Shep

Border Collie

Just one drawing today… Yesterday coming home from a walk with Bear I heard a song on Mohammed’s Radio that I first heard the day I accepted the offer on my California house and KNEW I was leaving. I’d seen Monte Vista by then, and knew I was moving here, but I didn’t know where. The song struck me as prescient except for some of the details. Of course I didn’t know then, 2014, what the valley to which was moving would mean to me. My river has a different name. And hearing the lyric, “I wish I was a slave to an age old trade…” I thought, “Yeah but I’m retiring.” I still thought that would be cool but what trade?

I started painting again after decades when I was still in California, probably in 2009. I was already in love with it. Painting was liberating while teaching was mostly a struggle. “Is this who I am?” I asked whatever it is we ask.

My writing life and travel taught me about painting, history, materials, motivations. This year when I decided to just go for it and to paint what would sell as well what came from the innermost part of me, I consciously joined the timeless choir of hired painters, and I love it. I am a slave to an age old trade. It’s grand.

Lingering Effects of Poetry

“Tell me not in mournful numbers
Life is but an empty dream;
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.”

Some words trigger memories and some words trigger memorized poetry. Today’s Ragtag daily prompt — the word “slumber” — triggered memories of “A Psalm of Life” a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow when he was only nineteen. My mom tossed lines from that poem at me even when I was very small, but the lines she usually tossed were “Life is real! Life is earnest!” The poem has been a constant echo throughout all these years.

I got to teach that poem several times and I always enjoyed it, but the best experience was in the People’s Republic of China. Somehow my teaching and Longfellow’s poem hit my students just right.

I introduced the poem by saying that, to Longfellow, our lives were something to create, like a piece of marble that we would carve into something beautiful. I remember reading a lot of very beautiful essays written into the little copy books they used that they were going to “carve their stone.”

It’s funny how the poem still resonates for me. It was sometime during the late spring 2020, with COVID scaring the crap out of everyone with half a brain, that I realized I’d better start oil painting and RIGHT NOW because, “Art is long and time is fleeting…” and I had/have a ton of unused supplies.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting, 
   And our hearts, though stout and brave, 
Still, like muffled drums, are beating 
   Funeral marches to the grave. 

“Crap! I have more paint than I might be able to use in the entire rest of my life and if COVID??? HOLY crap! Martha, you don’t have TIME to be afraid of that big canvas!! Get your ass in there!!”

I really did think that, and I got my ass in there.

Essentially, I guess, the poem is a paean to stoicism and “making the best of it,” which is, you know, pretty much all any of us can do .

A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers, 
   Life is but an empty dream! 
For the soul is dead that slumbers, 
   And things are not what they seem. 

Life is real! Life is earnest! 
   And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, 
   Was not spoken of the soul. 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, 
   Is our destined end or way; 
But to act, that each to-morrow 
   Find us farther than to-day. 

Art is long, and Time is fleeting, 
   And our hearts, though stout and brave, 
Still, like muffled drums, are beating 
   Funeral marches to the grave. 

In the world’s broad field of battle, 
   In the bivouac of Life, 
Be not like dumb, driven cattle! 
   Be a hero in the strife! 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! 
   Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act,— act in the living Present! 
   Heart within, and God o’erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us 
   We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us 
   Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints, that perhaps another, 
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, 
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
   Seeing, shall take heart again. 

Let us, then, be up and doing, 
   With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving, still pursuing, 
   Learn to labor and to wait.


P.S. I appreciate the encouragement on the ink drawings. It’s not my “thing,” but it’s an interesting challenge. One good thing about it is that, unlike painting, I’m not constantly cleaning brushes so the winter cracks on my thumb from cold, dry air and brush washing might finally heal.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/02/27/rdp-saturday-slumber/

Painting and Painting

When Goethe FINALLY found the resolve to run away from Weimar and go to Italy, he discovered so many things he had only dimly felt but hadn’t seen and couldn’t know, the vast number of talented artists whose names were unknown to the world. He was also aghast at the incredible quantity of religious paintings. For Goethe art was self-expression and he threw his bias over the world of Italian painting and concluded that artists would like to have painted something else, but were forbidden to.

When Goethe fled Weimar he was disenchanted with himself as a writer and wondered if he were not really meant to be a visual artist and he went to Italy in search of salvation as a creative being, his heart crushed by unrequited love, his mind clouded by what he feared was an inability to write. He’d had one rock-star success with Sorrows of Young Werther many years earlier and since?

I’ve mulled that over several times in the years since I read Italian Journey. I’ve wandered around parts of Italy myself looking at art, and I’ve seen some of what Goethe saw. Rather than fleeing unrequited love, I went to Italy to embrace it. Ha ha. Art was my redeemer during that strange trip, my rope out of an abyss of anger and disappointment. I had days and days to collect images and see time through that miraculous mirrored time tunnel of a really great art museum — the Pinacoteca in the Sforza Castle in Milan.

