” For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself. He must have been capable of intense feeling, and capable of profound contemplation.”
This day is close. Like humid and slow. I’m reminded of Ohio and grateful for the lake here.
This morning, a walk before some rain. I go for some time, in order to walk off a bit of the rich food and drink vacation with friends doth provide.
I walk, hike and occasionally jog a bit as well, past Wyeth style fields…. (keen to get this barking IT band back in working order)
…..up mountain roads, and past signs of life in the outer world.
There are stony sentinels guarding these well worn paths along the way.
The humidity suits the fungi sort.
Upon returning to camp, rain has begun in earnest and I retreat to the boathouse to practice some tunes for awhile.
Soon, the sun is back out, and the instruments have had their fill of muggy conditions. I put them away and go for a swim.
Fast forward to now…. I have made a painting. It’s busier than I would like. Perhaps I have waited too long to paint. Exercising and playing music first on this particular day. All are priorities of course. I work from memory along with a few snapshots of last night’s spectacular sunset. So much going on there, so much to capture.
So I just push paints around for while. There are notes of this one I like. “It is only a study” (this I remind myself again and again.) I am finding my voice (aren’t we always?) in gouache and one can’t make a masterpiece at every turn.
It is late afternoon and dinner hour begins soon so I’ll wrap up and be fully present here at camp, as that is the business of vacation. (Also, maybe another swim, jaysus, it’s hot!)
There are books to read, naps to take, boat rides to experience, meals to share. It’s all a bright balance of good things here and now. I am grateful for all of it…..
Too fast paced of late. Frenetically crossing to-do lists off as if penance for up-coming traveling. Only time out of doors can check this process. Finally the temperatures drop to comfort level, leaving “hotumn” behind us.
October temperatures in the mid-nineties will make one crabby.
I find myself outside on a beauty-filled day. Collecting leaves, plotting a small hillside in the back for a new vegetable bed slated for next spring. Tunes wander through my head. I take a break to capture a bit of this ochered season with my camera. The old sweet gum tree in front is particularly lovely, dropping her petals into the main creek which is, miraculously, always running with a trickle even in the driest of times. There are little skimmers paddling along in their own little world, which I suppose they do with or without our observation.
I put together a slow paced little gathering of sweet gum and skimmers for you here. The music is used with permission and is by Nuala Kennedy. Once upon a time I did a little art work for the cover of the album where this track can be found. The whole collection is divine and if you haven’t heard it, you should.
It is my hope that in this busy time of harvesting and preparing for the darker days of the season, you too might find the time to settle down for a spell and take in the small wonders.
I am between traveling. Home from a brief visit to Aspen, Colorado, where our son Jack is part of the Aspen Music Festival, living his musical dreams to the fullest. It is truly something to witness, one following their truest path. He is at home in music.
While he worked and practiced and performed, we took in the natural splendor of Aspen and surrounds, grateful to Jack’s wonderful hosts who took us in and treated us like family.
It occurred to me while sitting at the base of the Maroon Bells that the best people in our lives, many of the most important connections moving us ever forward and truer in our own lives, have come from a few simple things – art, music, and the pursuit of what makes our souls sing most heartily.
I think about the time years ago, sitting at the base of those same iconic mountains, when I made the decision to pursue a proper art degree upon returning home from a metalworking class I’d taken at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass near Aspen. What is it about the clear mountain air and the presence of a stately, ancient mountain which affords us such lofty notions? I do not know. But I’m beginning to pick up on the fact that if I have something to think about, I should find myself at the foot of Taos Mountain, Volcan de Agua, or perhaps those lovely iron-laden Maroon Bells to find my answers.
Aspen felt like a proper vacation after the rich and deep work done in New Mexico. While the Hub and I did sketch quite a lot in some gorgeous locations, there were often times I personally just sat and took it all in. Jackie Morris of The Lost Words fame recently stated on an episode of Folk On Footthat one of the most difficult things for her to learn as an artist was that the sitting and thinking and looking and thinking some more, are as important to her job of Artist as the pencil and paint to paper practicalities of her craft – perhaps even more so. Having not come from a background and family of practicing artists, she’s found this notion difficult in past, and has only recently begun to truly take it on board. I feel much the same.
That said, the watercolors and pencils do beckon in beautiful places, and I did make a few drawings.
