and it has been calling out to me lately.  I liked the child with his or her jaunty cap and casual posture.  I also like the way the siding, railing and steps all led the eye right to the figure.  This little painting has more intense color than some of my other miniatures painted from vintage photos.  It occurred to me that just because we cannot see bright color in these images, that doesn't mean it wasn't there.  I also liked the bright sun that makes the child squint.  In the original picture the parent's shadow is clearly visible, but I eliminated that as a distraction here.  That shadow is there often in old photos, because the cameras people had at home for snapshots typically did not have flash attachments.  They needed the sun to get a good clear shot, and they often ended up as a shadowy part of the photo.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ed's Grandfather

6x6 inches, acrylic on paper

This little painting, done very simply, is of my brother-in-law's grandfather, a man I never met, though I have certainly heard stories about him.  The original snapshot was dark, and cluttered.  There was part of a chair in the foreground, and flowery wallpaper that sagged.  So my challenge was to find a way to insert a little visual interest, and I decided to do a complimentary under painting and let a bit of that color peek through.  The painting looks a little flat, so I still may add some more shadows to suggest roundness.

It has been a while since I included a poem, so today here is one to go with the painting.

by Carl Dennis

If on your grandmother's birthday you burn a candle   
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra   
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,   
A man who may have come to the town she lived in   
Looking for work and never found it.   
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,   
After a month of grief with the want ads,   
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.   
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards   
Of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,   
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on   
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic   
If he doesn't stoop down and scoop the mess up   
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.   

For you to burn a candle for him   
You needn't suppose the cut would be a deep one,   
Just deep enough to keep her at home   
The night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,   
Who is soon to become her dearest friend,   
Whose brother George, thirty years later,   
Helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store   
Doesn't go under in the Great Depression   
And his son, your father, is able to stay in school   
Where his love of learning is fanned into flames,   
A love he labors, later, to kindle in you.   

How grateful you are for your father's efforts   
Is shown by the candles you've burned for him.   
But today, for a change, why not a candle   
For the man whose name is unknown to you?   
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home   
With friends and family or alone on the road,   
On the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside   
And hold his hand, the very hand   
It's time for you to imagine holding.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Not Forgotten

6x6 inches, acrylic

I like old signs, and this was one that caught my eye day and night.  It was a big scaffold with neon letters and a neon lit diamond, and it advertised a local jewelry store for decades.  In fact my parents bought their wedding rings there.  Unfortunately, the sign was damaged in a wind storm a few years ago.  The letters were saved, but the diamond was ruined. I asked the owner for a photo from which to work, and while it isn't photo realistic my little painting reminds me of the sign I used to like so much.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Little Monster

6x6 inches, acrylic on paper

My niece posted a photo of her daughter Gabby online, and I decided that her pose was irresistible, and that I had to try a portrait.  I cropped the original image, and simplified the background.  It occurred  to me afterward that if it were night there would not be so much light on her face, but I still like the effect.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

And Now For Something Different - Crafty Birds

8x10 inches, cut paper

Let me get this off my chest first.  I am not so much of a Christmas person. 

Actually I like some of the aspects of the season (that's what it is, because it certainly isn't a single day any more).  I like bright twinkly lights at night.  I like cookies and eggnog.  I enjoy hearing from friends and family. All good.

What I don't enjoy is mainly the economic push at this time of year, the emphasis on buying stuff, supporting the local economy by opening the wallet. I know the economy is in rough shape, but let me think about what I am thankful for for a minute, eh?  So I try to celebrate without becoming a raging consumer.

Anyway, I decided to try my hand at designing a card for this year, and my inspiration came from an article in an older Somerset Studio magazine that I found at the library.  The idea was to design birds using mostly circles cut from paper.  I decided to see what I could do, since I have bags and bags of various papers I've squirreled away, including an old book of wallpaper samples.  Did you know that paint stores will sometimes give the books away for free when they are about to be out of date? The only things I purchased for this effort were some tiny metallic brads, which are used for the bird's eye, and some  snowflakes stickers. The results appealed to my husband, which is good.  I still have to see if this size will work for cards when copied and duplicated, and I still need a greeting of some sort. 

We shall see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday Night Figure Study

Monday night was a happy one for many Wisconsinites because the Packers won big.  I am not a sports fan, so rather than spoil my husband's fun, I decided to drive to Whitewater for Monday night figure study.  I don't usually like to go out during the regular school year, since I don't like going both ways on rural roads in the dark.  But I hadn't really drawn from direct observation much since the end of summer session, and felt the urge to go.

