At the beginning of this month, I alerted a few eager early birds that I was about to embark on registration for the Taos 2020 Travel Sketch class at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s. Then just last week I opened up registration to anyone interested. After a flurry-filled week of inquiries and emails, text messages and notes back and forth with old and new participants alike, I am pleased to say, the workshop is sold out!! This is the earliest this phenomenon has ever occurred and I am thrilled. Thrilled that this work speaks to so many, thrilled to be heading back to Taos next summer with a full roster of fellow artists – both seasoned and newly learning their craft.
I am simply over the moon!!
June 2020 is in some ways, quite far off, but it comes around faster than one might expect and I’ll be ready with exciting new things to try in our sketchbooks by then. I am already looking forward. If you missed the call for this workshop, you still have some options. First, reach out to me and get on the waiting list. Plans can sometimes change for people unexpectedly which occasionally might open up a slot for someone else. I am contemplating adding a slot or two extra but need to contemplate this and talk it over with my trusted advisors and the team at Mabel’s. Those on the wait list would be the first to know if anything opens up for any reason.
You can also join me in Guatemala in early spring. Details on dates and costs can be found here. I have limited space in each of the two weeks being offered there and I believe it is only a matter of time before this trip too is sold out. Antigua, Guatemala is a gorgeous, quite cosmopolitan city which carries color and beauty and an ancient magic all its own. It is the perfect way to warm up during the depths of winter! So consider this option perhaps.
Other teaching outings are in the works for California next spring, generally the Bay Area and environs, so if you are local to there, reach out to me and I’ll put you on that mailing list. Right now we are looking at the first weekend in May and possibly some other dates around that time and in that general vicinity to make it that much more worth a trip to the Left Coast.
And so now, I get back to the making of things. Back to tending the craft that allows me to teach these workshops in the first place. I can smell an autumnal journey on the winds about which I am very excited. I’ll be sure and write from the road.
As always, consider getting on the mailing list to get all of the latest news from here. Social media can be a lot of fun but those pesky algorithms do keep us hustling to get the work into the world.
“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
To arrive at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico is to step over a barrier of sorts. Time and space are steeped in a special fluidity here which makes them more malleable than elsewhere. Every year my goal as a workshop facilitator is to pack as much practical ‘how-to’ into a week devoted to the travel-sketch-journal process, whilst also making way for more ethereal notions such as magic, friendship and community. For opening up to what we each have to offer the world. For finding our own visual voices.
“Every one of us should risk living in the full flow of our own originality. And never to compare yourself with anyone outside you but to trust that inner voice that is speaking to you and whispering to you from the well of great possibility that lives inside you.” ~John O’Donohue
This year is my ninth year working in Taos in this capacity. Over the years I have come to trust that while each season will be new in many ways, we can trust that we will be embraced by a familiarity to sink into which makes space for the best work. I like to think of our travel journals, as well as our classroom space, as vessels to be filled during our week together. My job is merely to hold the space, to hand out bite sized demonstrations and then steward each participant along their own journey. In spite of two last minute cancellations (alas, too last-minute to offer their spaces up even the most last-minute takers) I had a relatively packed house. These numbers bring an energy to the room and to the work we do, and yet there was a lovely intimacy within this group straight away.
We went from an empty vessel….
……to the buzz of a room of artists happily working along together.
Some dear friends from Taos Pueblo visited us on our first day together to share their process of crafting beautiful pottery with mere land, water, time and fire. This was a new idea for this year and I wasn’t sure how I might fold it into an already full teaching agenda, but everyone was quite pleased with the experience (if not the eventual results from the firing).
Time spent pinching pots, forming beads and wee fetishes was time learning about this place we found ourselves – Taos.
It was wonderful to get our hands dirty with the very land itself.
Working with the clay deepened our journaling work indeed…..
We talked of color and form. We worked on studying ellipses (hint: they aren’t hotdogs or footballs.)
Some participants went so far as to use bits of spare wet clay as a painting pigment.
We allowed our wee works to dry through the week. Some cracked, all shrank a bit, but by week’s end, things were dry enough to attempt trial by fire.
Alas, the wind kicked up on firing night and our little works had to eventually be fired on our final morning by our friends out on the Pueblo. In the end, only a few things survived unscathed and most of us went home with mere shards of our work.
For a variety of reasons, I am still glad we spent the time to play with the clay. For one thing, I think everyone came away with a deep reverence for the professional pots made by native hands from native land. Their pots are deceptively simple – until one has attempted to create one, that is! It is a good thing to know how difficult some work is. We can then appreciate it all the more, yes? We all also enjoyed getting our hands dirty and using the clay as pigment. As my workshop is about capturing the spirit of a place, and our experiences in that place, this mini afternoon workshop-within-a-workshop was worth the investment for the beautiful drawings that came out of it.
