Tag Archives: art

Arkansas, America, and Art

Last week I told you about the great restaurant we found in the Ozarks, along the White River bank. But we did more than go to that restaurant. We kept my uncle going every day! It had been decades since we had been to northern Arkansas. When we last visited, there were so many ancient Ozark-style log cabins tucked into the woods on the side of the road that the flavor of the land was everywhere you looked. If you don’t know what those are, they are small slightly rectangular box cabins with a peaked roof and a front porch with roof (imagine a wooden rocking chair and Pa with a corncob pipe just about now). Typically, the cover to the porch is a different pitch than the main roof–and best yet, the roof is generally tin. There aren’t very many left, but the remains of the ones being slowly claimed by the forest can be seen. Also, some have been refurbished with aluminum siding. Some new houses are built in the same style, to reflect the traditional architecture.

The reason I don’t have photos for you is that most of my Arkansas photos are crap, having been taken through a car window. It was too hot and humid to keep rolling the window down–and the so-called highways (NO freeways at all) are winding and long. It’s way out in the country, y’all. Anyway, the gardener drove, and it exhausted him so I didn’t want to distract him by rolling the window up and down–or asking to stop where we could have been run over IF someone else had driven there just then (that’s a big IF).

This part of Arkansas must be well within the Bible Belt. In Mountain Home (population 12,448), the Wednesday newspaper had a listing of churches in the immediate area.

I counted FORTY-ONE Baptist churches. There are also a lot of other denominations, including LDS, Jehovah’s Witness, and even Bahai! There is no synagogue, and I don’t think there is a mosque. Also, there are only two Catholic churches–one in town and one in a nearby town. The one in town is my uncle’s church. You might wonder then how my uncle ended up in Arkansas. He was born and lived in Chicago. After a horrible crime touched his life (story coming tomorrow in thefamilykalamazoo.com) he moved his family to rural Illinois–and eventually to Arkansas. He wasn’t alone–there is a whole “expat” group of Chicagoans who live there. They like being away from the hubbub–and a lot of them like to fish. That–and some Californians who have escaped the west coast–probably makes up the majority of people who attend the Catholic churches.

Let me mention that my favorite church names are the cowboy churches. Notice that this listing shows Bar None Cowboy Church. We flew into Tulsa, OK, and drove to Mountain Home. On the way, we saw other cowboy churches, like the Cowboy Gatherin’ Church in Inola, OK, and Crooked Creek Cowboy Church in Harrison. Apparently “cowboy churches” are a thing and are scattered across the country. Who knew? Well, I sure didn’t.

Speaking of Harrison. It’s only 48.4 miles from Mountain Home, but there’s a big difference. Mountain Home, as I said, has attracted people from Chicago and California and is close to reknowned trout fishing near the Bull Shoals dam which links Bull Shoals Lake with the White River. People think of pretty Ozark country when Mountain Home is mentioned. Harrison’s reputation comes from being known as the most racist city in the country. I got that from Wikipedia. So who knows the accuracy. Apparently, between 1905 and 1909 white citizens threw out all the African-Americans who lived there and established their city as a “sundown town.” That means just what it sounds like: no non-white people in town after dark. You think things have changed?

The city has been dubbed “the most racist city in America” because of its high presence of white supremacist organizations. Kingdom Identity Ministries, a white supremacist organization, was founded in 1982 in Harrison. Thomas Robb, national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, maintains his office near Harrison in the outlying town of Zinc and uses a Harrison mailing address for the organization. Combined with the history of the 1905 and 1909 banishment of unemployed railroad workers and all other African-American residents, this incidental connection to the KKK has given the town a negative image.

The article goes on to say that there are people who are trying to combat that image by speaking up against racism. Of course, all this just made me want to visit. The writer in me, you know. But that’s an easy call as a white woman. As the white mother of Asians, I would not have suggested we visit if they were with us.

When we got to town, I saw the pretty historic theatre where events are still held.

