Monday, December 31, 2007

For This I Am Grateful

The days of Two Thousand and Seven have been unlike most of my days over the last forty years. I have done no painting, and only a little writing. I have attended few meetings and tackled no projects. I have simply been a grandmother to two charmers. (Hey, they are mine, I can say that!)

The children have only a few months left to live in our house. We hope they will live nearby, but Susan and I, along with Fred, Vinnie, Boomie and Green (our cats) will miss them when that time comes.

I know this is supposed to be a blog about my life as an artist -- what affects my process, what I have accomplished, what influences my thoughts. The truth is my life as an artist has had no production and no accomplishments. It has, however, had a great many new influences this year. I have learned a lot through Lucy's eyes and will through Belle's as well before they move. I hope when I return my dismantled studio to the rooms now occupied by my daughter and her little ones, I will approach my work with renewed enthusiasm, vigor and understanding.

Someone recently suggested celebrating Christmas with young children. Well, I have had the joy of Christmas every day. On this last day of 2007, for this I am grateful.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, please accept my apologies for the scarcity of posts over the last few weeks. Once again I have attempted to complete partially finished entries and to edit photos so that my personal record will be a little more complete. So, if you get a blog-update email or two or three in the next day or so, it may just be an past-due Post. Read it or not.
I appreciate the comments and personal emails which this year has brought, I thank you and wish for you a Happy New Year.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Excellent Execution or Fabulous Fantasy?

A few weeks ago, we decided to drop by our local History Museum to see a display of gingerbread houses -- an almost annual event. We thought it would be a good adventure for little ones. We expected fantasies created with dribbles of frosting across cookie rooftops with all kinds of candies used in creative ways. We expected gingerbread houses; what we saw were gingerbread buildings! Okay, so that's acceptable.

This year, the theme was historic buildings in our city but, while the replicas were fantastic, there was little fantasy in the results. Except in the way the candies, cereals, pretzels and other materials were used for the construction, there were only one or two which showed a spirit of holiday energy. It really could have been a culinary event at any time of the year.

Note: I selected the two I liked best. The old fire station headquarters is now a meeting space with loft apartments; the artists added lots of fun elements around the gingerbread building. The Casino shows the rounded elements which are usually included in the artists paintings; nice transfer of personal style.

I immediately thought of a spring exhibition of my paintings almost 25 years ago. I had selected a dozen of my favorite florals. I watched as people were drawn to two very tightly rendered watercolors of iris -- the design was beautiful, the colors were clean and the detail was excellent (there had been five in the series.) The rest of the paintings were filled with shapes, colors, space and bits of detail. Then I noticed that after the viewers had moved around the room to see all the pieces, they began to return to some favorites. The iris, though award winners, were not among the favorites; once seen, there was no mystery, no fantasy, no need to check for more.

A painting or a gingerbread house. What makes it worth a second look? Is it excellent execution or fabulous fantasy or . . . ?


Monday, December 24, 2007

Belle and the Baby Jesus

A simple tradition at our church calls for the youngest child and its family to be the Holy Family at the informal and charming Birthday Party for Jesus. Belle is not the youngest child in our church, but the youngest was not available. Belle's father is in Afghanistan so another solder was recruited to be Joseph. Belle's mother wrapped her in swaddling clothes and held her while her grandmother, great-grandmother and aunt watched proudly. The program is presented by the young people's choirs and the costumes are a fun conglomeration.

At the end, the reader invited everyone to share in birthday cake. Lucy only wanted to pet the 'sheep.' Next year, she would like to be an angel or maybe one of the friendly beasts. Meanwhile, she put her 'cabbage patch doll' in a basket of 'hay' and now Baby Jesus is sleeping soundly near the dining room table. She was not impressed that Belle was the Baby Jesus, but she understands Family and being close.

Our preparation and anticipation throughout Advent has lead us to this night. We will celebrate this week with family and friends. It will be a quiet observance of Christmastide. Our Twelve Days of Christmas will end with Epiphany on Jan 6th.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Advent at Our House IV

Seeing the Neighborhood
We often gather the little ones in a stroller for a walk in our downtown neighborhood. We had begun to notice neighbors' houses with wreaths on windows and doors, a tree inside or a string of lights along the roof, so we planned to see a little more.

One lovely warm afternoon while the sky was bright blue and the Gingkos were still golden, Lucy and I stroll the few blocks to join the crowds on the sidewalk for the annual Christmas Parade. It was very long with lots of empty space between bands, floats and riders.

