a journal of...

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Hint of Spring

I know.  It's been weeks since my last post, and this one is dawdling on the page, even now. Goodness knows, it's not for loss of words, or subjects...most of January has been spent in a complication of plots that would rival Faulkner's Sound and the Fury, not to mention Welty's Losing Battles. Either title might do nicely for this writing.

Since mid-January, I've been away tending to my aunt and uncle whose lives in their late nineties are beginning to be...well, there's no other word for it but complicated.  My aunt, with a weak heart, and blinder and deafer, needs more care; my uncle, though his sight isn't the best, either, is having trouble assimilating to the changes that such age brings to my aunt and to him, especially the infusion of extra people needed for their care. I can't blame him: some days at their apartment are like rush hour at a train station, home care, house cleaners, physical therapists, nurses in and out.  I, too, would want to shoo them all out with a dust broom, no matter how well-meaning, and settle myself in to ordinary life.  In some ways, organizing people to help, including myself, feels traitorous.  But they're safe and cared for, and certainly loved.

I'm glad to be able to be with them at critical junctures like these, and try to keep life as comfortable for them as I can. But I live 400 miles away, and distance is also complicated.  The telephone helps us keep in touch and my cousin who lives a few miles from them is also a good communicator and on-site resource, especially in emergencies.  We work together, all four of us, to make peace with old age.

Coming back here the other night, I picked up life as usual, or thought I did.  It's a long, boring trip, and the interstate isn't my idea of a good ride, but, as it was Sunday, traffic was fewer in number and more polite in attitude.  Instead of turning on the radio, I thought new thoughts about work on the art I'd left and new work I might begin, about the garden I'll plant in spring, and I returned in good time.

In the last decade or so, I've traveled quite a bit between relatives, and my routine leaving and returning is pretty much pat:  clean up my desk, do the wash, pack, close up house, stop for gas, head out; then, whatever given time later, re-pack, say goodbyes, head home, stop for gas and groceries, unpack, wash, deal with desk stuff again.

This time, though, I walked in the door, began to unpack, and stopped.  Enervated, I left suitcases and bags in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, made myself a cup of tea, and collapsed in front of a movie I've seen a hundred times.  Tomorrow, I thought, I'll undo everything.

The next morning, I picked up where I left off, and, feeling more purposeful, I made my usual list of things to do, wash, errands, visit to the library where I picked up a half-dozen films I hadn't seen before and two books I hadn't read, walk around the neighborhood, decent dinner.  In my studio, I turned to the copper book I'm assembling and added some page embellishments, leaving them to dry.  When I went to bed last night, I'd seen one film (good humored, thank goodness:  Chinese Puzzle) and read one of the books (don't bother; I can't think why the author thought that was a story).  Tomorrow, I told myself, will be back to normal.  

This morning, though, it was as if yesterday had never happened.  I woke early enough, but instead of rising, I pulled the covers up, picked an Ann Tyler book from the shelf next to me, and lost myself in it until lunchtime.  I'd read it before, yes, but it couldn't have seemed more appropriate...Back When We Were Grownups.

Finally crawling out of bed, I washed and dressed, and step by step made my way downstairs.  I'd wanted to get back to my copper book, to plan the journal workshop I have to give in March, and certainly write you a new post, though heaven knows I had no intention of making it this complaint...instead, I'd wanted to introduce you to an artist I found while I was away.  But something happened on the way to the laptop. Half the day was done, but I was just getting started, my energy only slowly rising with me.  I made tea and sat on the porch for a while...the day was sunny, the breeze cool, but the sun warmer, like that old story about whether sun or wind could make a man unbutton his coat.  I relaxed into this hint of spring for a few minutes, and began to think about the next step in the day.

Phone calls from my aunt, my sister, and the care coordinator brought me back to earth.  Scheduling complications still reigned, despite two weeks efforts.  My poor aunt and uncle didn't have their comfort yet, and I was still halfway between here and there.