But of course, there was more to be captured. There were mornings with the buffalo where we gathered before dawn in small groups to visit the herd we’ve come to know so well. I never know year to year if this is something we will get to do again, and so every year I am deeply grateful to spend time with these ancient and wild beasts. Many lovely drawings were made of the magnificent buffalo, but I was firmly planted in teaching mode and so didn’t manage to get a snapshot of these works.
We talked of how to capture light.
Especially, when we find it in darkness….
We took much time to study the colors found in New Mexico such as rust and turquoise, and the complexity of cloud forms.
We doodled ‘carrot people’ from afar and each other closer to hand.
We attempted the challenging yet forever whimsical birdhouses in Mabel’s courtyard…..
“Our pigeons live in a Mexican village reared high up on thick, long posts. I love the expression of their frame houses, that have been added to by José for years. They lean strangely in all directions, and look like a settled community.
… One has to pick one’s way among them on the flagstones from the house to the gates. They feel they own the place and I guess they do. We never let cars drive in beside the portal any more as they used to do because the pigeons wouldn’t move away fast enough and they were always being run over. Finally I put a sign on the gates and locked them. It said, ‘Please don’t drive in. The pigeons don’t like it.'”
~Mabel Dodge Luhan
We worked and we worked and we worked.
We also spent time outside of class at the Pueblo watching the light dance as it does.
Sometimes I see things that give me some indication of what Georgia O’Keeffe may have been after in her paintings….
All too soon our week together was coming to an end. As one person put it, the days seemed spacious and extensive and long in the best way possible, and yet the week as a whole simply flew past us.
We had a final farewell dinner in Mabel’s iconic dining room.
We presented the amazing kitchen staff with a gift of our own making, being so grateful for their hard work keeping us fed and watered all week.
That evening we signed each other’s books, “yearbook” style, and visited together. Some even worked a bit more in our beloved Juniper house classroom! I took “The Vans” outside for a photo shoot, just for fun. It’s my hope that even more folks will carry their sketch supplies around in vans like these in future…..
It is nigh on impossible to capture this week in a blog post. I look back over the years of posts about this trip and I marvel at the layers of meaning and experience I have managed to convey each time – of the changes that have shifted into place over time. The kinship of place I feel toward Taos is complex. In one way, I always feel as if I am coming home. As one friend back here in Ohio (though who travels to Mabel’s on occasion) recently stated, “It’s Mabel. Everything will be fine. Pulling up in the parking lot always brings me to my knees. ” I agree with her.
Friends always ask me, if you love it so much there, why don’t you guys just move? I haven’t yet felt that call, but every time in Taos is harder to leave behind, to be sure. The town upped its game further this year with my introduction to a special breed of sheep called Churro. One of the workshop participants is a shepherdess and has been renting a small place on the outskirts of town which just happens to have a small herd of these amazing animals. After the workshop, Rosemary, Steve and I visited our new friend on her little farm and got to meet the sheep, the farmer who is their steward in this world, and to marvel at how the hidden depths of Taos seem to have no end. I could not stop staring at these sheep.
Those of you who know me, know I adore all things sheep. I have even joked that one day perhaps I’ll be like Beatrix Potter. I’ll publish and sell a bunch of books, and then retire to a sheep farm. One never knows…..
In any case, next year, 2020, marks a nearly decade of this work finding its way in Taos. I feel it may be a special year indeed. (Though to be fair, every year is a gift of it’s own.) I will be offering up pre-registration to this year’s workshop participants first and then to a broader audience after that. This will happen in the first week of September when summer’s travels are through and I begin to set sights on next year. I have a feeling that #TaosSketch2020 may fill fast, so keep your eyes peeled around that time for announcements. For now though, I will unpack here and rest up for what the rest of summer has to offer.
But first, there are tunes to play (yay!!… below I’ll list where we are playing locally in coming days) lists to attend to, errands to run.
In the meantime a favorite part of the work I do is to collect bits of ‘swag’ to present to my students upon arrival in whatever destination we may find ourselves. For the Antigua trip, I’ll gather a few things once I arrive to combine with things I’ve gathered here in Ohio- like little altoid watercolor sets to work with (this allows people to try new colors which might not be available in their own sets and to play with limiting their palette as an exercise).
I’ve crafted a keepsake illustrated map of some of our favorite haunts in Antigua which I’ll reproduce for my students. It’s fun! It is my hope that not only will this come in handy to know where they are as we sketch the city, but will also encourage them to create their own version in their own travel journals. We must always map our own course, I do believe.
There are stickers…. always stickers…..
….which encourage a bit of ‘mixed media -ness’ in our books. I’m sure to have a few more tricks up my sleeve but really the true gift will be that of spending time together, slowing down and enjoying this World Unesco Heritage city in all its glory. To say I am excited to return would be an understatement.
Here at home I have been gifted some tree cuttings to root as I re-think the stewardship of our little patch of land. I am mindful of what needs to be done in the garden, and perhaps more importantly, what needs NOT be done as well. Do check out the work of We Are The Ark in the hopes of re-wilding small places to create a network of healing in these times.
