Inspirations

A Band of Mothers

In art, as in life, sometimes the journey leads us in unexpected directions.

Such was the case with the twentieth kimono in my series.(you can see the entire seriesand how it came to be here )It has been a long and exciting journey with some very unexpected twists and turns and as so often happens the journey has been as important as the destination. Over a year ago (evidenced by scibblings in my journal) I started entertaining a final kimono in my series, commemmorating all the mothers, in my life. I started with the most obvious: my mother, my sister, my aunts, cousins, nieces, teachers, role models, friends …….those who mothered, not only my body, but my spririt, my mind, my soul, my heart, my art. The list kept getting longer and broader until it encompassed Mother Earth herself! Symbols of so many different aspects of these mothers percolated through my thoughts, including needles, garden books , letters, photos, fabrics, even clothespins! The “stuff” increased and the imagery became more and more complicated. The world events of the past two years created a complicated backdrop that included mothers visiting their children through hospital windows during covid; the mothers and grandmothers of Ukraine and the beautiful Polish women who welcomed them into their homes; bluebirds and nuthatches in their springtime nests around our home, the novel I was reading about the women of the Great Plains, young women giving birth, family stories…..all spoke of motherhood to me. Everywhere I turned I seemed to be met by mothers and their strength and beauty.

On an unusually warm early spring day, I sat near a star magnolia in my yard, and drew.


That’s usually where my head clears best and my heart can see through the clutter. This magnolia in all its pure white beauty spoke to me of life and motherhood. The branches were twisted and complicated. Some branches bore new buds not yet open right alongside spent brown and withering flowers. Some branches even had greening leaves. “Simplify, simplify, simplify

, “the magnolia said. I drew and then started to paint. Then I painted some more. I awakened at night sure I knew what direction to take to move this painting that had no real direction into a kimono, only discovering after another day down another path, that it too was not the right one. I “auditioned” ways to develop the core painting: weaving, piecing, stenciling, quilting, stitching by hand and by machine. I ended up rejecting them all after hours of unsuccesful attempts. The process itself became an integral expression of motherhood. I felt like the birth of this kimono was unlike any I had done before. I was in a very long hard labor, knowing as mothers do, that even the pain of creating is part of the beauty of motherhood.

kimono image and magnolia flowers
For All the Mothers

The final image here was done in memory of the women (and some men) in my life that mothered me each in their own unique way. It is really very simple but has layers that probably will only be recognized by me, or some very perseptive soulmate. It has been an amazing journey as this piece came to life. Every stroke of my brush awakened another preciouos memory. I am filled with gratitude.

Will it be the last of my kimono series? At this point I am not sure. At one point I thought #10 would be the last. But they kept on coming. I hope to stay open to the possibilities of things to come………

Moonrise

Let’s keep doing that!

It was Easter morning when I started to write this.  The sun was shining brightly if only for a few hours after a rising pink moon the night before.  I am overwhelmed with awe.  There are so many things that happen this time of year that are so very hard to understand.  You know, things like how blue eggs become bluebirds and white ones become tree swallows;  how the strange little song of a nuthatchbaby blue bird painting

is recognized by all nuthatches; how a leafless dogwood tree suddenly bursts into blossom; how hummingbirds find my feeder after a long flight from Costa Rica; and how my milkweed will be in bloom just in time to meet the migrating monarchs.  Wow.  I am in awe at the mysteries of nature and feel so privileged to experience the small and the grand moments that the universe shares so generously if we simply open our eyes to them.

Today I am also in awe at the creative process that I am able to share.  What a mysterious and womdeful journey to face a blank sheet of paper one day and then days, weeks or even months later a brand new image that has never existed before has somehow flowed through me and out there to share with you.

And this puts me at the edge of wonder at the technology that allows you and me to share these experiences together.  If you are reading this, no matter if you are down the road or on the other side of the globe, if we are related by family or complete strangers, if we have been friends for one year or 70…..we can be connected and can interact………………..Let’s keeep doing that!

There’s No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home

If you happened to catch a segment about the John Denver hit “Country Roads” on CBS Sunday Morning the Sunday after Christmas, you may have heard the word “hiareth”.  It caught my attention and I had to explore it a bit more.  Hiareth is a Welsh concept that means a deep longing for something, especially one’s home.  As used in the CBS segment, it reminded my of another term, “Spiritual geography'” that a good friend uses to describe the place or type of geography that makes one feel most at home, where one belongs.  That sense of belonging or home happened for me when I moved to the mountains over 25 years ago.  Of course,  I will always call Erie, along the shores of Lake Erie, my home, but something different happened when my address changed to the Appalachians. A new sense of home emerged.