Love the neon sign!

Harrison is quite a pretty small town, and there wasn’t much to hint at a dangerous undercurrent of racism. Then we stopped at an antique shop for the gardener.

My eye was drawn to certain things. I started to feel uncomfortable.

I realize people collect Mammy this and that. Raised in Kalamazoo by my northern relatives, I will never feel comfortable with this stuff. In fact, in Arkansas, I had to keep reminding myself it used to be a slave state. I’ve never lived in a state where slave-holding was legal.

And then there was this little section.

Don’t you love the juxtaposition of items? The Rise and Fall swastika, desperation, a book called Rifles and Shotguns, Rhett Butler, and the fragility of that ruffled porcelain atop the stack. I figured we’d been in town long enough. Time to go!

Next day we visited my cousin’s home in the mountains. He is an orchid farmer by trade, and they live way out in the middle of nowhere (yup, it’s probably even called that). He always loved cacti and orchids, and it’s kind of cool that he’s made a living all these years doing what he loves.

He’s got such cute grandchildren, too. So much fun playing with them!

One day we visited Mystic Caverns. I guess northern Arkansas has a lot of underground caves. Many have probably not even been discovered yet.

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Close to Mountain Home is a tiny town called Norfork. There you can find the Jacob Wolf House Historic Site.

The site includes the main house, which was the territorial courthouse, built 1825, as well as some outbuildings. Seeing how the men “roughed” it even inside the courthouse really made me think of what the settlers went through. During the day, court was in session, and at night, the men spread out their bedrolls where they had been sitting in court earlier.

As we left Arkansas, the gardener and I stopped at the Osage Clayworks because the area has been known for pottery for quite some time. They had some good buys on “seconds,” and I bought my daughter a garlic thingie to use for her rings on her dresser.

 

The Photography of Justin Hamm

If you like seeing small towns and the fading past of America, you need to check out the photography of poet and photographer Justin Hamm. He’s also the editor of the museum of americana. I love Justin’s photos. Rustic images of old cars, barns, that kind of thing. Gorgeous. Click here for his Instagram. Here are the photos on his website. Look at this photograph of an old Ozark barn, care of Justin. He’s been in the Ozarks recently so I am watching for all those shots I imagined but couldn’t pull off.

 

The Art of Len Cowgill

On the subject of beautiful American art, I want to tell you a little update on the work of Len Cowgill.

Many, many years ago, when Len, the gardener, and I were all very young, Len gave us a series of three pieces as a gift. This was before he knew about archival materials, and over the years in the hot sun of California, the drawings faded. Here is one of them–see HOW faded.

Upon hearing about the fading, Len kindly offered to repair all these drawings. Look out great they turned out! In the first one, he changed the static brick wall to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” and then followed the theme for the rest of them.

I’m so blessed to have such thought-provoking and breathtaking art in my life. Thanks to Len and thanks to Justin both for sticking with your passions and making the world more beautiful.

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Medical Art + Writing + Cats

On Friday I had some medical tests. I’ve been having some shortness of breath problems. I went to the doctor months after I should have, but I doubt it matters. I now suspect it is more of that acid reflux problem! Probably getting into my lungs. But my doctor thought he heard a new heart murmur so I had to take some tests. I’m sure it’s because my mother had a TAVR last summer. She was so lucky to do so well because she had more wrong with her heart than people usually do who get TAVR procedures. This is less invasive than open-heart surgery as they “go up through the groin.” My mother is now the darling of Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids and is featured on billboards throughout the city. She’s so darn cute. Tell me if she’s not adorable.

I’m not worried about my tests because I have seen how bad this acid reflux situation is. I have a splint thingie that I am supposed to wear at night for my TMJ problem, but the acid has eaten through the acrylic!!!

I kid you not.