While I was making stickers at the library today for my workshops, I saved a bit of time to make some stickers for this cause as well. I’ve mentioned this notion of holding two things at once in our hearts, yes? We must do the work we do in the day to day, while also tending the wild places in the corners of our gardens and spreading the word about the need to be more mindful in this world. Limiting consumption where we can.
In this same spirit I am following closely the work of young activists who are striking from school when and where they can (usually Friday’s but I know it can vary region to region). Emma Reynolds has pulled together a number of illustrators to show solidarity with these brave voices and here is my little drawing…
That is the news from today. For now I am off to rehearse tunes with my musical mates. We don’t often have microphones thrust in front of us, and so we take a bit of time to practice for these once-yearly gigs.
You can find me here in the coming days……
Saturday: Arnolds Bar and Grill 8-1130 pm
Sunday: B-List Bar in Bellevue KY 4 pm-730 ish then Palm Court at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel 9-12 (this is quite fancy)
I hope to see you there if you are local to this little river valley. More soon as I get set to hit the road very soon…..
For my friends out west, there is also a weekend sketch workshop with me in the Santa Cruz area slated for May 18 and 19, 2019. Send me an email if you are interested!! (linked is my post about this year’s trip, which was wonderful!)
And below, I’ll catch you up a bit on the landing home after a most wonderful summer……
The future is indeed very bright around here. We ‘gotta wear shades’ as they say. This magical gypsy summer of serious traveling has left me feeling newly and deeply inspired, even unmoored and untethered at times. Summer is always a a season of churning and resetting, but this year these feelings are exceptionally poignant and rich. I’ve had so much time to think about things, what with all the flying and driving and waiting and watching along the way from place to place to place.
A bit of art was crafted here and there while on the road, but mostly I found myself in a place of keen inner observation, a bird’s eye viewing of the self just now and the work currently at hand.
This summer I pondered a great deal about what in the world I am up to in this artful life (age appropriate behavior, as I just turned 49 the other day!!). So many proverbially spinning plates all going at once, and there’s me, the mad, rushing spinner, jumping from thing to thing, spin, spin, spin, lest it all come crashing down around me. At least, that is how it feels some days. On other days, the balance of things settles deeply into my heart and I just know I am on the right track, in spite of all the wobbly plates.
“Balance. It was all about balance. That had been one of the first things that she had learned: the centre of the seesaw has neither up nor down, but upness and downness flow through it while it remains unmoved. You had to be the centre of the seesaw so the pain flowed through you, not into you. It was very hard. But she could do it!”
― Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
Recently, I was listening to a lovely chat between Krista Tippet and Liz Gilbert on the nature of creativity and the notion of choosing curiosity over fear. (I like this notion a lot.) There are many quotable gems throughout this interview and I highly recommend you take a listen to the unedited version of it. There was one small thing though that made me stop the recording at one point and run for the journal to write it down. Gilbert was talking of an inspirational favorite poet of hers called Jack Gilbert (no relation) who was described by his students at one point as being a teacher who –
“didn’t necessarily teach us so much HOW to write a poem, but rather WHY to write a poem.”
This statement stopped me in my tracks. In some strange way, this philosophical shift encapsulates the work I do with travel journaling in my own workshops. Yes, of course we do a bit of Drawing 101, and Basic Use of Watercolors, and etc. But more importantly, we work together to get to the whyof it all. Why even bother to draw or paint or capture quotes in a little book which no one besides our patient loved ones will ever see?
Somehow, through the experiences shared as fellow artists, we distill these notions into the inspiration to do the work and figure out why along the way. It is all about enchantment.
And so, while I do teach the how-toalong with my fellow sketchers locally, my heart of hearts is invested in the why of it all, which is at the core of my travel based workshops.
Coming to this realization has helped me connect the dots a bit in the work that I do. How the practice of local “Urban Sketching” might relate to and feed my passion for making anthropomorphic illustrations of animals having people-like adventures. How these illustrations might also be “serious” enough to feed the fine-art branch of my artistic interests (i.e., paintings, sans hamsters). How the fiber-based arts of embroidery and knitting might serve as idea-hatching meditations (whilst on the surface they may look like netflix-binging in my pajamas). And how all of these varied practices might actually come together to make the workshops I teach quite different than others because they come from a very unique place, me.
And now here it is, not even the end of August, and I am already a feeling a little less angsty about work. A bit more centered in forging forward in all of it, varied though it may be. I am excited to have the dates and costs set for 2019’s offerings so get those checks in the mail lads!!
It feels good to be back home in this ol’ river valley of ours for a couple of months before the need to escape it all once more overtakes me and I hit the road again.
