Monthly Archives: March 2017

Timeout for Art: Life as Art

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IMG_0407This is not to suggest that MY life is art, though I love the idea. My life is mostly common. I can’t seem to even get the flamboyant signature and creative swagger that would identify me as an artist. Now and then, though, I come upon someone who, through and through, lives their life as art. This morning, while procrastinating about some writing I have to get done, and contemplating what half-finished piece of art to try to talk about, I was reading through some of the other blogs I follow. Martha Marshall, An Artist’s Journal, had wonderful visuals of studio and works -in-progress, and wise words about showing up. From comments on her essay, I was led to the writings of Valorie Grace Hallinan. Oh, my! First, her writing, which is lovely.  Her concerns for the earth resonated with me, and the reminder of the wonderful essays of Wendell Berry was much appreciated. Finally, this video clip of an interview Berry did with Bill Moyers…wonderful! Some people truly live their lives as art! This made my day! I’m sharing the whole thing!

 

“I can tell you confidently that the many owners of small farms, shops, and stores, and the self-employed craftspeople who were thriving in my county in 1945, did not think of their work as ‘a job.’ Most of these people, along with most skilled employees who worked in their home county or home town, have […]

via Wendell Berry’s Our Only World — Books Can Save A Life

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Artifacts to Memories: Incidentals

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While sorting through books recently, in my continuing effort to pare down, I came upon one with an inscription that said, “Christmas 1994, to Cindy with Love, Mom.” I sat down, then,  and paged through the book: flower descriptions and photographs. It may have been the first time I looked at it since 1994. Then I returned it to the shelf.

Some things keep a place in my home because they contribute to my idea of this person I am. Books, baskets, beach stones, candles and houseplants fit this category. Other things justify their continued occupation in my small home because they keep a place in my heart. Not because of what they mean to me, exactly, but because of the stories, and the memories they seem to hold.

When my sister, Sheila, died, I took her partially-used jar of anti-age cream. “Since she won’t ever need it, ” I quipped, while grieving her premature death. Every time I picked up the jar, I thought of her. When I finally emptied it, I cried as if the loss were fresh. I could hardly bring myself to throw the empty jar away!

In my studio, where the walls reflect whatever I’m working on and the scene changes frequently, two things are steadfast. The first is a picture of Elvis painted in day-glow colors on black velvet, mounted in a cheap and gaudy drop-in frame. The second is a low-relief still-life of apples in soft copper.

Elvis was a tongue-in-cheek gift from my friend, Linda. Many times, as we struggled our way through art school, we kidded each other, “At least we’re not forced to be painting Elvis on black velvet!” It was our shorthand reference to selling out: giving up our artistic visions and ideals just to make a quick profit. In my small campus apartment, Elvis was displayed right in the living space. As guests, by turns, registered awe or disgust at the painting, my daughters would clarify, often in unison, “It’s ironic!” For all of those memories, I hold on to Elvis.

I made the copper apples in ninth grade art class. I can’t remember the teacher’s name, but I remember generally using that classroom to make trouble. I rarely took an assignment seriously. I liked working with the soft copper, though, and was happy with the finished project. So was my mother, when I presented it to her. She hung it in the hallway just outside the kitchen and near the stairs. It held that position for the next forty-five years! After my mother died, the piece was discreetly moved to the garage, where it stayed until my sister, Brenda, suggested I might like to take it home. She was right!

For the memory of my fourteen-year-old self, crude though it is, I like it. For my mother’s encouragement and loyalty in hanging it prominently and leaving it on display for all those years, I love it.

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

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My mother was a master at the subtle art of wrapping an admonishment up with a little guilt, a dash of shame and a good deal of keeping-a-child-in-her-place, and delivering it all in one concise phrase:

“Well, aren’t you the Smartypants!”

“Look at you, Miss Lazybones!”

“Here’s Little Miss Know-It-All.”

It was very effective. I tried it myself, with my own children, with less success. As usual, I talked too much:

“Well, Miss I-Should-Be-Able-To-Keep-My-Room-How-I-Want, if what you want is to keep your room messy, than what I want is for you to keep your door closed!