I was there before 9/11 and the entire art museum was open to the public including rooms of racks of paintings, the racks on wheels. You could pull out the racks and look at dozens of paintings.

Most were religious paintings. Some were exercises and commissions; others were much more.

I was thinking about that the other day, why the large painting of the crane and the woman, dog and tree are so different to me and people who’ve seen them. The experience of painting them was different, too. I like to paint things that a little risky (for me) and from which I’m going to learn something, and that something is usually about painting. Recently Facebook showed me posts showing the series of steps that led to this painting of an adobe potato cellar. It’s painted over a sunset I tried a few years ago. It was a challenging painting, but the challenge was mostly technical and improved my skills as a painter.

Two other paintings, the Tree and the Crane, are “religious” paintings. There’s no San Sebastian or John the Baptist’s severed head or Mary holding the infant Jesus, but entering each one was an act of faith for me. They were both MORE than most of my paintings had been, more than “Can I do this well?” They both challenged my ability as a painter, but they also demanded a certain journey into a psychological and spiritual unknown, each in a completely different way.

The crane painting is obviously a painting of a crane, and there was the challenge of the large canvas (4 feet x 3 feet), but it’s more than that. I wanted to paint the silence of the big empty under the silvery pre-snow sky. The moment I saw this in real life, the world was silent except for the sounds of cranes. I don’t have words to explain it, but I have long wanted to say to Goethe that the really great paintings are ALL religious paintings and the metaphors people had with which to paint their inner spiritual reality have always come from their world. A world in which the Christian allegory is as potent as hunger will render its spiritual self in those images. It’s more than painting well. There is a mystery behind it.

Matthias Grünewald

Goethe never went to those places with his visual art. He DID go there with Faust and attempted an even more profound journey with Faust, Part II. I’m not sure that the person looking art or reading something is aware of the journey the artist takes in the process.

A finished work is an almost sterile coda to the experience of attempting to show, attempting to say. It’s one experience for the artist, another for the consumer of art. But some works of art allow the consumer inside, if only for a moment. I experienced this with Leonardo’s Last Supper which, in all its ruin and restoration is still way beyond a painting. As Goethe noted, it is a force.

Featured photo: On the Tiber above Rome, opposite the Villa Madama Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/02/16/rdp-tuesday-art/

“Think about it, Martha.”

In spite of a mildly torqued knee. a pulled groin muscle, and a limp, I decided to take Bear out to the Refuge. I thought I’d use a cane for stability, but I’d forgotten that is Bear’s job. She’d kind of forgotten that, too, at the beginning of our walk, but she remembered before she did any damage.

The moment I arrived, I noticed the welcoming party.

Welcoming committee…

It was very deer of them to be there, waiting for me, and I was grateful. I took it as a benediction on what I feared was a bad idea, walking Bear when I am physically a little fragile. I sent them my thanks through ASL (which all muledeer understand perfectly) and my friend and I took off slowly, me limping, Bear wanting to smell everything. I didn’t blame her. Even I could see the stories left in the snow.

We went along. I had no idea how far I would go before I couldn’t go, but it turned out that I was able to go almost as far as usual. The only reason I didn’t go all the way is because my mom told me not to, I mean because I’m less stupid and stubborn than I was three days ago. Bear studied scents, rolled in the snow, dug down to where maybe some little creature had burrowed for warmth.

On the way I noticed a large bird in one of the cottonwood trees. Then it went “ooo-hooo” and I realized it was “my” great horned owl. Too far away for a good photo, but when has that deterred me?

I should really take a camera…

When Bear and I turned around, Bear did her lean thing which I interpret to mean, “Thank you Martha,” but it might mean, “Aren’t we going to hunt some more?” We walked along together, my hand on my dog’s back, and I thought, “Is this so bad, Martha? Really, what’s wrong with this? Your best friend is here. Your welcoming committee was waiting for you. The snow is one big mantle of diamonds and stories. And look at that! Look, right in front of you!!”

I did. I stood there and looked at the little grouping of mountains I’ve painted so many times that they’re almost a part of my hand, and I started to cry. “We are hardly a consolation prize,” murmured all the features of the landscape, “And we’re yours. You came here for this and we are here for you. Do you have to live according to some idea of yourself or can’t you just do what we do and BE?”

There were no human footprints anywhere. A couple signs of someone on X-country skis maybe three days ago, but otherwise? As it is most of the year, it was just us, Bear and me and sometimes Teddy, too. I like the cold, the wind, the changes, the tracks, the possibilities of seeing other animals besides me and my dogs. I like what I see going slowly.

So, I will be selling my skis.

Painting vs Evil

Painting has turned out to be an effective strategy in other dark times and seems to be working now. It makes a big difference to me to focus on something beautiful rather than something ugly. And making something beautiful seems to be the definition of positive thinking.