But for now, I am settled in my little nest, catching up on work at the shop, drawing and painting and writing every day possible and trusting that all will be well.
ps. Many of you have been asking when an Ireland based workshop might happen. As of this writing, the right place has not quite found me yet. And place is important. We’d need a home base, something with space for us to live while we work (lodging AND classroom space); a place which has available local meal-catering options we could hire in if needed, walkability to a local village (because, MUSIC!) and preferably near the sea. If you have any places on the emerald Isle to suggest, do let me know! In the meantime, I plan to get back to Ireland on me own via artist’s residencies and visits to friends when at all possible. I’ll keep you posted!
It’s the time of year when everything feels a bit frenetic. The garden is growing by leaps and bounds. I’m finding it hard to decide where to place my efforts – weed out more of those plants choking out their neighbors? Thin the greens under my new apple trees? It’s truly a game of whack-a-mole in many ways. And the garden isn’t the only place.
There is simply So Much Going On. But I am reminded that this is how spring goes around here. I have many details to attend to with regard to the Taos trip which is mere weeks away. And always I find myself feeling behind there. That sense of not enough time to get it all tended to. I have one kid just recently graduated from University and about to spend the summer at a music fellowship out of state. His worldly possessions must get from his place to ours somehow in the coming weeks. The other kid is over seas in Africa working this month (you can read about her adventures here.) So there is the quiet noise of worry in the back of my mind. But if I am to be honest, it’s not as great as one might think. No more worry really than when she is just up the road at school. This is good.
There does come a time when they outgrow the nest and must forge their own paths. I am grateful for it.
In spite of all the goings on, with my art work, the family, our green space, I opted again this spring to take one more thing on board. Last year at this time it was a 6 week oil painting class focusing on portraiture. Because painting faces is scary and I wanted to learn about it and challenge myself. I wanted to be the beginner, the non-expert, uncomfortable, making bad art – before I go out to Taos and challenge my own students to do the same.
I remember last spring feeling much the same during the arc of that painting course as I do now. That I had taken on too much. That I wasn’t very good at all this. That I wasn’t enough. It is good for the ego to sit with these feelings every so often, just so we don’t get to feeling too smug. And so I keep tackling new challenges where I can. This spring’s challenge has come in the form of a class called Intuitive Plant Medicine. I am only a week and a half in and already feeling overwhelmed by all of the new things to learn and consider.
I know just enough to be dangerous in the garden. I have a green thumb by nature, actually talk to plants, believe in fairies – the works. But I am no herbalist. I am not a scientist prone to the Latin naming of things. I appreciate a good metaphor and enjoy delving into the edges and hedges of things. And lately, the edges have been those found here on our little green space. And so I took this class, knowing I’d be flying a little close to the sun with it butting directly up to my time in Taos.
As a class we gather virtually in a wonderful online community forum, rich with beauty, and so lovingly stewarded and curated by our instructor, Asia Suler, of One Willow Apothecaries. I find such comfort in the vulnerability and openness of my fellow classmates. Some of them are already quite knowledgeable in the realm of plants and medicines and the like. While others of us are new to this side of things. For a few of us, the gorgeous onslaught of so much information has been a bit overwhelming, as written in this lovely blog post by a fellow plant intuitive. We are learning not only the ‘woo’ side of plants, but also a lot of the nuts and bolts of basic botany. We are being guided to find plant allies which both physically and metaphorically may have a thing or two to teach us.
For me, I had one before the class even began. I had read Mary Reynolds’ lovely book Garden Awakening over the winter and had been spending a fair amount of time outside – really listening to what our space wants and needs. We’ve downed a number of trees due to the ravages of the emerald ash borer beetle and age, and I could sense that we needed to pay attention. I had been wondering, Oak? Or Maple? I knew Willow would be placed out front by the creek. But what about the yard?
And then, one day, I got an unexpected answer. Apple.
Unexpected because I have never grown a fruit tree. Aren’t they notoriously troublesome? Don’t the deer ravage their young trunks and eat all the fruit? The idea came out of nowhere.
But I had my marching orders and I began thinking about apples. A few weeks later, at a local seed swap, I spied what I believed were apple trees across the room and went to introduce myself. I learned I would need more than one apple tree to promote proper pollination. Eventually I looked all around town at expensive and chemically raised apples and was beginning to feel a bit down hearted but finally came back to the same folks I had met at the seed swap. I bought two young trees to put in the ground and plan to raise them chemical free, which I hear is possible, unless you talk to the guys at the local garden center. We shall see how it goes.
I’ve shielded the trees from the deer with little individual fences. And I will keep an eye out for signs of problems. But so far they seem really well adjusted and even have some young fruit growing.
The other ally I have from this process is an Iris down near the creek. We have a fair number of these which grow there, blooming golden and lovely each spring.
In spite of stormy weather, which brings a force of water through our creek bed at times, these plants continue to grow and bloom, letting the rushing water wash over them and go right on by. I feel a bit like these Irises just now. The rush of life going by so fast, and me, just trying to root down and hold my ground in the midst of it all.
