We are home from Maine, landlocked once again to Ohio.
Ohio is not without its beauty to be sure. There have been errands to run, adjustments to be made, momentous birthdays to acknowledge and celebrate.
Suddenly I realize it has been a coon’s age since I had my paints out mixing and dancing their way around the palette. I must dive back in.
August breezes, when they blow, are humid and hot. I figure this weather is a strange combination of the dooming of climate-change and good old-fashioned late August in the mid-west. How are we to know?
Storms do break up the monotony of late summer. They make for dramatic skies and monumental cloud forms.
From the West, always, the clouds gather.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of age that clouds and birdsong catch my attention now more than ever. I seek to paint them in between the expectations of a busy, modern life.
This past weekend there were tunes, on tunes, on tunes. Again I remember – this makes for intense happiness in my heart – I recommit. The painting and the music are inextricably linked. I may not be very good at either, comparatively speaking. But each makes my small heart sing. And surely this is a measure of something in the world.
Something. – in the epoch of our own humanity. We are but a blip in the matrix of the Universe as we know it, and yet we seek these bits of joy and meaning like spiritual breadcrumbs of a sort.
There are more tunes slated for this evening when a few of us gather to choose the autumnal soundtrack for the Riley School of Irish Music. Tomorrow is a road trip to settle one of the smalls (newly returned from western adventures) into his next adventure in grad school. It is good to have him near at hand once again.
Travel beckons again soon. I find myself already getting organized for a weekend trip to Sheboygan in September and a longer journey back to Ireland in October. Some day if I truly settle in one place, it will be a strange day indeed. I embrace this traveling side of myself and am grateful for those loved ones who keep the dogs fed and the home fires burning when I am away. It does not escape me that I am truly fortunate.
When I travel, I travel lightly. I do not plan to take the oils to Ireland this go round as I’ll be on the go more often than not. But I have ordered a new sketchbook and I have extra watercolorey books to pack as well.
The goldening, autumnal season will see me diving back into a world of words each morning once again to find my way through the dark of winter. There is nothing quite like pouring a cup of coffee, lighting a candle and putting pen to paper. This might keep me sane in the dark months to come. But so will hitting the road, discovering and re-discovering new places and new tunes.
What plans do you have this late-summer/early-autumn to feed your soul? How do you survive winters in general? What have you drawn or painted lately? As always, I’d love to know.
Laundry hangs on the line, drying best it can in this humidity before we hit the road again. On my desk are half written lists of to-do and to-remember along with the fragments of last week’s fun in various states of unpacking, unfurling into readying and re-packing. My mind and heart are full to brimming with a collection of new tunes I can carry with me into the next journey which is to Maine. A yearly homecoming of sorts, much like many of my trips tend to be.
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Last week we leapt into the mists of yet another magical “Celtic Week” at the Swannanoa Gathering in beautiful North Carolina. Much like the story of Brigadoon, we picked up right where we had left off the year before greeting old friends as family, getting to know new friends as well, as if nary a day has passed, let alone an entire calendar year. Irish music does not follow the rules of linear time. The only line it truly follows is that of tradition. The river of music flows along over top of that tradition, above and below it, side-stepping occasionally into other musical paths, (this IS a living tradition after all.) Eventually though, it always comes home once again to the thing itself. We came to the week with no agenda except to improve our playing a bit by spending time with masters of the craft.
“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” ~Socrates
Somehow I have carved my way into classes and sessions loosely labeled “advanced”, and yet I come to this week with my mind fully open to learn new things, to be -always – the beginner. There is no place at Swannanoa for ego or agenda.
Our musical “rock stars” who tour the world with their gifts come to camp not only to ply their musical wares….
…..but to have a laugh and a tune as well, to bask in the amazing community that is the Swannanoa Gathering. It is so readily apparent how hard they work all week, but it is also clear that this week is as special to them as it is to us.
As the space which holds this special time, Warren Wilson College does not disappoint. It is nestled in the mountains near Asheville North Carolina, with views and vistas at every turn and even in some of the classroom spaces which remind us of what is possible if we but relax into it all.
The week was one of metaphor and depth. We talked of honoring those who have come before us in this music by looking back often to older playing which may have gone out of vogue for a time. We must never forget those who have come before us.
Sometimes we wandered through cathedrals of bamboo and dove into the depths of the river Swannanoa for a bit of wild swimming. This returned many things back to center, especially our core temperatures. It was a warm and steamy time.
There were concerts and a bit of dancing. There were classes filled with new tunes, but not too many. Just enough. There were moments of goosebumps up our arms and spines as we felt things bump against the root of all things. Music and art making are conduits to this great source.
A few of us have been attending this week of music for many years and we opt for dinner and a bevvie or two out in town one evening each year. I was thrilled to see a bit of our musical shenanigans have made their way into that other world….. viva la flutilla!!!!
Soon, we had crested mid-week into late-week, then late-week into last night. The mists of time descended upon us that final night as if to tell us it’s time to go back…..
Many years, this thrust back into what some might call “the real world” is painful and we find ourselves pining and weepy. This year was different. This is not to say that I don’t miss my flute family. I really do. Instead, I think it is clearer than ever that the real world, at least for those of us willing to live in it on a daily basis, is that of art making and the sharing of a tune or a story. The real world is that quintessential Irish humor and side-eyed self deprecation which puts everyone at ease and the belly laughs that come along with this “craic”. We live in difficult, trying and combative times. Perhaps we can learn from the Irish tradition and its history that even in the most dire of times and conditions, there is always room for a tune.
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse
Thanks again to the staff and everyone who makes this gathering possible. til next year!!!
if you are new to the reading of this blog, I have other posts about other years. Just type Swannanoa into the search bar.
“I don’t want realism. I want magic.” ~Tennessee Williams
There is much coming and going of late. Hither and thither we work and play. I’ll share a bit here as I set aside remembered things to pack away for upcoming workshops. Antigua beckons…..