It seems we all yearn for that sense of home, whether it is a a specific place or a kind of topography or maybe a particular room in one’s home or neighborhood. I recall so vividly and sadly how my Mom, in the throws of Alzhiemers would beg my Dad and I to take her home, while all the while she was sitting in her favorite chair in her own living room.  The medical folks explained that she was really asking for that comfort and peace we feel when we are truly at home.  It surprises me that the mountains have truly become “home” for me. since the mountain landscape was not part of my earlier years.

So, how does that influence my painting?  More and more, I find myself desiring to paint or draw the landscape around me.  I tune into the changes of the seasons more.  I watch my garden grow.  I nurture birds and butterflies.  Perhaps “home” has little to do with this place, but more the opportunity my current life affords me to see and experience the life around me, to be aware and to cherish simple things.  Or perhaps I am at that coming-home age, midway through my seventh decade.  It’s a good place to be.  I have a working theory that I am drawn to paint that which brings me that sense of home.  And I falso think that when a viewer finds a painting “speaking” to them, even enough to make it their own, it is because it reminds them of the “home” in their own hearts.

Yes, home is where the heart is and there is nothing like it.

 

en plein air

 

“Spell check” may not like the expression “en plein air” very much but for some reason artists today still use this rather antiquated phrase for painting outdoors.  The term originated around 1800 and is attributed to Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750–1819)  who first expounded on the concept in a treatise entitled Reflections and Advice to a Student on Painting, Particularly on Landscape.   The concept is what I am most interested in and what I have finally come home to.  Years ago, I would ONLY paint from life either outdoors or in the studio.  When I think back to some of those paintings, like the ones I did on Presque Isle near my earlier home, I can feel a presence that I don’t  often feel from paintings I do from photographs. When I paints outdoors, I have to paint fairly quickly as the conditions can vary greatly within a short period of time. The light changes; bugs bight; temperatures vary; wind blows. Because of that I can’t get hung up on details.  I bring to the painting, not only what I see but also the smells and sounds and feel of the whole environment.  All of the senses become part of the painting.  Over the summer I was invited by a new friend and watercolorist in the area to join her and others at a plein air event.  I put it off until one day the group was scheduled to paint literally in my backyard, on the other side of  Sugarloaf Mountain, MY mountain.  How could I say no?

We painted along the Ocooee River for just a couple of hours and I fell in love again with plein air.  For the past few months I have been setting aside at least one morning a week to paint outdoors or  (if weather prohibits that) in the plein air state of mind.  It has become a weekly meditation.  The paintings are not necessarily spectacular but the experience definitely is.  When I draw or paint this way–outdoors, surrounded by the sights and sounds of flora and fauna–I am transported into another universe, no background music but the songs of the birds; no “breaking news” reports other than the breakthroughs of mindfulness. My preference is to paint alone.

One Sunday morning recently,  I spent close to two hours sitting and drawing near Cookson Creek.  I know the cooler months will not be conducive to sitting on a stool outside, so I  wanted to experiment with drawing and taking notes and then working from those to translate them into a painting back in the studio, kind of a hybrid of plein air plus studio work.   I wish  I could bottle the peace that came over me. Cookson Creek, which flows into the Ocoee River, goes right under the bridge on our quiet country road. The sun shone brightly filtered by thickets of trees just starting to turn to fall colors.  Carolina wrens sang.  Woodpeckers pecked.  Crows cawed.  Leaves fluttered and walnuts dropped noisily.  The slightly chilled  fresh air smelled of decaying leaves.  The drawing came easily.  My goal was to paint from the drawing, only using this short video to remind me of those peace-filled sounds and, to some extent, the scene itself.

 

This is the painting that came from that experience.  I called it “Remembering The Sycamore”.

Autumn scene
Remembering the Sycamore

That slanted silvery tree that is reflected in the creek is a sycamore, reminding me of my once Sycamore Gallery and this blog, too .  (Why “Sycamore Notes?” she said….)  My personal goal is to do more plein air painting as circumstances allow.  It doesn’t mean I won’t ever work from photos.  There are a lot of times when that works best.  It also does not mean I won’t experiment with combining media in my work or trying new surfaces to paint on.  But this old-but-now-new-again way of painting mindfully is what my soul needs to keep my work fresh and authentic.  My hope is that it will touch your heart as it has mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why “Sycamore Notes?” she said….

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.

John the Vagabond

Close-up of old man's face
John in Technicolor

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.

A poetic inspiration

painting of early dawn
Dawn in the mountains

“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.

 

Inspiration from John Muir

imaginary landscape
Nourishment for the soul

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.

 

The darkness of the morning news

painting of a dark landscape
Embracing the Darkness

“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.