And so I dig in the dirt, literally and figuratively, as my yearly offering in Taos draws nigh. My workshop began, years and years ago, as a little evening class here in town where I shared how I take a blank book and fill it with life’s little details. Everything from to-do lists to ta-da! (voilá!) lists, sketches and skepticism, weather reports and vacations recalled and catalogued through drawn and painted imagery. I marvel at how far this work has come and what gifts it has bestowed upon me. In recent years, it’s become so clear to me that this process is so much bigger than merely keeping an active sketchbook. It is a practice in mindful meditation on what makes our hearts sing. These books of ours are a compass of sorts. As Frederick Franck puts it so eloquently:
” SEEING/DRAWING as a way of meditation, a way of getting into intimate touch with the visible world around us, and through it… with ourselves. “
In class I encourage students to trust their own visual voices, to trust that the marks they make with their paints and pencils and pens are important in developing those voices. That to be the beginner is their only job. In the intuitive plant medicine class, I am remembering what it is like to be that beginner again as well. I am reminded that we are enough, right where we are just now. There is real magic in that knowing.
See me sparkle….
And a quick p.s. on the notion of Allies and Weathering the Storm:
The other night I spoke in front of our village council in favor of a new resolution which would call for specific non-discrimination language to be adopted by our village. Vital language and a cultural tone which states, all are welcome here. That hatred and vitriol will not be tolerated. That this is village is filled with allies to the marginalized. Some may be thinking that I have backed off of politics here on this virtual space of mine. And perhaps on the surface, I have. But I am quietly paying attention. And just as quietly, and subversively, I continue to #resist all that the White House and #45 Himself stand for. I am planting a garden which will feed us here and there – without chemicals. I am forging a path of beauty in the world with fellow creatives. I am attentive to the goings on of my local government where change really begins. These are subversive acts of politics. I believe we as a country can do better than the likes of who we’ve placed into power at the very top of things. I’m beginning with my own back yard.
This time last week, hard to believe, I was packing up boxes and cases, making last minute visits to loved ones in my home away from home, grasping hugs and goodbyes to new and old friends alike, with promises not to forget.
It’s easy to come back home to our day to day lives and forget the work we have done while in Taos. The week out there being just one in a year full of so many work-a-day weeks. Weeks when we might be tempted to forget the importance of our day to day creativity. And how crucial that creativity and the belief in it are to a Life Well Lived.
Each year I marvel at how a little class focusing on keeping a daily visual journal can become such Big Work. It IS Big Work. And I mustn’t forget.
For myself in my own practice of it, and for my students as well. What once started as an art class with some sketching and gathering involved, has morphed into a week each summer where some like minded folks come together to open up to the world.
It’s really as simple as that. And as complicated.
I’ll attempt here to share a little bit of what we accomplished this year in Taos.
First off, re: the little ditty at the very above. I really miss my Taosñas. Each is a beautiful Chip of a Star. Every year whoever needs this class comes to it. I panic a little as registrations come in (or don’t) and remind myself that this is not up to me. My job is to put it out there and those who are supposed to be there, will be there. This year was no different. I had some repeat attendees whom I hope benefitted from new tricks, and some newbies whom I hope are affected forever by the power of the work. I really, really miss them. We somehow manage to pack a year in a day, everyday, day after day. And every morning they’d show up at breakfast, exhausted, raw and ready for more, much like myself.
Pictures cannot do the week justice. But I have a few snapshots to share, and a few more words as well.
I arrived in Taos and the town was hopping, unlike usual. The Mabel and Company show was making quite the splash down at the Harwood, and if you are in town, I recommend you see it. This place has attracted artists and movers and shakers since before history. The show at the Harwood gives us a snapshot of one such time in history when the attraction was especially compelling to the likes of Georgia Okeeffe, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence.
On both the front and back ends of this trip personally, I opted to get out of town and visit the old Lawrence Ranch, now owned, operated and managed by the University Of New Mexico. I was blown away by the sense of place I found there.
In particular, the famed Lawrence Tree captured my imagination and the interest of my pencil. I truly enjoyed spending time with this tree.
In my heart of hearts, I think each tree has a soul of sorts, but like people, some trees have a soul which shines brighter than most. This is one such tree. And Georgia O’Keeffe knew it herself.
It was an honor to spend some time with it. Humbling as well. Because, let’s face it, not all of us are Georgia’s. We must all find our own way.
Meanwhile, folks arrived and gathered and we began the week with some exercises “where the tight are loosened, and the frightened are freed.”
I love the energy of these early drawings. And wish I had gotten more images of all of the work done that morning. Basically, we laid some locally found color down and then did some contour drawing over top. But the end product was less about what was on the page and more about what remained in the heart of the artists themselves. Suddenly, those who came to the table buttoned up with all kinds of amazing skills, found their work loosening and changing and growing. And the beginners, well, they had these gorgeous instant drawings they didn’t know they were capable of creating!! It was pure magic.
