Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sidewalk Botany ~ Spotting Celebrities

Lonicera sempervirens

Many people enjoy reading.  Since I am a visual person and have the attention span of a gnat, I tend to read field guilds. When you spend way too much time pouring over the images in these guides, they tend to stick to your brain.  So when you come across something in the field that you are used to seeing in a book, it is like seeing a famous person walking down the street and it is kind of surreal.

A similar experience I recently had was with a plant that I saw many times in gardens, including my own garden, but never saw in the wild. The plant is Lonicera sempervirens (the common name is Coral Honeysuckle or Trumpet Honeysuckle).  Most importantly, it is a native honeysuckle.

Last week, a coworker of mine said he wanted a honeysuckle for his home and was going to pull some from the woods.  I begged him not to do that because the woods are full of the dreaded Lonicera japonica, an invasive honeysuckle that is reeking havoc on our forests.  So we discussed where he could purchase some native honeysuckle and the happy ending to the story is that he did. This got me thinking that I actually never saw the beloved native honeysuckle in the wild. It had to exist somewhere, but where?

A few days after all of the above thoughts and events, I was wandering around a local prairie and there, stretching high up to the sky and snuggling up below against all its neighbors was the magnificent Coral Honeysuckle in the wild!  What a treat!

Lonicera sermpervirens

Friday, February 3, 2017

Relative Matters

Below is a story I originally wrote in 2008 and titled it Relative Matters.  I have kept the story semi-private but after recently completing a course in habitat stewardship I decided to post it. 

A good part of my winter of 2008 was spent hanging out with fish in my studio; in particular, a Whiting that went through stages ranging from fresh, frozen, slowly decaying, baked, and partly disemboweled.  It was a winter where I was preoccupied with many upcoming events. My daughter was graduating from college and relocating, fortunately, closer to home. But the logistics loomed large for me.

Four years earlier, when Esther left for college, I became obsessed with songbirds and was determined to have a “bird garden”. Ceaselessly, I scanned the internet trying to gather information for this project. The first year of the garden, I sat for hours at my kitchen window waiting for something to appear other than a pigeon.  One day, in almost a complete state of despair at the failure of my garden, I cried out to God to give me a sign that I should continue with this seemingly futile experiment.  Within seconds, two noisy blue jays flew down into my yard, raised a big racket, then departed. I was amazed that a prayer was answered so obviously and quickly. During these months, it never occurred to me that my obsession with birds was a way to ease my loneliness for my daughter. 

Over time, the bird garden grew in size and complexity and eventually attracted the normal range of creatures – cardinals, chickadees, catbirds, finches, and, of course, pigeons. As Esther’s college years passed and I got used to a quiet house, my obsession with birds was replaced with an easy enjoyment.  I accepted the fact that my current cast of visitors was never going to be exotic, but I had succeeded in building what I referred to as my Field of Dreams.

 For the most part, Esther’s move was uneventful. I found myself having some of the same feelings I did four years before; not so much the loneliness, but the concern you have for your children when they start something new.  But it was Spring and there was much work to be done in the garden, so I set my focus to those tasks knowing that we would survive the geographic transition. 

It was long since I watched compulsively out my window for "exotic" songbirds, but I did have a habit of surveying what was going on when I was within six feet of a rear-facing window.  As I walked by the back bedroom, I decided to glance out at the yard. In the feeder was a medium size white bird with dark tail feathers. At first, I thought it was an albino dove that had been hanging around the yard, but the shape was rounder. I decided to go downstairs to grab the binoculars.

By the time I got downstairs, the bird had turned around in the feeder and I had a frontal view, which
showcased a pronounced pinkish breast.  A grosbeak!  I stood mesmerized.  I recalled all the advertisements for bird feeders that I saw inhabited by grosbeaks and thinking to myself “Yeah, like I am going to get a grosbeak”.  But it was really there! REALLY! In MY backyard!  In the middle of Philadelphia!

I stood, stunned, staring for several minutes. I notified my husband and pointed proudly, “Look, A Rose Breasted Grosbeak”. Once he commented on the bird, it helped verify for me that I was not hallucinating.  The grosbeak visited the feeder throughout the day, and I saw it again the next morning. I called my mother to the window and proudly showed her my grosbeak, as if I had given birth to it, “Oh", she mused, " isn’t that pretty!”

