My Path to Art

 

It was my father who showed me the way by painting in oils himself. I observed his capturing what he saw in art from an early age. My mother never took a particular interest in art; she preferred reading or vigorous exercise as activities. Of course, I took on all these things both of them did, but by sharing an interest in art with my artist/architect father, I developed a powerful secret pull that helped my appreciation of art to flourish. Why secret, my writer friends ask? My father had my brother Stephen earmarked for the artist; I was the dancer, possible musician. My sister Krissie, the horticulturist and so on. It was secret because, while Dad never said, “This is your calling,” I gave myself permission to follow his interest and love it.

The next part, I think, was beginning to observe my surroundings and the things in them with care. This was long before I thought rationally; perhaps what I see is particular to me?

Then there’s the education. One gets educated in art history in college; one learns how to identify the art of particular artists and place them in historical context.

But then, there’s what you do with your free time after college. I chose to go to art museums in cities to see exhibits. This I did in many cities over a long period of time.

I still do this. Whenever I go to a city, the first thing I want to do is see art. I know what I like right away and with a little time and care I can explain what I see and what I like in writing.

Seeing is an art in itself. I think it means you think about what you see and you have developed the ability to define it. For me it begins with colors and shapes, then proceeds to line and form and design.

Recently I re-read Edward Hopper by Lloyd Goodrich. I was struck by the words of Hopper’s wife saying about her husband to a friend, “He’s been studying that empty canvas all summer.” The empty canvas became Sunlight in a Cafeteria.

You could say it took me a long time to develop an appreciation for the Kansas landscape. It also took me a long time to develop a seeing eye for art.

A few weeks ago, from April 5-26 of this year in 2017, I went on an art tour with my husband Paul to Barcelona, Antibes, Florence, and Rome…just the two of us.

“The Fundació Joan Miró, Centre d’Estudis d’Art Contemporani([fun.də.siˈo ʒuˈan miˈɾo], “Joan Miró Foundation, Centre of Studies of Contemporary Art”) is a museum of modern art honoring Joan Miró located on the hill called Montjuïc in Barcelona, Catalonia.”

Paul and I spent a beautiful clear blue sky april morning walking through Montjuic park to the Joan Miro museum. We got there shortly after it opened so it was not crowded. We got our headphones and took our time listening and looking at the exhibits.

Toward the end of our visit Lovers playing with almond blossom caught my eye. The primary colors are vivid. The lines curve, necessary to the “playing” aspect of the forms. The designs are simple, childlike–two lovers bend in harmony toward each other in their own private universe. They are large in size, as lovers always feel larger together than when they are separate. Nothing stands between them in the way of their intense, happy communication with each other. Simple, playful, colorful, arresting, fun. The viewer will not forget this Joan Miro sculpture: Couple d’amoreux aux jeux de fleurs d’amandier.

 

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…To be continued and developed with other art I saw and liked in Barcelona, Florence, Antibes and Rome.

 

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GREAT WRITERS, RIGHT HERE

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                 Me with Cathy Callen

On Saturday, December 10th, I drove with writing friend Cathy Callen to Topeka to attend the Great Writers Right Here Authors’ Fair at the Topeka and Shawnee Public Library. Both of us had books to sell. She had Running Out of Footprints, a biography of three generations of her Neff family relatives, “who arrived on the scene in Kansas City in the late 1800s full of energy and potential, contributed as political, business, religious and medical leaders in the city, and then gradually disappeared into obituaries and the census data.” And, Words in Rows; Poetry and Prose, a delightful witty collection of her poetry and short memoirs. I had my coming of age novel The Starlings in London that intertwines the everyday life of an American London school girl, the release and respite of holidays in a seaside village, letters back to the US., the stress and agony of rising family tensions, shocking revelations, and the excitement of first love.

We arrived promptly at noon and began to set up our displays. I shared my table with a George Feliu, a young fantasy writer who preferred his bright crimson Walmart tablecloth to the pastel green one embroidered by my Norwegian grandmother. We used his. He eyed my book warily as I did his, since fantasy is not a genre I usually read and I suppose my type of novel, not his. But, by the end of the three-hour fair, we were chatting away about our lives and even joking and teasing each other.

