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Month: May 2018

A Yard Full of Delights

A Yard Full of Delights


Anna’s Hummingbird

Twenty-one years ago today, I celebrated my mother’s 82nd birthday with her and my father, at the house I had just gotten the keys to the day before. We ate cake sitting on folding chairs in the empty living room.

The huge yard was landscaped in the front, had an ivy covered western fence, and three large trees, two Modesto Ash, and one huge sycamore. The back yard had an orange tree and a peach tree along the back fence, while the ground was covered with Bermuda grass. I had visions of future grandchildren playing soccer or badminton out there.

Ten years later my three granddaughters lived in Camas, Washington, and I was getting rid of the Bermuda grass which was brown in the winter and sunburned in the summer. I bought a redwood tree for $5.99 at the grocery store and planted a small vegetable garden.

I didn’t make a plan for the garden, I just bought plants that looked interesting and stuck them here and there. In the winter ten years ago, I dug a narrow meandering stream and hauled two truck loads of river rock across town in my Chevy S-10 pickup, placing them in the stream bed one by one. The photo at the top of my website is from the following spring.

The house also came with a simple bird feeder hanging from a beam which is directly in front of my kitchen window. These days I hear bird song all day long even with the windows closed.

I’ve pretty much stopped buying plants. In the last three or four years, new plants just show up in the garden—some welcome, some not. I have not just planted a garden, I provide habitat for all manner of bugs, bees, praying mantis, dragonflies, at least seven species of butterflies, and unhappily, many squirrels.

The birds coming to the feeder are doves, juncos, chickadees, warblers, sparrows, and Scrub Jays, who scold me loudly if the feeder is empty. The mockingbirds think my strawberry patch belongs to them and take one bite out of the berry, while a squirrel calmly sits on the top of the fence, delicately holding a red strawberry in its paws, taking one small bite at time.

Other birds frequent my garden on their way north in the spring and going south in the fall. These are the robins who hang out for about two weeks, small yellow-green finches, and starlings who walk across my side yard like soldiers on parade looking for snails.

The Cedar Waxwings come through in February or March and clean off the pyracantha berries in two days. I often hear and spot the woodpecker drilling the big trees. I have a pair of Phoebes who nest under my eves. I love to watch the Swainson’s hawks soar and glide far over head, teaching their babies to fly.

The Anna’s hummingbird is mostly grey with a red triangle on its throat. They stay in the valley year round and I see them flying about every day. They work over a flower, ascend straight up, pause, then go to another plant. They make a clicking sound, so even if I don’t see them I know they are there.

I don’t know how many hummingbirds are in my yard, but there must be several. Some days I see one catching a drink from the spray in my fountain. In the winter when only the sage is blooming, it seems as if, when a hummer sees me it will fly over near me, and hover until I say hello.

Late one afternoon last week, I went out to pick the first of the blackberries. As I stepped into the bed, a hummingbird landed on the top rail of the tomato cage I use to support the berry branches. I stopped moving and the bird looked at me, first just facing me straight on, but then turned and cocked its head first with one eye and then the other, back and forth, checking me out. It opened its beak and stuck out its long tongue. Eye to eye we were for the longest time until the bird rose up and headed for a bright red flower several feet away.

I am so blessed.

Treasure in Stockton

Treasure in Stockton

Stockton, California, roughly seventy miles east of Oakland, is frequently associated with crime and bankruptcy, but this city of over 300,000 souls has a number of wonderful gems including an excellent private university, a symphony orchestra, a theater producing live plays, and an art museum set in a lovely park.

Haggin Museum

The Haggin Museum, built in 1931 and renovated last year, hosts the Stockton Art League Juried Exhibition in even numbered years, this year being the League’s 60th Annual Show. The show opening last Thursday evening was open to the public and I went to see what is happening art-wise in the area. The show has been attracting some attention nationally, but most of the work is from California.

Best of Show award went to “January Oranges” an oil painting by Carolyn Lord of Livermore, who usually has watercolors in this show. Tony Segale of Lodi won a second place for a busy looking Chinese watercolor. I’m always happy to see local artists win some of the awards.

Mixed Media and Graphics were combined for this exhibit, so this category included drawings, work that used many different paints and mark making, and even works on fabric. Jean Judd of Cushing, Wisconsin made a finely stitched blue-gray hanging, “Rusted Lace #5” which I first thought was a quilt, but the fabric had been either printed or painted with a red-brown elusive shape in the center. I liked it because of the fine careful sewing which I could never do.