Aspen is steeped in the arts, with ties to the taste and aesthetic of the Bauhaus tradition in its design and of course in the music festival itself held there each summer. Everything is better with the arts involved.
Today, just now, I write to you here fairly giddy with relief, gratitude and a sense of overwhelming possibility. I have *finally* (after literally years of frustration and hemming and hawing) upgraded my tech tools here in the studio.
I’ve invested in a more travel worthy laptop machine for writing and photo-manipulation on the road, and even opted for a large home-base monitor when I am at my desk in the studio. Sometime today (*hopefully*) a little scanner will arrive and I’ll get that set up as well. All of this is in keeping with the plan to get more work made and into the world. Let’s be fair, I work. I work a lot. In some ways I am never NOT working. But so much of my energy was going into technical glitches and the waiting and slowness of manipulating photos on outdated technology. If I was to engage in a blog post, I needed a solid day to get it made. And so, I found myself putting off writing. I have so much work to share, but with an old scanner, my work never translated well to digital, and so it took a lot to get it tech-ready for sharing online or presenting for publication or applying for grants and residencies. With some encouragement from Vanessa at NessyPress and moral support from the Hub, I took the plunge and threw the necessary gold coins into the abyss to get the tools I needed.
It took some doing, and a few trips to the computer store and calls to the tech folks at apple, but we managed to get it sorted. And here I am, knocking out an update here in a more prompt and succinct manner. This feels sustainable. It was time for this investment.
But tech tools aren’t the only important thing, of course, merely being the vehicles by which the work is dispersed in this world. I also took a bit of time to make a traveling oil paint set up.
Watercolor is generally my go to travel companion. I have the set up I love, a little traveling “van” in which to cart it all, and it really works. Even so, I pine for the oils when I find myself in beautiful places. Our family trip to Maine, coming up later this summer, is a perfect combination of loads to do combined with plenty of “down time” to just play. That play might be on the water, catching up on books we’ve been meaning to read, or perhaps trying new recipes with one’s best friend in tiny kitchen at camp. But there is always more time, and that is when I start feeling restless, wishing I’d brought some oil paints to play with.
So I put together a handmade pochade box of sorts, crafted from an old wooden cigar box, plus a little carrier for any wet panels I may want to bring home.
The pochade box is pretty sturdy, and the wet panel carrier will do until I decide if this is something I may do again and again. All in all I spent about $20. A worthwhile investment on vacation satisfaction I do believe.
Upon returning from Aspen, I felt overwhelmed with home chores and the work needing caught up on at the shop and in my own studio. And so for the first day or so, I just painted and played music.
This practice set my head on straight and I was then able to sink into the tasks at hand. I am deeply grateful for all of it. I often think that in this day and age, it is difficult to remember to take a few minutes to breathe. To play a tune, paint a picture. There are Big Things we must tackle (did you hear Amy McGrath is taking on Mitch McConnell??), situations we must face, as heartbreaking as they are (there has to be a better, kinder, more humane way forward at the border, don’t you think?). Life is complex, and tormented at times, but it is also beautiful and simple in many ways as well. It always has been.
Next week I am off once again for my own musical adventure at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina. On the one hand, this week is truly a get-away-from-it-all Brigadoon of sorts where we forget the world outside, focus on learning tunes and improving our craft and catch up with dear friends who have become musical family over the years. But on the other hand, it is so much more.
This week at music camp, and for that matter, my week of teaching in Taos each year, are a form of deep magic. Magic which in some way counteracts all of the darkness we see through our screens in this modern age. The very human physicality of coming together to play tunes, sing songs, laugh and cry together over the year’s happenings, somehow counteracts the “badness” in the news. It’s not a cure all to be sure. But it is the way many of us take respite from it all, if only for a moment, in order to get back out into the world and do the work.
Artists confront the difficult in this world. Just look online at the work of artists during WW1 who were interpreting the previously unimaginable through their paintings. I personally have taken to avoiding the echo chambers of social media for my own outrage over the state of things nowadays. But I have my ear to the ground. I support candidates who are doing good things in the world. I take to the streets as needed. I volunteer with and support the vulnerable. But I also seek joy. And beauty amidst the outrage. For if I, or any of my artist friends begin to lose perspective (and isn’t it so easy to do?) then we amount to nothing.
