a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Art on the Pamlico

Just before the holidays, I took a ride back east to Washington, NC on the Pamlico River, where loyal friends welcomed me in spite of my absconding, a few years ago, to the Piedmont.  Though I miss the people I was most fond of there, this is home, no doubt about it.  I'd said that about Washington, too, for 18 years, but life then was life then.  Turning corners, whether slowly or suddenly come upon, means resettling and reliving anew.  I think it was Lee Smith who once, wryly I'd guess, called it The Geographical Cure, but in this case I was returning to old ground,  and, fate directing, fell into a locus of both new and old friendship and closer family.  I've made myself at home in all the places I've lived, but you know it's the real one when the ground remembers your name.

The Coffee Caboose
But back to my Washington sojourn.  In two days, I managed quite a lot of visiting:  I rolled into town and stopped at Mary Ann's Coffee Caboose (ever the Washington history keeper, she's also begun a radio station and with her family opened her beautifully refurbished barn as an Airbnb...she calls it The Sleeper Car).

The Caboose was crowded that chilly morning, so it was easy to pick up some neighborhood gossip.  After she got over the shock of seeing me there ("Are you moving back?" somebody asked), Mary Ann and I talked in spurts as she dashed from coffee order to coffee order.

I went on to lunch with Denise at the Meeting Place--nomen adque omen for Washington--to catch up with her doings.

Out in the country, Johanna and Leonard kindly put me up for the night and were nice enough to invite friends Joe and Luci for one of their signature dinners, so I could see them, too.  (Joe and Luci presented me with a carpet...a thick, pretty carpet just in time for winter, bless them.)  The next day, Kadra and I met for coffee/tea at Rachel K's, where I picked up lunch for Libby (who'd broken her collar bone...don't ask how). Johanna and Leonard joined Libby and me, too--fortunately I'd brought along a few of Rachel's baked temptations.

Rachel K's

It sounds like a lot of eating and drinking, which is certainly part of our history together in Washington, but in between I walked about to see who was around, what's new and what's abiding, and drove home again thinking about that river town and its complicated, head-shaking ways.

I mention all these names and places because a town like Washington is most open to its charms when you're in the company of friends.  Whether or not you've once made a home there, its most important landmarks--even The River itself--are the personal ones.  If you walk along the river walk or the main streets, you pass houses and shops you know somebody in. Lunch at Libby's, with the river behind us, coffee at Mary Ann's, with the river in front of us, historic buildings that become and become and become over the eras...it's still the people one finds there that give meaning to a site.   I don't think I'm saying this quite accurately enough.  But the thought, anyway, is preface to the fact that Washington is a town where even appreciating art is a matter of artists who are friends, present and past.  Their history as artists becomes part of your own.

Irene Glover (l)  Linda Boyer (r)
 As Denise and I wandered through Main Street's galleries after our lunch, one after another illuminated the resolve, the reinvention, that making art in small places entails. Washington is a town of just about 10,000, a figure that has stayed within a thousand of that for at least a century.  People come and go, and sometimes come back again, bringing to the river their talents of all sorts.  For a small town, it has an awfully high number of people who work as artists.

I thought you'd like to meet some of my favorites.  Most of them show work in the co-ops, shops and restaurants along Main Street, as well as online, but there are wonderful artists who practice just for themselves.

Pamela Zimmerman
At our November show, I turned around to see Pamela Zimmerman and Katie Lake in the doorway. They'd dropped in on their way back from a pre-convention meeting of the NC Basketmakers Association (Katie Lake is a master organizer of just about anything, and Pamela has networked all sorts of weaving groups into being). The way Pamela Zimmerman weaves is difficult to imagine by one like me, so finger-clumsy.  Weaving began for her more than two decades ago, out in woodlands where she was a forest ranger, raising children, collecting pine straw and doing something with it.  Her talented fingers soon figured out what natural materials could become. She made not only baskets of the sort we mortals use every day, but others that entwine fascinating oddities in them...clay figures, moon-like faces, beads.  Each, and all together, they are the fantasy of a mind who can transcend the ordinary.

Libby Behr
You've already seen Libby Behr's stained glass, in a piece she made for me sixteen years ago, which I've got hanging in my front window.  She's done lots of beautiful art since then (I own a few of those, too), but this, for many reasons, will always be the one I point to.  I love the brilliance of the colors in light--she learned color, she says, from early trips to Mexico she took with her husband--the carefully chosen textures, the play of river and sky and birds.  Actually, Libby had begun with a photo I gave her when I commissioned it, but, as artists do, she made it her own.

Carolyn Sleeper
Carolyn and Danny Sleeper came to Washington from Norfolk about fifteen years ago, where she taught art in the schools, and set up shop behind the house they have shared since with Carolyn's mother.  Over the years, their Slatestone Road studio has grown to accommodate not only clay works, firing, and storage room, but class space, as well. (Carolyn has loyal students, for good reason...she's an exacting, enthusiastic and generous mentor).  Her chickens greet every arrival down the drive, and sometimes serve as models for her lighthearted but practical pottery.