I used the fair as an opportunity to look at other authors’ books. “Can I take your book to my table and look through it?” Each person I asked obliged. In this way, I bought a Sheila Dalrymple’s picture book called Tex the Turkey’s Jiggly, Jaggly, Wiggly, Waggly Thing as a gift for a young relative. I bought Denise Low’s The Turtle’s Beating Heart; One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival for myself and had her sign my copy of her Langston Hughes in Lawrence that I had purchased the day before at the Watkins Museum in Lawrence. I was so interested in an issue of The Little Balkans Review: Gordon Parks. Coal Mining. Settlers Vs RRs and kept it so long at my table that the editor simply gave me 3 issues. I figured he figured I’d read them and spread the word. Louise Krug (Louise: Amended) and I traded books. She gave me her Tilted and I gave her The Starling in London. (We once did some writing together about 7 years ago.)

I also used the fair to talk to the publishers present about my memoir, Jewels That Speak. More than one seemed interested in the jewel theme as a way of telling a family story; the Freud/Tiffany legacies; self, lost and found. I’ll definitely follow up on these leads.

On our way home back to Lawrence, Cathy and I chatted about our experiences at the fair. Although these experiences were not identical, they were both positive. We both saw ourselves as putting our work out there and making bridges to the larger regional writing community. We both felt we were helping to make our work grow.

Experiencing the KLA (Kansas Library Association) Authorpalooza on October 20th

KLA Authorpalooza

KLA Authorpalooza

A writer friend alerted me to the new Authorpalooza element of the Annual KLA Conference in Wichita this year. I looked it up on the web and downloaded the application in order to have the opportunity to participate in the event. When I received my acceptance notice I was happy.
Why not try this venue and see what it’s all about?

In the Author Alert that was sent out from KLA, the advice from organizers that proved to be the most helpful to me is listed below:

Prepare to Make the Most of Your Time

• Be prepared with your elevator speech for both readers and librarians…can you hook a librarian’s interest in your books and your potential as a speaker or presenter in just a couple of minutes? How would you expand if you have a little more time to chat?
• Do you have cards or bookmarks that librarians can take with contact information? Bring them with you!
• Have you done other presentations or book talks that you can draw on? Have you gotten good feedback? Consider making a one-page CV with dates and information. Print one to show, print a small stack to hand out to interested librarians, post it on your website, or have it ready to email when you receive inquiries!

I drove from Lawrence to Wichita – roughly three hours — and arrived at the Hyatt Regency an hour before set-up time with my rolling suitcase full of copies of my book, The Starlings in London, bookmarks, business cards (really a book cover, with the book’s description, price and availability), and a one-page CV. I also had a 20” X 35” poster of my book, a yardstick, duct tape and a collapsible lamp.

When the doors to the conference room opened, I rolled my suitcase in and immediately spied a woman whom I recognized, although I was pretty sure she did not know me. Her name is Susan Kraus. (I once taught her son in the gifted program at West Junior High in Lawrence.) I introduced myself and sure enough, she did not remember me! With an hour to kill, we decided to go to lunch. Over salads and french fries, we talked about our books, and current writing projects…a little about teaching and being a therapist (which she is).

Then back up to the conference room we went. By now almost all the tables were occupied by authors who had already set up and were ready to go. We scurried over to an empty one and shared a table. On her half Susan had her name, her books, post cards, a large description of her mystery series on a book holder, a vase, and strips of paper with printed matter for each librarian’s name, name of library, email of librarian and request for phone number. These were for librarians to fill out, fold over and stuff into her vase. On my half I rigged up my poster with the help of my lamp, duct tape and the yardstick. I also had my name, and the rest of my promotional material I previously mentioned.

Wait time came next. Eventually the librarians strolled through in groups. They paused at certain tables and when they paused at ours, we took the opportunity to pitch our books to them. Later on, when there was a lull, I wandered around the room and looked at other author displays. I enjoyed a chat with Robert Day (I have read his work in New Letters and found it interesting.) I also talked to Denise Low. (I had researched her ahead of time and I knew about her book, Jackalope. I bought a copy.) My next door table neighbor was Annette Hope Billings. At one point a microphone was offered and she did a reading from her poetry book, A Net Full of Hope. I liked it very much and bought a copy.

