All Nature Sings

 April 6th is the birthday of Charles Burchfeld, (1893-1967) watercolorist and personal favorite of mine.  Just as in the hymn my title comes from, he makes nature sing.  One thing I miss living in the city is the music of the crickets in late summer.
When I look at this painting, “Insect Chorus,”  it almost tickles my ears.

Here’s another favorite. I find everything about dandelions charming– their sunny yellow mop heads, their delicious greens, their name–Teeth of the Lion.  I love them despite–or maybe because of–their reputation as a weed.
     Many flowers lose their appeal when they go to seed but that’s when the dandelion comes into his glory.
     I’ve tried but I can’t capture those delicate little seed parasols in pen and ink. Mr. Burchfeld certainly did.

 Last week I wrote about green and my ambivalence toward lawns. I mean, I like a lawn but I have no interest in having one and I’m not sad that I live in the city where they’re cared for by someone else.
     Our home in Vermont was surrounded by a lovely rolling lawn.  It was pretty but my father insisted that it be perfect.  How can you enjoy something if all you see is what’s wrong with it?
     Dad abhorred the dandelion. That most enjoyable pleasure of summer, blowing the dainty wisps into the wind, was strictly forbidden. I think a few dots of yellow enhance the green but he said one little yellow head led to a multitude and soon all was lost. He declared war and we were all enlisted. Pulling up dandelions was everyone’s mission. 

There’s an art  to the task; you don’t just pull up the flower, yo have to take this wicked looking tool, especially designed to kill the dandelion, dig down beside the strong, deep root and pull it up whole.

 Years after that house was sold I went to church with Mom and Dad.  The preacher told this story;  

     There was a man who hated dandelions so much that he funded a study at Texas A&M to eradicate them.   After years of exhaustive research the scientists had to report that dandelions are indestructible and will always be with us.   

“We suggest you learn to love them.”  

Mom and I fell out of the pew laughing.

     There’s another hymn I love—and I put its latin translation, “Credit curas venti” in some of my etchings; It’s “Give to the Wind thy Fears.” 
     Whenever I sing it I picture taking a perfect globe of a dandelion  and blowing away the seeds.  That’s one of the forbidden pleasures of my youth.  
     But wait—that metaphor doesn’t work.  Those tiny little seeds will land and take root and grow and spread—not what we want our fears to do.  Instead, blow the dandelion and see the seeds as good
will; hopes, dreams, kind words—give them to the winds and watch them grow.

Somebody Else Loves Dandelions.

Somebody Else Loves Dandelions

  Last week my friend, Bobby, reminded me that dandelions provide food for our friends, the bees, especially early in the spring.

The bee; that tiny creature who works so hard and does so much that she’s the symbol of industry and productivity all over the world.

I’ve looked at a lot of bees this week, both photographs and drawings, and I can’t blame the artists who give them smily faces.  Close up, they’re pretty terrifying, like alien monsters. But form follows function and those big blank eyes, the six legs, the weird mouth and the fuzzy body are a perfect machine for making sweetness. 

Thank you, bees, and not just for the honey.

 Think of something you love to eat and ask if a bee had anything to do with it.  Apples, peaches, coffee, almonds, strawberries….CHOCOLATE. They  all come from plants that need pollinators and that would be the bees.

Wouldn’t you think we’d take good care of someone so important to our well-being?  We haven’t. The bees are in trouble. Climate change, loss of habitat, pesticides and a nasty virus are wiping them out.

Sometimes I just want to say, “What next?”  How can we not fall into despair?

Remember what Mr. Rogers said? 
”When a disaster happens, look for the helpers.” 

There are helpers. Beekeepers.  It used to be illegal to keep bees in the city because they were thought of as dangerous but in 2010, under Mayor Bloomberg, that ban was lifted.
Thanks, Mr. Mayor, for the Gates and the bees.
Now there are  200 registered beekeepers (and probably many unregistered) including The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and the United Nations, and there’s a New York City Beekeepers Association.