There are two small pieces in black, gray, and white of layered board which didn’t make sense to me until I saw them from across the room. Up close they are just abstract. From a distance a face appears as if the head is thrown back. Very unusual. How do artists come up with these ideas? They were made by Shelly Castillo Garcia here in Stockton.

I was fascinated by the Self Portrait of Marilyn Eger of Lockeford, California. I saw her demo at two Art League meetings some years ago. The large oil painting was a canvas filled with 1¼ inch squares, each with a circular shape made with a mix of colors on the brush. The colors are much lighter to form the face that emerges from the dark multi-colored background, and it is a good likeness of her. This won one of the nine special awards.

A good laugh is not what one expects to find in an annual show, but one was provided by Ann Zinck of Stockton. Her watercolor, “Chair Studies:” won an Honorable Mention. This small work has four framed pictures of chairs lined up horizontally, painted in the colors and style of: “After Van Gogh, After Valadon, After Hockney, After Cats”. After Cats shows a chair with shredded upholstery with the cat sitting on the floor beside it.

This is an excellent show, Juried by Sabina Turner. It will be at the Haggin Museum until July 15. If you are near Stockton you should take yourself to see it. Museum admission is free the first Saturday of each month.

Establishing a Consistent Studio Time

Establishing a Consistent Studio Time

In my mind at least, I have been putting almost everything else first before time to make art. Of course, my sons might have a different perspective on this. When they were little, laundry, cleaning, cooking, gardening, holiday preparations, and church filled my days, while handcrafts were done in the evening while they watched TV. Loom weaving filled any spaces between the other tasks.

The exception was in the summer of 1980, when the boys were old enough to get up, get dressed, and fix their own breakfast. I could hear them in the kitchen below. My looms were on the second floor of our home in Livermore, and the only time it was cool enough to weave was early morning, so as soon as Ray left for work, I went upstairs to weave tapestries. This arrangement worked so well it persisted until 1984, when I became a student at the community college, at which point everything else plus college came before making art.

College led to working, which also came before art making. When I bought a home in Stockton twenty-one years ago, I was no longer married. I cooked and cleaned less, but taking care of my large yard started filling my hours, increasing each year as I planted interesting new trees and flowers. Now the challenge in the garden is mostly physical—can I still manage it.

Originally my looms were in the house and the art studio was in the small apartment behind the detached garage. I rarely worked out there – it was either too hot, too cold, or I didn’t want to be there at night. And I was working full time, plus commuting to Livermore.

In 2009, I moved the art supplies and tables into the house so my son, Chris, could remodel the apartment for my mother and later my friend Robert, who lives there now. If you have read my memoir, “Looking for Connection,” you know all this, but if you want all the juicy details you can get them here.

So, my studio has been in the large room between the kitchen and the hallway to the bedrooms for the last nine years, and I walk through it countless times each day. I’m sorry to say, all the other things still come first. I have failed to establish a dedicated studio time. I can understand why artists set up a studio away from their home, so they are not distracted by the visual “To Do” list.

I have made some art in my space in the house,

Copper earrings with beads

but it has usually been because I was taking a course online, had assignments from a local class, or was finishing a project from a workshop I attended. For example, on Saturday, to avoid an unfinished project, I completed these earrings that I started in Visalia two weeks ago.

I am still trying to establish a consistent studio practice because it is the only way I will use the luscious materials I have accumulated. More importantly, it is the only way I will access the creative energy and burning interest that I need to sustain and guide me through my remaining years.

Using Art and Writing to Find the Source of Complex Emotions

Using Art and Writing to Find the Source of Complex Emotions

At my local art group last Thursday, we made little fabric collages called Stitch Meditations. They are meant to be a relaxing activity, one with no right or wrong way to do it, and shouldn’t be turned into a “project.” I selected fabrics with similar colors, and I thought it looked okay as I was working on it.

Fabric collage, 4×4 inches

I ran two errands on the way home. I had purchased a few plants but had no desire to go out and put them in the ground. When I unpacked my stitching later that afternoon, one glance was enough to dismiss it as wasted effort. I wasted more time on Facebook and email that evening.

Before going to sleep I wrote in my journal to try to understand my less than happy feelings.

