Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holiday Birthday Thoughts

Mother went into labor December 28, 1950, after shoveling snow; she gave birth December 29, and never afterward could remember which day was the actual birthday of her oldest child.  That's me. 

I was something of a surprise in a number of ways.  She shared with me that my younger sister Mary was her only planned child, so I know that.  She also told me that I was due on Groundhog's Day, February 2.  She may have just miscalculated, or it might have been that shoveling.  She said she chose to name me Sherry because it was an unusual name, though there were several girls in school at the same time as I was with some variation on Sherry or Cheryl.  It seems to have faded from favor since then.  My middle name, Ellen, was chosen to honor my aunt, and also my great grandmother, who went by Nellie. 

When I was little having a birthday between Christmas and New Year was just fine, and it fueled an unattractive greed in me for toys.  Once I started school I liked it that I was always on vacation on my birthday, and friends from school or church were usually  available for a sleepover or little gathering. I vaguely remember one where we played Twister and messed with an Ouija Baord.  It didn't really dawn on me that most of my gifts were practical - warm clothes, sweaters, mittens, boots.  I was happy if I had boxes to unwrap.

But over time having a late December birthday became less wonderful.  The older I got, the fewer people were around to celebrate.  It gradually dawned on me that I never got cards at any other time of year except December, that it was always cold (something that I do not celebrate) and often roads are treacherous on my day, that people were stuffed from all the Christmas food and saving their calories for New Year's Eve.  Once I was married, Mother usually wanted to have me open my gifts on Christmas Eve, the time our family has always gotten together and exchanged our gifts.  I bristled for a while, and finally gave in, as long as I could go to a room where the Christmas tree was not. 

She's gone now, and I regret that I wasn't more gracious about the date of my birth.  I wish I could give her a hug and tell her thank you for a fine life, but that just ain't gonna happen.  I just have to concentrate on being nice to the people in my life right now.  My dear husband gave me a shoe box this morning with frozen lobster tails inside, and I will just have to think about when I want to have them.  Several friends took me to breakfast on Friday, which was fun, and I think about fifty people have sent me birthday wishes on Facebook.  All just fine.  The lobsters are still in the freezer,  but we'll have a fine feast anyway - a monster stuffed pizza from Tony and Maria's.  Tonight, tonight...   Life is good.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

3x4 inches, acrylic

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Eight Below, All is Calm

Here in Wisconsin, when it is clear, it is cold.  This morning it was -8 degrees, but bright and still.  Ice from a storm last Thursday still coats the tree branches, and when the morning sun lit them up, they sparkled as if they were made from glass.

I went outside in my flannel pajamas and slippers and just stood on the front step for a moment, enjoying the quiet, and the long morning shadows.

Then I went back inside for my morning coffee and the paper.  Life is good.

Tonight we head out to my brother's house for a once a year get-together, to see how we're all holding up.  We'll snack on whatever people decide to contribute, catch up on each others' news, and exchange goofy white elephant gifts.  My gift wrapping skills are deficient, but that is OK, since their unwrapping skills are excellent.  And we'll try to just enjoy each others' company, while privately missing parents, grandparents, and siblings who have somehow become ghosts of Christmases past.

May you, whoever you are, have a good Christmas too, if that is what you celebrate.  Peace be with you, in any case.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Evergleam, Wisconsin Classic

Patty, with Chatty Cathy and the Evergleam aluminum Christmas tree, 1960.

To be honest, I never thought I would wax nostalgic about a four foot aluminum Christmas tree, something my ten-year-old purist self thought of as an abomination.  I loved real trees, tall ones that grazed the ceiling, smelled all piney and cold, and eventually got all prickly and brown and dropped all their needles into the carpet. I loved it when my parents added bubble lights, and we got to toss on silver icicles, when I gather were made from lead.

I took this photo in 1960, the year I turned ten.  Even then I was pestering people to pose for pictures I took with by Brownie camera, and my younger sister Patty stood with her new Chatty Cathy doll.  The snapshot was originally in color, but it faded so badly that I scanned it, converted it to black and white, and bumped up the saturation on my photo editing program.  Suddenly I could really see the card table with the Christmas tablecloth on it, the thin curtains in our living room, the matching flannel pjs my sister and I had, the ornaments on the tree.  It's funny to me that right now, as I type, I have a four foot artificial tree on a little round table, and some of the same ornaments are hanging on it.  Yup, the very same ones.  I had that little glass lamp chimney for a long time too - Mom made it by gluing on red, white, and black felt, to make it look like Santa.  Sort of.  Eventually it broke - maybe accidentally -  or maybe not.