Narry a week ago, I was working in my own sketchbook in a warm place called Key West. When I wasn’t strolling the colorful streets filled with colorful people, feasting my eyes on color and light, I was bobbing in a pool or better yet, in the sea herself – buoyed by salt, water and sun.
pay no mind to the chitter chatter in the clip above, we were on a sunset cruise. I was captivated by the murky depths. And miraculously I did not get sea sick.
Key West enchants with its embedded quirk round every corner. Some folk come here to drink their cares away, but I for one came to drink in more than just rum. Though to be fair, rum has its place.
If one but stays just off the beaten path, there is charm at every turn and lovely sunsets to behold. And it can be a balm for the soul of a weary, land-locked midwesterner nearing the end of a long, gray winter…..
We paid homage to the sea and to the rich history of the place, even visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway which boasts 55 polydachtyl cats living their best lives on the property.
There is magic around every turn there.
Too soon we must return home once again to the gloom and gray of Ohio. But we look for the quiet magic to be found here.
My daughter and her boyfriend are home for break and he has some new camera gear he is eager to test. He stunningly captures the magic of our yard in the dark. With his extended exposures, our criss-crossing creeks become fully laden with an Otherworldly quality and I am reminded how lucky we are to have this little patch of land of ours.
Art has a way of reminding us of the beauty in the world. Music as well. This week ahead is the high holy season of Irish music and we are quite busy indeed.
Tuesdays there is always a session here in town, even on ‘normal’ weeks. This Tuesday we are at Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. It’s one of our favorite places to play. Saturday March 16, I join the Roving Rogues to play St. Patrick’s Day eve at Arnold’s Bar, Cincinnati’s oldest tavern. and on Sunday, we once again will play in the evening at Palm Court in the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel. Come on along and enjoy a fancy cocktail. Escape the green-beer fray, won’t you?
I am so grateful for the music.
And this music as well….
Our Jack was part of a concert celebrating the music of Bach which we attended last night. It was divine and captivating, as Bach can be, and we were swept away on this stormy evening to another world indeed. There is more this evening as well, I can’t recommend it enough.
All is not angelic and ethereal round here however. As I mentioned, I am busily getting last minute things in line for my double workshop endeavor in Antigua, Guatemala. This is keeping me on my toes instead of at the drawing table or in the journal where I belong. I embark on that journey later this month.
But before I go to Guatemala, I am attempting to complete a somewhat hefty hand-made project, which in it’s own earthy way is keeping me grounded in work. That of a 3′ X 4′ latch hook rug project for the annual May The Fourth Star Wars Tribute show.
I’m using a grid to help me keep track of my design on the canvas.
All the yarn I am using for this project is either from my own stash of leftover yarns or has been acquired second hand at Scrap-It-Up over in Pleasant Ridge. This has added some complexity to the rug itself and is helping me to make Chewbacca extra fluffy and scruffy.
My studio assistant Ian takes his job quite seriously.
Until he’s ready to leave the room, at which point he rings the bell to let me know.
Working a bit on this rather ridiculous project each day keeps me grounded and working with my hands which is good for my head ironically enough. And this is good.
And so, the fitting in of all the pieces of this life’s puzzle continues. While I must admit to this being a rough winter in many ways, things are looking up now that the light seems to linger longer in the days, even when it’s snowing. The sun is even shining today as I write this. We must always remember that change is the only constant and we must at least attempt to move forward.
I say this as a reminder to myself really. Behind the scenes here I spend a fair amount of time applying to and being rejected by various opportunities such as with publishers (who often don’t/can’t respond, which feels like throwing work into a great dark abyss…. hello- oh – o – o …….. receiving back only the boniest of echoes) This is all part of the process. I will say, while it does continue to smart, it does get easier the more one applies.
Residencies are yet another application process I find myself often involved in, always looking for some way to go somewhere inspirational, seeking a deeper sense of time and place to make and grow my work. I can’t tell you how many of these opportunities I’ve applied to, heart firmly tied onto the application via the proverbial string, only to be denied for my efforts. I really try to envision myself there when I apply and so I do pour heart and soul into each application.
To those who’ve never thought about these things, one has to remember that merely applying is often a great deal of work – writing essays and statements, gathering photos of work, recommendations, tweaking one’s CV, etc. etc. I fit these efforts into the small spaces between the usual goings on of my day to day. And I just keep trying, allowing a bit of grief and maybe some ice-cream when a particular refusal really gets me down.
But I do keep trying. And sometimes, like throwing spaghetti at the ceiling, something sticks……
I am beyond over the moon to announce that my Maine based friend Julie Persons of Adventures of Claudia and Chicks In Hats fame and myself have been selected to share a month long residency in Ireland next year for the month of October. We are thrilled!!!!
We have put up the party flags and are doing a little happy dance, albeit virtually for now.
I’ll share more about this exciting news as things formulate into firmer plans. But for now it is enough to have the invitation from Olive Stack in lovely Listowel and to know the dates we are to be working there.
So much rich stuff ahead. And the challenges too that we face in this world on a personal level of course, and globally as well. I said to someone the other day that this is the new normal for artists – to be able to hold in our hearts and minds, at the very same time, the dual notions that all will be well, and that things are really wrong too. – This is not an easy task. But I aim to try, as I have for years now. To highlight and showcase beauty, to work for positive change. It’s what the artists I most admire do best.
Baby steps, Micromovements (as this blog has long been named) is how we move things along, how we take the leaps to grow into new opportunities and to try new things that challenge us. It’s terrifying really. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
There is difficulty in the balancing of things in this season. Our bodies seek quietude and a hibernation of spirit. Yet current culture stretches us into the further reaches of the Land of More.
It is nigh impossible to reach these heights.
But there is much to harvest from even the darkest nights and the most bustling of times. We can (must) find our balance amidst the busy. This coming weekend has a slew of beloved gatherings on hand – those of a musical and artistic nature, as well as the beginnings of the familial toe-touches we do from year to year. It is my goal to be present at each. Fully.