I go to Mayo Clinic in Arizona because, why not? One-stop shopping for medical. They take my insurance for which I worked my TUSH off by teaching for a pittance for all those years. (If you think I am exaggerating, you would be wrong. Lecturers or adjuncts or freeway flyers, which is what I was, do over half the teaching work in most universities and get paid a tiny share of what professors make. People who clean houses–and do not need high school diplomas–get paid more per hour than I did with my P. H. and D. No kidding again. But I will say I did it with love).

What I noticed at Mayo this time was a preponderance of beautiful art. I hope that somebody loans or donates it to them because I would hate to think that my insurance and my deductible and all is paying for that art. Beautiful Chinese jade pieces, well-made Native American pottery, you name it. They are in glass cases, so I couldn’t really photograph them because of the reflections.

But I will admit that I feel better getting poked and prodded in an artistic and serene environment. Art calms my soul. Kind of like cats do.

A quintessential Phoenix Soleri bell

Another quintessential Phoenician art form

Flowers floating on the wall

The best part of the day, though, were the therapy dogs. I saw three! And they were all beautiful dogs. One a big blondie, another a golden of sorts, and the third? Here he/she is!

What is that noise I’m hearing? Is Kana in a kitchen cupboard again? [Leaves to go check.] OK, I let her out.

Here is my writing update. If I don’t write one day, I try to make up for it the next. This weekend I worked on a piece for a book that someone else is writing. The book is about the beautiful old lakeside park and dance pavilion that my great-great-grandmother’s niece owned and that my father bought from her on a land contract . . . for a time.  Since those years of my childhood stimulated my imagination, it’s a story I’ve been writing and rewriting as poetry and prose for years.

I had a nonfiction story taken by a magazine I was hoping would take it (woot!).

The ole memoir is completely restructured now. (Aren’t you sick of hearing about that dang thing?) And I organized my send-out pieces. Three months ago I thought I had nothing left, but I’ve rewritten poems and prose pieces and feel I have some offerings to the world.

I hope you enjoyed Carol Bachofner’s pieces. Years ago, Carol was my student, not for creative writing, but for literature. She was a fabulous student, the kind of student all teachers wish for: passionate and smart and logical and creative. And hard-working.

Are you wondering how Perry is doing? hahaha He’s driving everyone crazy, but he’s so darn sweet. Kana and Felix figured out if they lie on the cat trees by the glass doors, I can put the drapes around them, and Perry can’t get to them. He knows they are there, but it makes it too difficult for him to climb on them.

That is Felix on our left, looking out. You can see his little face in the door. Kana is the black shape on the right side. From the inside of the house, Perry and I can only see the drapes.

If we don’t do this with the drapes, this is what happens. Perry climbs right up with Felix and within a few seconds he starts to annoy!

Perry got to stay up after 10PM for several nights last week because he is so good! The only trouble is that he has to have his bedroom door shut at night because no matter how I wrap the sheet over the gate, he can figure out how to get out. The little smartypants.

What’s up with you this week?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rainbows Everywhere

The gardener and I have been married for ever so many years (vagueness is mandatory here), and this month we had our anniversary. We ate at a wonderful Lithuanian restaurant (I thought it was Ukrainian, but I was wrong). We also decided to choose our own anniversary gift. This is what I chose for myself.

A gorgeous light catcher custom-designed and crafted by Pauline at The Contented Crafter. I wanted something for my office, which is coral and black on ivory. When it arrived last week, I was ecstatic. Such a classy presentation, too. Pauline had the light catcher in a gauzy bag with the top of the piece tied to the bag so that it can just slip out and not be tangled.

I laid it out in a tray because the gardener wanted to hang it himself. (He doesn’t trust me with picture hangers, but the truth is that unless it involves a molly I think I am better at them).

My mother has arrived for a few weeks, and we had to put her in Perry’s room (my daughter’s room). Perry had to be moved into my office. He sleeps in there and also has his time-outs in that room now. So we decided to hang the light catcher in our living room instead.