I approach the evening sessions a little different than most of the other participants.  I often use several media, including paint, while most of them use dry media exclusively.  I also do my work in two large bound notebooks (one for watercolor and acrylic, one for dry media) , and I keep all my sketches bound together, while most of the others work on loose sheets.  Finally, I really do not worry much about the results, and try to interest myself in the process, and trying to see improvement over time.  Maybe I'm just rationalizing because so many of the others are so very accomplished. 

I was a little sad when I realized that my favorite notebook that I use for dry media is getting filled up. So, I experimented.  I have a couple of large pieces of kraft paper that came when I ordered some Japanese rice papers.  I cut the sheets up and used spray adhesive to mount them over pages that had smeared charcoal or pastel, or drawing I really wanted to forget.  I wasn't all that careful about making the brown paper absolutely square, and I didn't worry too much about wrinkles in the paper, though I didn't aim for texture.  These two little sketches were about five minutes each.  I just used the brown as a midtone and added black, white and brown conte crayons.  I like the effect very much.

I think this was a twenty minute pose.  When I showed the pages to some of the others, one woman said that spray adhesive is toxic and that she would never compromise her brain cells by using it.  She uses her won homemade wheat paste.  That sounds grand, and I agree that spray adhesive is nasty stuff, but I like how well it works, with a minimum of extra moisture on thin sketchbook paper.  As for my brain cells, I'm sure I have compromised them already, though I do try to use spray products with adequate ventilation.  I liked the way the added kraft paper provides some variety in the sketchbook, and it stiffens some of the pages as well. 

This was a thirty minute pose.  I added some sanguine conte crayon here to warm up his skim tones some.  I think that if I analyzed this closely I'd see some problems with proportions, but I was still pleased with how the materials worked out, and plan to glue in some more sheets of kraft paper, and try again, maybe the next time the Packers play on Monday evening.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Collaged Ornament

6x6 inches, paper collage on canvas

This is an experiment.  I had a little  six by six canvas that had two previous paintings on it that didn't thrill me, and I was feeling a little guilty that I had nothing to put into either the art league Holiday Show nor the holiday open house at the gallery that shows my art.  I foolishly thought I could put together a little collage of a Christmas ornament quickly, but it took me two evenings to plan and assemble.  It has all the paper things that fascinate me, maps, stamps, sheet music, oriental papers of several sorts.  But I consistently forget that with collage, smaller doesn't necessarily mean quicker, because the pieces are so small.  But I don't mind the result, and plan to try a couple n a 9x9 cradled board.  That might be less picky.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Family Service Members

Herman Heinrich Adams (1839-1922), Civil War Veteran

It is Veterans Day, a day that the television, newspapers, social media all remind us to honor.  To be honest, I didn't think that much about it when I was younger, probably because my father was never in the armed service, and the other two men I knew who served, my Grandpa Tess and my Uncle Gene, never spoke of their time in service.  The only way I persuaded Uncle Gene to say anything about his time in Korea was when I begged for some photos of himself in uniform.  It has only been since I've been looking into family history that I have come to realize how many family members were veterans. I'm posting this so that other family members can think about the contributions made by our relatives.

Take, for example, Grandma Tess's paternal grandfather, H.H. Adams.  A German immigrant, he was a veteran of the Civil War, a Union soldier, wounded in action and honorably discharged.  I was surprised when I visited the cemetery near Spokane, Washington, to see that he had two headstone, a family stone and one from the government. 

Henry Leaver Pierce (1890-1972), World War I Veteran

Grandpa Pierce's brother, Leaver, served in World War I.  I was delighted not long ago get get a copy of his journal that he kept most of his life, and part of it describes his time in France.  During World War II he and his wife Jo taught radio code to soldiers in the army and navy.

Adolph K. (Bard) Pierce (1892-1995), World War I Veteran

Grandpa Pierce's youngest brother, Uncle Bard, volunteered for World War I, but ended up serving in an office position because his eyes were bad.  This is him standing in front of the farmhouse where he, and later me and my siblings, grew up.  One of my goals is to find a way to mark his grave so that people remember that he was a service member.

Howard Funk Tess (1896-1970), World War I Veteran

It's hard to think about my gentle and quiet Grandpa Tess as serving in the army, but he volunteered and served in France as a Military Policeman.  He never spoke of the war to me, except to say that the trip by ship made him violently seasick.  I know too that he thought about marching a a parade in East Troy after he was married, but when the old uniform was taken out, it was riddled with moth holes.

