Friday, June 24, 2022

Naked Eye Kith

Everyday Clover, Pelikan Opaque Watercolor

 This week I've been working on two little paintings that represent 'bodies' at different ends of the spectrum in scale and longevity. 

First, I returned to a favorite subject, clover. I appreciate the humble charm of clover which shows up mostly on its own and sticks around if it isn't poisoned. This year clover is blooming abundantly and I learned that young bunnies enjoy scarfing the blooms down. On the other hand, I have not spotted that many 4-leaf clovers. I guess the leaves are feeling secure in their ability to support blooms that they don't need to sprout extra. 

All month, I've been paying attention to the very early morning sky. For the first time in eighteen years,  planets of our solar system are lined up.  Mercury is closest to the horizon. Venus is up from there and Mars--which truly looks red--leads to Jupiter. Further up in the sky and not as bright, is Saturn. This week, the crescent moon added to the wondrous composition. 

It is a rare sight, and yet, one available to those willing to awake a bit early. Sometimes, when I am looking at the stars in the middle of the night--usually observing a lunar eclipse--I feel very small.  This is a proper perspective for sure as I am small in the big scheme of things! But, this month, as I've enjoyed regular encounters with these celestial bodies it has given me a sense of belonging. I belong to the Universe. Anyone who might try to kick me out is as small as I am. 

Mars & Moon, mixed media

Both of these modest projects are enriching my sense of 'kith', my home, my habitat. We don't know how much time we have on this Earth, but I know that it is some amount of time between a clover plant and a planet. I find joy that I can make a place among both.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Bruised Wood

The Bruised Wood, 16 x 20", mixed media on Arches paper

Over the past number of years I have been thinking about both visual and aural expression. This began as I was studying ways to use the harp to bring comfort. I became immersed in the consideration of how music affects us. I learned about modes and the special qualities they convey. This lead me to creating visual interpretations of the modes which I write about in my July 2015 blog, Art a la Mode.  Around the same time, I began to interpret my favorite musical compositions through paintings. Now, I have completed the journey and I'm creating very short videos, meant to be brief meditations. Starting with the meditation concept, I make paintings which are 'animated' through some development and using different lighting. On the harp, I improvise while focused on my painting.

The Bruised Wood is my first venture in this process.  I made it as a Lenten meditation and a lament for the state of the world. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Still Igniting, After All


Facebook reminded me of a post from two years ago. It was a good one that caused some reflection, I'll repeat it here:

    Yesterday, I had my annual exam, which included lab tests, so I had to fast and abstain from my usual coffee ritual. My morning social media session was still allowed. Unfortunately, I came across a post that declared something to the effect of Democrats Support Abortion through Birth! Absurd, of course. I thought this would be like saying that Republicans are only against abortion because they want school kids for target practice!  Obviously, not charitable thinking or true.

     In the dark, with the quarter moon just over my left shoulder, I set off for my appointment, on foot and in a frazzled mood. Runners were coming and going as I crossed the street. But then there was a change of pace. A young (it seemed) man with a curly mop of hair shining beneath the street light was walking in my direction on the other side. He was singing(!) I tuned in to listen. He was chanting! I couldn't make out the words until the very end when he sang of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen. I sang the 'amen' along with him. The tune was familiar. What was it...?

     Even without knowing the answer to that, everything changed. It was still dark, but the light was slowly embracing the landscape. By the time I came to the summit (the Young Library on the University of Kentucky campus) a rosy light was reflecting off of the tall downtown buildings. I walked up the road by a gaggle of dormitories and noticed a sign: Find What Ignites You--okay, I thought, too late for that, I'm more glowing embers now.

     I arrived at the clinic and had my blood drawn in the lab and then went upstairs for my exam. I had a little wait, so I took out a slim volume by J. Philip Newell, One Foot in Eden: A Celtic View of the Stages of Life. I had just started and was reading the chapter on Birth and Holiness. This jumped out at me: "The Celtic poet, Yeats, writes of 'the holy tree' at the heart of life, from which beauty and goodness spring. This way of seeing is threatened, he says, 'by the bitter glass' held up before our eyes by demons. If we gaze through that glass our eyes 'grow all unkind' and we see only 'a fatal image' within ourselves. To see the holy tree within, on the other hand, is to be freed to see life at its heart as good."* I was called back. My weight was measured and then my blood pressure: 112/73. Ahhhh.

     Later that evening. I recognized what the walking angel had been chanting: Veni Creator Spiritus. Indeed.

    I am struck by how this post was filled with foretelling guidance. Perhaps sometimes you can find your lost keys under the streetlight! I even found a lost key alluded to in the sign, that I didn't know was missing; I still have a reason to ignite and I am regularly fueling up my passion. And while the pandemic has been a true tragedy for the whole world, it did create the way from me to connect with the Bright Way Harp Circle. This amazing community has challenged me to create and to share my creating in ways that help and heal. A rush of fresh air brings a flame to my glowing embers.  The sign called to me: Find What Ignites You. And I have. 