 On Monday, my artist friends and I went to visit a mutual elderly friend who, knowing my enthusiasm for birds, pointed out the dead robin in his driveway.  This was the perfect chance for me to tell everyone about my grosbeak. Kit, who was a birder, shared in my enthusiasm. Others within the group made polite comments, most likely to get me to stop talking about birds.  The gathering broke up in shifts and I headed back to the city with my friend Anders to grab dinner.

Before going to dinner, Anders and I decided to stop by our art club to get a sneak preview of the Members’ Medal Exhibition. The exhibition was especially meaningful because the club awarded three medals - Gold, Silver and Bronze – that had roots dating back to the beginning of the organization some hundred years before.  It was a terrific honor to win one of these medals.

As we started looking at the work, I was caught somewhat by surprise at the site of my painting of the Whiting I had just wintered with. It seemed so different, framed and on display, than it did in my studio. Upon closer look, I noticed a small post-it note attached to the frame. I went over and looked at the note, which read “Gold”. When Anders saw the post- it, his excitement overflowed. “Please don’t tell anyone,” I asked, explaining I needed time to process the information by myself.

The week before the award ceremony, I received many messages of congratulations. When I received my medal, I was very pleased but, for some reason, it didn’t knock my socks off the way I always thought winning such an honor would. The same week leading up to the award ceremony, I kept vigil by my window in hopes that the grosbeak might return. He never did.

Some weeks later, my friends were discussing if a work of art ever moved them to a euphoric state. Julianna described how her knees had literally buckled before The Florence Pieta.  What came to my mind was the image of my feeder where, for two brief days, a rose breasted grosbeak took his meals. 


Monday, November 21, 2016

The Building Blocks of Nature

Please click on image to enlarge

The Building Blocks of Nature was the result of a residency I completed at Arch Bishop Ryan High School through the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Delphi Arts Futures Program.   The multimedia project resulted in an installation of approximately 50 cubes made by the students.  Each cube contains patterns found in nature that were created by a variety of printmaking techniques.  Aside from studying such patterns and learning an assortment of hand transfer printing techniques (these are techniques that do not require an etching press), students were inspired by works from the museum's collection through several visits led by museum staff members.  Stacking the cubes represents how each species is unique but is also interconnected with other life forms. 

At the time, I did not know I would be relocating so I will take a moment to express how very rewarding it has been to work with the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Delphi Art Futures Program, which I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of for the past five years.  As you scroll down this blog, you will see other projects created though this valuable program. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Unity Art Project

Those of you who have followed my work over the years may recognize this motif. The various color circles represent the human race.  My feeling is that one of the best ways that we have to promote unity and peace is through art.  So I am reintroducing this motif during this time to emphasize this....we are ALL an important part of the human race and need each other.  

I urge anyone reading this to grab a piece of paper and a pencil, crayon, or whatever, and draw your own version of Unity.   Share it through social media or wherever you can.  Remember....A picture is worth a thousand words. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Cultural Landscape ~ The Humble TV Antennae as a Symbol of the Past

Rooftops, Circa mid 1990s
Recently I was asked to present a history of my artwork to the high school students where I will be in residence this winter through the Philadelphia Museum's Delphi Art Futures Program.  Like many artists who have made art over a period of years,  a variety of personal symbols develops and becomes a type of trademark in that artist's work. It often takes awhile to figure out why these symbols keep creeping least it did for me.

As a city dweller, I have frequently relied on public transportation; in particular, the Frankford El. (Here I must make reference to an old song titled You Can't Get To Heaven on the Frankford El)   Anyway, having spent many hours on the El gazing out the window, the images of city rooftops left an imprint on my subconscious.   As a result, works seldom looked finished to me without a TV antennae placed somewhere in the image.
Tuxedo, circa mid 1990s

When I presented this work to the students, I asked if they noticed anything. When pointing to the TV antennae as something present in most of the work, they would refer to it as "that thing with the lines going across".  Most of the students had no idea what a TV antennae was, which made sense for two reasons. One, these students grew up in the age of cable and satellite TV. In addition, since the high school I was at is on the edge of the city in a more suburban type setting, the urban landscape of last century was not familiar to them.

It then dawned on me how artwork does mirror the time in which it is made, and therefore, documents how society lived during a certain era. Years from now, if any of my work is still floating around, the main relevance of it may be the presence of the humble and once ubiquitous TV antennae as a symbol of what we did in our spare time in the mid to late 20th century.

To hear You Can't Get To Heaven on the Frankford El, click here 

Urban Renewal, Circa mid 1990s

By the Canal, circa mid 1990s

Trinity, Circa mid 1990s

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Annual Christmas Bird Count

With the craft show season in full swing, I was never able to take part in the Annual Christmas Bird Count which is often the Saturday right around Christmas. But, alas, this year I was able to participate and in a very big way.  I had the great fortune to be invited onto a team along with two birders who work within the field of environmental management.  The major catch was I had to prove my ability to endure a very long day of walking on a variety of terrain with degrees of weed-i-ness and wood-i-ness.  Well, I did keep up and it was well worth it.  We counted 44 species which included 3 bald eagles and a peregrine falcon playing tag with a turkey vulture.  Oddly, many of the most common species we did not encounter until later in the day...we started at 8 am and did not see a blue jay until almost 4 pm!! So happy to finally be able to do this!  These drawings are from my Dirty Birds series.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Walking and Alzheimer's

This past weekend was the Walk to End Alzheimer's.   I could not participate this year but the theme of walking got me thinking about my mom.  During the time I cared for my mom in the early stages of her illness, one of the things her neurologist told her was "Keep moving".   On a limited basis, Mom was able to get around on her own and one thing she liked to do was walk.  With her walker, she would go around the block over and over several times a day.

At one time, my mother was quite a traveler.  She had traveled pretty much to every part of the world. When I would check on her throughout the day she would report to me that she took several walks and, even though I knew she walked the same loop, I asked her where she went.  When she described her walk, her excitement was such that one would think she walked around the entire world.  I could picture her leaning over her walker on the move with great determination, hair flying and disheveled in the breeze, eyes fixated ahead, with her focus seeming all the more intense by her glasses which somehow seemed too big for her face. After my mom moved away to stay with my sister, I would think of her taking those walks and started to make the book above (individual images below).  It has been several years and I have not worked anymore on the book; perhaps it is done, I don't know. Anyway, the Walk to End Alzheimer's got me thinking of this.  Though the walk is officially over, they are still accepting donations. Please consider this charity that assists those who suffer from this disease.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Printing Spider Webs

My adventures printing spider webs has finally realized some success on the third attempt, which is good because I felt a bit bad destroying the handiwork.  However, the web was located in a place where it was bound to be disturbed regardless of my interactions with it so why the spider continues to weave in this location is beyond me.

Anyway, the result is pictured here. I had to bring up the contrast a bit which accounts for the bluish tones in the background.  Note: To See a better image of the web, click on the image and it will enlarge. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A New Look at.....Celery!

Celery.  It's one of those vegetables that you really do not think about as a side dish.  It is more of an "addition" type vegetable.  You add it to potato and tuna salad, meatloaf, soups.   You never really think about it but you know something is missing if it isn't there.  I like it instead of bread as a surface for things like hummus, chicken salad and peanut butter. But I bet you never thought it was good for making art??  Well it is!   In my exploration of printing with plants, I wanted to see how many different marks could be made with various parts of celery.  Here are some examples.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Proofing a Large Linoleum Block

The linoleum block
It can be frustration to proof a large linoleum block.  You have to ink the entire surface, make one or two pulls of the block and then, if you want to work the block more, you have to clean off the block which can be a mess. A simple solution is a very old fashioned method....take a rubbing of the block!

The example here is a block approximately 8 inches wide by 18 inches long.  Though I am sure most readers of this post have done rubbings of something or other (leaves for example), I will go over the basics.

First, you must always use the SIDE of the rubbing instrument, which could be a peeled crayon or, as pictured above, a graphite stick.  If you are using a crayon, choose a dark color because the contrast against the light paper helps you better see your cuts.  Use thin paper, such as newsprint.   Press firmly when taking the rubbing.  It is also not a bad idea to anchor the paper so it doesn't move all over when you are rubbing.  This is easily done by grabbing something from your studio or kitchen shelf and putting it on each corner of the paper to hold it in place (example: a can of ink, a stapler, a can of soup, whatever).

Taking a rubbing
/The other beauty of this method is if you only want to proof a small area of the block, then you save lots of time and effort by not having to apply and clean up ink.  Too see a finished version of this block, check the post above this one.  Happy proofing!