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.