Later that afternoon, as luck would have it, the Pueblo had a dance to attend. So we moved the afternoon class to the evening, and traveled en masse to witness the dancing.
I have taken to not posting much about what we witness at these dances at/in the Pueblo itself, as they are sacred, and really only to be witnessed first hand. But overall, for Day 1 of an art workshop, this was kind of a spiritual ticket to the delicious underworld of it all. Someone remarked that the energy in the classroom that evening was more like that of Day 4 than Day 1, and I credit that to the workings of the day at the Pueblo.
As the week went on, day two into day three, all began to roll together. I had structure laid down for the work each day, but into that structure, Magic came. And the days, once again stretched and changed and became Other.
Creativity is really just the structuring of Magic.
In the past we have had the great pleasure of visiting the buffalo herd of my now dear friend Harold Cordova. In spite of some serious new responsibility on his shoulders we once again paid a visit to these amazing animals who were nursing some new members of their herd and shyly introduced us….
As usual, these regal beasts wove their way into our hearts and into our sketchbooks.
And in the spirit of the endlessness of the days of this particular trip, I found time that evening to play some tunes with local Taos friends who have become dear to me over the years. In spite of teaching all day. In spite of a spiritual visit to some otherworldly animal friends. Eventually, we did this twice during my time there this year. Again, I marvel. At the sheer deliciousness of it all.
Of course, all work and no play, make Amy an insufficient instructor, and so I did manage to get my feet up now and then, as per the instructions of the history of the house….
I’m no Dennis Hopper, but I do know how to put my feet up . Special shout out to my dear friend Jamison who set this bit of relaxation up for me there. All in keeping with the spirit of the house.
(yes, this hammock was in the same spot as Dennis’s hammock back in the day. Amazing how the stories of old speak to us in this day and age, via something so simple as a hammock.)
Meanwhile, we worked and worked and worked….. (and I took a few – but not many- pictures.)
Sadly and soon, it was time for our annual end of workshop dinner….
The food at Mabel’s was, per the usual, show stopping. They are true artists. And we are grateful for the gorgeous, plated dinner to which we were treated that evening. (not to mention, the breakfasts and lunches day to day!!!) No dinner in Taos that evening could have compared to ours, I am certain of it. The food and the people of my day-to-day in Taos are what I am missing the most, really.
I am now back in Ohio. I have lots of delicious plans for further travels with loved ones and into musical mires which themselves transcend time and space much like my time in Taos. But these are different than Taos, and I am still missing my time there. The me there. The Us there. There is a small bit of me that hangs onto it throughout the rest of the year. A bit that only those Who Have Been There can really relate to.
My goal is not to forget. Not to forget how crucial this work is in a crazy world so hell bent on crushing delicate creativity. Not to forget how Big this work is when sometimes my day-to-day feels so very small. Not to forget that lives have been and are being changed by the simple act of keeping a journal, or of making a little drawing of something beautiful each day. This is important. This, is work worth doing.
In the end, I think Lani Potts, a workshop participant this year and also an artist and a poet, put it most beautifully in this poem which found its way into her journal….
Awoke this morning to the call of magpies. A bit bleary eyed after a long day of travel but oh so grateful to be here.
And so I wandered down for a cup of coffee and a stroll….
All is quiet so far. No students to greet just yet. Few other guests at all really. I treasure these relatively rare quiet moments at Mabel’s.
It’s so good to be back in a small town atmosphere. So close to Big Nature, yet I can also hear summer ball practice being held over at the park and the local church chiming the time.
Upon arrival last night, I was just in time to catch the premier of a beautiful new documentary by my friend and film maker Jody McNicholas called Longshotsville. Its all about a group of local actors seeking their best art and truest selves through stage and film acting. So many local folks were there, people I count as friends now since I return once or twice a year. It was refreshing to have a good cry and root for the creative process these young artists are seeking.
This is Taos. A place that demands that you be here. Now. Which I mostly try to be at home as well. But in places like this, the connection to self, to the present moment as it stands, seems more accesible somehow.
If you have followed this blog in recent months, you’ll know that I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in Taos this past January to work on a couple of kid-book projects long in coming. Those projects are swimming along nicely and I’ll be shopping them around this fall. But time in Taos is always colored by the work I do there in the summer, which is to teach the art of keeping a visual diary. And so, while there in January, I began to wonder, what would it be like to teach a winter-time class at Mabel’s? The season would call for more work indoors. Winter is a time of looking inward to our own interior spaces and pondering things in a very different way than we do in summer. It is a time of withdrawing.