James B. Pierce (1916-1942) on his father's lap, World War II Veteran, Killed in Action

Grandpa Pierce's oldest brother John, lost his younger son James in World War II. This is the note John received about his son's death:

 July 17, 1942, Dear Mr. Pierce; I just received your letter of July 9th.  Of course you are interested in the answers to the questions you asked; I`m sorry I did not anticipate and answer them in my first letter.  The facts will probably be uncoordinated but I`ll try to answer them all.  James volunteered to fly a patrol to protect our base and gather information while we were getting settled. In other words we had just arrived and needed an air-alert to cover the natural confusion of arriving at a new base; he was to fly an area covering all points within ten miles of our base and investigate and report on any aircraft, boat, or submarine within the area.  He was flying a (censored) and had another pilot (Lt. G.W. Brown) flying on his wing.  Lt. Brown will write to you soon.  The weather was perfectly clear.  James and Lt. Brown were flying at 8,000 feet when James dived down at the water to investigate something he saw there.  Lt. Brown followed him down.  When he got within a hundred feet of the water he saw that what he observed was only driftwood.  Just as he was pulling out if this dive his motor began to miss, for black smoke poured out of his exhaust.  He never got any higher than fifty feet after this so he was too low to jump. HE never mentioned any trouble via his radio, but a pilot has his mind and hands pretty busy when his motor misses at that altitude.  Lt. Brown actually saw the plane hit the water before James got out, so did Lt. Carter who was third man in the flight and he also saw the plane hit.  Neither pilot could later see James.  Lt. Brown flew home and reported to me.  I grabbed a transport plane and pilot and went to the scene over which Lt. Carter was still searching.  We found the belly tank and at first thought it was James.  We dropped a life raft before we realized it was only the belly tank of his plane; this tank being externally fastened had ripped off.  We circled the spot until two Coast Guard boats arrived. They picked up the raft and tank but could find no trace of James.  All of his personal belongings are being shipped to you.  I will be glad to answer any other questions you may have.  The accident is a pure case of motor trouble at low altitude, a man has very little chance of leaving a (censored) after it hits the water.  There was no chance of recovering the pilot or plane due to lack of facilities and the depth of the sea.  Yours sincerely, Bill Litton, Capt. A.C.

Peter Hadley Pierce (1924-1910)left,  and Richard Leaver Pierce (1922-1910), World War II Veterans

I knew my dad's cousins, sons of Leaver and Jo Pierce, as congenial men from occasional family occasions.  Both passed away recently, and I learned more about them. Dick served in the navy in both World War II and Korea.  Peter was commissioned an ensign at Columbia University, serving during WWII on the LST 779. His was the first ship to land on the beach at Iwo Jima and supplied the flag seen in the famous photo of the flag raising.

L.D. Smith (1883-1954) left, and son James DuRell Smith (1915-1982), served in War War II

Dr. Lemuel Durrell Smith was an orthopedic surgeon, and was Grandma Tess's stepfather.  His son, James DuRell was Grandma's younger, and only, brother.  Dr. Smith was a lieutenant colonel in the medical division of the Wisconsin national guard for many years, retiring in 1942.  Uncle DuRell was also a member of the Wisconsin National Guard, a served three years during World War II in Alaska.

Gene Earl Pierce (1926-2009), Korean War Veteran

Dad's older brother, Gene Pierce, went to Korea and served several years.  I tried once to engage him in a conversation about his time, whether he ever considered going back, and he just said that it was no place he wanted to revisit or remember.  

Joe Hyers Ellestad, Afghanistan Veteran, with his mother Hulda Pierce Eleestad

Joe Ellestad is Peter Pierce's grandson.  This is a photo of him and his mother when he returned from Afghanistan in 2008. The happiness shown in this photograph says everything that needs to be said about love and gratitude.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autumn Vintage Photos

 Yesterday my husband and I spent the day in Madison with friends who have come to be known as the Badger Buddies - Two other couples we met when we first married, living in adjacent local apartments.  We started dressing in red and white and attending one UW Badger football game a year together, and have managed an unbroken string since 1976, except that the past two years we sat in bars and watched the game in warmth and relative comfort.  Part of the problem is just finding six tickets together when none of us is a season ticket holder. I remember some very cold and sometimes rainy Saturdays, often sitting in the raucous student section, or in obstructed view seats, where huddling in the stadium bathroom was the one of the best parts of the day, at least for me.  Still the UW band music, the friendship, the brats and beer, all are great fun.  College football, an autumn tradition.

Since I seem to not be getting a whole lot of artwork done this week (I'm blaming it on sniffles and a cough caught on the plane ride home from our cruise), I thought I'd share some autumnal vintage photos from my family archive.