On the next door table neighbor on our other side was a man called Roy J. Beckemeyer. The title of his book of poems, Music I Once Could Dance To, drew me in. I borrowed a copy and read some of his poems. They snapped my interest to attention and I bought a copy of his book, too.

That’s about it, readers. Since arriving back in Lawrence to my normal life, I have thought about the librarians and the authors I met and I am taking the time to read the authors’  books. Right now I am enthralled with the poems of Beckemeyer. Here’s a very short one:

Confessional

Are sins of omission empty as they sound,
Free of all passion, hollow and round?

Are the acts we commit
In the dark of our souls
Worse than when we forget
To embrace or to hold?

When zero hour comes,
In the blackness of night,
Won’t sins of omission
Also hold back the light?

~Roy J. Beckemeyer

Like it?

An artist’s work brings hope, comfort, and energy to help beat youth cancer odds.

My brother Stephen, an artist, sent me an email on September 20th with a link to a September 18th Huffington Post blog by Jim Luce about Stephen’s installation “Whisper” at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The installation is part of The Lounge, a newly created space for teens and young adults with cancer at MSK.

I gave the blog a quick read and have since gone back and read it several more times in order to grasp the meaning of what Stephen is trying to convey with his “Whisper” piece.

 

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“Whisper.” Photo: TYA@MSK

I found that I like what he says about his work; that I can relate to it very well.

Here are some of his words that I have taken out of context but are all interesting words to me: whisper, hope, membrane, perceive the intangible, universal, search to find the spiritual, the mindful passage, elements, break through restraints, sensory world, cumulative knowledge, belief. These words in and of themselves draw a person in. In context, they take shape with meaning.

I wanted to go beyond art. “Whisper,” for me, is hope for the patients, the family and friends of children living with cancer. My work springs directly from envisioning humanity’s cumulative knowledge and belief encapsulated within an ever-expanding membrane that emanates from the Elements themselves.

My work stands for the universal Membrane and involves my search to find the spiritual, the mindful passage, to allow one to break through our restrains and to see what lies beyond our sensory world. To perceive the Intangible – that which is unable to be touched or grasped, that lacks a physical presence.

~Stephen Burlingham

Stephen says his yellow “Whisper” piece “offers a way to look through and beyond.” I am looking at the photo of The Lounge right now. My eyes are immediately drawn to the wall where his painting hangs. I love the yellow color. It is so vibrant. I like its soft shiny texture. I like the wispy wire imprints that suggest movement, undercurrents.

 

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The Lounge at MSK

The title of the Huffington piece is “Stephen Burlingham Going Beyond Art for Youth with Cancer.” I think Stephen’s “Whisper” goes beyond art with the hope the art piece provides. It offers comfort, belonging, and the energy of a steady daring to beat the cancer odds.

Creative Emergence

Lately, I have been thinking of these two words: creative and emergence; about how they fit together to form a certain meaning.

In a radio interview on September 26th about my writing of The Starlings in London, I chose to focus on a section of the book where the artistic and aesthetic environment is evident. Here the narrator of the book, 12-year-old Lily Starling, is captivated by the allure and beauty of the English countryside and seaside as well as witnessing the working process of painters, like that of her father and his artist friend Lawrence.

Writing in a diary for the first time, Lily tries to express how the old windmill–where her father and Lawrence go to paint–affects her with its tangible and intangible spirit. “Is the windmill really brown?” she begins.

Lily is thinking about what she feels about what she sees. She is struggling to understand it. She decides to submit herself to its control over her thoughts, her being, and attempt to write about it. This is the narrator’s creative emergence.

Something about the place (private; overlooking the sea; by a reedy canal), the object (the old windmill…a sort of vessel), brings its visitors rapture, coupled with self-renewal. Why else would painters and impressionable girls, like Lily, go there again and again and try to capture its essence?