And so, I have decided to offer a workshop this coming winter to do just that. The class we be held at Mabel’s, as in summer, but we will focus on the interior spaces of this beloved, historic home. We will find the hidden corners of the house and of our own hearts, and sit with them while we draw and paint. The act of drawing and painting a scene is one I find extremely meditative, and that will be something we discuss and work toward – finding that state of stillness in the making of art. I’ll be combing my own library in the next few months for readings and poems to point us in the right direction in this class. Taos, New Mexico, and more specifically, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House itself, is a hotbed of creativity and has historically been a place where the creme-de-la-creme of the arts go to recharge their creative batteries. I look forward to this new offering and hope you’ll consider joining us this year for what I hope may be an annual journey.
Do get in touch if you have any further questions.
It’s difficult for me to fathom that just over a month ago I traveled to Taos to teach my annual summer travel-journal workshop. Has it really been a month?! Was I really just there three weeks ago, mid-way through a fantastically perfect week filled with the company of the most amazing group of people?
If I look at the calendar, it would seem so. And yet, I look at some of the snapshots of that week (captured by my trusty assistant for the week, Taos artist, Jan Haller) and it seems that the workshop never happened, or is happening right now, or perhaps, is just around the corner once again. Taos has that relationship to time.
There was much laughter. Belly-laughs as deeply rooted as the ancient cottonwood trees.
And there were also plenty of precious moments of solitude and quiet.
There were those moments of ‘aha!!’ when we learned a new trick with those wiley watercolors.
There was a fair amount of demonstration done by yours truly, to show my approach to capturing the world in my own journal….
…and yet we learned that there is no better way than one’s own way of working. It was my goal for the week for each workshop participant to find their own visual voice. Which they did. In grand, beautiful fashion.
At the end of this gorgeous week we celebrated our hard work and new friendships with a dinner at Mabel’s which fed not only our bodies but our souls as well, as meals at Mabel’s generally do. There was more of that nourishing belly-laughter, and perhaps some equally delicious tears over deep conversations too. This work is so much more than just drawing and painting in a book. It’s about an approach to life that can sometimes be difficult to find in our day to day. But we re-discover it at workshops like these. We find it in these fellow artistic souls. We are reminded that beauty and laughter, grace and joy, great food and fantastic, fierce friendships are crucial to a life well lived. Today- just now – back in Ohio, it is (not surprisingly) raining buckets. In my ears, on repeat while I work, is thiswhich is the perfect blend of arty and trad. Combine this music with the sound of rain and things can seem a little somber. Especially when compared to the bright beauty of New Mexico.
But there is a lushness to this valley that is at once suffocating and yet deeply and beautifully compelling. It is travel season, and I am torn between all of the amazing, soul-home places (yes, including Ohio!) and people I have the great fortune to know intimately. Those who know me and love me best know that this very restlessness and yearning are what keep me moving artistically. The need to be on the move was instilled early on in me by my ever-changing home life and I’m grateful for the ability to travel as much as I do now as an adult, especially in summer!
Next up is my now annual trek to the North Carolina mountains where I will play music for a week with far-flung friends at the Swannanoa Gathering‘s Celtic week. I will be updating the blog a bit in coming weeks (between trips) with next year’s workshop offerings. There’s a new one being offered in February 2016 about which I am very excited. Much of the same sort of work, but deeper and richer. So stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted!
I have returned, truly just a matter of hours ago, to this luscious land of my rootedness. There are many travels still to embark upon in coming weeks and I am attempting to float above it all to soak up my experiences in Taos, whilst engaging in things back in Ohio and preparing for more to come. Attempting not to burn up on re-entry. Attempting to make sense of a world a world away.
One of my crew of 16 workshop participants this past week wears daily the visage of a frog. It’s a pretty little thing, made of silver and inlaid with some lovely stonework. I asked her about it one day and she said, ‘this represents the fact that I live in and of two worlds.’ She is a lovely woman who is a frequent visitor to Mabel’s and I immediately tuned what she was saying. For her, the two worlds seem to represent a going between her ‘normal’ home life, and the rich artistic breeding ground to be found at Mabel’s and other hotbeds of creativity. For myself, the above two worlds are also the same as I go from Mabel’s and, in a matter of weeks, to music camp. But I have the added world-switch of going from 7000 ft above sea level to 700 ft. which frankly feels a bit like drowning.
Today I am drowning.
I came home to a clean home. Coffee in the cupboard and milk to accompany it in the morning. There was even wine for my frazzled travel nerves to sip upon. My family knows how to buffer the re-entry from this trip each year, so full of magic. So very full of hard, hard work. I am grateful. But I also came home to things that need to be done. By me. The home-steward. Something I value, actually. We have a new member of the pack, potentially indefinitely, in the form of a little dog that a family member may or may not be able to care for in the long haul. First stop was the vet’s office today for that little friend. Next stop was the market for some fresh food for tonight’s meal, and then a nap. Between all that and a proper re-engagement online, the day is nearly over. And still I float.
I have a gagillion photos to share of the workshop week itself, thoughtfully taken by my friend and co-facilitator, Jan Haller from Taos. But for now I will share what I have here.