At the Riverwalk Gallery this visit, Danny was manning the desk while Carolyn tried to catch up on her holiday showings back at the studio, so Danny took me on tour of the new art, and later I found Carolyn at home. The box above is one of her new ones...I couldn't resist those red hens pecking perkily atop the cleverly fitted lid.  But even moreso, I had to bring home some of Carolyn's genius, not only for its witty style, but for its technical perfection.  (For those of you who aren't potters, trust my permanently neophyte hands:  it takes exactness to make the cover on a fired, glazed, fired again clay box fit.) 

Alan Mobley
Alan Mobley was one of her students who learned to do just that and more, by spending hours of concentrated practice at the wheel, while the rest of us chatted and rolled slabs into trays and vessels. This classic of his is one of my most treasured because I watched him turn pot after pot, burning those elegant bamboo leaves into them just for his own pleasure and challenge, and was so touched when this one became my going-away present.

Alice Stalllings

Alice Stallings, who, like Libby and Carolyn, shows at the Riverwalk, finally got to study art after her five children left for school, taking classes a few at a time until she began to work in paints, collage, printmaking and fabric dyeing.  Over the years, her art has become as varied as her many interests; her corner at the Riverwalk seems Renaissance-like, all of those media so well-represented.  And yet all of them are Alice:  bright, clear shades splashed into figures that come straight from the imagination, bold lines, soft lines, and a sense of knowing where she's been and what matters.

Ah.  John Groesser (also at the Riverwalk), who may be surprised at my including him here, though if he and Dodi, also a wonderful painter, think about it, they'll realize I've so enjoyed both of them and their art.  John and Dodi are affectionate, sweet friends and they bring those qualities into the way they see and render the landscapes and architecture they find vibrant spirit in.

John Groesser
John's art, in particular, travels.  His pieces seem to come as comfortably from plein air as they do from his studio, and glow from that affection he finds for them near and far.  Working from memory as I am more wont to do, I wish I had his patience for being able to see at a moment the value of the place he's in and bringing it almost immediately to light on canvas.  Besides, I love his sense of just the right blue in one shade or another carried from painting to painting.

Doris Schneider
Sue Beck
Up the block from Riverwalk, in the brick corner storefront everyone always remembers as the former, famous, infamous Curiosity Shoppe, is the Lemonade Gallery, opened a couple of years ago by five artists abruptly turned out of their former space.  Doris Schneider and Sue Beck are two of them for whose talents I have only amazement.

When I stopped in this time, Doris and Sue were luckily there to fill me in on their new things.  Sue's gleaming, high-style jewelry and Doris' fantastical masks, beads, and paintings had me walking back and forth from the front desk where Sue's hands were busy allying precious metal to precious stone, to the middle gallery where I picked one of Doris' peacock masks off the wall to take home.  I knew exactly where it should hang. Besides being artists, Doris and Sue have something significant in common:  they're good handcrafters in more functional ways: both builders and adventurers on land and sea, both talented in widely different media.

Doris, also a writer (and this year the coordinator for the Pamlico Writers Conference in March, which I'll write about another time; I'm doing one of the workshops), tells me she has a new book in the making, different, she claims, from this last one which, though fiction as well, dips into the autobiographical, as did her first.

Well.  There's such a fine line between who we are and where we come from, and the fine arts we practice.  We can't write or paint (or pot or solder or cut stone or weave) what we aren't.  I think, knowing that, that it's one of the most valuable things about having artists as friends.  We admire their work, yes, and through it or because of it come to understand their lives.  (Or vice versa.)  And both their art and their lives teach us, sometimes keep us going, one way or another.

Meredith Loughlin
That's certainly true of younger artists Neil and Meredith Loughlin who graduated from art school and promptly leaped into building the Lone Leaf Gallery. Theirs is home to younger and edgier artists and crafts people mostly, often local, often on the cusp of becoming.  No one needs guess why they have my admiration; both photographers, they have used their network of fellow students, teachers, and Washington connections, as well as their youth, to expand their vision of what art can become, and to show us what a gallery can mean to a community.  Unlocked from singular focus on their own media, they find they have hands for more than what's behind the camera...a talent for choosing others' arts and other arts that matter, for framing, photo restoration, for production work.  And not least for keeping the bar of Washington art just a little higher.

Neil Loughlin
In fact, what all these artists-friends have in common...and in a town like Washington, that's key...is that they not only create art, but create places to show, too.  It's necessary and beyond admirable ...sometimes heroic.


And speaking of heroes, the annual Friends of the Brown Library Book Sale at the Washington Civic Center is one not to miss if you're in the vicinity...or even if you're not.  People come from miles to score great books, media and even tote bags to carry the finds.  It's the best used book sale in the region, and maybe beyond (and the best organized, too...take it from me).

                                                       For more information about the Friends and all they do for Brown, go to:  www.http://friendsofbrownlibrary.blogspot.com/

January 19         Members' Night  5:30 - 8:30 pm (Psst!  You can join at the door for $15.)
January 20-21    Public Sale           9:00am - 5:00 pm
January 22         Books by the Bag!  12:00 - 3:00pm


2017 Pamlico Writers Conference asks the question:  "Traditional Publishing...Still an Option?"
A Friday night reception and a full day Saturday conference will be held in the Turnage Theater.

For more information, go to https://pamlicowritersgroup.wildapricot.org/event-2260134

1 comment:

  1. You just gave me a nice "trip" back to Washington. I would visit there again in a minute.