My present thinking about creative emergence is that it occurs not by the struggle to control it, but by submitting to its powers over you, the artist. It comes from the unconscious and the artist must recognize its appearance and harness it while you work your art to create your vision.

 

 

 

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 3

I took the summer off…now I am hard at work again. So where was I in the story? Oh, I remember: THE FINAL FILE.

Said final file was sent to a book designer, Molly Cook, recommended to me from the artist Nancy Purington who created the cover art for The Starlings in London. This cover captured in art the essence of what I decided to convey in the dilemma with which Lily Starling and her family are confronted once they reach England. I have to say the cover exceeded my expectations and has not ceased to capture my imagination when I look at it in book form, or better yet, when I study the painting itself.

The book designer worked and reworked and reworked the design to get what I wanted: simple presentation, with the letters interspersed throughout the book in block print, yet looking like real letters on the printed page.

This part took weeks to get right.

Because I read so much and am critical of what I read as well as its presentation, I went one step further. I submitted the book designer’s pages to my copyeditor. And, she did find a few things that needed tweaking!

Another aspect of publishing which I have not yet mentioned is the feedback I received every step of the way from a cousin who used to be in the book design business for major publishing houses in NYC.

It’s 8:55pm. I know not to call once the minute hand for 9:00 has ticked into its getting- ready-for-bedtime place.

“Oh, Hi! Sorry to bother you so late in the evening, but can you just take a look…”

“I will, but in the morning.”

“OK. Thanks!”

Whew! Thank God for devoted cousins.

So, what am I getting at here so far? Publishing is an act of collaboration. The higher the abilities of the collaborators, the better the final product.

Now, to take it one step further.

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Thursday, September 8th, was the celebration of my book at our local bookstore here in Lawrence KS: The Raven Book Store. This store is the neighborhood gem for all of us here who love books. And this store caters to the needs of local authors by promoting them and their new books. They gracefully exhibit the books and provide opportunities to gather together over wine and cheese to listen to authors present excerpts in oral presentation. Again, this is another example of collaboration. This time between authors and bookstore and neighbors/Lawrentians (Not D.H.).

My writing group is called The Write-On Group. We came together on Thursday to the Raven Book Store to promote my new book and to present their work to an audience. Again, collaborative effort and celebration.

Here is the program for the Raven reading, if you wish to take a look.

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So how does it feel to be published and have your work celebrated? It feels like your work has been officially stamped and sent out into the larger world.

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 2

So how did capturing a “smell” in notes turn into a manuscript–a book–and why would publishing said book change a person?

The Dad who smelled earthy, the smell in the train station of metal burning foreshadow the coming of age the narrator (a twelve-year-old girl) is about to go through.

The writer (me) is committing to following the idea of a girl coming of age to its conclusion. Somewhere early in the writing, not long after taking notes on smell, I came up with the book’s title The Starlings in London. This is the one thing I never wavered about. It helped me focus on the unfolding story.

I decided I was going to write this story of anguish, the break-up of a large American family in the foreign city of London in the late 1950s and I decided I wanted to contrast the city with the country to make it more interesting for the reader, and to give the anguish a breather once in a while.

The book’s ending, I knew from the book’s beginning. That helped give it bookends so to speak.

Each chapter I wrote was brought to writing group to be critiqued. I did not incorporate all the suggestions of the other writers. Instead, I thought about the suggestions and decided which of the suggestions made sense to me.

After a good long year of writing and critique in writer’s group, and re-writes, I then worked without interruption…not reading any books during this 3-month period because I did not want any other voices in my head other than the ones I was honing in the book. No reading. No Facebook.

When I had completed the manusrcript to the very best of my ability, I sent it to a very good copyeditor. Lots of grammatical errors were corrected. I had to give way to her suggestions about word changes (hard to do). For instance, I wrote that Lily Starling states, “my socks were dew wet.” The copyeditor changed that to “wet with dew.” For the most part I went with all the copyeditor’s corrections/suggestions, as in copyeditor knows best. However, I would only do this because I know how good my copyeditor is.

Now we have the final file. Great! I can read again! Check out Facebook if I want to again. Have a dinner date not just with my husband, but with friends. Rejoin the human race.