As I inspected it on the tray I was thrilled to see how much of my personality Pauline imbued the piece with. As she describes it: “pinks and oranges and coppery hues; sea jasper beads, tiny coral beads, seashell pieces and masses of crystals.” The charms are a Russian nesting doll, a cat, an “I love cats,” a tiny book called “A True Story.” There are hearts and stars. Imagine!

And here is a close up of the top of it.

And here:

See the doll (for Doll God) and “I love cats” above?

Since my photos suck, Pauline sent me some better shots of the lovely! Click through the slideshow to see up close!

 

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Why did I want a light catcher?

Well, for one thing I had seen some of the photos of Pauline’s work and thought it beautiful.

Also, one of my favorite movies as a kid was Pollyanna, and the most memorable scene was the one about the prisms at Mr. Pendergast’s house. If you want to cut to the chase, start the video at exactly 2:40.

 

I’ve written about Pollyanna twice before haha! The Glad Game, or Happy Birthday, Pollyanna and Path to Gratitude

The light catcher is certainly living up to its name. It throws brilliant rainbows all around the room.

Mini rainbows on the floor

I love having my home filled with rainbows!

Also, I got the new issue of Tab in the mail. It’s quite an innovative literary magazine. It’s a series of beautifully designed postcards with poems and art. My photo is sort of upside down, but I don’t think it matters because the idea is that you pick up a card and read them one at a time. I have been carrying them around with me.

Here’s what I have to say about #amwriting. Before Mom got here I had completely restructured the memoir. It still needs a lot of revision, but the structure is radically different. Marie Bailey really helped me with her comments. Thank you, Marie! Check out her story, “Rapunzel, A Different Kind of Fairy Tale.” Extremely enjoyable and found at the new lit mag, The Disappointed Housewife. When I restructured, it was easy to see what scenes to get rid of. I jettisoned about 23,000 words and wrote another 3,000 so far. This means that I have now written about 310,000 words for this project. But it’s only 66,000 words right now. Good grief, get on with it and finish it, woman!

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More information on Pauline at The Contented Crafter

A little about me: For a start, I’m a baby-boomer – you do the math – the number keeps changing and so do I!

I’ve had many incarnations as wife, mother, student, teacher, teacher trainer and mentor, curriculum writer and advisor, community hub developer, new worker trainer, and [whew!] life coach.  In between I painted, crafted, hand worked, gardened and generally tried to create beauty around me where ever I went.  Oh, I forgot to mention ‘world traveller’!

These days I’m [mostly] a very contented crafter and pursuer of serenity.  And of course, I live with Orlando, a now elderly Maine Coon cat of great distinction and forbearance and a most delightfully joyful pup who goes by the name of Sid-Arthur [yes, a play on Siddhartha for those of you who picked it up].  They feature prominently throughout this blog.

I’m retired now and happily spend my days doing whatever it pleases me to do.  Sometimes, in between my crafting projects, I still coach now and again, gratis, as a thank you for this blessed life I’ve been given.

I have had a most interesting life, from traumatic beginnings through the highs and lows of self discovery – learning to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions, learning to forgive and let go, learning to trust, learning to ‘be’.

I adopted this as my motto many years ago, it still fits:  Life is a school room and everything is a lesson to be learned.  Lessons will be presented in many ways and many forms until they are learned.  When a lesson has been successfully mastered, another lesson will be presented.  You will be tested.

What I have come to see is that some lessons will be tough, some will be fun. The secret is to maintain a sense of equilibrium with them all, no matter how they make you feel.

And in the end, it’s all been about learning how to be a ‘successful’ human being – and by ‘successful’ I don’t mean in a material way.  I mean in terms of understanding who and what I am and why I am here and what is the meaning of it all………. you know, all that existential stuff.

I consider myself to be counted amongst the most fortunate of people despite the fact that I live without much of the material wealth and supports that so much of the western world considers necessary. I enjoy to keep it simple these days!