It is my hope to be a source of light in the darkness in this modern age. A reminder there is a place by the hearth-fire for anyone who needs a break between difficulties. We cannot do it all, let alone singlehandedly. Art and Joy, Music and Friendship, Beauty and Solitude are worthy pursuits, even in this fast paced, crowded, often seemingly ugly world. Let us make art and music.
“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.
It is travel season. I am recently returned from California and while away, my studio window robins hatched and grew.
Mere seconds after this photo was snapped, this last one fledged. It’s a bit like life itself. How fast they grow. Though our fledglings double back on occasion and for this we are grateful.
California was rewarding in her splendor as always, but had a few weather related tricks up her sleeve which complicated things for my workshop days. That said, I packed in a lot in just a short time, both as a traveling artist and as a teacher.
We had an appointment to meet watercolor maker Amanda Hinton of Limn Watercolors where we got to see how her fabulous paints are made from scratch. It’s a fascinating brand of magic she does and we were smitten with all the colors. And with Amanda herself.
Limn colors do the usual fun stuff watercolors are known for, like mixing beautifully and replicating stained glass with their translucency, but some of her colors can separate and bloom in evocative ways that we have found enchanting. I have a whole row of her colors in my paint set now which afford me abilities I’ve not had in the past.
It was great fun to try and buy a few new colors to add to our collection and I am so thankful to Amanda for her time and warm welcome.
Also in Berkeley was a wonderful creative re-use arts supply store and the amazing Burma Superstar restaurant. We even managed to stop into California Typewriter, of documentary fame…..
We were warmly welcomed by Ken and Herb and enjoyed looking at the machines currently in store there.
All in all it was a perfect, busy, sunny California day.
The sunny bit was not to continue. Alas, the weekend forecast was wet. wet. wet. So we worked indoors with exercises students will be able to take out of doors on their own at a later time. Not ideal, but neither is sketching and teaching in the rain. We were at least cosy.
There is plenty to draw in the home of an interesting, artistic friend. Here’s a small demo drawing of a wee humbled Buddha I did for the workshop.
The following days were to see us dodging rain drops to capture the wild water on the coastline.
Again, not ideal, but we managed. Day two of workshops was moved by one day for those available to make it, and we did manage a few hours of sunlight between rainstorms on our day of working together. We also managed a few more sketches.
Painting at the sea side is by far one of my favorite things. I am often torn between the desire to simply sit and stare at the shifting light and color of the ocean and to capture it in my sketch book. This feeling is magnified by the limited time I always have by the sea.
I find myself wondering why I do not live nearer to big water.
Somewhere where I might take my blue art van and wander down the lane to the sea shore for a few hours to sketch and stare….. maybe daily.
Suffice it to say, time in Santa Cruz is never enough time. In the same way that time at Ballybunion Beach is never enough. Or time on Monhegan is never enough. Alas. Time marches on…..
Next up is an ocean of a different kind. An ocean of sage. In just two weeks’ time I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship travel journaling course at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House once again. Every year is a gift and I am thrilled to be heading back.
The weather seems like it might be more cooperative in Taos than in California, even leaning more cool than in recent years. We shall see. But at the very least, sunshine, New Mexico style.
My studio is less a place of making just now and more a place of packing and preparations.
The art van, of course, at the ready. A new sweater for the (hopefully) cool Taos nights, and maybe a friend or two along for company.
Swag is being readied.
I consider what art supplies to bring for my own making, while making sure that I have all the extras for the workshop participants as well.
It can make one’s head spin to be sure. But the paint set is clean (after being dusted quite heavily by volcanic ash in Guatemala and a grain or two of sand in Santa Cruz) and refilled (note the lovely middle line of mostly Limn colors!!)
I have a few new pencils to try, including a light blue one suggested by Kristin Meuser during her workshop and a couple of Blackwing pencils all the rage with my illustrator friends.
All of it tucks away into the little van, along with a book or two to draw and paint in. It’s all quite compact actually.
This year I have made the decision to simplify my packing process for the Taos trip. I am only bringing a few of my current books, not a box full of past years’ books like I do normally. And instead of bringing yet another box full of published books for people to peruse, I will bring a list of said books to share with my students so they can explore when they get home via bookstore and library. We will instead focus on the work at hand. It’s a strange shift, but I feel good about it.
