Monday, May 30, 2011


Our trip southeast on US 68 turned out as I had envisioned it (in the previous blog) only sweeter!  Although US 68 into Jessamine County has been expanded, the road heading down to the Kentucky River remains very windy and fairly narrow.  I'm thinking the concert grand piano must travel a different route to get to the Meadow View Barn!  David and I arrived in time for a look about Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, so I could get my fill of farm creatures.  I especially love the work horses and goats.  At the far end of this beautiful setting, we did an about face and strolled out to the Meadow View Barn.  This was the first year that Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill has been the sole presenter of The Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, which features the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
       I believe this is my absolute favorite concert setting. What could be more wonderful than sitting in an old tobacco barn, with a sweet breeze wafting through and all the meadow sounds richly texturing the air?  This year did not disappoint.  We were able to enjoy the performance of pianist Inon Barnatan again (he played with the Lexington Philharmonic this last season). His facial expression is as wonderful as his musical expression; and his Mozart interpretation is simply the best. Mozart is so appropriate for this setting; it is all very Papageno/Papagena-ish.  The first half of the concert was Mozart's Trio in E-flat major for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, and Mozart's Quartet in E-flat major for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello. There was bird song everywhere.  But, the birdsong came to a head in the second part of the concert when the Mendelssohn Quintet No. 1 in A major for Two Violins, Two Violas and Cello was played.  After the second movement, the Intermezzo, the birds outside were so persistent, that even the musicians stopped until they had their say.  A very cheeky Bob White got in a word before the quintet threw it right back at the birds with the Scherzo which is non-stop bird talk. Now, I did not hear the birds of the field during the Scherzo, but they might have been dumbstruck! What a wonderful experience; a true celebration of our beautiful world!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seeing the Home Turf with Vacation Eyes

You know how when you are on vacation, everything looks fresh and new: the light is amazing, the locals have wonderful, distinctive character and the buildings sport all manner of charming details? Maybe it is because I am an artist, and always looking for new material, but lately I have found myself surprised by the amazing beauty right in my own back yard.  Over the weekend, my daughter Mary and I went to check out the Asparagus Festival in May's Lick, KY.  Mary was driving so I was able to indulge in the scenery.  I can not remember the grass ever being quite so luxuriant, the wind forming beautiful waves. For some reason, whenever I travel from Carlisle over toward Maysville, I am struck by the beautiful light.  It reminds me of being up in Maine with a clearer quality. The light and shadow on clapboard houses especially feature this effect.  For over twenty years, I visited my mother and stepfather in Maine, so the light along this way makes me feel like I am on vacation.

     When we arrived in May's Lick, we were immediately enchanted.  There was a very festive atmosphere (appropriate, for a festival!) and cars were packed in between the highway and the cones prohibiting wheeled traffic into the community. Droves of people strolled along the road leading to the town center and almost immediately we passed a beautiful church.  The place is so small that we could see ahead another distinctive church.  This reminded me of a recent trip to France, where beautiful churches could be found in the tiniest of villages (of course, they were all Notre Dame!) The green lawn, out from the town square was filled with the booths of artists and artisans.  I spotted my Courthouse Square Arts Guild friends, Juanita, Larry and Brad offering up their specialties: painted turkey feathers, walking sticks and fossil art.  Since May's Lick is close to Maysville, it is not too surprising that we saw Ohio River Valley Art Guild members Ken and Dana (and Dana's beautiful photographs.) The other church was the site of the Asparagus Art Competition.  Large sheaves of green grass stood like columns on the pews. Art work filled the space which was at once a golden memory and as new as now. (And Brad received Best in Show for his Whale Food entry!) Mary is an enthusiastic traveler, and I think even she was impressed by what we found so close to our home turf.

    But something funny is happening to the neighborhood where David and I have lived for almost twenty-five years.  I think it is because I have opened my eyes and I am seeing things anew.  Part of this might actually come from traveling abroad and coming back to see the charms of home with fresh eyes.  Or perhaps hearing visitors to the World Equestrian Games last fall sing the praises of the Bluegrass turned my head. Certainly, having a green "paddock" where a city block used to be in downtown Lexington has allowed a different perspective on Main Street. The scene in our neighborhood is not unlike that of the village we spent some time in during David's sabbatical in Manchester, England, twenty-six years ago (though it would be neat to be able to hop on a train to get around the region.)  