To be continued…

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 1

Yes! my new book The Starlings in London is out! My last blog was about a road trip. I always imagined road trips as LONG. Enough time to even change the inside of you by what you experience along the way, so much so that you even act differently when you return home. Hopefully more grounded and with greater perspective about life. Well, the road trip to Bentonville, AK was short and it was everything I had hoped it would be but it did not change the inside of me.

Publishing has changed me. It may take a few blogs to convey this change.

Read on if you want to hear about it…

First you have an idea and begin to type or write something. My idea began with writing about smell in a writing group. My “smell” was getting off a train as a kid in a zombie like condition in London in the wee hours of the morning after a crazy trip across the Atlantic on The Queen Mary to rejoin my father, which is later fictionalized in the book.

Writing assignment in writing group:

There are smells to seasons. There are smells to places, and there are smells to every time of one’s life. Use this prompt and write something. (I don’t like prompts, but I was trying to be a good group member.)

Okay, okay. What can I possibly say? I’ll jot down some notes:

Smell of the change:

Deadness in the air, gritty, greasy, metallic, foggy, gray heavy air, permeates nostrils. It hangs on the insides of them. Combines with sights clanging, shuffling of feet, train whistle, deadness, different shades of gray, tiredness, wasted, depression, forced smiles, vacancy, wool coats in summer, nothing obvious, or direct, unseen forces, reaching through a pea-soup fog and finding a hand, whose hand is it? A friend, a family member, a stranger?

The above notes became these words in The Starlings in London:

Dad smelled earthy. I was sure he had not had a bath. The skin of his cheeks was loose, yet bristly. The hanging mole next to his left eye jiggled in my right eye. My warm blood leaked fast, out of my face, down my throat, past my chest, and through my stomach, coursing toward my toes.

I smelled metal burning. My spit tasted like poison. I could no longer hear anything.

to be continued…

Open Road…

The Open Road, PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE AMERICAN ROAD TRIP, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, February 27 through May 30, 2016

With 100+ images, The Open Road features 19 photographers on the move across America from the 1950s to today.

My daughter Cora and I took to the open road (about a four-hour trip from Lawrence) to take in some art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville AK, and to be together, mother and daughter in the car, in restaurants, at a bed and breakfast, and at the art museum. We both like art and food and r&r time, seeing things, and being together, so we had our own short open road trip.

Here is a photo of us and a few images of what we saw at the museum:
(We shared the same camera.)
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Thoughts from a Trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

My last day in New York City in March 2012, I took myself to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My eyes were drawn to the wall niche where hydrangeas–slightly pink, slightly blue, slightly lavender–raised their plump arms towards the upper reaches of the Great Hall. Passing through this room, I climbed the large steps to the exhibit I wanted to see: The Worlld of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty. The Met’s program notes describe the exposition as covering the period from 1215, the year of Khubilai’s birth, to 1368, the year of the fall of the Yuan dynasty in China founded by Khubilai Khan.”

I spent an hour and a half with the guided audio tour taking in the paintings, sculpture, textiles, and other decorative arts. I came away with a sense of the art and culture of this period. My favorite single piece was a drawing in ink on a handscoll titled: Noble Horse by George Kai, which beautifully captures a once robust and noble horse, his jutting ribs depicting neglect while retaining nobility–a symbol of lament for the fallen dynasty.

Time running out before the clang of the airport call, I wandered down the stairs and into the American Wing. My purpose: to eat an early lunch in view of the Tiffany windows so that–in my mind’s eye–I would take home a piece of my great-grandfather’s (Louis Comfort Tiffany’s) art.

Whilst in my revierie, a woman put her coffee cup and Danish down on my table and sat down. Before long, I knew she was Dutch, lived in rural east Holland, had not recovered from her husband’s death but was trying hard to move on. Her two grown sons were applauding her uncharacteristic trip to get out in the world with this trip to New York. Then she found out exactly what I was doing at this table in this room with this view, in this museum at this moment in time.

She said she was thrilled to have a personal meeting story to take home to Holland and tell her sons.