CLICK THROUGH FOR PAULINE’S GIFT SHOP

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The Inimitable Style of Len Cowgill

When the gardener and I lived in Michigan we were good friends with artist Len Cowgill. He specialized in a type of pointillism which was well-suited to the detailed nature of his subjects. We have a series of three pieces that showcase different stages of a man’s life. They are just stunning. Unfortunately, they are under glass, so I can’t really take photos of them.

Recently, I found his work online–in galleries and on Flickr. While his art has grown and changed, it is still recognizably his inimitable style. Using acid-free paper, he works mainly in  ink, graphite, white charcoal, and sometimes colored pencil. Len’s work isn’t merely decorative. He doesn’t turn away from difficult subjects, but focuses his eye on the human condition.

We haven’t seen Len in years, but hope to see him before too long now that we’ve reconnected.

When I really love a work of art, I get all revved up (jumping up and down in my chair, if you must know) and want to share with everyone. This is how I feel about Len’s art. He let me use these images from his Flickr account, but please do not copy them for public or internet use.

 

103 Secret Saints

 

 

Strangers Battling Through Eternity

 

 

Mermaids

 

 

Beatrice

 

 

We Are All In This Together

 

 

The Burden of Personal History

 

You can find Len’s work for purchase at the following galleries:

To contact Len, he can be reached through the contact page at Tamarack Art Gallery.
Just writing this blog post is giving me an idea for poetry: to write an ekphrastic poem based on one of Len’s pieces. An ekphrastic poem about a piece of visual art. Traditionally, the poet expands upon the meaning of the art within the poem, but it really can be any response to specific art. Use the artwork as muse or inspiration. Hmm, gotta get to writing. If you write a poem in response to one of the images in this post, please post a link or the poem itself in the comments!

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From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Have you visited Paula Kuitenbrouwer’s art blog? She creates delicate drawings; many of the subjects are birds and flowers. Her most recent work is of “still lifes with Killiney Beach stones, succulents, and blue ceramics.” I’ve been a fan for several years now. The other day I picked up my mail only to discover a special gift from Paula, sent from Ireland: a packet of her beautiful note cards. I was so excited I even showed my cats!

 If you visit Paula’s art shop you will see that she has quite a variety of artwork available, including from Buddhist to Pagan to Christian and Jewish holidays.  She even has a lesbian bird couple.

Thanks so much, Paula!

I’m moving forward on the memoir–I’m up to page 130 of 162 (or SO) in streamlining the change in structure. It feels strange to be enmeshed in the story again . . . .

I went to the doctor this week to get my toenails cut (you can stop reading if this “grosses you out”). I had a toe injured a few years ago when my son was dating the wrong person (he’s now engaged to the right person), and I was so discombobulated and clumsy that I banged my toe really really hard and permanently disfigured the toenail.  You should have heard me yell, by the way. Anyway, with my primary lymphedema (which makes me very susceptible to infections), my antibiotic allergies, and my post-tumor foot reconstruction, I figure that I really need the medical help with the old toe nails. Well, they kicked me out of Mayo. I can no longer get my toenails clipped there. And why? They have no room for me. I am considered “moderate risk,” and they only want “high risk.” Notice my tag of #patientabadonment. Well, darn them.

At least they had pretty flowers–a bit on the going out side, but still cheerful. I can probably take them as a metaphor.

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How Do You Like Your Art–Fixed or Unfixed?

For years, it didn’t occur to me that art could be other than how I knew it: something tangible that existed in a (hopefully) permanent form so that the art appreciator could go back again and again and drink at its well.

I learned that I could have a different reaction at different times, but that the art itself was the same–only I had changed. Or its context had changed.