This last week finds me in conversation with a familiar physical reminder to keep my own delicate balance. My Jaw has been giving me great trouble in the the form of TMJ. This little embodied red-flag rears its head when I’m overly tired, anxious or having trouble expressing myself somehow, and perhaps it’s all of these things just now. But a reminder indeed. A reminder to attend all the Holly related activities of the holiday season, but not without stepping outside with my wild Iris Rose at my side to keep in balance. Today I did a bit of yoga and walked my dog. The new time-blocking plan is going well, having cut my commute in half to day job and yet I still struggle for balance this time of year. I suppose we all do.
I look forward to the weekend ahead and send my roots down beneath the iciness to more fertile ground awaiting new ideas when the space is there to work on them.
And whether you look to the skies for celebration….
…..or opt to hibernate with friends a little closer to home…
May this season afford you some balance amidst the madness.
Solstice is coming, bringing the light. Hold tight until then…..
*and for my more “literal” readers, yes, I know it’s “the holly and the ivy.” But Iris is who she is, and this season can be a bit squirrelly, yes? So I went with it.
How are you balancing things this season? Do let me know in the comments…..
This is a world gone mad. Too many things to take in, too much heartache for a body to navigate really. The things I love which carry me into the gentle places of my soul and self and which keep me grounded when the winds do blow have suffered for lack of care. I look at this little home of mine here on the interwebs and realize that it’s been since August that I’ve written. It is not as if I have not written, or drawn, or painted in general. Just not here, where even when no one is reading, it matters most.
Today I took to the woods with one of our trusty dogs, the one and only wild Iris Rose, to ponder a plan of how to negotiate the dangerous waters of our time in a sustainable balanced manner. It is October, my most favorite month of the year. I adore autumn and all it has to offer in the way of cooler temperatures, misty mornings and the desire to get the knitting needles clicking once more….
We admired the colors signaling a late but welcome change of season….
I played a bit with my fancy camera which, like this blog space, has grown a bit dusty with disuse.
The pace of things in the world has me feeling a bit weary. All this running and seemingly little to show for it. The season and my soul alike beg for a backing off, a swing toward the internal to come once more to the still point of my personal center. This country, and the world at large could stand the same I believe.
With the dark season ahead, one often fraught with personal mental health challenges, I am looking back with pride on a few months of wondrous productivity and activity whilst simultaneously crafting a structure of future quietude to keep the wolves at bay in the months ahead.
The Resistance, as it stands, is in full swing and its toiling does take up space and energy. I quite mindfully make the space necessary to be of service in these dark times but must balance that of course. There is canvassing and volunteering and much reading to stay informed. The news is too much to keep up with and it can drag a soul down to low places, but I do my best. I am careful to turn it all off and hit the paints or the road when I need a break.
The flurry of work and words in the past couple of months have been exciting to birth forth. Here I share a few things that have been occupying my eye, my keyboard and notebook, my interest and my heart. It is my hope that I take to engaging more here in this space in the coming months as it forces me, in the best way possible, to slow down. To think about what I am writing and the images I share. Social media channels are wondrous in their own way, and I certainly find myself lurking in the more creative corners of their hallowed halls. There is so much to inspire. But here, in my own designated space, I can think through my fingers….
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”
….and maybe go a little deeper.
So, last I left you dear reader, it was August, and so very hot. September came along and while the heat gave no break, I encountered a small challenge to make a drawing a day in 1″ square scale. This painterly adventure, combined with a whirlwind trip to Taos, NM was balm indeed to a tired soul….
I completed the challenge and made 30 of these little works.
Even when the news did say there were magnificent displays of ill will and malevolence.
Toward the end of the month of September, my long time, dear friend Kristin (whom you may remember from this post) and I somehow managed to make our way from Ohio (me) and Vermont (she) to Chicago for a seamless meet-up at O’Hare and on to a quick flight out to New Mexico. The opportunity to introduce a dear one to one’s soul home is a gift indeed and we savored every second. Not much was catalogued of our time there, but we did manage some image captures…..
“It’s the most wonderful place you can imagine. It’s so beautiful there. It’s ridiculous.” ~Georgia O’Keeffe
We timed our visit with the Feast of San Geronimo at Taos Pueblo (every year on September 30th, you should go) which enabled me to see and visit with some dear friends there at a very sacred time. It was a gift and blessing to share these folks and this place who are so dear to me, with an old friend from the way back, equally as dear. Kristin said to me at one point, “You’ve built a whole world here, Ames.” I do believe I have. I am deeply grateful.
Our journey was far too short for a proper catch up. To be honest, in spite of the splendor we encountered, we spent a good deal of time in a state of deep grief over the recent goings on at the Supreme Court. There is a collective, primal scream of rage emanating from the women in my life over doing this all over again. How many times has this story been lived, eh? Though this time is was so public, and so top-level. I am still grieving.
But, and this is the thing, somehow we must keep going……..
And so, once home, early autumn life began with a focus toward music each weekend at the Riley School of Irish Music. Those of us who love the music aim to bring just a smidge of this video below to our own playing….
While we may never reach this level, we did manage to play our annual ceili dance once more and folks who attended seemed to enjoy it. Chatting with our caller, Éamonn de Cógáin after the dance, he remarked, “This is growing!!” And indeed it is.
The season brings with it, as mentioned before, a renewed commitment to new needle bound adventures. I’ve invested in some gorgeous wool from my local knit shop to attempt the crafting of a sweater. We shall see…. But in the meantime, it’s always fun to get to know the source of all things wool.
And maybe even attempt a sketch or two.