Hunting is a fall tradition in Wisconsin, though I read in the newspapers that fewer and fewer young people are taking it up.  My grandfather, George Earl Pierce, was an avid hunter as a young man.  That's him, standing on the far left.  I know he collected bird eggs as well, because the framed collection was in his cellar for years when I was a child, and is now safe in the Walworth County historical museum in Elkhorn, part of a collection of taxidermy preserved birds from local hunter Howard Cook.  Anyway, I think these men look handsome with their vest, guns and decoys. I'm guessing the studio portrait was taken about 1910.

My dad, Ralph Pierce, also hunted, though he seemed to prefer the fall deer hunt.  Every November he and his buddies would take a road trip to the Rhinelander area for a week of hunting.  He brought home a few trophies, though certainly not every year.  I'm not sure he hunted very seriously.  He mostly liked taking a few days off to spend time with his high school friends, be outside, drink some beer, and play some cards.  I took this photo about 1960.

Fall on the farm and harvest go together.  To tell the truth, I'm not sure who the man is in this photo, though the picture belonged to Grandpa Pierce.  From the iron wheels I'm guessing this photo is from the 1920s or early 1930s, and that the man was a neighbor who was part of a crew who came in to work.  This wouldn't be a corn harvester; I'm guessing it had something to do with oats.  Even in the 1950s when I was a girl individual farmers did not own all their own equipment.  Neighbors went in together, sharing equipment, working in crews to harvest crops.  I especially remember summer haying crews, and my mother making huge noon meals to feed the hungry and thirsty crews of farmers working in our fields.

My grandfather raised and sold hybrid seed corn for a local family.  Here we see him and Sicy Simons, owner of Simons Seed, standing outside with harvested corn, stored in bins made from snow fencing. We also grew field corn that was chopped and blown into the silo for winter feed for cattle, and some was dried and ground into feed. The photo is probably from the 1930s.

This last photo is of me, taken about 1954.  It might be the last time I smiled raking leaves.  Actually, we didn't rake much on the farm.  I imagine that Mother probably handed me a rake to get me outside, hoping I'd get some exercise and maybe make a leaf pile for me and my sister Patty to jump into.  These days my husband rakes the maple leaves that fall into our little back yard, and I manage to stay away from rakes most of the time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Across the Aegean

Yesterday I commented that back in 1998 I painted a still life that included two art books that my painting instructor owned, and I wrote about Venice Sketchbook.  The other title, which I eventually bought for myself, was Across the Aegean: Am Artist's Journey from Athens to Istanbul.  This latter title also is a series of travel sketches done in watercolor, with some personal reflections about the places the writer/artist visited.  While I had visited Athens in 2003, until this month I had never visited Turkey, so much of the book didn't mean a whole lot to me until now.  Marlene McLoughlin's sketches in pen and paint are smaller than Hank Scarrey's, more personal in their subject matter, and more pastel in their use of color. 

McLoughlin's sketches are often of her impressions of sunsets, hillsides, farm animals, and sun washed buildings and architectural details.  She doesn't include people very often.  But because I remembered her sketches I found myself looking at little things, food carts, pigeons, chairs, and olive leaves.  Here are a few of my photos that I think might have caught the eye of the author of this charming travel sketchbook.

This little potted orange tree sat near the entrance to a Greek winery on the  Peloponnese peninsula. I failed to get a good picture of the peacocks that wandered under the trees there.

These donkeys are for hire to carry tourists 800 feet up a twisting and steep path from the dock to the village of Thira, on Santorini.

The waters at the Strait of Bosphorus are filled with traffic.  Here you can see a tugboat and a water taxi.  In the background is the Bosphorus Bridge, over 4,000 feet long, linking Europe and Asia. At night it it lit with red and white lights, creating a dramatic zigzag in the dark.

The spires of Hagia Sophia make the skyline dramatic in Istanbul.  To the left in the trees is Topkapi palace, and to the right, cut out of the photo is the Blue Mosque.  There was a sort of haze over the city both days we were there, and I suspect it is smog from the heavy car and bus traffic.

These are windows from the harem at Topkapi palace.  The place was beautiful, ornately decorated with frescoes, tiles, calligraphy, and stained glass like you see here.

While we didn't get to see the ruins or sculptures at Athens because of dock and transportation workers strikes, we did see the wonderful ruins at Ephesus.  The library and terrace houses were particularly impressive to me.

I find myself very much attracted to cypress trees that are found all over the Mediterranean, in Italy, Greece, and here at Ephesus.