At the Chicago Art Institute my favorite painting was Caillebotte’s “Paris, A Rainy Day.” Anytime I visited Chicago I could go to the gallery and see it again.

from Wikipedia

from Wikipedia

At six, I fell in love with Tchiakovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz,” probably because I knew it from Disney–having seen the movie before I turned four–and when my mother bought me the classical album, I even carried it to first grade class for show and tell. I fell asleep every night to the entire symphony for quite awhile.

There is a difference between the Caillebotte and the Tchiakovsky beyond art form. The Caillebotte is a fixed art form. Unchangeable. The Tchiakovsky is, as well, except that it can be varied upon because every time a new symphony performs it, something might change. I still consider this a fairly fixed form, though, because I am unlikely to notice the differences. It takes a lot of musical education to know.

The ultimate fixed form, to my mind, is the book. It’s unlikely to change and, unlike art, which draws part of its meaning from its setting in a gallery or on a street corner, a book is the same around the world. As a writer, I like the fixed nature of the art I work in. It suits my hoarding, controlling nature.

I was interested in theatre and dance from a very young age, even writing and directing little plays for the neighborhood kids and my classmates. I created puppet theatres with, wait for it, dolls, of course. But I never stopped to think about this form of art.  Is it fixed, especially after the play script is written, or is it unfixed because there are so many variables–actors, directors, costumes, sets, props, technical crew, and even errors change the art. The audience has the ability to change it.

When my daughter fell head first into the performing arts, I shapeshifted into one of those crazy dance moms running around with a video camera, always wanting to record her performances, even tech rehearsal, because I had grown up thinking art must be captured to exist. If my daughter danced and it wasn’t recorded, had she really created art?

Then I read and began to teach Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony about a half Laguna Pueblo / half white WWII veteran with PTSD. There is a very important scene where Tayo visits a Navajo medicine man for a cure. The ritual involves the creation of a white corn sand painting. The shocker for me was that the painting is erased. Yes, erased. The purpose is in the making, not in the hanging onto it. When you think about it, this is a much more spiritual response to art because it takes the need to control out of the picture. It is not goal or perfection oriented.

When I researched the sand paintings, I discovered that the notion of saving our art, rather than erasing or letting it change over time naturally (like the poems of balladeers), is culturally based. It even intrigued me when I finally read about elephants creating art (I’ve written about that before when I talked about the book When Elephants Weep) that they create and then erase. Of course, they do: humans, not elephants, are ridiculous hoarders. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Or does our culture demand it?

Maybe not. Look at performance art. Poetry slams. Improv shows. “The Million Line Poem” by Tupelo Press. Even New York theatre is reaching out to the audience to participate in many plays. Is this a fad that can’t survive? After all, the sand painting survived as art process because it was a ritualized part of the life of a people. Without this broader context for unfixed art, can these art forms survive?

Another reason we might be stuck with mainly fixed art: iPhones and other technology. Did you hear about an audience member setting up a video camera on a tripod to record Adele’s concert? She was pissed and chastised the person. But it’s a losing battle. No venue can police an entire audience–and what kind of relationship would that produce?

What about your tastes? Do you prefer your art fixed, like books and paintings, or unfixed, like ice sculptures? Or do you prefer something in between–a known script in a new production, a live concert of your favorite band’s best songs?

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, Essay, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing Talk

Sorting and Collecting for Free

I’ve been adding social media to my life for a few years. Some types or platforms I find more useful or more appealing than others. While I have not gotten excited over Instagram, I do love Pinterest. I rarely think about the social aspect of Pinterest. I’m simply infatuated with the intriguing photos that lead to stories, more images, or recipes.

As a collector, I find it addictive to add to boards that categorize some of my favorite subjects, and I’m grateful to other Pinterest collectors for providing pins and for the ease of adding my own contributions.

Something about Pinterest reminds me of  sorting M&Ms by color before eating them. And collecting shells on the beach and sorting them by shape or color. Simple and therapeutic. Sort of puts me at the emotional age of a toddler.