Perhaps you too are experiencing a bit of whiplash of the soul. One minute darkness and rage – the next minute, a shaft of light to pierce that darkness and provide a respite. We here are fortunate to have these moments of lightness. To make art and craft worlds with words is a privilege indeed, and one I do not take for granted. I believe to my core that it is an act of resistance to play music, and craft beauty with line, paint and words. I am fortunate to have the support of family and my day job that enable me to live this artful life. Not everyone can. Yet somehow, artists get the job done, one way or another. Here are just a few whom I support and so should you…..
And so where does this all leave me? As you can see, there’s been a great deal of output here in the form of energy and a good bit of intake as well which is wonderful. But my hope is that I can slow it all down a bit. To corral things to more depth and to a more manageable realm for me as an artist. I like to say that I am a crock pot in this world of microwaves.
My hub and I are running away a couple of days after the election to Guatemala to visit friends and make some art – to shore up our souls for what’s to come in our lives personally and collectively, good or ill.
We will get home just before Thanksgiving (yes, I’ve ordered the bird from our favorite market vendor.) I plan to write here on this blog-space from down there if I can connect, as it’s one of the most inspiring places. So do stay tuned.
Wherever this reading finds you, I hope you are finding some gentility in this rough world. We are at a crossroads as human beings and we have some decisions to make as to the path ahead. For me, it’s one of kindness and art making.
“Hang in there, make art, be kind.” ~Neil Gaiman in response to the news of Brazil’s election of a nationalist, right wing president. To my friends in Brazil, we are here for you.
Recent days have seen me traversing the country, jetting between varying worlds, and even escaping to far, far galaxies on occasion.
I found myself suddenly in California just over a week past, admiring the coastline and it’s intrepid surfers, breathing in the brisk sea air, sketching the magnificent scenery. Many thanks to my friend Steve who took me on a California field trip to Natural Bridges State Park.
I took a couple of days to acclimate to time and space there and to catch up with dear ones who live too far from my particular holler. We made books together.
Soon it was workshop time. The Saturday portion found us at Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California. It was a bit chilly and there was tree work on the grounds dramatically making itself known with saws and a chipper, but we found a somewhat quiet corner to begin our day.
There was a wonderful wisteria tree which caught the eye of many of the sketchers who found their own way to interpret it. It was early in the workshop so we talked a lot about capturing color and the basics of tackling a complicated scene.
Later we went out in front of the main house where an artist’s installation of birdhouses makes one special tree very different indeed.
Alas, I did not take many photos that day, as I was too entranced by teaching!
After our sketch day, we went back to the lovely and artful home of Rosemary who hosts this event each year to visit with one another and toast the day with a bevvie or two. I even managed to have a quick tune with my friend Tim who’s family had spent the day sketching with us.
Day Two of the workshop was here before we knew it and the morning had us up and over the mountain, bundled up along the shoreline of Santa Cruz. The weather was cold that morning but this did not bother my intrepid group of sketchers! We even dodged a few rain drops!
Everyone quickly got to work. Eventually we moved places, closer to the local lighthouse and lunching spot for more drawing.
We played with color and scale. And the sun even came out for us in the afternoon. A day on the seaside is an ever changing adventure.
Soon the weekend was over, and we said goodbye to this group of amazing sketch artists who will now go forth and doodle in their own daily lives. I opted to stay an extra couple of days to do a little work in my own books. We traveled to Point Reyes Station for lunch and wandering, then headed into the hills to sketch this mystical region.
The next day found us admiring the new vine growth at a local vineyard called Savannah Chanelle. It was quiet with bird song and chickens cooing and clucking in their coop near the villa. The vintner admired my drawing and offered to trade a bottle of wine for it. But alas, it was trapped in my sketchbook. Perhaps I’ll send along a proper painting to trade for next time. The wine is quite tasty there!
Alas, soon it was time to once more travel toward home here in the Ohio River Valley. But I felt as though my teaching self was reinvigorated and reminded of it’s true purpose. I was reminded of mindfulness and how this practice is a direct line into being truly present.
This poem came to me via Shippenverse a day or so before the weekend workshops and it seemed like the perfect thoughtful intention with which to begin the time together. So we typed up a copy for each participant and gave them as little favors. I kept the one with the most typos.
I have a small thing for real typewriters. Upon returning home to Ohio, I was alerted by my Hub, who knows good things when he sees them, of this little gem awaiting me at the local antique mall. Of course I had to get it.
I suppose I might have opted to stay in California forever but alas there was a great event to attend back here at home. A number of local rebel artists banded together to craft an art show so magnificent, it was literally out of this world….. in a galaxy far, far away…..
A good time was had by all that evening and the art came in all shapes and sizes be it sculpture, painting, or cosplay. I displayed 8 tiny landscapes from this captivating world created by George Lucas and by the time I arrived, 3 had already sold. The work is on display at local rebel watering hole, Brew House here in Cincinnati through the month.
It is finally spring here. Our aging cat Ian took down a mouse the other night which surprised all of us, likely Ian most especially of all! There is finally life and blooming and even, as of today, a bit of sunshine. I have a to-do list a mile long as I gather everything needed to launch the 8th year of the Taos Illuminated Journaling workshop. This is my flagship class in this process and each year I look to it as a true indication of how things have shifted and changed over the past year and I come home once again full circle to the things I know to be central to the work. I am brimming with gratitude that this is even my job and I know I can’t do it alone. So, thank you to those intrepid souls who take a leap and attend one of my workshops – a week or a weekend, at home or abroad – Thank you.
And to my husband Tony who manages things here at home when I am away and keeps spreadsheets like a boss. My friends and family locally who step up to help him when things get crazy -Y’all know who you are. And then of course a big virtual hug to my art-pal and fellow typewriter enthusiast, Rosemary, who so loves this work as much as I do that she helps me figure out where to go next! Thank you friend. For everything.
I am really looking forward to getting back to Taos as well in a matter of weeks to the folks who make my work possible there. Friends who have become like family over the years. You are deeply appreciated. all of you.
