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.

 

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 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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Exploring the Mind and Creativity

Was it Camus who said artists recreate four or five experiences one had as a child? I thought about this listening to Bruce Carter’s WVIK radio interview with Mississippi River artist, Nancy Purington. I heard her say, “Yes, growing up in Princeton, Iowa–a town of 250 at that time in the mid 1940’s–there was nothing to do. The only stimulation was the river.” She is sure her parents took her for walks by the river at night; nights when the light from a full moon shone on the water and that as a baby attracted to light, she absorbed its aesthetics. It became one of her four or five primal experiences. “Moonlight on the Mississippi” became the name of many of Nancy Purington’s works: watercolors, paintings, gouache, pastels, and digital photography.

But, when I picked up an art catalogue on my way out of the Dubuque Museum of Art on July 31st, it was the catalogue’s cover of ice and snow, and the words NANCY PURINGTON/TWELVE VIEWS OF WATER that first drew me in. Winter! Water, 12 Views! Interesting. Who is this Nancy Purington?

2004, ICE SNOW IKAT, gouache on paper 6” X 8.75”
A small gouache painting, observation of a Mississippi River scene of white snow on indigo colored ice shaped into this zig-zag water design patterned by the wind.

It wasn’t until the morning after I woke up in my own bed at home in Lawrence, Kansas, and reached for the catalogue that I got to Purington’s Moonlight on the Mississippi series. Spring, summer, fall.

2007, MOONLIGHT ON THE MISSISSIPPI, digital photographic print, 22” X 28”
Photographic capture of the full moon inscribing its name on the indigo waters of the river.

Something was kicking in for me about my own childhood memories of water. Here’s one: Moonlight beaming on black water at midnight in summertime in Norway. The light created a luminous path across the Skagerrak. So mysterious, so enticing, so beautiful. As a child, it made me want to be the water touched by that magical light.

No need for my meditation book that morning. I became what Nancy Purington caught fly-fishing with her digital camera:

… the flecks of gold shining on the water

…the wavy lines of gold and azure

…the churning granite waves

…point, line, curve

…Lake MacBride with diamonds

…infinity in

These shots caught on the fly brought Purington home to visions of the Mississippi she had absorbed all along as a child. The Mississippi became her great teacher then and now. From this base, she recreated with formal training and a lifetime of developing her work as an artist what she experienced primordially living on the Mississippi River. TWELVE VIEWS OF WATER touring exhibit, gives to the world in various forms of art “the continuation and culmination of thousands of hours of living, observing, tasting, smelling, dreaming and otherwise being touched by the Mississippi River.” (Barbara Christensen, Director, Muscatine Art Center)

Purington’s work nourishes my mind and creativity. It is an intellectual and seeming kinesthetic exploration that offers what it knows, leaving room for what you know to find balance and harmony with it.

I can be all her different shapes in “Flotsam & Jetsam.” I can be her little warning triangle in “M.M.5,” her waves in “New Wave,” her fiery rectangles glowing from underneath folding sheets of indigo blue in “Prelude (in the dark).”

Nancy Purington’s Twelve Views of Water invites you in.

A few highlights from Nancy Purington’s Artist Vitae: Kansas City Art Institute BFA Painting, Nelson Atkins Group Invitational: The Pleasure of Pattern 1987; Jeune Peinture 39e, Grand Palais Paris 1988; J.P. Morgan Library, research access 2001; Major Iowa Artist Grant, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs 2006; Launch of Twelve Views of Water touring exhibition, 2009: Muscatine Art Center, Waterloo Center for the Arts, Clear Lake Art Center, Dubuque Art Museum.
For more information on this artist, go to nancylpurington.com

Norway Part XIV

One word best describes the ghost of my mother, her people, and her land:

GRIT.

Those long cold dark winters.

The earth, mostly mountains.

The heavy arctic sea.

The dazzling but brief summer light.

All of these elements are climate conditions that created “bone in the nose” of its inhabitants.

My mother is gone. But she has left us “this strength…this example of grit” to return to.

You feel her presence at her cabin. The presence of my grandparents whispers in the wind. You don’t have to duck your head in shame at loss–as with my father–because though my mother’s heritage is chipped and beaten, there it still stands… rugged and, in some places, quite tall.

That’s Mom as a young woman at the front of the line of skiers, waving her ski pole in the air.

Norway Part XIII

Two days later, my sister Randi arrived with her family–husband David, adult children, Christopher and Katharine. My cousins Lillebeth and Grace went to pick her up at the airport about ten a.m. while Paul and I prepared a shrimp, smoked salmon, and cheese luncheon with a pot of tea–Randi’s favorite beverage–to welcome them.

We had already cleaned the cabin and packed, with only twenty-four hours to be together as two families in the small cabin. Not much time to be with a beloved sister!

But, we made the most of it…the best part was the swim we sisters took together the morning before our flight out on July 25th. We donned Randi’s wetsuits, climbed down the rocks in front of the cabin and–just like when we were kids–treaded water vigorously until we had built up enough body heat to swim around that part of the peninsula in the icy Skarggerak to what used to be Grandfather and Mormor’s house. Grace spotted us, came out on the lawn and waved…just like our wonderfully warm Mormor used to do.