M and Ms

Some of my boards are writing and reading related, as you might expect. Check out Writing, Scribbling, and Jotting for an idea of my boards. If you have a particular blog post (written by you or someone else) that you would like me to pin onto the board, type the link into the comments here, and I’ll check it out!

I have boards for that ever-present child in me (I linked to Dollhouses in case you want to see a sample):

  • Dolls, dolls, dolls
  • Dollhouses
  • Tiny beauties (miniatures)
  • Vintage toys
  • Kestner dolls
  • Children and dolls
  • Puppetry pins
  • Paper dolls
  • Doll art
  • Antique, Vintage and Old-fashioned Nurseries
  • Dionne quintuplets

I’ve got fairy tale boards called Red in the Woods and A World of Snow. The former is one of my best boards, mainly because so many artists have a version of Little Red Riding Hood! I don’t usually pin the highly sexualized ones, but there are a ton of those, too.

For my love of textiles I have Hankies and History, Lace and other fun textiles, and Buttons buttons. Really all these textiles and trimming are related to history.

For history I cultivate these boards:

The apron board is new and was inspired by blogger Sheryl Lazarus here and here.

I’ve got animal boards like Beasties (just because I love that Scottish word), Black Cats Rule, and Children and Animals.

Speaking of black cats, Kana is doing well! Here she is enjoying a little box. No box too small for this girl!

 

Art-themed boards include:

  • Art of the Scrapyard
  • Revision Art
  • Translucent beauties
  • Scrapbook and paper crafts (woefully in need of work–just like my own scrapbooking!)

Most of my recipe boards are gluten-free. I’ve even got a couple of secret boards. Subjects? Hah, that’s why they are secret.

Some people (read: hubby) might think I’m wasting my time on Pinterest, but it sure seems fun to me. And I only “play” over there for a couple of minutes almost every day.

What about you? Are you on Pinterest? Why or why not?

 

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Getting All Out of Art

When we visited New York in October, we saw this sculpture:

I didn’t really understand what it was, although there was a sign that said it was the Merchant Mariners’ Memorial at Battery Park. I thought it was amusing because of the bird perched on the guy’s head.

Tourists were in front of it, snapping photos, and I had a hard time getting an angle I wanted.

And there was a fence around it, too.

I was with hubby and daughter and we walked on through the park. After all, we could see the State of Liberty and Ellis Island. I don’t know much about Merchant Mariners other than:

  • my dad’s uncle was one during WWI (he died in his 30s from a car accident)
  • my dad’s friend when I was a kid was one (he was a very sweet guy but used to get drunk and in bar fights when he was on leave)
  • Daniel Keyes, the author of Flowers for Algernon (run to library if you haven’t read it), joined the Merchant Marines at age 17 and practiced medicine on the sailors

Daughter has been visiting (and has to leave today BIG SOBS). She’s packing right now. I just ran across these pix and wondered more about the sculpture. A lot of effort and money goes into these public art projects, so what is this one about?

Apparently, it’s supposed to look like THIS:

American Merchant Mariners' Memorial, designed by the sculptor Marisol Escobar, is located just south of Pier A on a rebuilt stone breakwater. It is a representation in bronze of four merchant seamen with their sinking vessel after it had been attacked by a U-boat in World War II

American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, designed by the sculptor Marisol Escobar, is located just south of Pier A on a rebuilt stone breakwater. It is a representation in bronze of four merchant seamen with their sinking vessel after it had been attacked by a U-boat in World War II

These men were drowning after a Nazi U-boat attacked their ship. And look how powerful it is. Why is it so blocked now that you can’t get the effect of this drama? A beautiful work of art, but because the “setting” or “context” is no longer correct for it, much of the meaning and beauty is lost.

Like a diamond needs the right setting and a painting needs the right placement, does writing need the appropriate context, too? Are there ways that the full expression of a book, story, or poem is lost because the context has changed? Or is writing something that we can always access in just the way someone did 20 years before? or 200? What do you think?