To attempt any kind of plan on any given day in the month of March in Ohio is to play a game of roulette. But March 24th was the day nationwide when the youth of this country, and those of us no longer so young who support them any way we can, came together to demand something be done about the overwhelming problem of gun violence in this country. And so it was that our city found ourselves bracing for a spring snow-storm, as well as an anti-gun-violence rally downtown.
Let me first preface this writing with a few quick words just so you’re clear where I stand…. (it’s by no means complete, but it’s a start.)
I am not anti-gun. While not a gun enthusiast myself, I see the place of a shotgun on a farm to deal quickly with a suffering beast or an overzealous predator. While I’d not join them per se, I appreciate the hunters who help to quell the population of deer and are careful to process, consume and share the animals they take down and who do so with a reverence to Nature. I’d rather see an animal taken down with a well placed bullet (or arrow) than one starving to death. I married a Navy guy who was a sharp shooter in college. I am not anti-military. (In fact, I truly appreciate the many veterans who are speaking out on the subject of gun violence.) I am a former school teacher. I am an artist who lives and speaks in symbols, story and metaphor. I know the difference between a shot gun and an assault rifle…..
So, with that out of the way, let me share with you a bit of the past few days, as I have an interesting tale to tell about my own experiences related to this past weekend’s March For Our Lives.
My beloved flute maker and dear musical friend of many years, Dave Copley of Copley and Boegli Flutes, sent along an intriguing message about someone who wanted to commission him to craft a series of flute like instruments out of gun barrels hitherto the March for Our Lives which was to happen a couple of weeks later here in town and all across the country. Upon reading the message, I knew this was something special and encouraged Dave to get involved if at all possible within his budget and schedule and, that I would help out along the sidelines if I could.
Pedro Reyes is an internationally renowned artist known for his capacity to tackle socio-political issues in innovative, creative and distinctly participatory ways. He is based in Mexico City where he lives and works with his family. Cal Cullen heads up Wave Pool Gallery which is “a dynamic place where art intersects with community. We act as a catalyst for social engagement and cultivate artistic development.” Factored into this mix is The Welcome Project which is affiliated with Wave Pool and is helping out a lot of vulnerable new members of our community. Somehow, these folks found flute maker Dave. Inspired by the 17 lives lost at the Parkland, Florida mass shooting this past Valentine’s Day and the activism sparked amongst the surviving students, Dave was to craft 17 flutes from 17 gun barrels to honor those lost and to inspire those now marching for change, backed by the people and organizations I have mentioned here.
(Yes, I know these are shot gun barrels. Please read above statement about my love of metaphor and symbol in art practice.)
Dave took on the project. At this point I was out of the country doing my work in Guatemala but I was keeping my ear to the ground as to how it was going. Last week upon my return, I stopped over for lunch with Dave and Marlene and got a chance to see the flutes in person. They are heavy and cumbersome but play surprisingly well. I make a decision on the spot that I will help to play these at the march the following weekend.
These former guns are still collectively creepy. They are heavy, cold, each a bit different from one another. They pose a bit of a challenge to Dave as an instrument maker but he soldiers on and they eventually make their way to Wave Pool where we give them a spin.
Remarkably, they play beautifully (at least when warm)! He crafts a few in each of a couple of keys. The ones in E are slightly lighter in weight and we choose them to play the coming weekend at the march. We had hoped for some local kids to help play them, but alas, no one shows to the rehearsal. Perhaps a case of mixed signals…..
We find our way into Saturday morning. Local music school classes are not canceled as we thought they might be and so some of our number had to go to work which left three of us to wield the new flute barrels best we can.
I was prepared with my own crafting of the idea as this too was a concept I could get behind.
Those who know me well know I have an evil eye on my flute case. The charm is from Greece and was brought back to me by my friend and mentor Pam shortly before she died. I treasure it….
Somehow, all of the flute-related magic is coming together.
The weather is raw and unforgiving on marching day. The mitts are necessary and perhaps not nearly enough to keep fingers challenged with steel gun barrels from freezing.
We get to City Hall and already there is a great crowd gathering.
We are put into place to begin the work of musical activism. On the steps of City Hall, the three of us present to play remark half heartedly that we sure wish we had more flute players. It is cold and we do not trust our fingers on gun steel. Nor our embouchures really. And wouldn’t you know it….two of the young people on hand for the march chime in, “We play.” Just like that we are 5. And stronger for it. Thank you Lila and Kennisha. You saved the day for us older folk.
While introducing the kids to these strange instruments, we meet Ethel Guttenberg whose grand-daughter Jaime was a victim at Parkland. One of the 17 who sparked this rally, one of the 17 who sparked this gun barrel flute project. I am speechless and reeling from the gravity of what we are doing here.
We play a few classics. We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, that sort of thing. We only have a few minutes. And it’s cold and raw to be placing bare lips and fingers to cold gun metal. Miraculously, the crowd begins to sing along and it is magical. This is the genius behind the vision of Pedro Reyes and his biblical notion of ploughshares from swords. This is not a new concept really, but one brought beautifully to bear by this modern artist. To be quite honest, I find it hard to keep my quivering lip playing the simple music at hand, especially after talking with Ethel.
Ethel speaks to the crowd on hand, which is sizable, especially when combined with like minded folk across the country and around the world. Before her and after her are the children responsible for this amazing event. Kids like her grand-daughter Jaime. Kids, really. Up till now perhaps the world would have discounted these kids. But they are the future. In fact, I’d say they aren’t even the future. They are the now. They are stepping up where our leadership cannot.
“and these children that your spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” ~David Bowie
As a parent of two young adults who weathered some serious storming in their own young lives along the way, I know what it is to be a parent witnessing the undoing of innocence in our children. I have been thinking so much about Emma and David, and their friends, parents and loved ones. I’ve seen snippets of what they are grappling with off stage and out of the spotlight. These are kids, y’all. Children. Children grieving the loss of their classmates. Children grappling with their place in a limelight none of them asked for. Their lives are altered. Taking a peek at what the interwebs has to offer in the way of feedback, a good chunk of it is negative. But a fair amount of it is also positive. From good people like myself wishing them well. Hoping they might even consider running for office one day. Sign me up.