It’s easy to look at the wonderful empty classroom at Mabel’s and feel like we need to fill it with things other than ourselves and our small packs of art supplies. This is especially the case for me as facilitator. But this is not true. That room fills with laughter and conversation and the joy of working into the wee hours on sketches begun earlier in the day. WE fill the room. WE are enough, with just our supplies on hand.
I am so excited to get back to Taos where this whole traveling-art thing began for me so many years ago. Every year is different, and yet there is the lovely familiarity to lean into as well. I am open to what I have to learn there year after year and am grateful for the opportunity to go back once again.
It all began with a request, from my first born, to create a special gift for his long time university level private-lesson teacher/ coach / mentor, Paul Patterson. If anyone could understand our complex and multifaceted young musician, and light a path ahead for him through the throes of life in a conservatory setting, Paul has been that person. He enabled Jack to see that there was no need to choose one musical path over any others – that to study jazz music was not to abandon the classical tradition. This forked path is not for every musician, and it takes a great deal of extra work, but over the years, with the help of some other amazing instructors as well, Paul has quietly given our Jack many tools to follow his musical nose down whichever path that may lead.
Words simply cannot convey how grateful we are to Paul for his patience, his belief in this kid, and for truly shaping a young life in a way none of us thought possible. Maybe in some ways, he even saved that young life and placed it on a more hopeful and focused path when he needed it most.
I had in mind perhaps a painting, of a master and his young student. Or perhaps a handmade book. In typical fashion I thought and thought but was dragging my proverbial heels, artistically speaking, as Jack’s end-of-conservatory recital drew nearer.
Finally, Jack came up with a brilliant, though rather lofty, idea for a gift. The kind of gift which might suit a teacher who has everything he may want or need. What if I were to create a small puppet-styled doll, in the shape of Stravinsky’s famed Petrushka ballet?
And so I sourced some scrap wood from a carver friend, and set to experimenting.
This red cedar is incredibly beautiful, but difficult to carve in the time scope we had (and with my ever-so-rusty carving skills!). So I fell back on some basswood I had up in our attic space which is softer to work with.
After a number of practice runs and false starts, I finally had a serviceable head with which to build Petrushka’s figure and so I set to work on the rest of the body.
I carved and carved.
Shaping things out of little blocks of wood and slowly bringing character and a bit of life to them.
I’ve worked with puppets in the past, most notably with the brilliant Frisch Marionette Company. But my work there mostly centered on the performance aspect of puppetry, not necessarily the building of them.
And so my goal with this particular work was not a proper puppet necessarily, poised and balanced for nuance of movement, but rather a doll, with puppet tendencies, to be presented as an artful gift.
Soon I had pieces of this puppet-doll put together and able to move hither and thither in his own way.
To me, a representation of anything, be it animal, person, or puppet character, doesn’t really come to life (two-dimensionally or three) until the eyes have been gifted the spark of personality.
Creepy as this may look to those averse to clown-styled imagery, it was upon painting this Petrushka’s face that the personality of this tragic ballet-theater character truly fell into being.
Soon I was crafting a little outfit for him, all handmade, as proper gifts often are.
After awhile he was complete, except for the semblance of strings to give him the feel of a proper puppet, if not necessarily the movement of one.
This Petrushka is full of quirky personality, much like our Jack, and much like his amazing mentor, Paul himself.
It’s been a great joy to put time and energy into this project, even if it meant getting behind in and left behind by a few others.
This Petrushka’s workings are a tad on the clumsy side…
But he is a lovely sculptural gift for some one who loves music. Someone who has himself, done much to sculpt the abilities, thinking and sensibilities of our young musician. Things we as parents can’t always do.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I firmly believe in the truth of this and I take pride in the other adults we’ve invited into our lives over the years to help us in raising ours. We are deeply indebted to all of them, and this trend continues into the young adulthood of both of our kids. All that said, Paul Patterson is exceptionally close to our hearts for all the hours he has spent shaping and carving out the musical life of Jack. We often ran into him at gigs Jack had, even outside of University life. He always had much to report on all of the hard work Jack was putting into his music, and how we might best support him in our own, non-musical ways. We can’t thank him enough!