“Okay, Miss Can’t-Stand-Mixed-Food, here is your casserole…separated.”

“Well, if it isn’t Little Miss I’m-too-sick-to-go-to-school-in-the-morning-but-well-enough-to-be-up-playing-with-dolls-and-now-jumping-on-the-bed!”

It’s even less effective with the dogs, mainly because they don’t understand sarcasm. I forge on, anyway:

For Darla, there’s “Miss Garbage Breath” when she’s gotten in the trash, “Miss Growl” for the way she lets me know she wants to go out, and “Miss Bunny Rabbit” for the stuffed animal she loves to carry around in her mouth.

Miss Rosa Parks is “Little Miss Pee-Pee On The Floor” – for obvious reasons. “Miss Boy” is short for Miss Boy who Cried Wolf, when she goes to the door without really needing outside, in hopes that I’ll – in my distracted state – still give her a treat. “Miss Butt-In-The-Air” is for the position she assumes when she wants me to drop everything and go play with her. “Miss Bark,” is for when she torments my ears with her shrill, sharp bark. It always causes her to give me a raised eyebrow, wondering if I have simply mispronounced “Parks.”

They both have other names,that are not laced with sarcasm or ridicule. Baby-doll, Sweet Girl, Good Girl, Honey-Bunch and Sweetheart are ways I address each of them. Now that I think of it, those are also terms I used for my daughters…and that my mother used for her children, too!

 

Timeout for Art: the Long Way

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Sometimes things come together effortlessly.

Sometimes they don’t.

After a struggle to find time for the studio, and long lapses between sessions, I was pleased to finally have a piece underway. Last week, I had everything glued in place, and had it sandwiched between layers of plastic and two sturdy boards, tucked in between my mattress and box spring to dry flat.

Last night, I pulled it out and unwrapped it. I was prepared for the grand “reveal:” that heart-thumping Christmas morning moment when I see what I’ve created through fresh eyes. Often, I think, “Wow. Where did that come from?” It’s often a pleasant surprise.

Not always, though.

Last night was…well…underwhelming. The surface was not quite flat, and had even rippled in places. The medium was still tacky, and there were patches that were still opaque. The bright blue that seemed so necessary – and so divine – when I placed it, now looked a bit contrived and considerably over the top. Too bright, too centered, too demanding of all the attention so that subtle nuances of color and surface fell away in its wake.  I could write another entire chapter about the complications I then ran into when trying to photograph it!

But, it’s evening now, and I don’t have the energy to go into a long diatribe about what went wrong. All is not lost. I finally managed a reasonable photo. I will make adjustments to the composition. it will be fine. That’s just how it goes.

Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s not.

Artifacts to Memories: My Old Wood Stove

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Yesterday, on the first day of spring, I took both of my dogs for a walk.

I’d left Rosa Parks home the day before, with her medicine stirred into a little wet food, a suggestion that she take care of things, and an apology. Her bum knee has been acting up, and her allergies have gone wild with the warmer temperatures. She was better off at home.

Darla and I walked down the – very muddy and sometimes downright wet – Fox Lake Road until we came to the trail that leads through my Grandpa’s wood lot. We followed the trail through the woods until we came to Randy’s house. Randy keeps chickens; I wasn’t sure if they were penned, and I didn’t know how Darla would react. We turned back there, and retraced our route for home.

My little dog let me know that she was not pleased. When I went out later in the day to pick up windfall and rake a few leaves, Rosa Parks wandered far out of the yard, over banks of snow and blackberry brambles, into the tall grass of the field. From that distant vantage point, she looked back with a stern expression. “I am perfectly capable of going for a walk,” she seemed to be telling me. Up, then, she marched to the top of the big snow drift, where she paused again, to give me a guilt-inducing look. An energetic run around the yard, finished by beating both Darla and me to the door, completed her demonstration.