I write to you crickets here in this echo chamber, hoping maybe my words will ring true. Even to just one person. Maybe two on a good day. Hoping that this avalanche of gathering young snowflakes is embarking on change….
I share Sam Cook’s music with a nod to how these kids have made it a point to include people of color so often left out of these conversations. Something I find remarkable and a glimpse of the future…..
People like Naomi.
ELEVEN, y’all. Let that sink in.
These kids are our future. They are poised and educated and can dance their way round the internet in ways I couldn’t have imagined. (Let’s face it, at their age, I couldn’t imagine the internet).
And so, time marches on. At this writing, over a month has passed. More shootings have occurred. These kids have a job ahead of them to be sure. But I have faith in them, despite the internet throwing shite upon them at every turn. Let’s find ways to support them as the tide turns.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~Albus Dumbledore
This time just last week I found myself still in Antigua, Guatemala, soaking up the last bit of sweetness and sunshine of a truly remarkable artistic adventure.
Today, at least according to calendars, spring has arrived.
Charlie is not amused, but I assure her that this will pass quickly. For while the snow falls and is apparently due to drop 4-6 inches on our fair river valley, the birds do sing, the buds do promise a show, and so I admire the loveliness, and sift through sketches and photographs of a time well had down south….. now while sipping hot bevvies.
It is always a bit of a journey to truly move between one place and another, each beloved, each so different from the next. And so I have taken my time getting back into the swing of things here at home. There has been work to catch up on at the shop (this is my day job where I help craft world class concertinas and the cases which house them). Not to mention unpacking, much laundry and the defragmentation of lists and accounting. And oh yes, St. Patrick’s Day nudged itself in there as well.
All good and fine things, but I’ll admit to being a little more on the ‘busy’ end of the activity spectrum in recent days than I would normally care to be. It is a gift to have a bit of time on a snowy morning to share a bit of this latest Guatemalan adventure here. What a time we had!
After a quick visit to foggy, rain soaked Chicago, I traveled for a lengthy but uncomplicated day, arriving in Central America at sunset. By the time I made my way to Guatemala City, it was fully dark, but there was full moon splendor for the first few nights of my stay. I spent a number of evenings just marveling from the rooftop as la Luna came up and over the horizon.
A bit of time was also spent just marveling once again at the collection of trinkets and santos and other such things at our beloved Posada San Sebastián in those first few days.
Eventually, we did spend time out in town as well. Antigua does not disappoint with it’s charm.
The local active volcano, Volcan de Fuego, was quite active indeed. Breathing it’s blessings upon us by day and by night.
“We are volcanoes, when we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”
~Ursula K. LeGuin
We enjoyed working in our books a bit before workshop participants began arriving. I was thrilled to see them! Old and new friends alike.
They turned out to be very hard workers! Some folks came with a fair bit of know-how and skill, while others brought a beginner’s wonder to the table. All worked beautifully together which was fantastic and not unexpected. Somehow, I manage to attract the most amazing people to these Sketch Journaling adventures.
As luck would have it, before we even began working, our group was treated to a front row viewing of a local Lenten Processión just after our first dinner together….
We spent the coming days soaking up everything Antigua had to offer, both out in town and close to home, depending on mood and how warm the weather might get on any given day. The days flew by and yet stretched endless with possibility.
I drew the Joseph Santos at our Posada a couple of times.
My friend and fellow artist Vanessa Sorensen took a fancy to the Santos as well. Take a look at her gorgeous sketches and blog posts about the trip here and here.
There is color and community at every turn in this ancient city.
A brief note: Having lived in Guatemala as a child, I have a deep regard for the complexities of the variety of communities to be found in the country. When looking to acquire textiles and other forms of handicraft, it’s important to me to buy second hand and to pay a fair price. If I get anything first hand, I like to, again, pay a fair price to the artisan responsible. In recent years, thanks to my friends Rosemary who’s an amazing sketcher and mixed media artist (and a dear dear friend, pretty much responsible for this trip happening) and Mari Gray over at Kakaw Designs, I’ve gotten to know some weavers personally and I’m slowly learning a bit about what makes Guatemalan textiles. Below is our friend Lidia Lopez talking a bit about her work and how she teaches others about it. I always enjoy a visit to see her. She is constantly offering new things to admire and perhaps purchase and she’s always great about helping us practicing our ever-evolving Spanish.
And yet there was always a chance to duck into a cool and shaded corner for some quietude or to escape the sunshine.
There is a deep spirit of reverence at every turn. Santos on santos on santos. Religion is a very visceral and real thing in Latin America. It’s refreshing.
I prayed to the gods of all things in my own way. Best I know how.
We drew and drew, sketched and painted. Some just quick captures here and there.
Other longer drawings, begun in place and tweaked and worked (perhaps overly so) back at home at our posada.
The quirky festival atmosphere in Antigua lingered on. Lovely evening light delighting photographers day after day after day.
As all trips do, this one eventually had to come to an end. I traveled back home to family and day job responsibilities, friends traveled on to other places in Guatemala to do work in the realm of Speech Pathology. While I sit here with tea and a wool hat and extra socks on, they informed me this morning that they grapple with 100 F degree heat for their work this week. What a difference a week makes.
Meanwhile, I heard from the lads at the Posada that the new courtyard being installed in my last couple of days there is now complete and the results are stunning. The outdoor space there has always been captivating, but now it’s truly expanded in its usability. I can’t wait to get back there with workshop groups to sit and draw all day! The dates for next year are approximately the first 2 weeks of April. I’ll craft a specific page here on the blog soon with specifics and you can choose one or both weeks, both will be essentially same, but no two weeks are ever the same so if you attend 2, you’ll get 2. More soon on all of that once the numbers are crunched. If you are in the Northern California realm of this world and want a taste of this process, I’m doing a 2 day workshop outside of San Jose and Santa Cruz the last weekend in April. You can sign up for one or both days. Send me an email at email@example.com if you are interested and I’ll get you the specifics. And, while I’m on the topic, there are still a few slots left in the annual Taos, New Mexico trip which is a week long…..