I wrote:

“I’m so disgusted with the yard that I’d like to pick up my house and go somewhere else.  I’m wanting to just sit and read and eat chocolate. And I’m not very excited with what I’m reading either.”

At this time of year my yard has millions of tiny wildflowers all blooming all at once, then going to seed and drying up – this is normal. Most of them burn up and quickly disappear as soon as we get our first really hot day. But this year, that amount of debris won’t disappear on its own.

My yard is dominated by a huge sycamore tree next to the house. It is my air-conditioning system all summer. But it sheds stuff constantly. First it drops yellow petals about the size of a dime releasing tiny pollen balls. Next come the fuzzies, 3/8 inch long sharp splinters, pointed at one end with a plume of fine hair and a tiny dagger at the other. Millions of them, mounding up all over the yard, in drifts on the roof, coming inside on my shoes.

Fussies shed by sycamore tree

Before the fuzzies stop falling, the new green leaves mildew from the cold damp nights and start to drop off the tree. If the wind is blowing it looks like a snow storm. This year it is like autumn with piles of leaves and fuzzies everywhere. In twenty years I have never seen it this bad. Both the garbage bin and the green waste bin are full of this stuff.

The leaves and fuzz are stuck in the Jade plant, adorning my roses, and cuddling my strawberries. If I want to plant seeds or something new, I have to clean up this mess to find the soil so I can dig. I’m envisioning weeks of work to get rid of it.

As an art therapist, I could understand a lot about my patients just by looking at their art. My stitching told me a lot about what I was feeling, but I needed to write about those feelings to discover what was triggering them.

Normally I’d rather be working in the yard than anywhere else, but this spring, not so much. Eventually, I’ll get out of my funk and love my yard again. Meanwhile, I’ll indulge in chocolate and read more fiction.


From Weeding My Books to Creating with Weeds

From Weeding My Books to Creating with Weeds

As a treat after spending the first three months of 2018 weeding my books and old magazines, I was in Visalia, California for the weekend at the 7th Biennial Conference — Baskets and Gourds — Containers of Our Culture. This was my third time attending this conference.

The weekend included a gallery reception on Friday evening of work created by the teachers .

Members of BABM at the Art gallery

I particularly like this conference, held at the Visalia Elks Lodge, because it is a large open room and we can walk around and see what other classes are doing.  The location draws craft people from Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Sacramento area. A dozen or more of my friends from the Bay Area Basket Makers (BABM) were there.

Participants had an all day class on Saturday and a different class on Sunday.

Classes in a large open room

My Saturday class was about how to use copper sheeting to make jewelry or embellishments for baskets. For me, this was a opportunity to become familiar with the materials, tools, and using a torch to anneal the metal, which softens it so it is easier to work with, and to bring up different colors. We learned numerous ways to connect metal pieces together, to use them as pendants or earrings. This was a good introduction, but I will need to play with this material some more to develop the skills to make what I envision.

My Saturday class was actually outdoors because we were using torches to heat metal and hammering. People cleaning and carving gourds also work outside.

Saturday evening featured a catered dinner and guest speaker, JoAnn Kelly Catsos from Western Massachusetts, who makes traditional type baskets using a mold.

My Sunday class was making a small basket using both twinning and weaving of the elements. The bottom and vertical spokes are Western Red Cedar bark gathered on the Pacific Northwest Coast from trees that were being cut for logging. Our instructor, Polly Adams Sutton, had prepared the cedar spokes for our use. We twinned with a three sided rush, Northwest sweet grass, Scheonoplectus pungens, from tidal flats in Washington. At the same time, we wove Beargrass between the spokes, so that the twining was securing the bear grass.

Chasing Beargrass

This class was more fun than Saturday’s and I could work quickly because I often make twinned baskets. When I go to this sort of class my intention is to learn something new and make a sample. Making a more perfect product takes repeated practice and careful attention to detail, such as trimming the Beargrass to be a consistent width.

I think this combination technique would be interesting with different materials like yarn and cording.

I drove back to Stockton late Sunday afternoon, arriving just before dark. Monday, of course, involved putting away equipment and sorting out handouts and freebies. By 4 p.m. I was fighting to stay awake, and a short nap lasted two hours. All that concentrated creative effort, abundant stimulation from people, and new ideas used more energy than I expected.