    This weekend we will be driving the opposite direction on US 68, to go the chamber music festival held at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.  Every time I travel out that way, I am surprised by the beauty that exists so close to my home. The road winds down to the Kentucky River at the Palisades and then works its way to the higher elevation of Pleasant Hill where Shakers lived and worked. It is actually hard for me to think of a more pleasant place. We will walk to the Meadow Barn to hear Mozart and Mendelssohn played by a string quartet, piano and clarinet.  Birds will add to the music and there will be the sweet smell of summer coming on...unbelievable!

   I suspect, the truth is, we all live in unbelievably beautiful places. Let's open our eyes and take it in! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Running Buffalo Clover

My visit with Kathy (Branching Out, May 10) made me think about the labeling of my connections with other artists as an art colony.   It is not as though we are officially bound together with a stated desire to work side-by-side. Truthfully, I can't really claim membership in an art colony, because the scene is different for all the "members" involved. Secondly, it seems as though artist colonies often hang their hats heavily on star residents, such as the Wyeths in Bucks County and certainly Monet in Giverny. And thirdly, this collection of artists is not centrally located in one particular place.  No, what I am thinking of has something  more in common with the buffalo traces that cross the Kentucky landscape.That is why Kathy and I began speaking of an Artist Trace to recognize and benefit from the rich presence of artists in our region.
        Buffalo once roamed Kentucky and formed traces, paths that turned into Native American and pioneer trails.  Some of these then turned into the roads we use today. The buffalo were traveling to reach the resources necessary to their survival, such as water and salt. It just so happens that one of the traces is the foundation of US 68 (Buffalo Tracings, March 24.)  Not only did the buffalo shape transportation, they also had an effect on the vegetation. One beneficiary of the roaming buffalo was Running Buffalo Clover.  Trifolium Stoloniferum requires periodic disturbance and an open habitat to thrive, kind of like artists! We need to air out our ideas from time to time, and a mild tramping on the trails probably doesn't hurt either; it helps us grow. This is what coming into contact with other artists can do for us, it helps us put out runners to have a larger presence in our region. Seeing other artists' work keeps our ideas fresh. Hearing criticism, allows us to become stronger by either defending or improving our work. On the other hand, major disturbances, such as paving over a path, would terminate the expansion of Running Buffalo Clover. The lack of buffalo grazing freely has brought this clover to the brink of extinction, just as overly strict ideas about culture inhibits artistic creation.
        At one time, I was thinking that a regional arts organization should exist. However, that would add an extra layer of busy-ness to the lives of artists who are already sacrificing too much time from their primary work of making art.  Now, I believe we should take a page from the buffalo. By working as artists and keeping our sights and minds open to other artists, we help strengthen the way for all artists in the region. May your art flourish along the Artist Trace!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Branching Out

Part Five of My Art Colony along US 68

     At church last Sunday, Dick came up to me and said that my blog about my juste milieu year made him think of synchronicity. Indeed--and it is continuing!  Just as I had made plans to take down my work at White Horse, I received an e-mail from Kathy in Flemingsburg, who, with her husband Ken, created Banana Tree Studios.  They have been very active in making arts happen in their community.  A couple of years ago, Kathy invited me to teach a workshop on using watercolor and pastel in making paintings.  I had not taught before, but I am curious about how others approach art-making and I was happy to talk about this spontaneous and intuitive technique.  I taught the workshop, and wound up meeting a friend who plays a big role in my art colony:  Mary-Louise was a student in my first workshop! There were also members of the Ohio River Valley Art Guild taking the workshop and so I made a connection with an exciting group of artists, mostly centered around Maysville, KY, a beautiful river town along US 68.

         I knew that I wanted to write about Banana Tree Studios and Maysville, so it was a lovely coincidence when Kathy asked me if I had some paintings I could display at the Fleming County Hospital for a couple of months.  I did (of course!) and they were all (save one) featuring horses, just in time for the Triple Crown season.  The exhibit space is in the cafeteria of the hospital, if you get a chance, stop by and have a look.

       But even better than this opportunity to display, was the wonderful chance to catch up with Kathy.  As you can see from the photo to the right, she is up to big things!  Kathy is taking a drawing class at nearby Morehead State University. She is working on a project for her final exam which involves making rubbings of objects (frojet is the official term) and incorporating them into a flowing composition.  Her composition is all about the beach (which is appropriate since she and Ken moved to Kentucky--chased by one too many hurricanes--from Florida.)  The objects she used for rubbing are on the table.  Kathy waxed enthusiastic about her drawing class and how it makes her very anxious to get back to her main medium, pastel.  Over lunch we talked about our dreams of artists connecting in the region to raise awareness of our rich presence. I suppose this is why I wanted to write about my art colony, because it really exists.  Visiting with Kathy was the perfect reminder. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Juste Milieu Year