Yesterday Facebook showed me a painting I did last year when I first got the natural pigments. Looking at it (and I like it and am proud of it) I thought, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Snowy Trail (actual size)

It’s been important because in no other sense have I been able to “get anywhere,” especially in these times when so much is out of my control and so much of it is bad and scary. The little painting above is 5″ x 7″ (13 x 18 cm)

Right now I’m painting garden signs. They’re fun, colorful, don’t take up a lot of space, and people buy them. My order of acrylic paint finally arrived late last night (??,) so I can finish a couple garden signs that are hanging fire and start one that needs a color I couldn’t mix.

I listened to Biden’s speech yesterday and his plan is expensive (initially) and ambitious, but I think his point that if people HAVE money they can SPEND money and with the rolling out of vaccines, people will be able to go into the marketplace more freely. I know that when I don’t have money, I can’t spend it. Most of all, his plan is kind. Right now that’s worth a lot to me. I doubt Trump will ever get his comeuppance, but I really don’t care, do you? 😉

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/01/15/rdp-friday-comeuppance/

Painting Against the Gotterdammerung

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home” pretty much sums up my feelings at this moment. I have no great inspiration right now, but just the act of painting, realizing an idea or facing down a challenge, is healing and distracting.

On my birthday, I spent the morning on the phone with my cousin for whom I did this painting as a birthday gift from my cousin’s daughter:

On the phone she mentioned she loved it but what she REALLY loved was the painting on the back which is my “logo” — a little quickly done painting of the mountains near my house, notably, Windy Mountain. So, I decided to paint her a little painting featuring that scene (featured image).

The big project I was struggling with was a salmon colored poppy. Red poppies are easy because the color is intense and self-reliant, but salmon? When you start mixing colors and are dealing with pastels, everything is trickier, for me anyway. Not my favorite painting, but not a total failure, either. This garden sign is 23 x 12

Meanwhile, they’re alleging snow, but Bear and I are skeptical. I’m not doing great art at the moment. It’s been an intense and artistic few months and the psyche is a little tired, not to mention the relentless scary ugliness of current events. SO… I guess I’ll just keep painting toward better days and hope for snow… March is sometimes the snowiest month of the year.

This poppy is in my Etsy Shop. https://www.etsy.com/listing/939396195/salmon-poppy-garden-sign

Who Are You?

“Yet in my lineaments they trace
Some features of my father’s face.” Lord Byron

As a kid, people said, “Martha Ann looks like Bill.” (My dad) In my late forties/early fifties I realized how much I looked like my paternal grandmother. And NOW? In later life the invisible internals of those people begin to assert themselves.

Genetic science is interesting, but, of course, you have to pay to find out the really good stuff, stuff beyond your eye color, hair texture, whether you like cilantro or not (I do), etc. You know, stuff you already know. Except I was pretty excited to learn that I have the “sprinter gene” which means I run fast for short distances. I did. And, beyond that, I see the benefit in that when escaping from Smilodons and such back in the day. I haven’t paid and won’t.

Maybe in the future, it will be part of a kid’s first medical exam. My dad and I talked a lot about death and one of the things we agreed on was that it was better that he went through his life until age 35 or so not knowing he had MS and where that was likely to lead. We pondered how a person would live life if they knew at the get-go when and how they were likely to die. The upshot of our conversations on this topic was always that death isn’t the important thing. Life is the important thing.

I wonder, though, how much personality is genetic. I’m a very tough, resilient and optimistic little person. Was my personality the result of my own lived years, or did I come into the world with this as an edge against the bad stuff that was going to happen? My mom used to say of my paternal grandmother, “You’d think that the life she’s lived would show but it doesn’t. It seems to pass right over her like nothing happened.” I can’t speak much to that because I don’t know the details of my grandmother’s life other than her own mother dying of diabetes when my grandmother was still a little girl, marrying my charismatic but alcoholic grandfather, living through 2 world wars, grandpa going to prison for 2 years, her son getting MS and dying at 45 — wait, do I really need MORE than this?

And IF these traits are passed on genetically, how would they track them? This adds a new dimension to the whole question of the invisible and ineffable.

In daily news, I brought home everything from the museum yesterday and put it away. The best part of yesterday was seeing 30 or so Sandhill cranes circling above me as I unloaded my paintings. I don’t know why I love those guys so much, but I do. ❤ I ordered new notecards for the museum and my Etsy store. They should be in stock in a week or so. I don’t know what art project is on the horizon. I expect to use these unseasonably warm January days to cut plywood.

Paintings I’ve converted to notecards (so far) there may be others…

The featured photo is my paternal grandmother — Helen Berggren Kennedy — my brother and me sometime in the early 1960s. The little tree on the end-table is a tumbleweed I flocked and hung little red balls on. My mom saw it in a lady’s magazine and sent me out to find a tumbleweed. It was a cool — and beautiful — project and I still think of doing it again every Christmas. 🙂

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/01/06/rdp-wednesday-lineament/