Anyway, Mom wanted an artificial tree, so she drove in to Elkhorn, went to Gambles and brought home the box.  I suppose having a ready tree, one that only cost $10 and could be used year ofter year sounded like a wise use of scarce cash and time.  Dad didn't love going out after milking a barn full of cows to lug home a pine tree and then mess around with erecting it inside.  I also imagine that Mom just didn't have the energy to deal with an infant, a toddler, a seven and a ten-year-old, and also decorate a drafty and small farm house. The first year the Evergleam went up she placed it in my little brother and sister's playpen, to keep it safe from their curious fingers.  I hated the silver tree, but she put it up for several years before the shiny "needles" got looking dusty and some of the branches that fit into holes drilled in the truck were damaged or lost.  We had a few live trees up through the time I was in college, but once she and Dad moved into the ranch house at the end of the driveway up near the road, after Grandpa moved to the county home, and finally died, they went to green artificial trees for good.

These old aluminum trees have had something of a revival lately, and the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison has a big show of the trees.  The Evergleam trees were made in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, so they have a local connection.  Plus the 1950s and 1960s have receded far enough into the faltering memories of the Baby Boomers and their surviving parents, and are just history to everyone else, so that the decades have acquired something of a Mad Men cachet.  Sort of like looking at those eyars through a rotating color wheel, or 3-D glasses.  I almost wish I had one to put up today, but they've gotten too darned expensive.

Friday, December 20, 2013


Lady in Ermine, Cubed
3x4 inches

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...  Actually it hasn't been snowing the past couple days, but rather we've had freezing rain.  Everything is glazed with ice, and so treacherous underfoot that I have stayed in, cleaning the studio, unframing old paintings I no longer find interesting, purging and recycling odd-sized frames.  

I've also been working my way through an art book I found at the library called Just Draw It!: The Dynamic Drawing Course for Anyone With a Pencil and Paper, by Sam Piyasena & Beverly Philp. The book is nicely organized, including chapters called Line and Mark Making; Tone and Form; Composition, Perspective and Viewpoint; Movement and Gesture; Pattern and  Texture; and Observation, Exploration and Imagination. I've been looking over a chapter a day, taking notes on exercises that catch my eye, and in particular looking at their suggestions for artists to research further.

One exercise caught my eye, because it involved collage.  The authors suggest making a square drawing - something mixed media, with lots of tonal variation and texture, then cutting the drawing up into at least 9 squares, and rearranging the pieces so that the original image is indecipherable.  Then they suggested researching Romanian artist and poet Gherasim Luca, who used this technique.  I did, and I was fascinated.  Luca called this fracturing of an image into squares "Cubomania."  I used a reproduction of a Renaissance painting that I found save in my stash of papers, and want to try out the technique on other paintings and even advertising -- both vintage and contemporary. So far the results please me.  They force the viewer to stop and think about what they see.  I like that.  

I think I'll go back upstairs to my studio, turn on NPR, and start making a mess.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter Women Collage

Winter Women
mixed media collage
matted 16x20 inches

This is the most recent collage in a series featuring found vintage photos of people in wintery scenes, and altered papers.  One is currently in a show at St. Mary's Hospital, the second in a show at the Beloit Fine Arts Incubator in Beloit, and this one may be headed to Raven's Wish gallery in downtown Janesville, as soon as it gets a coat of varnish and is framed.

I love seeing how tiny black and white snapshots from the past look when they are used this way.  For one thing, when I scan them, enlarge, and print on kraft paper, they are easier to see.  I was drawn to these ladies' long coats, broad brimmed hats, and especially the huge fur muff the woman on the left carries.  I never know how the final effect will be on pieces like this, and I spend more time arranging and rearranging the papers I've selected than I do actually adhering the papers or adding painted embellishments.  