While McLaughlin includes watercolor sketches of dogs, of which we saw plenty, but she doesn't include any cats.  Because my husband and I have a spoiled pet cat, and missed her the two weeks we were gone, I found myself noticing the many cats that roam all over Greece and Turkey, almost of of whom were friendly, vocal, and very much at their ease. This one rested outside the museum of antiquities removed from the Ephesus site.

I still have not sat down to do any painting, and am finding it hard to leave my photos quite yet.  Soon, I hope, I can get back into a regular schedule here at home.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Considering Venice

I have been to Venice three times.  In 1972 I traveled by train with my high school girl friend Rosemary, and we visited Venice for four hours on a hot July afternoon.  I was not impressed.  The crowds were horrible, and the water filled with floating garbage.  I have no pictures.

Last year we visited by bus in chilly March with a group from UW Whitewater, and we found scant crowds, and it was cold.  But the beauty of the city disarmed me, the bridges, water, elegant facades, even the ladies dripping in furs who commanded the street in front of the Venice opera house, all took my breath away.  I still dream of a little restaurant in a back street where we paid inordinate sums of cash and were fed the best fresh seafood of my life. I took scads of photos and was beginning to fall in love.

Then we took a Mediterranean cruise this month, flying into Marco Polo airport and then boarding a huge Holland America ship.  It began and ended in Venice, and the city captured my heart forever.

Backing up a bit, specifically to 1998.  I had lost my best friend, a fine artist and teacher, to cancer, and had decided to start painting again.  It was clear to me that a long life was not a sure thing, and that there was no point in waiting until I retired to restart my art.  So I took a summer watercolor class with Amy Arntson, a fine painter, at Whitewater.  The big final class project was a still life, and I used one that included two art books in the painting, both of which belonged to the instructor.  One was Venice Sketchbook, by Huck Scarrey.  Two years ago I bought a copy of this slim volume of watercolor and pen and ink sketches for myself, and I revisited it before our trip to Venice this month.

Scarrey has clearly lived in Venice, seen its tourist attractions, but also its back streets and islands.  He has been there all times of year, all weather.  I love his sketches, the quick and the complete, and reading the book before we arrived helped me decide what to look for, and reading it afterward reminds me of what I've already seen myself, and makes me want to return to see more.

I have real difficulty in drawing and sketching en plein air, especially when time is short, and there are other people's schedules to consider.  But I take my camera with me everywhere, and I was interested to see that my photos conform to Scarrey's divisions in his book. Perhaps I can use my personal photos to create a sketchbook of my own, although created at home and after the fact.

Here are some of Scarrey's chapter headings, and my photos that fit each category.

CANALS: Canals are the streets for vehicles (boats) in Venice, and the Grand Canal is the main street.  The canals are busy with all manner of boats - water taxis, vaporettos, fishing boats, cruise ships, all use the canals.  But the areas where people walk are free of traditional vehicles, which contributes to a sort of quiet that I like very much.

BRIDGES: There are hundreds, including the famous Bridge of Sighs, which is still swaddled in plastic for renovation.  This photo is of the famous Rialto Bridge.

FACADES: The old buildings of Venice are build in the water, not just next to it, a fact that always amazes me. The warm Mediterranean colors, the Moorish windows, the extravagant chimney pots, all are worth considering.

SAINT MARK'S SQUARE:  This is what everyone comes to see, the Basilica di San Marco, with it's fantastic pillars and domes, tiles and mosaics.  It is the heart of Venice, and these days while there are still legions of pigeons, there are even more people.  Still, I catch my breath a little every time I see it and the famous bell tower across the plaza. I took this photo through the glass of the observation lounge of the Niew Amsterdam, our cruise ship.  It gave me a very different perspective than I had from standing at ground level.

MASKS:  When we visited in March last year it was just after carnival, and I found myself taking photo after photo of masks in shop windows.  This time I didn't as much, so the photograph is from last year's trip. I sometimes dream about having a gorgeous mask, and a heavy hooded cloak to wear to Halloween events in chilly Wisconsin. Not this year, though.

ISLANDS: As we flew into Marco Polo airport this year I could see that Venice has many many islands, many connected by canals.  But there are large islands that can only be reached by boat.  Last year we visited two of them, Murano, where famous glass factories still operate, and Burano, a fishing village that also is the home of world-famous lace makers. I love Burano best for the brightly colored houses, many with laundry hanging out the windows to dry.

Scarrey also has other chapters about the seasons in Venice, and of the many docks and boats of the area, though I don't have many pictures that correspond to those areas.  I know that nearly everyone who paints eventually paints scenes like these I've posted here, because they are beautiful.  I will paint them as well, though probably for my private sketchbooks, more as a way of reliving the experience than with any though of offering the results for anything public.