* William Butler Yeats, The Two Trees

Friday, June 25, 2021

Youth, Age and Rejuvenation


I make almost daily walks to the Henry Clay estate. It is only about a mile from my home and it is filled with enough trees that it has officially become an arboretum. I can do my forest bathing and tree-hugging close to home! The estate also features an historic house (though it was built after Henry Clay's time) and an English style enclosed garden. Two sides of the garden are bounded by a brick wall and the other two by a fifty-year old Yew hedge. Recently, the interior side of the hedge has been cut back to the trunks. A sign announcing the project states that this is being done so that the yew hedge might thrive for another 50 years. We are invited to be patient during this aesthetically awkward time. 

As I approached the garden this day, I could see the sculpture of the young child and birds through the newly sheared hedge. The branches were framing the sculpture in an interesting way. When I entered the garden and looked at the sculpture from that vantage point it appeared to be an intriguing juxtaposition of youth and age, and what is necessary for rejuvenation to keep something aging successfully (and that is a juxtaposition in itself!) To me, this idea was encapsulated in this photograph. The sculpture of the child is particularly lovely because, through age it has developed the lovely verdigris patina (except on the left foot which has been polished by many hands over the years.) The child appears to be looking over at the scarred hedge with a bit of concern--"What has happened to my hedge's verdant growth?" --eyeing particularly the round copper wounds where branches used to be attached. The hedge has re-entered a stage of awkward adolescence, though it is fortunate to have a green side and the basic structure to grow into. The asymmetry of mature boxwoods along the border has been exposed with the removal of half of the hedge, so the awkwardness reverberates along the two sides. 

All this made me think about graceful aging and how sometimes we are required to cut something out in a major way. This is difficult because the change in ourselves also reverberates out in waves into our lives. Sometimes the change is harder on the 'boxwoods' in our lives than us. And the change can be necessary even if you have been careful and tuned into healthy practices. The Yew Project sign noted that they have been carefully pruning back the hedge all along. There are also times when we are forced to change, forced to say goodbye to an important part of our life--no planning was involved. But, perhaps that encourages a kind of new growth, too, even though not desired. I guess what struck me while in the garden, was the strong link between youth and age, old and new and the intriguing idea of cutting away so that something could become even older.  My wish is that we may have the fortitude to carry on for a bit longer and develop a beautiful patina of our own. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

My Mother and the Garden

 I've walked to the ebullient peony garden at Ashland Estate to get photos and inhale the peony air on the day before Mothers Day. The forecast for Mothers Day is grim--a gully washer. So here I am on a beautiful Saturday. My image here is bereft of people, but on this Saturday, there are harmonious 'crowds'. People speaking different languages and also the language of family. It strikes me right at the heart. A jet goes overhead and I think of the Kew Gardens where a 747 seemed to pass overhead every minute. Okay, this is a scaled down version of a garden, but it is within walking distance and it is something I can claim.

    I have this realization as I'm looking at the peonies and listening to the intimate conversations--my mother was never really a fan of gardens, at least in her Earthly life. Gardens for her meant weeding in the hot sun. She was a person of ideas and making things. Perhaps in projects where you were simply the co-pilot of God, well... Anyway, she was not a fan. Somehow, this strikes me as more pertinent as I'm looking at the fuchsia petals. MA didn't really care for gardening, yet, now she meets me in the garden. In fact, the garden at Ashland Estate. Very curious.

     My favorite story to read is The Secret Garden. I first read it as a child, reading the very book my mother read as a child. Funny that the book we shared from childhood would be about a garden. But, funny things have happened since my mother departed. She made it clear to me that she would be 'in the garden' just like Lilias clarioned to Archie. 

     So, when I am walking to Ashland Estate I love to go by the walled garden and I envision my mother's presence. Is she there? Can I be certain? No, but there is this amazing group of volunteer gardeners who tend the peony patch and the walled garden, so MA would be off the hook work-wise.

     Families and mothers are unique. We believe that we don't really have choices in the matter of where we land. Yet, here we are, looking out at all the things growing and giving thanks.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lovely, Lowly, Clover

When I first read the description of the new Ballad harp from Musicmakers, I was a little dismayed. It featured a lighter tension and closer spacing of the strings. I thought, 'How irritating.'  Also, I had already made two harps and what did I need with another?  That was in the spring.

