In the mid 1970’s I was a student at St Bonaventure University in Olean NY working on a master’s degree in biology over several summers. During one of those summers I met and befriended a man with a long white beard, tattered layers of sweaters and shirts, and a braided knot on the top of his head! Colorful? You betcha. John the Vagabond, as he referred to himself, told me stories of traveling the globe, meeting people and learning from them, and imparting his personal philosophies and guidance along the way. He was there at SBU to take advantage of tuition-free classes for seniors, studying psychology so that he could better counsel the people he would encounter along his personal journey. We talked at length while strolling around the beautiful campus At summer’s end, I gave him my address in hopes that I would hear from this very colorful personality. And I did. In fact, a letter-writing relationship developed that lasted until his death in 1986 in Bradenton FL Fast forward thirty years when I received an email from John’s grand nephew who had inherited a box of John’s personal items, among which were letters from me to his grand-uncle! Email exchanges and phone calls followed. I found among my own treasures a stash of letters from John that I had saved and two old b&w photographs I had taken of him at SBU. More photos came from my new much younger friend and John’s relative, and a collection of paintings and drawings followed (many of which are included in this portfolio.) The story is ongoing and not quite ready for prime time yet, but on the way I have learned a lot more about John’s very interesting life, far more than I knew back in those student days. This portrait embodies for me his colorful and caring personality. He was an itinerant searcher of truth, a pilgrim of the universe, a teller of tales, and much more than met the eye. It was my real privilege to get to know him then and now to learn about him all over again.
Land of the Wild Passion Flower
Sometimes multiple interests come together in a single painting. Such was the case with this piece which combines my interest in nature, art, and native American history. Phew! All in one little roughly 9×9 watercolor.
The image is of a gulf fritillary that has a unique relationship with this flower, commonly referred to as the Passion Flower. Both are beautiful creations in themselves, but what is so interesting is that this little butterfly MUST lay its eggs on this particular plant because that is all their fussy little caterpillars will eat! This is just like the relationship that monarchs have to milkweed. My practical side says, how inefficient, how unwise to be so dependent on a single food source. Could it be that these butterflies need beauty in their lives too??
And there is more to this story. The Cherokee who used to inhabit the very land I live on here in southeast TN called the fruit of the Passion Flower “u-wa-ga” and the area around the river where it grew was called “u-wa-go-hi,” which means “where the passion fruits grow.” To English speaking folks this sounded like “o-co-ee” and so the river became the Ocoee River and the land nearby was called Ocoee, which is where I live. So I live in the Land of the Passion Flower! There is so much in this story that I love, so I had to paint it and I finally did. I have painted the flower several times but this is the grist time I have included the fritillary as well. Purchase information can be found in the Birds, Butterflies, and Beasts gallery or in the Blossoms and Blooms gallery.
On a weekend following a number of days doing relatively non-creative tasks, my insides demanded some play time. A very energizing exercise for me is to do one of my woven paintings. To do this, I generally paint two paintings, often on yupo, that have some similar elements in color and/or line. Yupo is a synthetic material that has a very hard non-absorbent surface that does not act at all like traditional watercolor paper. It is hard to control but results in very vibrant lively color that I love to work with. After painting and letting them dry well, I slice the two paintings in opposite directions and then weave them back together. The fun part is that I never quite know what the finished piece will look like. Ok, it’s not always fun but it sure can be interesting…..This is one of those surprises. It could remind the viewer of a spectacular sunrise or sunset, thus the title “Solar Flare.” The image itself is 10×14 and it is matted and framed to 16×19. You can see more woven watercolors here.
“In Gentleness and Kindness”
I was introduced to Mary Oliver several years ago and since then have grown to love her poetry and recognize it even before I read the by-line. Her writing is full of awareness. The day I painted this I had read her poem “Why I wake up early” From that poem came the title for the painting. It just seemed like such a good way to start a day.
Beauty and Bread
John Muir may not have had art in mind when he penned this: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” I know he had places like Yosemite and Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks as he talked of places and I think I did too as I painted this. I suggest that “places” can also be non-tangible spots where our hearts find some reprieve from whatever may be troubling us.
You can view additional paintings inspired by land or sea, click here.
“Morning Moments: the Story behind the exhibit”
Well over a year ago I started preparing for another hometown exhibit, painting images of a variety of subjects in a number of my favorite styles, some detailed and planned; others, loose and spontaneous.
Then 2020 happened. The show went on hold. Life itself went on hold. I continued painting but something different started happening. I found myself drawn to small pockets of time on small pieces of paper, usually in the morning before the noise of the news cycle got in the way and with a fresh abandon, perhaps freed from exhibition expectations. I started thinking of these painting times as “morning moments,” not necessarily because of the time of day but because I was fully awake, alert, and aware of gentle stirrings that seemed to bypass my brain. The small simple paintings became heart-filled responses to an anxious sleepless night, a line of poetry, the song of a bird, or the whisper of the wind. What was common to all was an absence of thinking and planning.
The results of those morning moments are collectively some of the purest and most honest paintings I have ever done — simple, spontaneous, and highly personal. When the opportunity came about recently to revisit an exhibition time at Glass Growers Gallery, I knew that I wanted to share them. My hope, my prayer, is that they will communicate between my heart and your heart and that they will stir something in you and bring you some of the peace they brought me as I painted them.
I am grateful to Debby Vahanian and Glass Growers Gallery for giving me this opportunity to share these paintings with you, to have this “heart to heart” conversation. In my nearly 40 years of painting and exhibiting this may be the most unique exhibit I have ever had. Thank you for joining with me on this journey.
This exhibit is now over.
Marie Spaeder Haas
August 1 – September 8, 2020
Glass Growers Gallery, 10 E. 5th St., Erie PA
gallery hours: 11-3 Tuesday through Saturday; Monday by appointment (814-453-3758)
“Embracing the Darkness”
I’ve been working small during these days turned to months of the pandemic. I work fast too without analyzing or questioning the strokes that find their way to the paper. Some times it takes days or longer for me to understand what my hand has revealed. That was the case with this painting. It came after a particularly dark and depressing morning news. We have a lot of those lately. I felt rather down with it all, with thoughts like “why art?” “why bother?” creeping into my thinking. This morning I looked at it again and the words of Wendell Berry came to mind….”In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter, war spreading, families dying, I walk the rocky hillside sowing clover.” A friend reminded me that clover nourishes the soil. Ah, yes, I said. And art nourishes the soul.
I decided to give my blog page a little lift with its own name. I’m calling it Sycamore Notes and some day I will explain where that comes from. (see a more recent post for that) For now, know that it is based on my belief that art can be something that lifts us out of the ordinary and inspires or challenges us. So here I will “go out on a limb” and share new works that are being added into this site’s galleries or tell you about coming events and opportunities, or share techniques I use; or perhaps I will share a thought that I feel needs to be shared. My hope is that this will become interactive and to that end, I invite you to share your thoughts or questions as we proceed.