There is much I miss about Guatemala as I gaze out upon our, for the moment, snowy landscape. I miss the color and timelessness, the quick smiles of locals one sees every day on the street on the way to breakfast. I miss the sense that just beyond the veil there is a part of myself I lost along the way somehow and which, with every visit, I begin to recapture.
There will be more about Guatemala on this lowly blog to be sure. I hope to bring The Hub back there in November to share with him all I have discovered since our trip there for our anniversary. I have many more drawings to make and musings to consider as well. Something about this place feels like it can unlock a lot of what makes me tick as a person. This is something I seek to explore. We all have complicated histories. Mine includes this marvelous place.
Amidst quietude, color and beauty, I am ready to begin unpacking it all….
Difficult to believe that at this time just last week, we found ourselves in the magical, mist-ical lands of coastal California -my hub just barely cracking through his shell of over-work, only to have to dive straight back in again. But it was good to see a glimpse of himself to be sure. I am hopeful he could be coaxed back to this real life once again soon.
It is always a strange thing to return back to our regular doings back here at home in Ohio. For me, the mark of Good Travel is that it makes for a yearning and a churning of the soul, a fire in the mind, which keeps us asking questions of ourselves about how we are living this One Wild and Precious Lifeof ours. While we balance chores and responsibilities, work and dreams of what can be, time marches on ever faster. We must make sure we are on the right track. Travel and all the soul-nudging it brings with it, is one sure way to track our proper path isn’t it?
Yesterday my daughter sent along a new song to add to a running playlist I get going each year which tends to set the tone for the up and coming Taos sketch trip. This annual trek to the high desert is a flagship workshop for me as an instructor/facilitator. And the yearly playlist often carries a loose theme through the songs which happens strangely and organically. One year it was about light, especially Golden light, as I found myself craving the sparkling quality of light that is found in places such as northern New Mexico. Yet another year the loose theme seemed to be aboutthe heart of the matter – on finding ones heart beating below the surface of all that is thrust upon us in the drudgery of the day to day.
On a whim, I sent along this new song to a dear musical friend of mine, also the parent of a young adult daughter, knowing the both of them might appreciate it. He asked how I found myself relating to this new song and it got me thinking about my playlists in general and how I use and relate to them. About why I gather songs and how they capture a moment in time. Like the old mix-tapes we might have traded around in our teens, these playlists relay a certain kind of longing. Today’s longing is a more complex, multifaceted thing than my middle school obsessions. Now, I find myself pining for wilder places versus people, be it a sea of salt-water or a sea of sage. I suppose my yearly playlists are a listing of love songs to landscapes that are out of reach to me in my daily life.
“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ~Terry Tempest Williams
Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a scientist. I love all animals and could spend hours upon hours in observance and wonder of them. Alas, I do not have the mind of a proper scientist which remembers long and (to me) complicated names and specific facts and figures, and so my observance skills took a different path to that of artist. Now, my very favorite thing is to go to a wild place and watch, and draw, and wonder. Just a different kind of scientist really.
We had the great fortune to obtain access to a beach near Santa Cruz which the majestic elephant seals come home to for a season each year to go about the Business of Life. Here they mate, struggle for territory and status, give birth, nurture and nurse, grow and learn, rest and recuperate. We were fortunate to have a patient guide on our tour who allowed us to tarry a bit longer than other groups so as to take it all in properly.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~Aristotle
And amidst all of this marvelous wildness, we had also the comfort of dear friends who welcome us to this wild land with open arms. In the evenings there was a warm fire in the hearth and plenty of tea and long over-due conversation.
The ocean and it’s splendor was a indeed big player in our whirlwind trip west. I had a run on the beach one morning and we sketched the waves. I was captivated by the variety of dogs to be found having their daily walks along the shore.
We also took part of a day to meander down the coast and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we watched, entranced, the displays of Jellyfish and other watery wonders.
“Jellyfish: The sea offers up flowers of glass like thick light. They are transparent landscapes.” ~Raquel Jodorowsky
I was reminded of some old work of mine with the jellies, and vowed to come home and make more.
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” ~Loren Eiseley
“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.” ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau
But the trip was not all ocean all the time. I was invited to an Irish music session at a local home of a friend of a friend of a friend, which is how it works in musical circles, and was welcomed with open arms to share a few tunes.
Welcomed with open arms is also how we felt in the Redwoods just minutes inland from the sea.
To walk and wander in a forest of these trees is to experience the notion of Cathedral. We found ourselves whispering in hushed tones out of respect. Even the local wildlife is quiet. With the trees comprised of naturally inherent tannins, they are insect-repellant, and therefore even the chatter of birds is kept to a minimum.
We sat and sketched a giant for a good long while. It was cold and quite humid.
All in all, it was a wonderful getaway. January in Ohio is not for the feint of heart. A friend of mine, also from the world of Irish music, was saying last night that while she has lived in places with reputations for the harshest weather winter can throw at us (i.e. Alaska, Montana) she has found that winter here in SW Ohio/ N. Kentucky is particularly draining for it’s gray heaviness. Difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, we here in this river valley trudge through the winter months as best we can, thankful for the opportunity to get out of town when we can.
I left the Hub in California to do his work and I to come home to do mine. The temperatures were in single digits upon my arrival which was shocking to the system to say the least, considering I had had my toes in the pacific ocean just days before. But, I made some little woolen boots for my smallest dog, brewed a lot of tea, and carried on.
“Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?”
“Have you seen the girl with the heart as big as the sea?”