Paul followed us down the rocks and reappeared when we returned from our swim to snap photos.

Here are two that I like:

Norway Part XII

July 22nd.

The day was cool, even a bit chilly. Paul and I were sitting in the cabin with a fire blazing, reading I think, when Lillebeth knocked on the glass door. We stood up as she burst into the room.

“Something terrible has happened,” she said a bit flushed from having run the whole way over.

What terrible thing could happen in this spectacularly peaceful place?

“A gunman has opened fire on students in their summer camp on the island of Utøya. It’s madness! It’s happening right now!”

“You saw it on T.V.? But, why?”

“No one knows why. It’s insanity!” God knows how many he has killed and it’s not over yet. I must go back!”

The rest of the news came in snippets throughout the day… and days that followed.

Dressed as a policeman.

The victims, teenagers.

30…no, 44, no… 70…death toll rising.

Bombings in Oslo of government buildings right near where Marne (Lillebeth’s daughter-in-law) takes the bus everyday to work. People killed there, too. Thank God Marne’s here.

Bombing and shootings linked.

Right wing extremist.

Didn’t agree with Norway’s policy of letting refugees resettle in Norway.

And we all know that Norway is known for its generosity towards and tolerance of immigrants, its international proven stance as a peaceful country.

We walked along the paths between houses and cabin in a state of disbelief. We talked about it with our Norwegian family. Then we didn’t talk about it.
We–at one with everyone else in Norway–were in a state of shock.

Norway Part XI

Fish!  Norway’s fish is so tasty it must be talked about. On the Norwegian Coastal Voyage we had fresh salmon, gravlax, arctic char, cod backs, halibut, pollock, trout…but the flavors of these various fish are not like ordinary fish flavors with those names. Each fish was subtly prepared to bring out its unique but unmistakably FRESH essence.

In Kristiansand there is a fish market that is so alive and tempting and authentic someone should do a documentary on it…and I used to shop at Citarella in NYC, which has choice fresh seafood.

So one of us on the family property in Kristiansand would drive to the fish market in Kristiansand every day for fresh catch. One of my favorites is mackerel, which my mother told me at its best should be small and taut–in the shape of a half moon. You then take the fish, douse it in flour with salt and pepper and fry it in butter. Afterwards, you make a gravy with the fried bits left in the pan by adding sour cream and stirring it around. Perhaps add a little fresh parsley at the last minute. The salmon is to die for, but also exceptional is the shrimp caught and immediately boiled on the fishing boats to seal the freshness.

Shrimp parties in Norway are fun. You simply have a huge pile of shrimp on a platter, a bowl of homemade mayonnaise that has some whipped cream added, and good freshly made Norwegian bread. To accompany the meal there is beer, or wine, or orange soda called Solo. Such a meal often has a festive atmosphere because everyone is gabbing and peeling his shrimp and laying them on top of the slice of bread in a row like sardines in a can and sipping something delightful.

Also worthy of mention is the farmer’s market in Kristiansand. In the words of the Norwegian Coastal Favours Brochure:

Norwegian potatoes, vegetables, salads and herbs are said to have much more taste and aroma. Cooler growing conditions, more gradual development and lots of light calls forth the best in farm products.

We would bring home bags of the fresh vegetables from the farmers market to accompany the fish and felt each night when we dined we were eating “like kings and queens.” Something as simple as boiled potatoes with butter and a little parsley had us oohing and ahing. Also, of unbelievable flavor are the local summer strawberries. With a little heavy cream on top…Oh my God!

The amazing thing is neither Paul, nor I, gained any weight eating like this.  You would have to look pretty hard at Norwegians, whether in the towns along the west coast, the capital city Oslo, or Norway’s southern most tip, Kristiansand, to see a fat person.  If you will allow me to generalize, Norwegians as a group are healthy looking and fit. Certainly that has a lot to do with diet, but also exercise. LOTS OF EXERCISE…I think its part of the national identity. Have you ever heard of a Norwegian couch potato?

Norway Part X

So come meet the relatives. To include everybody, you will now see twelve photos taken at various gatherings and activities, which might be more photos than you want to see. BUT…I can’t leave anybody out.

First ,Wendy and her daughter, Katia.

Adorable 10 ½ month old Barbara, Katia’s daughter.

Joan.

Grace.

Kristina (Lillebeth’s daughter in black sneakers), her wife Marne (in sandals), with their daughter, Rav.

Falc, son of Kristina & Marne

Lillebeth steering the boat, her husband, Erling, their daugher-in-law, Gro, and Grace.

Jan, Lillebeth’s son, and his wife, Gro.


Håkon, son of Jan and Gro, showing Paul the nautical map.

Seeking out the right spot for a family picnic: Gro, Evan (Gro’s son), Paul, Grace.

George, Wendy’s son in white shirt, talking to Grace, Lillebeth, and Joan.

Cousin Christian with his wife Sigurn swimming in front of the cabin in ice-cold water.


A lovely looking family, don’t you think?