This one features the old photo, with most of the background details painted out with gesso, an altered page from an old National Geographic, some spray painted stencil work, a bit of an old children's book, some gummed page reinforcements, and a couple different maps.  Oh, and there is a bit of an old telephone bill I found in a cigar box in the attic, from a previous owner of our house.  So I feel like whether it shows or not, there is history built into the collage.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

This and That

pencil, Melisa, for JKPP

It's working into the time of year I like least - the cold time.  The dark time.  The time with no flowers outside.  The time of incessant media clamoring about buying stuff. It does no good to worry or whine about it, so this is all I'm going to vent about it.
Ive been distracting myself by working on planning a little fund raiser for next spring, to help finance the restoration of an old gothic chapel at Oak Hill cemetery.  The city thinks the old stone building has deteriorated too much to sink any cash into restoring, and a "friends of" group formed to try and raise the needed funds.  I'm planning some guided walks, little hikes, for next spring that feature some of the early settlers of Janesville, some of the movers and shakers, and some monuments from ordinary folks that are interesting for one reason or another.  There are a couple that look like upright, full-sized trees!  The hope is that people might enjoy strolling through the old public cemetery, with all its hill, trees, and funky monuments, and might contribute a couple dollars to the fund to restore the chapel.  I'm enjoying hiking around and learning about my adopted hometown's history, though it is rapidly getting too cold to be up there among the tombstones for very long.
I also did a costumed presentation about a local woman, Nellie Tallman, the daughter-in-law of a wealthy early settler in Janesville.  I've done the talk before earlier this spring, and I've portrayed her in cemetery walks for the local historical society.  But I'd never done the talk in nursing homes. The first one went really well, but primarily because the people who attended could all hear well and seemed healthy.  They were fun, all smiles and nods and "stump the presenter" questions.  The other gig was more challenging. The audience members were all in wheelchairs, and half slept through the presentation.  One lady at the back talked to herself the entire time.    But there were a handful who seemed engaged, had comments and questions.  I am telling myself that if I entertained them, I should feel OK about the day. 

But I haven't been doing much art.  I have a painting that I started in October and abandoned for no good reason other than the urge to work on it just evaporated one day.  I should start working on getting papers ready for a collage demonstration, but I keep procrastinating.  So I decided today to just do something quick.  That's where this drawing came from - a little portrait for on online group on Flickr and Facebook - Julia Kay's Portrait party.  Sometimes all it takes to get going again is to just sit down and start drawing.  And it certainly is warmer here than up in Oak Hill.  SOmething to be thankful for.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Our Sled: Mixed Media Collage

11x14 mixed media collage: Our Sled

It's November, and even though there are still leaves on the trees here in southern Wisconsin, the sky is dim and cloudy, and it's apparent that we're headed in the direction of winter. 

That perhaps, is what may be driving my recent experiments in collage.  I want to send one to a local hospital for their winter show, and I decided to include some of the vintage photos I've collected the past couple years.  Something about this old snapshot, printed here on a paper grocery bag, spoke to me.  I simplified the image by going over part of it with gesso before I sealed the image with polymer gel medium.  The gray rectangle on the left is also a paper sack, spray painted with fallen leaves and then with some gold webbing spray over that.  I also added a real piece of birch bark toward the top, because I liked how the color went with the stenciled kraft paper.  There is also a bit of an old diary, and some bits of maps I washed with blue acrylic and gesso.

I'm enjoying this series.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stories in Stone

Dick and I were watching a PBS special about cemeteries the other night, and seeing one filled with springtime daffodils gave me the idea to plant a few near some of the oldest stones in the little country cemetery where most of my family is buried.
According to a little publication by the Walworth County Genealogical society, Millard Cemetery, in Sugar Creek Township, was originally associated with the nearby Baptist church, which was first organized in 1842.  The burial grounds are located on what was originally part of the Francis Barker property - the settlement now called "Millard" was once named "Barkers Corners."  It can be found near the intersection of county roads A and O.
 So, the cemetery is just a little older than Wisconsin's statehood, which happened in 1848.  While the cemetery is still active, there are not too many burials each year.  Many of the old stones are worn, leaning, or broken.  Some lay flat, or have been engulfed by shrubbery.  But I think it's still a nice place, and I have enjoyed photographing the old stones, and researching the names on the oldest graves.

I suppose some people find graveyards to be sad, or perhaps spooky, but I enjoy them for their peace and quiet, and for the stories implied by the memorials.  Who hasn't wandered a cemetery looking for the oldest stones, for family members, for the memorials to children, to veterans, or to victims of epidemics or natural disasters?  I also enjoy looking for the carved symbols on the old stones.

Isaac Loomer's stone features a hand pointing upward, almost certainly symbolizes heaven, and the direction his family expected his soul to fly. Like many of the early stones from this farming community, the simple tablet, made from relatively easy to carve limestone or marble, has warm away and become difficult to read. There are more than 40 Loomer headstones at Millard.  The extended family originally was from New England, but many immigrated to Nova Scotia, and later homesteaded in WIsconsin.