Paul, this one is for you. With love and gratitude.
It seems many things in our little acre of land are bell shaped just now, fairly ringing with the bodacious arrival of a proper spring time. Daytime warmth coaxes and whispers to the plants to grow and the evenings, cool again for resting before another day of more and more growing.
If one listens quietly enough, for long enough, the chiming of these little bells might be heard all around. Small ones, tinkling near the ground, nestled and tucked under larger, louder plantings.
Other bells chime deeper, perhaps with the promise of a new backyard food source.
Some have a note so high and so sweet, only the most careful listeners might hear them.
And still others have a chime so light and ephemeral, one can’t really know if they sing the song of the mists or the breezes. But if one listens…..
I’ve been listening. With my trowel, moving plants around and tucking in new gifts from friends in trade. Planting seeds and pondering plots and plans, all while these little bells ring and chime and sing all around me.
I’ve been listening with my pencil and paint brush and ink, to capture a bit of this ephemerality, and pin it’s simulacrum to my paper as best I can.
This is good practice as tomorrow I must leave my little plot of land here for a few days to lead two days of sketching with a very speical group in California. We will visit a lovely garden and some wonderous trees as well, whose names I am eager to learn. I am so lucky to do this work I do, encouraging folks to find the paths of their own ink lines, pencil marks and paint puddles. It’s teaching season once again and I am glad for it.
But always I will come back home, to this little place, which is feeling really magical just now with the gardens bursting forth and the beauty of the bells in my ears.
“I am sure there is magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to make it do things for us.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett
(thank you Cathryn Worrell for this gem of a quote. You can see her Unicorn here.)
I’ll be back in a few days with tales of a land far west from here, but where friends await my arrival. For now, I leave you with some more magic for your ears….
Connotes a yearning for place that is lost or may not exist, a feeling of longing to be ‘at home’ in the sense of achieving a sense of belonging, of finding your paradise.
~from Rising Ground, A Search For The Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden
It is summer and we are firmly ensconced in our paradise. Early last week we drove and drove and drove, many hundreds of miles, to escape the city where we live and work. To escape the stifling heat and humidity that quantifies summer in southwestern Ohio. This is vacation time in Vacationland for our family. A yearly trek to this place we once called home and to reconnect with friends we consider family.
As our friend Tom over at Bat Cave Studios so aptly put it, every visit back to this place makes it that much harder to leave it again.
I’ll share just a few of the adventures of the trip thus far, in between which we have enjoyed much visiting and laughing, cooking, eating and drinking with great joy, game playing and swimming, hiking and paddling. We are thoroughly enjoying the company of our loved ones here. But beyond that, there is the sheer lure of this place so far from home and yet so much like home.
I for one spend a great deal of time pondering the deep sense of place I feel here.
Having lived and worked here so very long ago, we know life isn’t perfect in Maine, or anywhere for that matter. But we love this place and are deeply grateful for what time we do get to spend here.
There are the great gifts of the sea to be had of course and our time in Maine began with these.
“I love oysters. Its like kissing the sea on the lips.” ~Leon-Paul Fargue
“It was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” ~Jonathan Swift
Not only do we love a quiet lobster dinner on the back deck at our home away from home, but we also like to get out into town sometimes, at least when ‘town’ is by the sea. This year we sampled the beautiful food and drink at Eventide restaurant in Portland. It was divine!
But of course dinner in town is not why we came to Maine. This year we were fortunate to score some tickets to a special farm-to-table dinner event out on an island…..
The food at this dinner was beyond spectacular. Every course made with the complexity of island simplicity if that makes any sense. I am no foodie so I will leave that to another blogger, but I do know that these culinary gifts shared with great love and intention were well received and we couldn’t have had a lovelier time.
We were ferried home on the good ship Equinox amidst a breathtaking sunset and cleansing ocean air.
But all has not been food and drink and more of same however. Our timing for this year’s visit afforded us the opportunity to see in person some original artwork by one of my all time favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. The show was at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and featured works for three of Cooney’s most prized books.
“When I grow up,”I tell her, “I too will go to faraway places and come
home to live by the sea.”
“That is all very well, little Alice,” says my aunt, “but there is a third thing
you must do.”
