If you knew me before my move to the South in 1996, you may recall my gallery on the campus of Villa Maria College/Gannon University. It was a special place for me that I called Sycamore Gallery. There wasn’t a sycamore in sight on the campus, but I drew inspiration for the name from the only reference to a sycamore in the New Testament. Remember Zacchaeus, the little guy who wanted to see Jesus but couldn’t because of the crowd? Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree to get above the crowd and see! For me, that’s what art does….music, poetry, the visual arts, dance….art of any kind. It takes me ABOVE THE CROWD so I can get a glimpse of the divine. It’s as simple as that. The thought has stayed with me and is the inspiration for this blog and for all I do as I paint, draw, or write. To keep reminding me to get above the crowd, the noise, the distractions, there are two sycamore trees planted on our property in Ocoee TN.
Sycamore Notes (blog)
Dusting off a memory
There are many wonderful reasons for maintaining my website and blog but perhaps the one that brings me the most joy is like the one that happened recently. A name appeared on a contact form in my mailbox with a fun description of some antics in a biology class in the late 70’s when I taught biology at VMA in Erie. Several emails were exchanged and stories told of all that has transpired on both ends of the story fleshing out some old memories from long ago. I LOVE being able to do that and to learn about where life has taken my students. So many have found me with a google search that lead them to my website. Some visit for a span and others have become life long friends. It happens more than I ever would have anticipated. This particular reunion had yet another element. “How did you happen to look for me at this time?” I said. “Marie, I think of you every week when I dust a framed drawing my mother gave me in the mid-90’s!” After I asked her to send me a photo, I was gobsmacked (have wanted to use that word!) to see a drawing I did in Holland in 1984 while on a solo backpacking trip through Europe to draw and paint and visit the museums, under the direction of my friend and mentor Frederick Franck. So, it became a double reunion with my student Kathy and with Femke and her mother, the models in that drawing. Who knew that dusting could bring so much pleasure?
Several of you who will read this post were likely students of mine at some time. If so, thank you so much for finding me.
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.