Henrietta Buckley's stone features hands too, but this time clasped.  And her domed tablet stone also features carved grape vines.  The hands suggest both fellowship and a final farewell from earthly relationships.  The vines might represent Christ, or the Eucharist.
Here's another variant with an upward pointing hand, but also including carved obelisks. I wonder of Mr. Loomer was a Mason.
There are a couple upright stones that suggest a scroll, with the person's name, relationship and date of death.  Ann's stone tells us that she is the wife of J. McHugh, that she was 66 years old when she died, and that she will be missed at home.
Silas Weaver was only a year old, and his stone also resembles a scroll mounted on a based of carved brick, with the addition of a rose, suggesting innocence or purity.
There are many children's stones in Millard.  Some simply say "Baby" or like this one, part of the Bigelow plot, feature lambs.  There is no name, just the engraved words, "Baby sleep."
Warren and George Loomer died not very far apart, so their parents had one stone for the two boys.  I think I remember reading that they died of measles, something we rarely see these days.  This stone used to stand upright, but now lies flat on the grass.
Henrietta Monroe died when she was 23 years old.  The graceful curving top of her stone tablet is covered with carved lilies and roses, suggesting purity.
Another carved symbol I found on several stones is that of the dove, carrying an olive branch.  This might stand for peace, purity, or the soul ascending to heaven.
This nicely preserved tablet features the broken column, which stands for a life cut short.  William Kester was 48 years old when he died.
I know that tree trunks also often stand for a life cut short, although this is a family monument.  The name, Barker, carved into the trunk, says it all.  Members of the Modern Woodmen of America also sometimes used tree trunks, though I do not know if the Barkers were members of that fraternal organization.
James Bigelow's tall upright monument is topped with an urn, as are many of the other stones in Millard cemetery.  The graceful shape of the urn is partly decoration, partly a reminder of the return of the body to dust, and the immortality of the soul.  His stone also features a weeping willow, long a symbol of mourning and grief.
I was interested in how few crosses I found on the old headstones at Millard, despite the fact that the oldest burials were associated with the Baptist church.  This one, and another that was carved in the shape of a cross, but now is badly damaged.  Still, this carved cross clearly identifies the man as a Christian.  There are no angels on the graves at Millard, perhaps because they were too costly to carve.  The people buried here, were, for the most part, rural people.  Farmers, teachers, ministers, a doctor or two.  The stones that mark their graves are simple, not showy.  No ostentation for these folks. Many have nothing more than a name  - sometimes just a first name, and a date of death. Plain and simple, like the people themselves.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who Are These People?

A couple years ago I gave my brother a CD containing all the work I had done to that point on my family family history project.  His bewildered response was, "Who ARE all these people?"

Good question.  I've taken every grandmother and grandfather back as far as I can, included all their brothers and sisters, spouses, children, and then brought them as close forward to now as I can.  The result for me has been a gradual revealing of a multi-generation saga mirroring the history of our country.

Most of the people I find were farmers, teachers, or ministers, though there are most of the occupation a person might think of.  There are shop keepers, railroad people, doctors, photographers, career military folks and bankers.  Some traveled west on the Oregon Trail.  Sometimes they have connections to fame, as in the man who was chaplain of the senate when Lincoln was President, and who spoke at his funeral.  But most are unremarkable, so far as I can tell.

Which isn't to say that their lives are not interesting. This week I stumbled across a sad and common story, of a woman who was born in Ontario in 1839, who then moved with her husband and family to Illinois to clear land and farm.  While they were in Illinois, her fourteen year old daughter, Sarah, took ill and died.

I found the girl's photo, and the letter her mother wrote to her sister, expressing her anguish over the girl's death.  Suddenly the list of names and dates transformed themselves into real people, and their lives resonating across time.

Here is the letter.  I added end punctuation to help make the story easier to follow.  This letter helps me to begin to understand who some of these people are.  This is from Annie Gaulte Dumond to her sister Esther.

December 1, 1877
Sunday afternoon
Dear sister,

I now improve the present opertunity of wrighting to you. we are all well at present—thank God for his goodness to us. Thomas health is very good so far. I  wish I could see you all and have a long talk with you. I don’t know what aild me all the time I was at Mothers. I felt so sad all the time I felt as though I had great burden resting on me all the time times. I think it was a presentiment of Sarahs Death.  Oh if you could of seen her when I come home. She held out her hand and says Oh Ma. I kissed her and ask her not to get excited she says to me I am beter now and of course I will not. she says,  Maw what ailes you you look aful. oh you lost your tooth. then she sayes,  how did you leave them all I told her but I notest no tears come to her eyes.  she was past that.  but I did not think she would die so soon.  on that Monday before they Dispatched for me she wanted to  go to school but her pa would not let her for she had not ben well for three or four dayes and on the wedensday they dispatched for me they thought she was a dying.  all day she had a congestive chill that lasted all day and on Monday after I got  home she had another but—it did not last over ten  minuts—the Doctors sayed it was all caused from her bowels.   