 

I’m inspired but raising bees on my small terrace is more that I can take on.Still there’s plenty to do.  
Here’s a list from the New York Bee Sanctuary of things everybody can do.

  1. Join BEE-SAFE and pledge to protect the bees on a piece of land you manage, your garden, the backyard of your company or your rooftop! We have partner towns, schools, corporations, and individuals. Everyone can join!
  2. Do not use any pesticides, fungicides or herbicides on plants or in your garden. Plants get contaminated and the product will likely reach the bees and kill them. Make sure the plants you buy are not pre-treated with neonics pesticides!
  3. Buy local & raw honey from your local beekeepers. Avoid honey sold in bulk or in the supermarket unless you are sure of its provenance and quality. Always best to buy on farmers market so you can meet your beekeeper and check with him his sustainable beekeeping practices.
  4. Plant your garden with native and bee friendly plants. They provide great sources of nectar and pollen (both food for the bees and butterflies). It’s important for bees, as it is for us, to have a diverse and regular food supply.
  5. Avoid planting lawns. Lawns are literally desert for insects and for wild plants because lawns usually never have plants beneficial to bees and are cut too often so plants never get to bloom. Instead, plant prairies!
  6. Do not weed your garden. Many plants like dandelion, for example, are an excellent source of food for bees. In early spring, those “weeds” are often the only source of food for beneficial insects. Lots of those weeds are often excellent food and medicine for us too!
  7. Even if you just have a small balcony you can install a little water basin for the bees to drink during the warm day of summer. Put a few stones and floating cork on the water so bees won’t drown!
  8. Stay connected to the Facebook page of New York Bee Sanctuary and our Instagram account so you can stay informed and sign regular petition to pressure our state and country to pass regulations to help the bees (like the ban of neonicotinoids)
  9. Educate yourself and your children about bees. Bees are not dangerous; they forage on a flower and don’t attack humans. By better understanding them we will learn to better respect them. There are 5 must-see documentaries about bees.
  10. If the buzz gets to you, learn how to become a beekeeper and install a hive in your garden or on your rooftop. It’s a powerful way to give honey bees a home and probably the best local honey you will ever get!

So, the next time you see a dandelion  all puffy and full of seeds, take a big breath and blow like it’s your birthday. Spread those beautiful seeds on the wind so they can go forth and feed the bees.

A Few Thoughts on Green

 

Saint Patrick’s Day and the wearing of the green has gone by but green is still on my mind.

Little glimpses of jade and chartreuse are popping up in my neighborhood. And I’m reminded of everything that green promises and provides. “Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises,” says Pedro de la Barca, but not everyone agrees.

The first time I saw Vermont in the summer I was stunned by the green of those hills. It was beautiful, but overwhelming.

 

When Georgia O’Keeffe was first married to Alfred Steiglitz they spent summers at his family home in Lake George.  She did some great work there, but she wasn’t inspired. “It’s so green,” she said and it wasn’t a compliment.  It was the open expanses of the Texas plains and the earth tones of New Mexico that really excited her.  And I think it was something beyond color; it was seeing the earth’s bones.  Greenery covers everything. Remember what I said in my blog post, A Letter to my Hips. In drawing class you’re trying to see the bones under the skin and muscle.  I think O’Keeffe wanted to see the earth’s bones,  just as she painted the beautiful bones she found in the desert. She was looking to strip away everything that prevented her from seeing the very basic forms that inspired her. She found the place that nurtured her in New Mexico and I found mine in New York City.

 An image that tugs at my heart every time I see it is the green of the late afternoon sun shining through leaves of grass.  This is poignant to me; it heralds the end of the day, the end of summer and missed opportunities.   It also awakens an uneasy feeling that I’m not living my life as I was meant to.  

.  My brother once asked me, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?”

And I said, “Right here.”

“No, really.”

“Yes, really.  This is where I want to live.”

“If you could live anywhere in the world?”

“Yeah.”

Since moving to New York City I have never wanted to live anywhere else but I was raised in a leafy suburb and then we moved to Vermont.  Living surrounded by grass and greenery felt like the right way. Was I depriving my children?