“What is that?” I ask.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
“All right, ” I say. ~Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius
And now we find ourselves lake side. In recent days we’ve had visitors from home and from our life back in our Maine time and from since then as well. It’s been a lovely mix and match of loved ones from near and far. But for today it is just the few of us. The loons are calling and the boats buzz past on occasion. I’m able to catch up here and perhaps a bit in my sketchbook as well. Up to now it’s really only been color studies.
We swim these waters and treasure the sunsets.
We walk the paths and explore the vistas.
Meeting new friends along the way…
All of this experience deepening the sense of place we have here in our treasured summer oasis.
Who knows where the future will take us. But regardless of the path ahead, a good chunk of my soul resides here in this beautiful place called Maine.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
I am returned, once again, from the magical world of the Swannanoa Gathering, which this year celebrates it’s 25th anniversary. And once again, it was quite the week of music and mayhem, tunes and tricks, laughter and love, friendship and food, beverages and beauty.
There are many ideas floating around in my head for drawings and illustrations seeded by this past week which I shall soon share here of course. Art begets art and by spending the week with so many talented and creative folks, I am fairly swimming in artful thought-glitter!!
But in spite of dark times and a world awash with so much hatred and violence, we came together, once again. A dear friend of mine from Swannanoa overheard someone say one night at a ceili where everyone dancing seemed to have a smile on their shining faces, “Why can’t we be like this all the time? All of us?” I don’t think he meant just us at the gathering, but maybe more the world at large.
So hard not to smile in the midst of this music. Heartfelt, Joy-filled….
And in the midst of all of the fun, we were there to learn. Everyday, we went to the classes available to us to soak up all the tunes and tips we could from our multi-talented instructors. For me, this was Nuala Kennedy in the morning, and Kevin Crawford in the afternoons.
The rapport and sense of play these two bring to teaching and playing and performing is simply infectious and I find them both incredibly inspirational in my own teaching work as well as of course, the music itself.
Neither one of them lets us get away with anything but our very best work and so on the edge of our seats, we huffed away on our flutes and learned so very much. My mind is still quite thick with all of the information we gained over the week!
The week was not all classes though….
There were concerts, lectures, opportunities to play more slowly on a new instrument. There were sessions till all hours of the night. And of course lots of laughter and community with friends. Here is a small sampling…..
(side note: during the storm, a huge lighting strike occurred on campus. it hit a tree and out went the power. it was captured in this amazing sound byte by my friend Mary….. listen for at least 40 seconds…..)
There is so much more in the world of sweet snapshots I could share with you here. Special thanks to my flute friends Kate, Bob and Colin who generously shared their pictures for this post. And I could leave the update here and that might be the end of it. But while we were at camp, the world was continuing on its crazed path of recent self destruction. News was leaking in. The music we were making took on a whole new gravity.
As is often the case, the ‘Flutilla’ was planning some mischief for the end of week student showcase. In years past we had made fun with the ‘rivalry’ between Nuala and Kevin, as our allegiance to them both made them often wonder, ‘hmmmm, who do the flute kids like best?’ But of course we love them both equally and we get something different from each. So this year, we took on the fiddles. Which seemed a fun direction to go, based on the hijinks at the concert the other night. And so I drew up a little drawing, and we made a plan for take over in the form of wearable art…..
Update!!!: Due to the high level of interest in this design, I have created a tidied up version of it to put on products such as totes, shirts and the like which you can order from the link below. Proceeds will go toward a scholarship to Celtic Week at the Swannanoa Gathering. Viva la Flutilla!!!!
But then we awoke the next morning to read the dreadful news of Nice and beyond and we approached the day more somberly. I had the feeling that my blog post from before leaving for camp was even MORE important and we all talked about how important and actually ‘serious’ the ‘fun’ we were having at camp truly is.
My dear friend Joe Bly wrote a gorgeous poem, in true mythical epic poem format that had begun with the ‘let’s take down the fiddles’ sort of approach and idea. But as he wrote it, it changed. Into something bigger and better than all of that. With his poem, the ‘tyranny’ we speak of became all that is evil in the world at large. All the violence and negativity. The work and fun we embarked upon at the Swannanoa Gathering is the rejection of all of that. The folks I know from the gathering go back to their real lives as doctors, teachers, paramedics, therapists, healers, parents, lawyers and beyond. They are bright and active in their communities and keenly aware of the news. And into that work in the outside world, they bring the laughter and creativity that a week of music camp can ignite. I simply marvel.