She was sensiable of every thing. the fever never raised to her head it was all in her bowels. the Doctors Don all they could. the Monday tusday before I come Minnie was washing most all Day and Mrs. Rosbough and an other woman was wating on her and her father never left her bed side and she locked a round at them and her father says, what Do you want? Sarah she sayes, I want Minnie. She come to her but she could not keep from crying.  she Put her armes about Minnie’s  neck and says, Dont fret, Dont fret.  Minnie Dont leave me  I am so lonesome.

Oh Esther, I have wept untill I can hardly weep any more.  I go some times and sit by the lone grave of My Darling child and I  think I must see her or I cannot live, but I have to bare it. I could of given Sarah up when she was a baby and so small and delicate but, have have her to grow up and bloom into womanhood all most and then be taken away it seems to hard, almost-more than I am able to bare.  but we are told that god will give us grace sufischent for every trial and for this I am Praying. Oh Esther how near we ought to live for what is this world but a world of sorow and tears and partings here with Loved wones.  Oh Esther, I hope you will be spared that painefull trial of taking your Dear child by the hand when it is all ready cold with the chill of Death and bid then a long farewell on this earth, but I am living in hoope of meeting her soon where parting will be no more.

No more at present from Your Loving sister Annie M. G. Dumond

P.S. wright soon and let me know all the news.  give our love to Joney and Sarah let me know how babe is.  kiss the belly  for me and send me its Picture.  tell hanah to send Minnie her Picture her and her sister Minnie and we will send ours. Joney sends his Love to the boyes. right soon. they wanted to know how long Sarah was sick. Just 10 Days.  She was very poor. her litle cheeks was sunk in so much

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Beauty, Close to Home

There is something poignant about clear blue October days like today.  There is still warmth and color, and everyone knows there is a limit to the shirt sleeve days left in the year. The hummingbird has left for the year, the robins are still hopping through the grass, but are silent.  The monarch butterflies are feeding in preparation for their long journey south.

I decided to take a walk at our local botanical gardens this morning, and take advantage of the sun and warmth.  Many of the annual flowers are finished and have been dug out, but color can still be found in the hardy butterfly bushes, sumac, mums, marigolds, pansies and flowering kale.  This statue of a wood nymph, is a favorite of mine.

I spotted a lazy bumblebee on these glorious marigolds.  They were a splash of autumn color, inter-planted with red and gold coleus.  

I don't always appreciate pots, chairs, and trellises painted in bright colors, but somehow in autumn, they look just right.

The garden features lots of natural wood benches, places to sit and contemplate the flowers and trees, and listen to the birds.  Most have a saying carved into the back, and this one, from Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold spoke in particular to me today:

"We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

One can only hope.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Top-Down Road Trip: The Great River Road

This past week we took an overnight trip along Wisconsin's Great River Road.  We've been taking late summer or early fall drives along the Mississippi almost as long as we've been married, and the scenery never disappoints.  

One of our favorite places to eat on these trips is the Harbor View Cafe, in Pepin.  The place is always busy; I suspect it is a favorite of lots of Twin Cities folks as well.  The menu changes daily, and is posted on a tall chalk board behind the bar.  There are usually several seafood options, some red meat and chicken, and vegetarian choices.  My stuffed risotto fritters with roasted vegetables tasted as good as they look.

Another of my favorite places is the tiny village of Stockholm.  There are several galleries, a pub, and a nice park on Lake Pepin.  We stopped so I could poke around in a gallery/home furnishing place called Abode, and later I spotted this man working in his little garden between two shops.

We like to take little side trips, and explore out of the way places.  Alma, a charming river town with a lock and dam, is fine, but the view from Buena Vista Park, high on the bluffs over the Mississippi.  This photo captures the view fairly well.

We stayed one night in Trempealeau; this photo was taken from our balcony in a mom and pop motel with great views of the river, and of all the freight trains that follow it.  The trains are fun to watch, though once or twice they sounded like they were headed right into our room during the night.  Still, trains are part of the experience.  Their whistles echo weirdly between the coulees, and over the water.