It is the last day of my life as a 55-year old and I want to spin a little tale about this year.  Actually, it begins earlier, on October 27, 2009.  There was a review in the WSJ of an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art entitled Sargent and the Sea. I read it with great interest because Sargent is one of my favorite painters. The reviewer, Barrymore Laurence Scherer, placed Sargent with the Juste Milieu group, rather than the Impressionists explaining that: "Juste Milieu painters employed Impressionism's lighter palette and looser brushwork--especially in their backgrounds--while rendering their figures with the careful modeling of light and shade valued by the Salon."  So the Juste Milieu were "the golden mean" between the bad-boy Impressionists and the establishment Salon. I loved thinking about Sargent being on the middle path, as it were, and I love thinking about the golden mean (the meaning of juste milieu.)  The golden mean is a concept about pleasing proportions which are laid out in the Fibonacci sequence, where you add the two previous numbers to arrive at the next: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 etc. 
      So, this is the backdrop as I approached my 55th birthday.  Last spring David and I had been planning on taking part in a hiking trip in Spain. The last day of this trip we would spend in Madrid where Sargent's painting of the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit would be on display with Velasquez's Las Meninas for the very last day.  But David's knee gave out and we had to scrap these hiking plans. Perhaps I was a bit sullen as we drove into Houston last spring on the day after my birthday (We had enjoyed a fine birthday dinner at The Olive Garden in Texarkana!) Mary's junior year was wrapped up and she lived near the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. So we drove by the MFAH and draped over the side of the building was a huge sign: Sargent and the Sea.  I couldn't believe my good fortune!  Naturally, I went to see the exhibit twice while we were in Houston.  My favorite painting was the one above, Fishermen Returning,  set in Cancale in Brittany, France.  The light is magical, at once luminescent but also a little sad.  I tried to absorb as much as I could of the young Sargent's brilliant rendering of water and humanity, sky and creatures.  Included in the exhibit were Sargent's early scrapbooks, which were fantastically inspiring.
       A couple of weeks later we went to see Jacob graduate from Washington University, Saint Louis with a masters in finance.  Now, we would not have been able to attend this graduation if we had been in Spain, so the trade off had become very easy.  We stayed at a hotel a little ways out from the campus.  The restaurant where we had our breakfast had these very pleasing paintings which made me think of Millet.  I was very curious about them. It was quite surprising, when I went to look up Juste Milieu to discover that Jules Bastien-Lepage, the ringleader of the Juste Milieu was the painter of the paintings imitated on the walls of the hotel outside St. Louis!
      In the fall, we returned to Houston to see Mary in her last powder puff football game.  It was great to see her in action (and to hear her in action--she has a very commanding voice!) Naturally, we visited the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.  This time, did not seem as promising.  They were featuring two exhibits by German Impressionists--German Impressionists--who had heard of that!  Well, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know the story (if not, see my blog: Into the Woods, Part II, January 29, 2011)  I was smitten with the freedom in the paintings of Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth and Max Slevogt. Reveling in their absolute love of nature, I was inspired to work larger and looser. 
        Then, in early spring of this year, David and I took a river cruise up the Seine which included a trip to Normandy to visit the D-Day beaches.  We knew that Richard Roney-Dougal's father had helped design the Mulberry harbours which allowed supplies to arrive with all the troops in the summer of l944. The amazing, thoroughly improbable success of this endeavor is haunting (and I write about this in my blog: Wild Primroses, April 6, 2011).  The connection to my life in Kentucky, made this visit to Normandy so very beautiful.
        Just a couple of weeks ago, I was looking up my new, favorite German artists (Liebermann, Corinth and Slevogt) in Paul Johnson's interesting Art: A New History and was astounded to read this:  "...many Germans who joined the international throng at the Academie Julian, where Bastien-Lepage was revered and his methods taught." !! The story had come full circle.
       But there is more!  Recently we learned that Mary will be teaching English next year--in Brittany, France.  Perhaps I will be able to see that eerily magnificent light that Sargent saw. This year has been a series of connections; previous experiences adding up to a new, wonderful experience. On the eve of my birthday, I feel that my life is opening in a beautiful Fibonacci spiral and I am looking forward to the rest of my Juste Milieu life!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Last Week at White Horse

This is the final week to see my paintings at White Horse Gallery, 431 Main Street, Paris, KY.  You can see the primrose paintings in the window, but go inside and check out the watercolor/pastel paintings of England and Kentucky along with my new large and vertical acrylic paintings on panels.  White Horse is open Tuesday-Friday, 11 am - 5:30 pm. and on Saturday 11-4:30.  Derby Day, May 7th,  is the last day for my paintings at this delightful venue!