First off, love. And a whole lot of it. This year was very different than year’s past. My dear friend Julie who has in the past helped keep my nose pointed in the proper direction is now stewarding the very place itself so important to my work. And while this is wonderful, and all as it needs to be, I’ll admit to being really lonely for much of the working side of this trip. But perhaps, that too is as it should be.
As we grow older, kids move on. There are no guarantees to how long our beloved partners will choose to accompany us. Our parents will inevitably move along before us, if things flow as they ought to. The only thing we have is our right work. Perhaps I’ll live to be 103 and see the passing of most of those I love…. but I will still have my work, such that it is. I will still be able to engage the arts on some level. This may seem a little depressing, but it’s all true. And for me, it makes me value my loved ones in the here and now, and to allow the work the space it needs at the same time.
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old andtrembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King
I am so fortunate to have folks in New Mexico now who hold a space for me to come ‘home’ to when I go to work there. Portal Keepers in Albuquerque – Ron and CC, who provide me a place to land, on the way in or out, any time, with a mountain view, a bit like that of Taos Mountain. There is always a nourishing meal, laughter, artwork and a spot of wine or tea awaiting me there.
I simply can’t thank them enough for their support and friendship.
There is also the crew at Mabel’s. Arriving there is really like a homecoming.
This inn sees hundreds of folks a year there. To do workshops, experience the B&B end of things in Taos, to make a movie or to do research. The staff at Mabel’s see and hear it all. And somehow, most miraculously, I can walk in for my week there and be received like family. (um, yes, that is a ‘Go Forth and Doodle’ sticker on a real live Taos truck!!!)
Perhaps they treat everyone like this. I’d not be surprised. But I adore the people that run this place. Their skeletal crew keeps this historic treasure running like clockwork, making it seem easy, which I know it certainly cannot be. They even have their dogs on hand in the off hours for those of us visiting who might need a fix…
Enzo tells me he is a football fan and may very well need a Bengals tee-shirt just his size. I am already shopping. This may be the first NFL item I have ever sought out.
Every trip to Taos yields a certain level of unexpected magic or synchronicity that may or may not send me down some unexpected rabbit hole. I’ll share a couple of these with you here…
Firstly, this year is the 100’th anniversary of the founding of the Taos Society of Artists. There is much to do in town about all this with art shows and articles. One artist who’s work caught my eye amidst the to-do is Ralph Meyers. Technically, he was not an ‘official’ TSA artist, which kind of makes me like him even more. I enjoyed viewing some of his work at the Taos Art Museum when I visited and the more I dig, the more I admire. After the workshop ended, some of my participants (who are now dear friends, of course!!) remarked that they had seen a photo in town in a gallery of a young girl from back in the day that looked a bit like my youngest daughter. Well, you know how it goes. One takes these things with a grain of salt having grown up with an every-girl face like mine. But then I walked by her…..
I did a double take and decided to ask about her the following day. Because, Sally was right. This young woman is the spitting image of my own Madeleine.
The photograph was of Ralph Meyers’ wife Rowena who hailed from Pennsylvania. They met in Taos and the rest is history. Their son, Ouray, is now himself a successful local artist in Taos and I highly recommend a visit into his lovely gallery for a peek at his paintings.
Things like this remind me, as my friend Harold says, that ‘we are all related.’ I’m keeping my ear to the ground regarding Ralph, as even his grave, situated right by Mabel herself, is intriguing in its simplicity and beauty. I believe we should follow our noses regarding this sort of thing. Perhaps a historical figure calls to you, maybe you too should follow the winding path and see what there is to discover….
The next turn down the proverbial rabbit hole came at the tail end of my trip…. (pun intended.)
Before leaving New Mexico I spent a little (not enough, never enough New Mexico) exploring the Petroglyph National Monument per the advice of my Albuquerque based friends, Ron and CC.
Amidst the basalt stone, if one looks closely and sticks to the path, there are literally hundreds of ancient images carved into the stone there….
It was a quick trip, as I had a plane to catch, and it’s hard to leave good friends in a sacred-to-me land, but I am so glad I made the effort.
I felt a true sense of guidance amongst these images. They feel like signposts. Sadly, one needs to ignore the occasional scratches of more modern day people who have felt the need to add their marks to the mix. But I regularly ignore the stupidity of the modern day in my search for the magical things and once on the trail, it wasn’t so bad. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, getting as far off the beaten path as possible, leads, generally speaking, to fewer idiots. Though this has it’s exceptions, and is not a scientifically proven fact.
I have so much more to share with you as I gather photographs from the workshop itself. The work done there this past week was the most focused yet compared to years past. I believe part of the reason for this is the space I gave it. I didn’t concentrate (at. all.) on my own art work. I was there to be a steward to the work of the participants there for the week who ranged from beginners to professionals. And this paid off in folks who worked hard on their books, their artful craft, their soaking up of New Mexico and Taos in particular. One has even written a blog post already!! More to come in due time. But as you know, time is fluid in summer…..