We hadn't been to Grandad's Bluff Park overlooking LaCrosse, in years, but we heard that the park and visitor's center had been renovated, so we took a side trip to see.  The whole area is beautiful, and is now handicapped accessible, with good places to sit, and safe railings.  With views like this, it's no wonder that the spot has been popular for so long.

A few weeks ago I watched a Wisconsin Public Television documentary about the state's rustic roads.  That sent me to the internet to find maps, and to the library for a book about the rustic roads program.  It turns out that Wisconsin has 114 beautiful rural roads designated as rustic, covering over 600 miles.  These are roads that are preserved for their beauty, and many are narrow, hilly, filled with twists and turns, tree lined, and dotted with scenery that has not changed for many many years.  I took this photo on Rustic Road 70 in Grant County, through the windshield of our convertible, and even though there is some dash reflection, I think the beauty of the road shows clearly.   Sometimes the fun is mostly in the journey, isn't it?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Equinox 2013

My most recent abstract paper collage, 8x8 inches

It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I was mostly in Madison at the State WRAP conference.  I always come away from these shows and talks invigorated and full of ideas.  The Wisconsin Regional Artists Program is a venerable program, begun over 70 years ago at the University of Wisconsin under the guidance of John Steuart Curry.  The idea was, and is, to promote artistic growth in non-professional rural people.  The program sponsors shows around the state, an opportunity for amateur artists of all sorts to show their work, and get encouragement and feedback on it. At each local show a certain percentage is chosen to go to the state show, which has traditionally been on the UW campus. 

This is my piece, almost a full sheet, which hung in the Pyle Center in Madison for the past month.  This painting started out as a watercolor, based on a photo a model at figure study allowed me to take.  Later on I added pastel, which made the colors more interesting.  She always posed in yoga clothes, which made a painting of her easier to send to a show like this.  I'm not sure how they would respond to nudes, which is what I usually draw at figure studio sessions.  I was interested in the judging this year.  I know judging is entirely subjective, but was surprised at how few figures or portraits received any special awards or recognition.  There were some beautiful pieces at this show.

So anyway, the autumnal equinox happens today, and we head into fall.  I'm enjoying cooler evening temperatures, which make working upstairs much easier than when the temperature is higher.  But I know the days of hummingbirds, basil in pots, and tender flowers is coming to an end soon.  And that is always sad.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Abstract Collage With Maple Leaf


I'm back to making a series of small collages, and am feeling an autumnal vibe.  This one has my favorite things in it, a bit of a map, parts of a dictionary page, old notebook paper, altered National Geographic pages, and a tiny maple leaf that fell out of a magazine I saved.  The textured paper with small squares is actually a bit of wallpaper sample, covered with gesso and then drawn into with a hair pick.  I also have a bit of newspaper covered with white gesso and then stamped with a ginko leaf.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Drippy Preview of Autumn, and a Poem

Mural in the Lower Courthouse Park, by professional chalk artist, Lee Jones
The image is of the Rock Aqua Jays water ski team members

It's September, and the back yard garden has seen better days.  Everything that intended to bloom already has, and our recent dry weather has encouraged the maples to start dropping leaves in the yard and on the deck.  The squirrels are feeling it too, making a first class mess building a nest in the tree that has our deck built around it.  We encouraged them to move.

Kids are back in school.  Football is back on the television.  The farmers market is overflowing with cherry tomatoes and other fall bounty.  And Janesville's ill-fated Art Infusion has ended the drought once more.  While the weather was ideal yesterday, today gray skies and steady rain made it necessary for Lee Jones to work under a tent to finish her work, and for the handful non-professional artists to tape plastic over their creations in order for them not to not be washed away.
The event started in 2011 with a $10,000 grant from the state tourism bureau to the Janesville Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau. The convention folks' stated goal was to bring 5,000 new people downtown to listen to  musicians, watch chalk artists of all ages at work , and a be delighted by a flashmob (remember those?). They hoped to infuse the local economy with an extra $250,000.  The group hired the talented and amiable Wisconsin native Lee Jones to teach chalk painting workshops to the general public and to school children, and to create a large work downtown.  They bought boxes of chalk, hired billboards, wrote press releases, and did radio interviews,  then hoped for the best.  But bad weather - and probably other circumstances - conspired to make participation less and less each year.  The first year had two days of unrelenting rain, the second unseasonably cold weather, and this year much-needed rain one of the two days.  And each year fewer and fewer participants.  I walked downtown today and peeked at Jones' chalk art, and saw only five others, total. None of the sweet young children's artwork I remembered from last year.  No music.  No flash mob.