It was exciting, but our highlight was not of Santa's arrival at the end. It was an encounter with 'Elvis.' After his long walk, the impersonator reversed his route and walked along at the edge of the spectators to return to his vehicle. When he spotted Lucy, he turned back, bent down in all his red and white finery and said, "Hello, Little Red. Murry Chrusmas." After a bit more conversation, he walked on. The picture on a CD cover is quite convincing that perhaps the one who is singing all those great Christmas songs is "our Elvus."

An evening walk to the library (usually a two mile round-trip) had the fun addition of checking the lights and decorations a couple of streets over in the business district. We passed the big trees in front of our municipal building which were draped with lights in vertical dribbles and later never fully lit -- boo hiss! We checked the light-poles which were bedecked with new garland and lights and the lighted 'fountain' which replaced the water on one of our favorite fountains. We passed James Brown's statue with it's canopy of lights. We raced over to the big tree in the Common. There we found the magic.

We came home. Our own tree twinkled its welcome.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Advent at Our House III

Shopping and Seeing Santa
Well yes, there is SOME shopping. It is sometimes exhausting work even when shopping at the Godiva chocolate store or getting to ride the Rich's/Macy's Pink Pig Train.

Santa Claus/St. Nicholas gets into the act as well; he peeks through the French doors into the dining room to see if we are naughty or nice and we've learned a lot about 'being nice.' We visited Santa at the Mall and Lucy dressed in her 'best' princess skirt. She wasn't sure she liked him close-up but later wanted to go back to see him again. We stopped by and watched other children visit and waved from a distance -- not surprisingly, he always waved back.

We are reminded of the Gifts which were given at the Manger and God's Gift of Love and so we've found small presents for those we love.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent at Our House II

Reading Stories & Singing Songs

Christmas at our house is not so much about shopping. It's mostly about decorating and stories and singing and making stuff. (Although I DID buy myself a purple Christmas sweater which looks great with a lime green turtle neck. I am NOT kidding!)

Lucy and I have learned lots of new songs. I try to remember the words and go look them up when I can't remember. She just sings and doesn't care which songs the phrase comes from if it fits the tune. (How creative is that?)

She recently discovered our old French Army bugle and attempts to play it although sometimes she just pretends it's a guitar and sings "Comin' Round the Mountain" -- not to be confused with "Go Tell It on The Mountain" which doesn't have strumming.

I have added to my collection of "The Night Before Christmas" books. (I finally succumbed to Robert Sabuda's wonderful pop-up.) I have found some new children's books which I read at nap time. My Merry Christmas, by Sally Lloyd-Jones is a lovely little book which Lucy and I recommend. Belle has her own Christmas book about Jingle Bells which is great for chewing.

While their parents celebrated their mother's birthday, older daughter Susan and I took the little girls along with their great-grandmother LaLa to the "Walk to Bethlehem" which is produced by a rural church in our area. It was a beautiful, chilly night and the village of costumed folks seemed perfect. Now as we place nativities around the house, Lucy knows where to look for the Baby Jesus and she is learning about "The Friendly Beasts."

For many years, I placed a small tree in my studio filled with small nativity figures. This year, I put it in my sitting room as a reminder that I will not always have these children here and that the studio will refill the empty rooms when they are back in their own home. This year will be a very special Christmas and I will decorate and sing songs and read stories . . . .


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Advent at Our House I

It has been another week when notes are made and not posted so and I am catching up while the little ones and their mother are away with their other grandmother. I've combined some images to share our month of getting ready for Christmas and the next few entries are about Advent at Our House.

Decorating and Preparing for Christmas
Usually, the first thing decorated in our house is the long flight of stairs. This year, our big tree went up first since son-in-law was home from his military duties for two weeks R&R. We had a special meal and opened presents for everyone -- an early Christmas.

Some new garland and some bells in honor of Belle's arrival into the family this year swag the stairs and adorn the front door wreath.

Our collection of nutcrackers fill the stairs and an upstairs mantle; Lucy was delighted to see each one of her old friends and to introduce them to Belle.

My collection of nativities is all around the house and there are angels -- both handmade and elegant -- on a downstairs mantle. (The three Kings were added this year by older daughter.)

The 10 foot tree fills the corner and is shared with the neighborhood through tall front windows and a side window.

The eyes of two tiny little girls reflect the twinkly lights on the mantels and smaller trees throughout the house and prepare our hearts for the arrival of Baby Jesus.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Link of the Week -- Watching the Heavens

Whether your sky-gazing this week before Christmas includes searching for the Holy Star and a few angels or Santa's sleigh and the reindeer, you might enjoy this link to the twelve best Astronomy Pictures of the Day.