For a while Arthur and I dutifully looked at houses in the suburbs but we soon realized that all we asked about each town was, “How fast can we get into the city?”  We gave up the search and settled in the Village.  But I still had the nagging feeling that glowing blade of grass gave me.

O’Keeffe live in New York City for a while, and did some wonderful paintings of the tall buildings and bright lights but she didn’t love it like I do.  We each have to find our own place.

The main source of my unease was my mother. She never gave up trying to get me into a house with a lawn.  She had a lot of creative energy and, like Aunt Connie, she poured it into her home.“You love to draw houses,”she said, “don’t  you want one of you own?”  

I love houses, I dream about houses but I don’t want to own one with all the plumbing, roofing and lawn care involved.  The little house in my calendars changes her shutters every month-imagine doing that for real. I love gardens too, but it’s enough for me just to draw them.

Mom didn’t get it, but I didn’t get how she would play golf everyday if she could. 

Now she’s gone but I still talk with her.  I imagine really listening to her, and speaking so she hears me.  Then I look around my apartment and see all the things she left me-not only her collection of cast-iron Boston Terriers and her good china.  She taught me to make a homey home, to throw a party and invite my friends in, to cook, to clean up as I go along, a sense of order and tidiness.

This is a lot to put on a blade of grass.  A color.  But that’s what comes up, when I see that  place of grass, illuminated by the afternoon sun..

Aunt Connie

 
I have a long and diverse list of artists who have inspired me, like Georgia O’Keeffe, Edgar Degas, Wayne Thibaud, Hans Holbein, Hillary Knight, Alexander Calder…and Aunt Connie. 

 Aunt Connie  was an artist whose canvas, her magnum opus, was her house.  

Aunt Connie and Uncle Tut once had a summer cottage by the sea in Westhampton Beach, Long Island.  The great hurricane of 1938 washed away that house and even the land it stood upon.  All that was left was a bucket and an old bookcase.

       They believed it was the Lord’s doing that they and their children were safe in New Jersey when the storm came, so when they found a house near us in Sag Harbor they named it “Grateful Haven” and took as their motto the Bible verse Matthew 7:25;  

“And the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

    Durrell and Constance Tuttle, and their children, Bette and Porter, became our family’s closest neighbors and friends.   Aunt Connie was tall, Uncle Tut was short.  She said that when she announced her engagement and was asked to describe her fiance she said, “Well, he’s rather like Napoleon.”  He was Napoleonic in stature only; a mild mannered, soft spoken man who thought Aunt Connie could do no wrong. She called him Daddsy and he called her Dollin’.  She always looked cool and crisp in her summer dresses and spectator pumps.    

    Grateful Haven stood so close to the water that in some of its rooms you felt like you were in a ship at sea.  Nobody knew how it actually came to be–it might have been a warehouse for bootleggers during Prohibition days. 
     There were French doors across the whole front and two large unmatched windows above so that it looked a little like a smiling face winking at you. It had a jaunty tilt and very few straight lines or right angles.

    You entered a great room–so big that a ping pong table sat by the door without feeling obtrusive.  Over that was a wagon wheel chandelier.  

    Who said “Less is more?”  Aunt Connie’s  credo was “Less is a bore.” No wall or surface was left unadorned. The interior was unfinished and in each niche created by the vertical studs was a still life–a picture she had picked up at a junk shop, a piece of driftwood, a little vase with one flower.  She painted roses and ivy all over the old upright piano.  On the wall of her dining room she painted the map of Peconic Bay, with a star where Grateful Haven stood. 
     Painting on the walls?!  No one in my family would dream of such a thing.

     It was a magical house. In a game of hide and seek several years after they moved in, the children pulled up a rug they’d never noticed to find a trap door. 
     They pulled that open and found a room below with a tunnel running a hundred feet under the lawn all the way to a room under the gazebo with a still, proof of the house’s bootlegging days. That was quickly removed by the teetotaling Tuttles.                

   Upstairs was Aunt Connie and Uncle Tut’s bedroom, the same gigantic size as the living room except for a chunk taken out for the bathroom.  It was called Texas because Aunt Connie’s sister, having done a little housekeeping, came downstairs and said,
“Well, I’ve just finished sweeping the great state of Texas.”

 

    Not everyone was as enchanted as I was.  My grandfather said, “As many chairs as Connie’s got there’s not one you can sit in.” But I didn’t care about comfortable chairs.  While the grown ups talked I would look around and try to decide what I would save if I knew the flood was coming.  I usually chose a china chicken from her collection.

    My teacher, Robert Beverly Hale, said, “One’s work is nothing but the long journey through life to recover, through the detours of art, the two or three great and simple images that first gained access to one’s heart.” 

Look who now lives on top of my kitchen cabinets. 

 When I was grown up I took a friend who wrote about design for New York Magazine to see Aunt Connie’s house and she swooned, “This place is beyond charming!”  Thus confirming my childhood conviction.
 

Why was Aunt Connie my inspiration? She had qualities every artist needs:

    She was resiliant, After her first house was washed away she gave thanks that her family was safe and then she started over again at Grateful Haven. If you lose everything you have, start right over and know that whatever you’ve made before, there’s more where that came from.  I once left two finished drawings on the subway and I went right back to the studio to do them again while the image was fresh.

    She had discernment.  William Morris said, “If you want a golden rule, have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  As much stuff as Aunt Connie collected, there was nothing that was not either beautiful or useful, and everything was mostly both, and all arranged with order and a plan.  I hate clutter. Was that house cluttered?  NO. There’s clutter and then there’s abundance. 

She was resourceful. There was nothing that cost a lot of money–she had an eagle eye for wonderful things and if she saw something she liked she could usually figure out how to make one like it or better.  She saw some beach chairs on her travels and duplicated them for our beach.  They were funny looking but surprisingly comfortable and light enough to carry. Not really lounge chairs but Aunt Connie wan’t a lounging kind of person.

 

She was industrious; she always had a project.  My grandmother would say, “Connie’s always fussing with something.” As much as I loved my serene MomMom, I also admired Aunt Connie’s busy ways. I have learned that when my hand is working my mind is engaged and focused instead of running in all directions as it did in school.

    But industry without imagination can fall flat. I think Aunt Connie’s greatest gift to me was insouciance, defined by the dictionary as “casual lack of concern, indifference.”

I would add joy.  Her aesthetic was whimsical and offbeat and she stood by it proudly with an attitude of “whatever I like works.” She gave me the freedom in my drawings to say, “A pelican in the window? A rhino in the kitchen?  Why not!

    My grandparents’ house was beautiful; solid and austere, decorated with family pictures and Bible verses.  It’s my sturdy foundation.  But Aunt Connie’s house showed me how to let loose and have a little fun.  I’m grateful for both.

Who was your Aunt Connie?

Dreams

Is it really time for March Madness? The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament begins next Tuesday so basketball is on everyone’s mind, even mine.Remember the little black books I wrote about a few weeks ago? I pulled out these two pictures from 1991.
These little athletes are playing in New York City’s Junior Basketball League.

Then look at this shot, the starting lineup of Duke University’s basketball team. The caption says “Duke’s starting five, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Jason Williams, Chris Duhon and Dahntay Jones, can be an imposing group.”  Arthur tells me all five went on to careers in the N.B.A. 

They could be the little guys all grown up, although they’re not; the two pictures were taken around the same time. 
Looking at these two photos together makes me think of the Sugarplum Fairy.  

Stay with me here.  

In the second act of Balanchine’s Nutcracker, the Sugarplum Fairy dances surrounded by her court of young dancers, students of the American School of Ballet.She’s the epitome of effortless grace and beauty. 

It’s my favorite moment in the ballet.  They look up at her and see the embodiment of their dreams.  Here they are rehearsing together.

“Stand up straight, hold in your tummy, do this with your hands.”
Ballet is the art of making enormous hard work appear effortless.It’s all about the dream; the seed and the flower. Where does it begin and what’s required of us to make a dream come true?

I saw Mets shortstop Jose Reyes make a diving catch–fully stretched out, flat on his belly on the grass and the next second he was on his feet; he pivoted and threw to first for a double play.  How many crunches and burpees did it take to achieve that easy grace?

Here’s a story from our family legend.  Arthur and my dad were talking—Dad was going on and on about a friend he greatly admired,
“He’s just a wonderful person—a perfect person…Well, I can’t say that because we know there was only one perfect man.”  

Dad of course meant Jesus, but Arthur said,

“I Assume you mean Pete Maravitch.”  

[that’s Pete Maravich of the scraggly hair and floppy socks, all time NCAA division I scorer, played for three NBA teams until injuries ended his career.]

I’ve read that Maravitch as a kid, took his basketball wherever he went-even to the movies. He’d sit in an aisle seat and dribble all through the show.  That may be an apocryphal story, but it rings true; Pistol Pete strove for perfection. He dreamed of playing in the NBA and he knew what it took to get there.

 

It’s not only with athletes; Mary Oliver said, “Lord knows when I started writing poetry it was rotten… but I kept at it.  With my pencil I’ve travelled to the moon and back several times.”

Pablo Casals, in his nineties, was asked why he still practiced at his cello for hours every day.  He replied, “I think I’m getting somewhere.”

Any gift—a talent, a garden, a baby, THE EARTH, takes work to bring it to flower.

We all know how to get to Carnegie Hall.

My Grandmother

This is how Jessie described a visit Ito my grandmother n her school journal.. 

 

 

My grandmother, we called her MomMom, died early in the morning on my Jessie’s 7th birthday.

We were staying  at her home at the time, and after several hours of phone calls and business, after the doctor and the undertaker had left, I looked at Jessie and thought, this little girl needs a celebration. 

So I drove to town to buy a cake, then went to the party store and bought 7 pink balloons and one purple to grow on. I headed out the door. The spiky chandelier in the entry way caught a balloon and POP! I went back, they replaced it for free and I headed out again, this time holding my bouquet very low. On the street I passed a woman with a lit cigarette and POP!  

I went back to the store and this time I paid for the replacement. I headed out again, holding the balloons in a tight cluster. As they rubbed against each other, they heated up, the air and helium inside expanded andPOP!Just like we learned in fourth grade science class. 

I went back.  They were not happy to see me. I asked the helium person not to fill them quite so full and she looked at me like I was speaking a strange language. I finally got the balloons to the car and put them in the back seat.

They rose up and completely filled the back window, blocking my view. I backed out of the angle parking space VERY cautiously and ever so gently tapped an on-coming car. A crabby old man got out to inspect his fender and then drove off ignoring my profuse apologies. I wanted to say to him, “Sir, if you only know the day I’m having…” 

I guess you can’t expect kindness from someone you’ve just dinged. I drove home carefully and we had a party in the midst of the funeral plans.

My Grandmother, Louise Mayhew Russell Swanson, loved the Bible and Jesus, and she held an unshakable faith in the resurrection. In her circle Death was referred to as “Going Home.”

Sojourner Truth, said at the end of her life; “I’m not dying–I’m going home like a shooting star!” I like to think MomMom went home like

a burst of pink balloons.

My Friend, Valerie Bessette

 Yesterday was the birthday of my friend, Valerie Bessette. 

    She and I went to High School together. Val was petite with silvery blond hair.  She played the Good Witch Glinda in our High School production of the Wizard of Oz.   The next year she played the lead in Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen.  Her character carried a tiny dog wherever she went, but nobody in Vermont has a tiny dog–the closest we could find was a forty pound poodle.  Val made her entrance buried under that dog with perfect aplomb.  And that was her way–she could handle anything. 

    The summer we were twenty-one I was languishing in Stowe with a bad boyfriend, a pile of debts and no plans for my future.  Valerie came home from New York City where she’d been going to Parson’s School of Design.  She was living my dream life.  

    She suggested we take a day trip to an art gallery in the next town. Just getting out of town opened something up in me.  I remember one painting, a huge abstract with squares of bright yellow. 
I don’t remember what Val and I talked about that day,

except that she told me she had a two bedroom rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan and she needed a roommate. 

     Talk about a good witch. 
   

   When I remember that day it has a golden glow. I wish I had a picture of the yellow painting; this is the closest I can get.  
     
     So in September of 1969 I moved to New York City, got a job in a ski shop and started taking classes at the School of Visual Arts.    We had a great year and mostly got along well.  When we walked together in the rain she always carried the umbrella, even though she was shorter than me. It would bump on my head, but it didn’t occur to either of us that I should carry it—Val carried the umbrella.
 
Here we are in our apartment, trying out the auto focus in her new camera

 Neatness and order were very important to Val and I was a slob. My messes bothered her so much that she would clean my room, just so she wouldn’t have to look at it.  Years later, when I had learned to appreciate order and had two kids messing up my house, I said to her,

    “I know that with all my messiness I was awful for you to live with, and I’m really really sorry.”

    Valerie just looked at me and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”   

    Remember what Arthur said about  letting go?

Here We are at her wedding
   Val was a wonderful mother to her son, Ted. They made a pet of the spider who spun  a web in their cellar door and named her Charlotte.
     She made sure Ted was steeped in the rules of civility.  When he was barely three I helped him into a chair and said,
     “Let’s slide your butt back here.”
      He said sternly, “We don’t use that language in this house.”         In May of 2004 Val went for a check up and after some tests the doctor told her she couldn’t go home.  

    It was Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  She died on August 22 of that year. 

  
    I miss her. I miss the talks we could be having now.  I’m so sorry she never got to see Ted become a man.  
     I’ll always be grateful to her and for her. 

    The last time I saw Val we met at an outdoor cafe in the midst of a sun shower.  I can still see her walking towards me, the raindrops sparkling all around her in the sun.

 

Thanks to Carol Skinger for filling me in with some details, and also to Jodi and Erica; the Skinger girls were Val’s sisters.

 

My Little Black Books

 

How did I get interested in art?  I never got uninterested.  I drew pictures like all kids but I never gave it up and nothing more compelling appeared.  

    I taught art for fifteen years. I loved my students but eventually realized that teaching, along with raising my children, left little time for Art. I couldn’t give up the children so I gave my notice and went back to the Art Students League.  My friend, Rosina Florio, the director of the school, arranged for me to receive a grant that paid tuition for one class and an allowance for supplies. She insisted I study with Leo Manso, an abstractionist.
 

     I resisted, thinking I wouldn’t get anything from a teacher whose aesthetic was so different from mine. I was mainly afraid that he’d be dismissive of my work. For a month I took a sculpture class. I was hiding out really, afraid to go to Manso. It was good to work in three dimensions, to use my hands and eyes in a different way but I knew I was going nowhere with sculpture. I gave in and went to Manso’s class.   

     He was formidable; not tall but sturdily build, with flowing hair and a mustache.  He walked around the class quietly, the center of attention, looking at students’ work and commenting. When I showed him my drawings he said, 

    “Well, I can see you’re a conscientious person…I see a lot of skill here…but nine to five isn’t art.” 

    I felt my lower lip tremble. 

     I’d worked so hard for that skill.  I’d been taught that the answer to success is diligence. Hard work. Stick-toitiveness.  All through school I was a day dreamer who finished nothing and now that I’d finally started working in a concentrated way, he said it wasn’t art.

I’m not sure why I didn’t zip up my portfolio and leave.  I stayed and got to work.  

    I put away my pen and ink and bought a little blank book, six inches by nine, and wrote on the first page Leonardo DaVinci’s last words;

     “If I could make…If I…” 

The most important thing about my little book was that nobody was allowed to see it.  I had thrown away for the moment everything I thought I’d achieved to try new stuff and I had to protect those raw new ideas.  

I never thought of myself as a writer but that first book is full of words; some my own and many many quotes.

“You won’t lose yourself, you’ll find something in yourself you might not have known was there.”  

“Tired subjects redeemed by freshness of context”

“The dizzyness of too much possibility.”

Manso said; “Art should be psychologically relevant, aesthetically pleasing and well crafted.”  That felt like something I could work toward.

“If it’s not working, check the balance-size, shape…
repetition–is it subtle variations on a theme or just boring?”
“Don’t be book-endish.”

I kept coming back to diligence; “Diligence is the mother of good fortune”. Then in my own thoughts, Diligence is driving me crazy.

Then, from my dear friend and wise counselor, Lenesa, “Keep talking and writing.  Use the words.”

 All that  year and for several years after I worked at those little books. I tore through magazines and newspapers, letting colors and images grab me, not making decisions or thinking hard, just taking things that appealed without wondering why.  

    Page after page, some abstract, playing with form and color, making odd juxtapositions of images and textures.  I raced through the New York Times every morning and grabbed things–I was open to any kind of delight.    

    I thought about the artists who spoke to me, who had something I could use–or steal.  I loved Hans Holbein’s pencil drawing of Lady Cecily Heron, the daughter-in-law of Sir Thomas More, with her wonderful name and her sharp sideways glance.  Holbein put so much meaning and life into those few pencil lines. I made lots of xerox copies and played with her image.  Her she is gazing at a young Georgia O’Keeffe.  

 I quit thinking of my work as a way to  please someone else. I was working just for me, looking for my own reality. It was liberating.

Here’s a quote; “I feel so much at sea–feel enormous conflict, almost like isometric exercise a beast standing at the gate. This is fear of success because it’s competition with M…Also wonder if I’m working to please Manso What’s good and what’s not? When it works I really don’t know why. Not really interested in being Braque or even Stuart Davis. Little work this week but hugely upheaving and searching.” 

I was like a tempest, bringing up treasures from the bottom of the sea and casting them onto the beach for further use. I was having a great time, intensely involved in my work.    

Mark Summers’ portraits were great fun to play with.  Here’s LBJ and a carousel horse.

 

 I finally showed my little books to Manso and he said, “This makes me think there’s hope for you,” and  then “This is a playground for you.” Then sometimes he’d say, “What have you got for me today, my friend?”
     At the end of that year I thanked him. “I know my work is different from your aesthetic but you really helped me.” He said, “I can tell when someone is serious.” 
     Rosina was right.   Manso had plenty to teach me.  there are elements of color, composition and form that transcend genres and we worked on those.   

But what he really gave me was a sense that it was safe to open up to possibilities, and if I say it’s interesting or worth while well then, dammit, it is.  I didn’t have to give up my hard earned diligence, so rooted in my family history; all I had to do was merge it with my sense of fun, of looking at things from a different angle. and recognizing that my odd angle was valid.

It’s my Valentine’s Birthday

 Arthur and I met on May 11, 1973, the day after the New York Knicks won the NBA championship. Things haven’t gone well for the Knicks since then but Arthur and I are doing fine.

    I am often asked how I, coming from such a religious background, with a deep commitment to the Bible and Jesus, could marry a Jewish man?  Arthur doesn’t get it either.  When I tried to tell him about my relationship with Jesus he replied, 

    “I don’t know, Barbara,  I felt a lot better about you when you talked this way about Elvis.”  Irreverent, yes, but his skepticism made me look at my faith from a different angle and I came away with a stronger, clearer commitment.

    When it was time to introduce Arthur to the family I made a date to meet my father at a steak house near Madison Square Garden.  

    Arthur arrived first and called me.  Knowing Dad’s punctuality, I said, “My father’s there–go introduce yourself and I’ll get there soon.”

    “How will I know him?”

    “He looks like me and he wears glasses.”

     Mom later told me Dad’s account of that meeting;

    “I’m sitting at the bar thinking ‘I’ve gotta meet another artsy boyfriend, a theater directer, ah jeez.  Why couldn’t she pick someone like that young man over there–blue blazer, polo shirt, neatly trimmed mustache, looks like an athlete?’  And at that moment the athletic young man walks up to me and says, ‘Are you Barbara’s father?’ ”

    In the scramble to free their right hands for a shake red wine was spilled on Dad’s tie but that didn’t matter. By the time I got there they were deep in conversation about sports and the movies.