I am in no position to judge why this happened.  Bad luck?  A misguided effort to concentrate publicity in Illinois and Wisconsin counties other than Rock?  I wonder how many Beloit folks or people from Walworth county would really come to Janesville and then stay over night for an activity like this one.  Requiring a $10 fee to participate?  Parents of local children who paid the fee last year and still had the boxes of chalk from 2012 may not have felt like shelling out another $10 for this year.  Lack of involvement by the local arts community?  Were the Janesville Art League, individual artists, or groups like the Rock Valley Woodcarvers, who had a show the same weekend, involved?  Perhaps this just isn't a community that appreciates sidewalk art. I don't know.

Looking at the small number of entries for the $250 first prize this year, part of me thought I should have given it a go, but I am not sure the prize (if I were able to snag it) would cover the pain-relievers I'd need for my knees and hands if I did. 
 Amateur entry in chalk painting contest - the only one not covered with plastic this afternoon

Mushrooms, by Mary Oliver

Rain and then
the cool pursed
lips of the wind
draw them
out of the ground --
red and yellow skulls
pummelig upward 
through leaves, 
through grasses, through sand; astonishing
in their suddensess,
their quietude,
their wetness, they appear
on fall mornings, some
balancing in the earth
on one hoof
packed with poison,
others billowing
chunkily, and deicious --
those who know
walk out to gather, choosing
the benign from flocks
of glitterers, sorcerers,
panther caps,
chark-white death angels
in their torn veils
looking innocent as sugar
but full of paralysis:
to eat
is to stagger down
fast as the mushrooms themselves
when they are done being perfect
and overnight
slide back under the shining
fields of rain.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Laura, for JKPP

6x9 inches, watercolor

Last night was the final figure drawing session for the summer.  I left a half hour early, hoping to have a little daylight left so I could see the turn off for the little side roads I use to drive home.  I take the back roads because they are quiet, usually no pick up trucks in a big hurry, and I like to roll down the windows and listen to the crickets and cicadas. I probably will not go many more times now; after Labor Day the sessions run from 6:30 until 9:30, and I get tired by the time it's time to leave.

This week is very hot, really too hot in my studio to work very long, so I went downtown to the gallery where I show some of my work.  On Tuesday mornings some people get together to paint, and the place is blessedly cool. So I finally go around to doing a portrait for one of my Flickr groups, Julia Kay's Portrait Party.  

This is from a photo submitted by Laura Starrett.  I was happy to see her picture, since I've followed her watercolors online for several years, and even exchanged paintings with her.  I was sorry that her face ended up being rather overworked, but I could not resist playing around with the shadows and highlights on her face.

If you would like to see Laura's blog, click n the link.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nude Descending, and so on

20 minute modified contour drawing, pencil

Community figure drawing studio at my alma mater this summer has been - I'm searching for the right adjective here - a mixed bag.  On the plus side, the space is fine, large, well lit, comfortable.  I love taking a chunk of time out Monday evenings for direct observation drawing, like our two models, enjoy the time I spend working larger than usual, and faster than I do at home.  

The not so good part of this summer has been the low participation, and the anxiety connected to that.  The model fee is split among whoever shows up, and when only two or three show up, the cost is higher.  Why so few?  Who knows.  Maybe people are more scheduled this summer than previous years, or maybe the undraped model is intimidating.  Maybe there are personality conflicts that I know nothing about.  Maybe people are unhappy about the uncertainty of what they will be required to pay.  All I know is that it's too darned bad, and that if people are not interested or able to attend, the opportunity will vanish.

5 minute drawing, model, in belly dancing costume

One of our models this summer is a young woman who is a belly dancer, and she agreed to model part of the evening one of her costumes, a beautiful affair with a beaded and sequined bodice and belt, and coral silk swirling skirts.  I was also intrigued by her metallic headpiece, with its fringe of pendants and semi-precious stones.  She clearly enjoyed modeling the outfit, and showing us some of the moves.

5  minute quick sketch, charcoal and pastel

Perhaps having costumed models for summer,at least some weeks, would be a less intimidating way to get people involved in drawing, and it certainly would be a nice break in routine; it was certainly nice for us.

Anyway, all this considering of models, draped and undraped, brought to mind this favorite poem of mine, written by X. J. Kennedy:

Nude Descending a Staircase

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh—
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.

One woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair,
Collects her motions into shape.