Cloaked in the mists of Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld of Swannanoa, Where three hundred days pass as three, Rival Clans of the Blackwood vied in feats of strength and skill, Lost in the Loop of myths and legends.
Come! Ye Fianna of the Flute! Daughters of Méabh, Sons of Cúchulainn! Come forth from the mists and meet in the ford of the river that divides us, For now is the time to cast arms beneath the waves And in Friendship and Honor Unite.
We are reborn as warriors anew as we march forth into the shining day.
For are we not free? For do we not face the shadow of a common foe, Hearts and eyes open wide?
For we shall not grovel in fear of the Darkness But serve the light of the clear morning.
We cradle the sacred rite passed down through the mists of legends, And it is our sworn honor to push together against the night, With our strength and our weapons of music and laughter.
Now, more than ever.
I do believe that Joe may have channeled something divine in this poem. He read it aloud at the showcase before the flutes came together as one and played a jig together in unification.
The evening wore on and there were so many gorgeous tunes and songs put on by everyone…. We soaked up and steeped in the final evening together.
As the week came to an end, we all talked much of not only the music we had experienced, but also of the wisdom we were given by those who light this musical path.
A highlight of the week for me was a ‘potluck’ lecture-talk put on by Martin Hayes who is a great fiddler, not only in the traditional sense but also as one who is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music itself. He spoke of being truly present in our music and that to do that we must be present with ourselves. This notion of presence really struck me.
When I play music, or make art, I am most truly present. And the doing of these things over the years has enriched my life and caused me to be more present in all aspects of my life. Presence. It’s crucial. Presence in ourselves. Presence with each other. This alone could help heal a lot in this world, I do believe.
some notes jotted down from martin…
“…raw beauty of a melody.”
“simple music, heartfelt.”
“connective tissue between musician, instrument, and player”
“anything that further releases inner expression is valid”
“trying is an obstacle” (yoda?? is that you???)
“leave the safety zone behind”
“trust the unknown.”
“create a spell.”
Last week at Swannanoa was more than just music. It felt a lot like activism. Pursuing creativity and kindness, music and beauty in a world so hell bent on the opposite seems like an insurmountable challenge at times. But I accept this challenge. As best as I know how to. I share my approach to art work in the form of teaching and I’ve been told it has changed lives for the better. Much in the way my instructors at Swannanoa and beyond have changed mine.
I am deeply grateful to be on this beautiful planet at the same time as these people. These musicians and friends of mine. The world needs their beauty. My beauty. and Yours.
“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.
I love moths. Not so much the ones who like to eat up our woolens when we aren’t looking, but rather the more showy ones.
A number of years ago I embroidered the luna moth above. She remains still one of my favorites. Although the model for the above moth hailed from West Virginia, all sorts of varieties of marvelous moths can be found in this Ohio River Valley, including the Luna, as we are situated along the very edges of Appalachia where loads of wonderful creatures reside.
I am excited for summer’s warmth to come to us (though not our late-summer heatwaves!) and along with it, perhaps a few more interesting moths to observe in the local woods. The One-Eyed Sphinx Moth, though not tremendously common, might be found on occasion in our Ohio woods. Today, however, I found one in my thread basket….
Well, really she came from my mind’s eye, with the help of a guide book and some source photos, with the eventual plan of being worn as a talisman. Much like the recent mushrooms growing in the same said basket!
It’s still quite chilly out of doors, so it is no surprise I found her curled up amidst the chaos of my embroidery.
And as I was home today awaiting some puppy meds for our Iris, I decided to follow this moth’s lead, and see where she might lead me.
Eventually she came together into a tiny, mothlike facsimile with which I am fairly pleased.
The art of embroidery is a slow and steady conjuring, consisting of the magical ingredients of time, patience, a bit of thread, and perhaps, a dash or two of binge-able Netflix.
As this work is so tiny, it will be installed into a wearable frame, looking much like a little embroidery hoop. I shall post it on my instagram feed when it is ready. Should this lovely moth strike your fancy, let me know. I’d love her to go to a wonderful home…..
ps… here is the necklace this little sphinx found herself into. I think it turned out nicely!