The APOD shows something new each day from amazing earth skyscapes to the wonders of unknown galaxies. Peace.

The image shown is from December 9th. It was photographed by the Hubble Heritage Team.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Photo of the Week

Concentration is important.

Paying attention and having a camera at hand counts, too. The best photo opportunities are not always planned.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Color of the Week - Light

Santa Lucia Day is celebrated in a number of countries on December 13th. The origin is muddled as are most of traditions, but in Sweden and Norway, a daughter of the household wakes the family very early to welcome the light after the longest night of the year. I remember the song from my elementary days and now have followed the traditional celebration through Britt-Arnhild blog at the House in the Woods. Her delightful Marta has been a lovely Lucia with her crown of candles and her basket of hot buns.

Even though we don't celebrate the "Lucy Fest," I thought I would post a picture or two of our Lucy in the afternoon sun of these short days. She has certainly brought light into our household this year and has provided a few lessons with her constant exploration of everything new. She will soon be two and a half and has suddenly become a little person. Every day is a celebration for Lucy.


Friday, December 14, 2007

The Success of a One-Man Show

Creative types often deal with the problem of being a one-man show. Having to focus on one idea, plan the execution and deliver the product is not always in our game plan and we wind up procrastinating, missing deadlines, playing with several ideas and delivering a not-so-satisfactory conclusion.

My mother is often a "one-man show." She develops projects which she enjoys and recruits the best people to see that the job is finished well. At 85, she has learned what she likes to do and that she does not like to waste time on an ill-conceived idea. So she chooses carefully and usually sees her plans through to a successful completion.

For the past few years, she has performed a real one-man show. She delivers her backdrop, sets up her music and delivers the lines of eight to ten "Characters of Bethlehem." She has adapted lines which my sister Ellen wrote to be delivered during Advent by individuals at her church in South Carolina. She remembered the simple backdrop which she had packed away after a choir program at her own church -- she had recruited me to do the quick drawing almost 20 years ago -- and put it to use. She created the backdrop frame with light-weight PVC pipe so that she could load it in her car and set it up when there was no one to help. She only occasionally asks for anyone to attend with her.

Yesterday, Lucy and I walked the few blocks to a senior complex to cheer her on as she told the Story of Baby Jesus's Birth. We watched as she first read in the gruff voice of Herod the King, and then the rushed voice of the innkeeper's wife. We sympathized with the anxious Joseph and the frightened Mary. We thought about the presence of the drunken shepherd and the presents of the Wise Men. And at the end, we applauded loudly.

It was another success for Mamma and her one-man show.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stealing Is Stealing . . . Is Not Stealing

Last week, my high school teacher daughter commented about her students copying manga drawings from the Internet and signing their own names. She tried to explain that there was an artist who did the original and it was not them. They said "It's free on the Internet. And besides, I have some good ideas, but I can't draw them." She told them they were stealing the other artist's work. They disagreed. She explained that is was like taking someone else's writing for a paper. They said, "It's not stealing. Our English teacher said it's plagiarism."

So this week, the New York Times discussed the photographs in the Richard Prince exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. They explored the feelings of the original photographers whose work was rephotographed and enlarged to ginormous sizes. They quoted Prince who said " . . . he was trying to get at something he could not get at by creating his own images." (My comment, "Well, duh!") And in an email he said, “I never associated advertisements with having an author.” My friend David R. Becker might disagree as did Jim Kranz whose original Marlboro photos are now being copied, shown and sold by Prince. Kranz said “I just want some recognition, and I want some understanding.” The Times talked of fair use and called it "appropriation." The full NYTimes article is here.

This question of copying someone else's work has often come up in my painting classes; I always discourage it. Suppose it's mine they want to copy and hang on their walls with their own signatures?!! And they would probably tell me I should be flattered. I always encourage study, practice and originality, but I may an old fossil in this. Copying-to-learn comes down as a time honored tradition; yet few would sign the copy as if it were their own. Copying someone's work from their website or copying their website; each comes with it's own set of ethical questions. Copying another artist's work, then being honored with a museum show for your copies? Oh, my!

So stealing is stealing . . . is not stealing.

It's plagiarism . . . or . . . appropriation.

I gotta think about this.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Still Prickly

Okay, so I'm probably getting a little obsessive about this drought related fall color thingie. The photo here shows sweet gum stars behind the white trunks of the sycamore.