 --X.J. Kennedy

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Rolling Along

8x8 inches, collage

Summer is rolling along, not so hot as last year, so my flowers look reasonably good, although my efforts to pull weeds have slacked off considerably.

Only three weeks of figure drawing left.  I certainly enjoy the direct observation drawing, but lately the drive home along quiet country roads is one of my favorite things.  Last week Lima Center road, which is narrow and has trees overarching in several places, was spangled with fireflies overhead, and speckled with little frogs on the pavement.  Magic.

My dear husband and I celebrated our anniversary this week - we were married in 1975, so we both looked different back then - by taking a drive to Baraboo to see Circus World Museum.  I had last gone there in about 1960 or so with my grandparents, and it has greatly expanded since then.  I fell in love with the old circus posters, so colorful and exotic, though the refurbished wagons are always good to see. I never attended the Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, though the train came through Janesville a couple times, and in fact stayed over night, so the wagons are old friends.  Anyway after that we had a fine anniversary dinner at Ishnala, a supper club on Mirror Lake that seems to cross a log home with a tree house. 

These days, it's summer, and the livin' is easy.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Abstract Collage #1

8x8 inches, collage on paper

Eight by eight inches doesn't seem very large, but it is larger than I have been working on collage pieces lately.  I had a good time with the papers in this piece.  There is a part of a brown paper bag with acrylic paint on it.  There is a reproduced page from the New York Times glazed with gesso and stamped.  There are several pages from an old National Geographic, altered by sanding or with stencils and Nevr Dull, and there is a small piece of Japanese rice paper.

The piece evolved over the course of the day.  At first it was almost all shades of brown and burnt sienna, but then I decided I needed a lighter value in the lower right, and the blue and white stars went in - suddenly I liked it much better.

One thing that helped me decide how to place the papers was a piece of transparent red plastic.  When I looked through the red filter, the colors disappear, leaving only the values, and that helped me choose a design that worked for me.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Blue Hart

6x6 inches, collage

Every since I upgraded my Mac operating system a few months ago, my scanner has not wanted to scan.  I play around with it, and occasionally manage to press the right combination of buttons, or utter the (in)appropriate words, and manage to get a photo or piece art art scanned, but last night I decided to quit knocking my head against the wall, and I just took a photo of this latest little collage, fused together with the technique I learned at my recent workshop.

The scanner needs to be seen by a professional, not me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Latest Workshop

ATC-sized collage

Last weekend I was pleased with a one day workshop at The Clearing Folk School, in Ellison Bay, Door County.  A couple weeks before this I was staying with relatives in northeastern Wisconsin, visited The Flying Pig in Algoma, and spotted a flyer for the class entitled Intuitive Collage.  The instructor was an artist from LaGrange, Illinois, Laura Lein-Svencner, whose blog I have visited and whose work I admire. 

So I signed up.

After a couple days the school called to say the class was filled, but that they would see if Laura would teach another day, and luckily for me, she agreed. 

Lein-Svencner uses a technique I had read about in Gerald Brommer's excellent book, Collage Techniques.  She coats all her papers with polymer medium, and once the papers are dry, attaches them to her prepared substrate using a small tacking iron, which melts the polymer medium and fuses everything together securely, with a minimum of paper wrinkling or buckling.  

Most of the morning was spent making papers to use with the process, and she showed the group several techniques.  Laura demonstrated several methods for creating unique papers for use in collages, but I'll just describe a couple.  She coated found papers like brown paper bags, sheet music, or pages from magazines with gesso and then created texture with common objects like combs.  Sometimes she applied color with moist baby wipes, which created sheer veils of color. She altered pages from National Geographic a couple different ways.  She placed the pages, which are heavy and glossy, over stencils or rubbing plates, and sanded away much of the ink, but left the behind design.  She also used stencils and something called Nevr Dull, a metal cleaner, to alter NG pages.  By placing the stencil over the magazine page, ink can be rubbed off in patterns using the Never Dull.  The cleaner seems to act on the printing ink in much the same way Citra-Solv does, except the process is more precise, less messy.

At any rate, by the end of the day we each had prepared a stack of papers, and created a couple small collages using her techniques.  Laura was upbeat, energetic, and endlessly patient.  I loved playing with her materials, tools, and paints, and found her handouts to be concise and clear. I also enjoyed browsing through both her completed collages and her small collage sketchbooks.

When I get my scanner working reliably again, I will show some more of my recent collages using the polymer medium and tacking iron.  For now, I just wanted to share my positive experience with this instructor.