    Over the summer, I joined the Bright Knowledge Harp Circle and began the wonderful adventure of a deeper dive into playing the harp. I realized there were all kinds of possibilities for improving my playing and clarifying my expression. Also, I had experienced several more months of living with a raging pandemic and, well, rage in general. It occurred to me that having a lighter, more sensitive touch might be good in today's world--we could use a little more yin to balance the yang being thrown about. So, when there was a deal I couldn't refuse, I ordered the DIY Ballad Kit from Musicmakers. It arrived a couple of days later.

     I knew what I would name my new harp long before she arrived unassembled: Clover. That is not a surprise to those of you who know me. I love clover and learned from Carly-the-Dog to spot 4-leafs. My dream lakeside studio was called Clover Slope. But, clover, the plant, does not need my endorsement. This humble little plant is a wonder! Of course it is charming above ground, with a sweet scent when abundantly in bloom and the leaves, whether in 3s, 4s or more are so pleasing in their simple way. Below ground, clover is quite industrious, fixing nitrogen in the soil so that it is accessible to vegetation. And, generally, clover comes to us as a grace. I included two four leafs on the soundboard to proclaim Clover's identity. 

       Working on Clover, I remembered the challenges and delights of building an instrument. I highly recommend Musicmakers kits. I built my first harp with no previous woodworking experience. Clover is my fifth instrument and so I knew more, but I forget things in between and always learn something new with each project. This time, I learned about orbital sanders--they save a lot of time! Still, building a harp is quite a yang exercise. There is a lot of brute force and endurance involved. I was looking forward to practicing some yin-action!

      After all the glueing, drilling and sanding (lots of sanding!) it was time to address my favorite part of the project: Clover's coat of color. I decided on a clover pink and since I couldn't find what I was looking for and I didn't want anything too heavy that would affect the sound, I created my own custom color with acrylic paints I already have on hand. I diluted the paint, so that it was a stain and I brushed it on and rubbed off the extra. It turned out to be even more beautiful than I expected as the wood shown through as gold. The effect was kind of a rose-gold.

     After the stain and multiple topcoat applications, it was time to install all the hardware (a very yang activity) and finally, the strings were attached (lots of strings attached in this world). It took me almost 4 weeks to build. I wanted to take my time because, surely this will be my last harp project (family members hope). 

     After all the strings were attached, and as I began the process of tuning, I created a song in praise of clover to be the first thing I would play on Clover.  Here is a snippet of that tune...

I played my clover creation on Clover for a couple of Zoom groups and everyone had clover stories: you can suck the nectar out of blooms on the large purple clover, horses get clover-slobber when they've been in a patch. Clover truly strikes a chord when we consider how the simpler things in life can nourish us so well (hopefully without clover-slobber...)



Saturday, July 11, 2020

Going to Seed

My last blog was about this 'pregnant time' and now I'm going to seed! For my backyard botanical sketch this week, I spent some time studying the bronze fennel which seems to be pretty happy in our back yard. I like its color in all its phases and I also like that it attracts swallowtail caterpillars to its branches. It is fun to watch the caterpillars grow considerably each day. Still waiting for them to appear this year...

I was working on rendering the flower heads and the sun went behind a cloud. The effect was kind of like seeing images in the dark when lightening strikes or an x-ray vision. The seeds of autumn were apparent, just below the flowery tops, in the lower light. In bright sunlight, light streams through the flowers and illuminates the whole. In clouded light, shadows darken the seeds in formation. It was quite a dramatic transformation and was happening in quick intervals allowing me to marvel at this effect. 

And just as I was reminded of a time of life in my last blog, once again, I related this vision to my life--actually, this time of my life. The pandemic has given me permission to go a little wild. I've not had a haircut for almost 6 months and I quit blowdrying my hair. I was just curious about what was really essential right now. Maybe not too much... But, I've been pondering a haircut and also wondering what I'm really looking like these days. I can't see what I look like without my glasses without my glasses. So, I decided to take a selfie without my glasses and slip my glasses on to see what I looked like. 

Well, it turns out that the bloom is off the rose. Nothing horrendous, just that I won't be attracting pollinators anytime soon. I must have been reflecting on this while rendering the flower/seed heads and realized that actually, my 'fertility' at this time is more like that of the seed head. Rather than trying to cling to wilted floral glory (which no self-respecting bee is going to buy), my energy is channeled into seed sowing activities that (I hope) bring beauty and new life into my world. 

I appreciate the beauty of the bronzy seed heads of the fennel. Their texture is alluring and they appear ready to generously spread their little bursts of energy. In fact, it is hard for me to resist assisting them in this. Considering where they appear, I think nature is most effective in the re-seeding. But, how lovely to think of the swallowtails that will be appearing...

I am going to get a haircut and I'm putting some thought into how to be an attractive seed-sower. At my birthday, I gave myself permission to be a flower fairy. Maybe I should have made that a seed fairy.