I'm used to fabulous color of the star-shaped leaves but sweet gum balls are supposed to be brown! . . . and prickly! They stick to the dog, are horrible to rake up and most people hate them. However, they can be used to make fun things with a little glue and glitter, but that's another story.

They are NOT supposed to be such a lovely array of colors -- not gentle pale green nor sharp chartreuse edged with the pinky orange of old Mercurochrome nor subtle beige washed with mossy green nor the orange-red of winter pomegranates.

I picked up a few to share.


They are still prickly.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Good Mirrors

. . . as fun as it (making art) is, we still need good mirrors to see our potential sometimes. > > > Pete

On a recent afternoon, I was looking at the leaves on my street with camera in hand. When I turned around, I was surprised to discover that they were mirrored in the windows of my house. I suppose those leaves are there in every season, but when I look at my house, I just see the need for paint or a spot to be repaired or the leaves to be raked. I like the idea of seeing the potential reflected instead.

Good mirrors change what you see and feel.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

How'd She Do That?

Last week I posted about delivering with confidence; this week, confidence delivers.
(Link to previous photo of Belle's crown)

In 1963, I was hired fresh out of college for a four month job to begin to build a Christian education program for a small church in my hometown. There was nothing in the budget for someone like me, but they decided they would just do without new landscaping for a while and pay me with money set aside for shrubbery. It was an interesting job with lots of enthusiasm from the congregation since they wanted to get as much benefit of my four year degree as they could before I left for my long term job in another state.

I worked with children, youth and adults. I worked with the pastor. And I worked with the church secretary. The children were fun. The youth were demanding. The adults were receptive. The pastor was energetic. The secretary was office equipment challenged; um, socially challenged; um, deadline challenged.

This week, I read about that same church secretary who I remember as the fumbly little office worker who always jammed the folding machine and barely made the last bus on Fridays when doing the Sunday programs, the odd little woman who always had a new little joke which didn't always seem funny, the strange little lady who seemed to know secrets beyond anyone else's comprehension.

This week, at 88, she put on her fanciest dress and her brightest lipstick. She glowed with confidence as she quoted poetry and told a few jokes. She snowed the judges and surprised everyone else at the senior citizen's beauty pageant as she took the crown.

Was this the secret I felt hidden just under the surface years ago? Did she know all this time that she wasn't really inept and out of step? Did she know that she was just misplaced and waiting for the right moment to blossom?

I have been wondering how many others are like the church secretary: just in the wrong place without the courage to be who they really are; just living without the confidence to share their secret. Whatever the reason it suddenly appeared in my old friend, it worked.

Confidence delivers.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

What Do They Know?

They do it every day -- tell us what the weather will be tomorrow and the 4 or 5 or 7 days after.

Using their best resources, latest gizmos and phone calls from neighborhood weather watchers, they put the numbers together about wind direction, average temperatures, and expected rainfall. Sometimes I think they just look at the weather in the next state and say, "Hum, I think that's what it's gonna do here tomorrow." However they come up with the prediction, it is believable – right or wrong -- because it is delivered with confidence and humor.

This year, the weather folks have had the added bonus of the severe drought. They have discussed water tables and lake levels, watering bans and conservation measures.
And they even got into leaves.

They predicted that there would NOT be a great show of fall color because of no rain. So it was surprising to me to spot beautiful hardwoods among the pines last month on our "Girls' Day Out."

At home, I discovered the wonder of the blazing color on the Chinese Pistach (another photo) which ranged from chartreuse, lemon and orange all the way through red to hot pink and magenta.

I realized that the fig tree had never shown such brilliant yellow and that the crepe myrtles had thrown shimmering copper and gold coins on the ground. (Lucy threw them at me!)

And while I marveled at these discoveries, I wondered if they were always there.

And I thought about the meteorologists. No color!?! What do they know!?!

Sometimes I think we don't need to know the peak leaf viewing season. We just need to know the current temperature and if it might rain tomorrow.

Sometimes I think we don't need to drive hundreds of miles to see some trees. We just need to observe the fig tree from the kitchen window and the crepe myrtle leaves on the sidewalk.

Sometimes we don't need the latest trends, the newest colors, the possible contract or the latest supplies, the newest motivational books, the cameras with the best lens and mega-pixel capabilities and the best computer software. We just need to make some intuitive decisions and we need to deliver.

Right or wrong. Just deliver with confidence and humor!

And that's What They Know.