But that little while on the porch, spring showing its head, even if only for a day, was a respite not only in time but faith.  Around the corner, a redbud tree had bloomed, a few crocuses showed up across the street.  Even the chill wind couldn't keep them away.  It's good that nature sends us these little lessons, and just in time.

Later, I'll take another walk, and undo the knots in my muscles, including that complicated tangle in my heart.  If this post isn't what I really had planned to say, I will append my apologies here, and get to it before long.  Tomorrow is another day.

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A New Year

This time of year thou mayest in me behold...Order.   As if the first day of the new year clanged its bells, Organize!  Organize!, I begin routing, clearing, ordering and re-ordering, until I can't glance into a far corner of the least used closet without digging out the old and re-settling the new.  I wonder at the impulse, for that's what it is; otherwise, you could never call me obsessive about such house- and grounds-keeping, except for January.

It's true I'm a Capricorn; so the executive branch of my sign naturally comes out strongest now.  But it's also winter, time for all of nature to dig down, root in, and hide from sight, while it nourishes itself for the flowering to come three months hence.  Likewise, I, holing up inside in the chilly weather (a lot of dreary days this week helped), find endless chores left undone since last January. This year, I began by intending to clean up my desk, and set to work shuffling through accounts, balancing (well, I can dream) this year's budget, sorting receipts for tax season, and then attacking the files themselves to find a better way.  
a filing system?
That meant pulling everything out of closets and cabinets.  Moving room by room, an infection of efficiency burning through me, I entered each space, thinking of it as new territory to conquer.  I moved dishes, books, rugs, furniture, shelves (in the process uncovering hidden stashes of dust and a few spiders I thanked for their service and swept out the back steps, Dickinson-style); I dispatched, each to its separate doom, pencil stubs, an Uno game with cards missing, dried paint, graying plastic ware, burnt baking pans, belts I haven't worn since the 70's, and notes for appointments I may or may not have made back when.  

a clean cabinet
In yesterday's 60 degrees my energies took a turn outdoors.  I meant only to bring in two extra chairs for a dinner party I'm having, and found myself attacking the storage shed itself, then the cluttered area next to the shed, then the ivy patch beyond that, pulling out junk and raking leaves and gathering fallen limbs for collection.  In this new order I'd created, I walked back and forth like a surveyor, planning a small but significant expansion of the parking area, a neatening of the trash barrel cluster, and a new garden around the stump of the sugar maple cut down last spring.  And all of that would have been done by now if only I'd had instant access to a few truckloads of stone, dirt, mulch and bulbs (I did have some bulbs--thanks, Johanna!--but Alexander and I had planted them elsewhere the other day).  Also, it was getting dark.

garden in waiting
Winter purging, tedious as the idea of the task might seem, has its advantages well beyond the proud breath of accomplishment a Capricorn thrives on this one month a year.  One begins the calendar year with some sort of system, imagining it new and improved, and--even better--rediscovering exactly what one has.   Hitherto lost things become found objects...ah-hah!  that's where that is!   This morning it was a small sewing scissors under the knitting bag in the sitting room; yesterday it was twelve chopsticks that had slipped through a slit in the drawer (I've got to fix that drawer) and three custard cups peeking behind the pie pans, which, in consequence, got moved to where the paper bags used to be, while they in turn got moved to a rolling cart I pulled out of the coat closet where it was shamefully doing nothing. 

lost and found
Interestingly, though my studio is (not tidier, no, but) freshly open to new ideas, these days aren't open to work in it, I find.  I can edit or I can create; I can root or I can flower.  One precludes the other.  Soon though, all this tendency to order will wane, and I will return to normal life in the right brain.  I've already slowed down...this post is a kind of braking in itself...and awoke this morning imagining what I'd do with a lot of copper pieces I've been storing, some with really intriguing figures stained into them.  I'm looking forward to making a mess again.

             May your new year be clean and bright for as long as it takes to make peace with it.