I am not the only one with a big heart and a mind on fire, yearning and churning for a bit of change. The world at large is calling for it as well, at least women and those who love and respect them.
This past weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March and we did it again. While the news didn’t make much of it, the numbers appeared to be as large if not larger this year. I was at our march here in Cincinnati and while the palpable shock of the election of a vile predator-in-chief was not as present this year, a continuing sense of outrage was.
The energy was palpable.
These strange times seem to have unleashed a free for all on many levels. On the one hand, the highest levels of power, especially in this country, are seemingly above all scrutiny. Politicians who once would have run a president out on a rail for the kinds of shenanigans ours pulls off, merely turn a blind eye and shrug off the behaviors of the current administration. I marvel. But the flip side of this coin is the notion that really, anything is possible. And I find a bit of hope in this.
I find that there is a fire in my own mind of late. The travel bug is turned on full-force by this most recent trek to the fair state of California. Guatemala is right on it’s heels, a mere 37 days away for me, with workshop participants arriving shortly there after. And there are more adventures to follow. Traveling shifts perspectives and asks us to consider hard questions. Questions such as, should we give up this little track of land, with is gardens and trees and lovely, soul-nourishing green space and quietude, for a condominium with less upkeep? Could doing so free up even more time and money for travel? Or would we regret giving up this amazing space? Do we want to even stay in Cincinnati? For me the draw of my family and friends (this includes my art and music family) is a big one. But part of me feels my studio practice could really use a daily walk in the wild, versus the familiar suburban paths here in Ohio. These are all the questions burning just now. And likely they will continue to do so for a while.
One could go a little off the rails with these ponderings, but the work will always bring me back to center. Sitting down to write a bit here settles my bones. From across the room, the paints call to be mixed up to craft some new paintings. Who knows where they will lead. Story ideas come and go, flitting and floating in clouds of doubt and fear. Rays of light amidst the dust particles. Today on this day of endless gray, I’ll follow the words, follow the paintbrush, follow the breath to whatever comes next.
Solstice dawns bright and beautiful. I head outside with a hot cup of coffee and three eager dogs and marvel at the pink light on a lovely sycamore across the creek from us. I snap a little photo with the ever present phone, as you do in this day and age.
Just after capturing the image, I hear crows calling and they fly into the frame with the same sycamore and I think that would have been a nice photo as well, but I merely stand and watch them fly and listen to a snippet of their airborne conversings amongst one another.
The dogs snuffle around on the ground, surely on the trail of deer, fox or coyote who wander in the night.
After a bit I am chilled (and so is my coffee) so we head inside. I check the usual electra-outlets of things and am thankful for a well curated online sphere. There will be news when I decide to take on the days’ burnings, but for this morning, which is Solstice, I opt to seek beauty for a bit. To sift my intake through the lens of loveliness.
The Splendid Table did a piece a while ago on the country of Georgia and it’s culinary traditions. They discussed which foods would be presented, and how they might be served (in lots of lovely small dishes), and that often, between courses, those at table might take to singing. This morning I am once again reminded of Georgian singing via a post by a musical acquaintance. And now, thanks to him, these lovely singers are in my ears as I ponder the still point in the turning of the world. Somehow these minored harmonies are a fitting soundtrack to the day.
We must be so very careful what we feed ourselves just now. There is so much work to be done in the world. On some days, the prospect of shifting the huge paradigms which must be shifted if we are to survive, seems insurmountable. Music, powerful art, the magic of poetry all serve to shore us up and supplement our souls during these dark days. Nourishment.
I’m grateful for the gatherers of words who keep me nourished online. Here are just a couple of examples…..
Shapechangers in Winter (excerpt)
This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.
Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,
as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than it is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.
I am grateful for my fellow image makers who sprinkle their visual magic around like a healing fairy-dust of sorts.
This past year has been a tumultuous one for much of the world. I find myself in somewhat of a dystopic frame of mind and have had to work quite hard to remain above the fray psychologically. (thank you yoga and the well worn running paths of this here village.)
I wonder, how can I better be of service? How can things change, in part by the actions of small players like myself in the great theater of the world, when our leaders collectively seem hell bent on a path to destruction on the backs of the vulnerable?
I find myself questioning the very systems I once believed undeniable. (I’m looking at you Capitalism.) How can we operate in this world more lightly, how can we exchange work and energy and our livelihoods in a more just way? There are many forging a new path and I find myself becoming a part of that conversation. I choose bartering when I can to the notion of cold hard cash. I read and listen to the words of fellow artisans and writers asking the same hard questions such as Amanda Palmer, Eloïse Sentito, and Ayana Young. All the while, holding on tight to the tail of my work, even when it can feel a bit senseless at times.
It is the season of Christmas parties. At our local illustrators gathering, a few of us talked of how the very act of making books for children is a political one. We tuck the seeds of kindness and compassion in-between the lines and in the imagery of work for children, be that picture books, traditional fairy tales or puppetry. Crafting beauty for the next generation feels like a radical thing indeed these days. Perhaps they will rise up and be the leaders we need. Kind. Compassionate.
My beloved day-job fellows at Carroll Concertinas gathered for dinner last night and talked of the past year’s work. On average, we produce 24 handcrafted, high end concertinas each year. We make all of the parts ourselves and piece them together into these amazing instruments. Our boss and dear friend Wally commended us on our craftsmanship and acknowledged the many other gifts and skills we bring to the table collectively as artists and musicians and fellow human beings. In a some small way, to do this kind of work, at this intimate level, is also a somewhat radical notion. I do not take the gift of this lightly and am deeply grateful. Would that everyone in the world has work which challenges them and makes them happy and compensates them deeply on many levels. That is a world I can wrap my weary brain around.
These are my ponderings on this day, the Solstice, the very time when we catch our breath as the world turns back toward the light. May this metaphor come to pass in the coming months. May we all have the courage to follow the light home to ourselves and to each other. May the mere act of following this light be seen for the very brave thing it is.