Yesterday, Rosa Parks came with us. We avoided the Fox Lake Road that had soaked my feet the day before. We walked through the back field – ducking under the branches of pine and choke cherry trees, and skirting drifts of wet snow – until we came to the woods. The path was dry there, and we followed it back to the hunt camp that Bobby Graves built in a clearing far back in the woods.

Darla hadn’t been this way before, so she was happy to explore the sights and smells on either side of the trail. Rosa plodded along, always behind, but never out of my sight. I set my pace to her speed. There were a few trees down. One, we had to leave the trail and wind through the brush and trees to get around. Two, we were able to climb over, and the last one I had to duck under. I mistakenly thought that would be the hardest part of the walk.

We came, finally, to the clearing. The hunt camp is used by another group of guys these days. Stones placed in a circle, with chairs gathered around it, mark the location of the campfire. Between the little cabin and the outhouse, in a little cluster of empty beer bottles, buckets and an old cooler, sits my old wood stove. I don’t know how it ended up here, but it has stood in this clearing, slowing rusting, exposed to the elements, for at least two years.

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The stove was purchased new by my husband’s Uncle Don. He and his wife had moved into an old schoolhouse, and were converting it into a home. The wood stove was cast iron, tall and roundish in shape, supported with sturdy legs. In their home, the stove pipe was of shiny stainless steel.

Don and his wife separated; they each moved to different homes. When my husband and I were building our little house on Beaver Island, we bought the wood stove. I was always very proud of the way that it looked, with its big round knobs for draft, and double doors with bright wood handles that could stand open to appreciate the fire. There was a wood-knobbed screen that snapped in, to shield against flying sparks.

The stove never did heat very well, though. It should have. It was designed for it; it had a good rating, and could hold a big knot of wood. When all conditions were right, we could certainly get the house warm. We never could get it to stay warm, though. Through every possible combination of draft and damper settings, through wood that ranged from windfall and slab wood to the hardest maple logs, through experiments with different locations and different chimneys, that fire needed to be fed.

Most winters, I worked very hard to stay barely comfortable. I woke up in the morning to a house that was generally 42 degrees (though there were days that water was frozen in the dish!). I’d work the coals into flame with kindling and dry wood, then retreat to the bathroom with its electric heater. There, sitting on the side of the tub, I’d drink coffee and write in my journal while the house warmed up. When I came home from work, the house was, again, 42 degrees. Again, I’d stoke the fire, then take a long walk while the house got to a temperature that I could relax in.

After twenty years of struggling with that stove (one winter, my water pipes froze fourteen times…and burst three times!), and all the additional work that heating with wood entails, I switched over to propane for my heat. Unable to justify – in my small house – having both a propane heater and a wood stove, one had to go. I gave the wood stove to my friend Bill, who lived on the West Side Drive. Later, he and his family moved off the island. The house changed hands. I don’t know how my old wood stove ended up in the yard of the hunt camp, but that’s where it sits today.

That sums up the story of the old wood stove. The story of the walk with my dogs is not done.

First, both Darla and Rosa Parks marched right out onto the frozen pond just as if it were a big open field, with no idea of the danger, should the ice give way. I coaxed them back to shore and headed back for home. Rosa Parks did not come with us. She had found the hoof and foreleg of a deer, with enough (probably rotten!) meat and fur attached to make it interesting. She let me know without a doubt that she was willing to fight, if need be, to keep it.

After several attempts at scolding or shaming her into submission – all to no avail – I tried walking away, calling to Rosa Parks, in hopes that she would follow me and Darla, if we got far enough away. It didn’t work. Then Darla, too, found a deer leg! What kind of a ghoulish place was this?! I put on my gloves, wishing they were rubber, or leather – something sturdier and more “gross-proof” than the simple knit that they are. I got a long stick and used it to pull the animal parts away from the jaws of my dogs, then flung each deer leg as far into the woods as I could.

I grabbed up Rosa Parks before she had time to object and, yelling for Darla to follow, headed back down the trail. With one heavy – and stubborn – little dog in my arms, I ducked under one tree, climbed over the next two and detoured through the brush to skirt the last one before I was confident that I could put the little dog down without her going back to retrieve her treasure. I was all the way home before I had caught my breath! By the time we got to our own back yard, both dogs had forgotten all about our disagreement, and were wagging tails and grinning in their “what a good time that was” manner. Hmmmph.