 

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Vintage American culture, Writing

My Mother-in-Law’s Legacy, Part II

Last week I wrote here about my mother-in-law’s painting in New York City in the 40s and 50s. If you haven’t read it, check it out to see samples of the murals of jazz celebrities Diana Dale painted for the Birdland club.

When my husband was in elementary school, his family moved from New York to Michigan.

Here is my MIL standing beside some of her art at the Art Fair at Bronson Park in Kalamazoo.

In Michigan, the subject of her paintings gradually changed. While she still occasionally painted portraits, she began to paint the architecture she found in and around Kalamazoo, Michigan. She also added the surname Castle to her professional name.

 

The above painting of the A.M. Todd factory was painted just before it was torn down.

In the first year I dated my husband, Diana sat in her “burnt orange” Opel, painting the bank building downtown and the old Monarch paper mill. She was hired to paint local restaurants, restaurant chain stores, and the downtown mall.

Here’s a little aside.  It has to do with my MIL, but it takes a moment to get to that part.  While hubby and I were living in our first house, but before we had kids, I was told I needed to get my impacted wisdom teeth removed. Since I thought the recommended oral surgeon was high on something when I went for a consult, I chose a different one.

Impaction means you need to be “put out” and have the teeth dug out. During the middle of the surgery, suddenly I became conscious and, without yet realizing what was going on, I opened my eyes. You should have seen the look on the doctor’s and assistant’s faces! They were horrified. After quick instructions from the doctor, the assistant ran out to get more medication. Soon I was blissfully out of it again.

But that was just the beginning of a terrible experience. Within a day my face swelled up like a very large jack o’lantern. The swelling didn’t go down for a month. I was on Demerol and began having hallucinations. I woke up  in terror, thinking I was being choked to death by all the long bead and chain necklaces hanging on a rack on my dresser. My two sweet dogs wouldn’t go near me; they were terrified. I soon discovered that men wouldn’t look at me. My neighbor, hubby’s friend, every man whose path I crossed: they glanced at me, looked away with a horrified expression, and then refused to look at me again.

The worst part was that I couldn’t eat at all–for weeks. My face was too swollen. So my great MIL came to my house every day. She stayed with me while hubby was at work, helping me with anything she could Best of all, she made homemade soups and then ran them through the blender so that I could swallow them.

She also doted on my dogs and for many years, she babysat them for a couple of hours a day while hubby and I were at work.  Needless to say, when we adopted our son, she was his first babysitter!

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Filed under Art and Music, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Research and prep for writing

What About the Little Things in Life? Part 2

On Monday I wrote about an essay in Telling True Stories by Walt Harrington called “Details Matter.”  It reminded me how important are the small things in life.  But, as Harrington shows,  it’s our interpretations of them (in our writing) which are even more important.

Most writers realize that details are important.  In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes, “This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history.”  Writers obsessively scribble notes to themselves about the shade of a flower petal, the height of a tree, and the sound of a motor.  I know I do this.  I want to remember it all. It becomes part of my history.

But it’s not enough that we add these details to our books.  It’s not enough to give our characters little details which differentiate them.  We need to know the emotional story of their belongings, their accoutrements, their props.

My friend Wilma, aka Jeannieunbottled, asked how we give the emotional story to these objects.  This is what I wrote to her:

I think it’s the context in which you present the details that show emotional meaning. If a man carries a bouquet of flowers next to him on the car seat, we don’t know anything until we know what he does with them or how he relates to them. He might be giving them to someone or he might be dumping them in the dumpster behind the restaurant.

Did I really just do the tacky thing of quoting myself?  Hah.  Well, it’s because I’m too lazy to re-write the thought.

I kind of like thinking of it in a magnified way to see it more clearly.  For the following photo, if I describe the luminosity of the white pearls and how they are speckled by light and shadow, but forget to mention where the pearls are hanging, you might automatically think of an entirely different emotional context.

Art by Janet Orr

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory