When I lived in Cincinnati, before I had children, I tried some plein-aire painting.
The small church we attended was on a road where you would often pass cows grazing close to the road. Behind the church a meadow was easily accessed from the parking area. I took my acrylic paints and easel out there one afternoon to paint some trees. After some time, I noticed dark clouds moving into the area so I added them to the scene which was almost finished.
In the painting class I attended at the local library one evening a week, we were encouraged to try adding texture to our canvas board before we painted. This was in 1967.
Looking at this painting now where it hangs in my dining room, it appears I gessoed the board and sprinkled it with bird seed—we had a parakeet—and then scraped the seed off after it dried, because the texture under the paint is little round empty holes.
The little holes where the seed had been, creates a sparkly effect in the trees and grass because there is a light blue under painting on the entire board which is seen where the brush hits only the high parts.
The dry brush painting I did to complete the landscape also benefits from the texture where several layers of paint show through the strokes.
When I lived in Portsmouth, Virginia, we were two blocks away from the Elizabeth River which flows into the James River and then into Chesapeake Bay.
Across the river was City Park where I often took my two young sons. I was fascinated by two trees of different species that had grown together.
At the base of the strong straight tree a weaker tree leans left and a foot or so off the ground has grown into the stronger tree. They grow together for a long time until, way above my head, the smaller tree breaks free and begins to grow away from the supporting trunk. Further up its branches seem to be encircling the companion.
I made a sketch and took some photos.
After moving to California, when I was
looking for subjects for tapestries, I wove
a seven foot long tapestry of these two trees.
It spoke to me of how a person may depend on someone else for stability until they have gained enough strength to reveal them self without needing to be totally separate from their companion.
At the Bay Area Basket Maker’s retreat in August 1991, one of the members shared some daylily leaves and showed me how to make a basket by soaking them to make them pliable. I liked the feel of working with them.
A few months later while cleaning the garden, I put a handful of leaves in water to soak. That evening I started a basket by weaving a grid with 24 leaves to make spokes. Then I switched to twining, with two leaves twisting inside to outside between each spoke. As I worked my way around, the center woven section raised up as it dried. For some reason I don’t understand, the basket was not round but became an oval shape, somewhat narrow and softly pointed on one side.
I twined around until the spokes on the narrow side became too short to continue. I worked each short daylily spoke into the next twist making a rim. When I got to where the leaves were still long, I stopped and looked at my work. I liked the way it looked, so I ended the rim, with the long leaves as they were.
Looking at the finished basket, I saw a metaphor for my life at that time. Part of it was completed, but half the spokes still had usable length. At the age of forty-nine I had just completed my master’s degree, my sons were young men making their own decisions, and I was considering leaving my marriage.
It looked like there was life ahead of me to explore and live. Maybe I was half-way through.
I was driving on the back roads north of Tracy, California, going to work at the Livermore VA with the radio turned to KCBS for the traffic reports. My thoughts were on the many tasks I had to complete that day so I could be gone for a week of shell collecting in Hawaii.
The news cast broke into my thoughts when I heard them saying an airplane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York. I was both fascinated and horrified as new reports came in. At work I prepared for my vacation, not expecting the unfolding drama on the east coast to effect my plans.
The next morning my scheduled flight from Sacramento was cancelled, and I was re-booked on flights from Oakland and San Francisco. Given the confusion in the next few days these flights were cancelled too, and I was unable to get a flight to Los Angeles where the shelling trip was originating.
Since I wasn’t expected at work, I stayed home, worked in my garden, and spent time in my art room. I had taken a collage workshop at U.C. Santa Cruz in May and had been working on several pieces. I started clipping newspaper quotes and pictures to use in a collage to show the state of mind in our nation after this attack.
On the left side are magazine photos of the towers before the attack, of Hawaii, and my unused boarding passes with a note from the agent. On the lower right I pasted pictures of recent terror attacks in Israel, asking is this was a preview of things to come?
The center quote framed in red reads:
“We have a choice, whether to implode and disintegrate emotionally and spiritually as a people and a nation or (to) become stronger through all of this struggle to rebuild on a solid foundation.”
—the Rev. Billy Graham
At the time it felt like we were united about defending and continuing our way of life.
Today it seems that his question is still waiting for an answer.