      

       I once said to my brother, Alan, “Don’t you think the secret of a long marriage is a high tolerance for irritation and  boredom?” and he said, 

    “Yes, and inertia.”

    I do have one tip.  Arthur and I have had terrible fights, and we’ve gone to bed angry plenty of times, but we never let a fight interfere with our social life.  If we had plans we’d  put on happy faces for our friends. Eventually he’d say something funny or interesting, I’d remember what it was I liked about him and the fight would be over.  

    He  has brought wonderful gifts to our marriage, like standing up for your friends, abhorring gossip, being true to your word, honoring your work.  These weren’t new concepts to me but Arthur brought them into a new light.  Possibly the most important thing he’s taught me is, “Let it go.”  Troubles just roll off him and they’re forgotten.  It’s hard for me to quit chewing over old resentments, but it’s helpful that Arthur never pours gasoline on fires and his humor never fails us.

    When my nephew was six he told me; “When I was little I saw Arthur in his bathing suit and I said, ‘Arthur, how come you have so much hair on your chest?’ and without looking up from his book he said, ‘Because, Danny, I used to be a bear.’ And for a long time I believed him.”


 I’m not the only one who finds Arthur irresistible,  Here he is with our nieces, Katie and Rachel.

 

Form Follows Function

Form Follows Function
     In church last week the lesson was the first Psalm: it says that the righteous are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and its leaves do not wither.”  One of the hymns we sang had a line about a whale roaming the seas and an eagle soaring the skies. You know how something just grabs you? those two images reminded me of this quote:
“Whether it be the soaring eagle in his flight,
or the open apple blossom, the toiling work horse,
the blithe swan,
the branching oak,the winding stream at its base,
the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, 
Form ever follows function
and that is the law.
Where function does not change, form does not change.”
Who said that?   Louis Sullivan,1856-1924, called the father of modern architecture.  He believed, and acted upon that belief, that a building must be solid, useful and beautiful, and designed from the inside out, with its purpose in mind.
 
 
 
     You can see Sullivan’s only New York City work at 65 Bleecker Street, the Bayard, now Bayard-Condict building. Paul Goldberger called it “a delicate poem, yet a strong one.”and points to the structural expression evident in the graceful yet sturdy pillars. Sullivan found a beautiful balance between the structure and the embellishments.
Does form always follow function?  You might not think so to look at the French Poodle. I always thought this was a silly look with the chest all puffed out and the little pompoms around the ankles but then I learned that the look serves a purpose. The Poodle was bred as a hunting dog–to leap into cold water and retrieve dead ducks. The fluff around the chest protect and warm the lungs and heart, the hind legs are free for swimming, the pompoms warm the joints. Form Follows Function.
This guy’s groomer may have carried it too far, but the basic design is functional.
 
 
 
Here’s a blithe swan by my friend, Carol Way Wood,(https://carolwaywood.wordpress.com
 

       New York City’s beautiful firehouses, like the one at the top of this post, are perfect examples of form following function and they’re so appealing. I love their red doors, their orderly design and the polite way they nestle into a row of brownstones. Each one has a unique design and decoration. I find it deeply moving about my fellow humans that something so necessary and utilitarian is made to be so beautiful. 

    I was walking with Arthur past Engine Company 14, the one that starred in the movie, Ghostbusters, when a hook and ladder came home.  The firefighter at the wheel, who didn’t look old enough to drive, had to turn left but there was a car in his way.  He put his hand out the window with a lovely “after you” wave for the car to go ahead, then made his turn and easily pulled that huge truck into the narrow doorway.

    “That was so graceful,” I said to Arthur.  He agreed.
When something works well, whether it’s a building or a song or just a maneuver, it’s a lovely thing. I try to keep open to the tiny delights life offers up.