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Beginnings of the Day

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A day off opens like a gift. Possibilities seem endless. Then decisions, right from the start, work to take the shine off.

Do I stay up when I get up at 6AM to let the little dog out? Or shall I sleep in? Should I set the alarm, then, before I go back to sleep, so that I don’t sleep too long? Or count on the dogs to wake me up again?

As I go back to sleep, my plans for the day are vying for position in my mind. By the time I get up – at 7:30 – I am fully aware of the push-pull that’s been playing at the edge of my subconscious. Already, I feel the pressure of too many directions.

First, though, the dogs. They bring so much joy to my life, and get little in return. Two things I do for them. When I get up in the morning, I take time to give each dog one hundred strokes: a good belly rub and scratches behind the ears while telling them “Good Girl,” and “What a nice dog you are!”

When I come home – from work or another outing – after taking them outside, I sit on the couch, with one dog on either side of me. Darla sprawls out, with her big head in my lap, inviting more belly rubs. Rosa Parks nuzzles me and encourages ear scratches and back rubs. Sometimes I try to look at a magazine, or fill in my day-planner, but mostly the dogs keep my attention. We sit for one-half hour.

On days when the weather – or my energy level – doesn’t allow for a good walk, or when work, meetings and other necessary activities keep me away from home for long hours, these simple commitments help to allay my guilt. They also add a regimen of quiet and calm to my life. For that, I probably gain more from the routine than the dogs do!

After the dogs each get their morning rub-down, I take a couple pills with a big glass of water while the coffee is brewing, then pour my first cup. By that time, every thing I need to do is jostling for position with the things I could do, should do, and want to do. I pull out my planner to try to begin making sense of it all.

Sunday is my day for writing. After posting this blog, I have a list of articles to write today. Also for the Beacon, I have a few updates in subscriptions to add to the database, and several “second notices” to be prepared to be sent out to delinquent advertisers.

Sunday is one of the days I try to get a good walk in. I told Darla that she could count on it today. This is also the day I promised myself I’d start that new workout.

I have laundry and other weekly chores to give some attention to. In addition, the windows could all use a good cleaning.

I have work underway in the studio, and would love to spend some time there. After making some progress there last week, it would be great to keep the momentum going.

I have big changes in mind for my garden this year. I want to get out the graph paper and the garden books to start fleshing out my ideas.

I still have a long list of home improvements on my “master list.” Some are decidedly “in the future,” waiting for money or materials, but a few things could be accomplished today, with a little time.

As the snow melts, the yard needs to be raked. I could work on that a little bit each day – from now through infinity – and still never be finished.

I’m in the middle of a good book.

The most recent movie arrival from Netflix has been sitting unopened for more than a week now.

Finally, I have an invitation for dinner at Aunt Katie’s this evening.

So, if there is to be hope of a productive day, I’d better “get crackin’!”

Timeout for Art: A Little Time

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Well, I don’t have a photograph to prove it, but I did happily manage a few hours in the studio this week. Six, to be exact, over the course of two days. I did some shuffling and rearranging, to make space to work among all the disparate items stored in that small room. I did some tidying, just to make it more pleasant. Finally, I worked on some art.

Not the finding-flow/following-the-muse/wild-inspiration type of art-making. No, this was a necessary – but not as glorious – aspect of the process.

I dismantled one large collage that I’d assembled a couple weeks ago, spread the elements out so that I could recall their positioning, and – one-by-one – glued them into place. I tweaked the  design a bit before calling it done. Then, I  coated  both sides of the heavy paper collage with gel medium, wrapped it in thin plastic, layered it between two sturdy plywood boards, and tucked in between my mattress and box spring to dry.

Art is one of those activities that sometimes brings great excitement, at other times just soothes. Sometimes decisions have to be made every moment; other times it is just going through the necessary motions.

I like all  aspects of the process.