Friday, April 30, 2010

Stones and Spirals

Classes end on Monday. My students are working hard this weekend to finish final projects. Every semester I teach one section of 2-D Design & Color, and one more concept-based class. In the fall I teach Exploring the Natural World, and in the spring, Myth & Symbol. I love teaching all three classes, each one has its own gifts. This is the second time I have taught Myth & Symbol, a class I proposed last year as I wanted to delve deep into the land of dreams, mystery and enchantment. We start with a cup of tea and move to an inspirational tidbit - poetry, automatic writing or drawing, symbol or archetype work, meditation, sound and ritual. Its been a real hit with my students and I find it a wonderful way to bring a bit of magic to academia. It has been an amazing semester, with strong, authentic and experimental creations. I owe my own blogging to the hours spent looking for mythic artists online to show as examples and finding the world of inspirational art bloggers. I'm so looking forward to seeing the final completed work from these amazing young artists, though it is tinged with a bit of sadness as many of them are graduating. 

In keeping with the theme of the class, I wanted to give them each a small symbolic token to mark the close of our time together. So, I went to the local swimming hole and collected small, smooth stones to paint with symbols. I sat on the stone bench in the warm sun and painted for the afternoon. Hope none of them visit this blog before Monday, or I'll have ruined the surprise....!

Each stone is double sided: one side a meandering line 
that links up with one of the other stones,  
the other, a spiral-themed symbol. 

I left this small bunch for someone to find....

A quiet river today. 
The sun went in and the black flies came out. 
 I have a huge welt on my forehead from some 
small black flying thing....
I conveniently forget about black flies every year 
until they are here again in May.
I liked the stones a lot... think I'll keep making them. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Moonlight and gentle April snow

"Moon Night", pen and ink

Moonlight in the forest when I went to sleep last night, but only briefly in the spaces between clouds. I awoke this morning very early and couldn't get back to sleep. I dozed off here and there opening my eyes just before dawn to see the trees laced with leftover moonlight, so I thought. When the fiery pink eastern sky melted into yellow, I realized that I was looking at branches dusted with snow. Small, gentle flakes were falling.... the hemlocks greeted the almost day with their elegant, sweeping dance. In the garden, the tulips were closed up tight, wrapped in petal-cloaks of purple. Cold as I left the house, enough to want the pair of gloves I had left in the basket behind the door. Such a contrast to the warmth of a few weeks ago, working in the garden with short sleeves and straw hat. 

"Moonlight in the Forest", Scratchbord drawing

Friday, April 23, 2010

Textural tidbits and beyond a tangle of laurel...

Yesterday's walk was a blessing after the whole day of grant writing at my computer! It was a slow amble, enjoying the occasional tree frog song, one of my favorite forest sounds. 
It was a day to notice the small details;
 colors and textures, 
patterns of light on bark....

Wounds on a beech tree looking like runes...

A little magical clearing, 
 beyond a tangle of laurel.
An enchanted gathering of mosses,
and entrances to underworld mysteries,  
where curious cats explore....

   and blur...
  though not his feathery,
 swishing tail.

Did he slip for a moment between the veils? 
No you say... 
just a moment of motion and light 
and digital cameras and such.
hmmmm, I wonder....

The long shadows of late afternoon....

and sacred circles, 
a map of the inner life of a tree -
a tree going back to earth.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Treasures from my mid-day wander....

The first dandelion bloom of the season, blossoming from the front walk, attracting attention of all sorts. Love the greenish curling lines in the center...

The incredible trout lily - since I have landed here, they are sprouting up everywhere. This one is also collecting insects. 

Rolling in the driveway.... gravel is wonderful for scratching backs....

Amazing pattern on a stick... rather snakey.

The garden fence before it is covered by twining vines and tall plants. 

The lonely studio beyond the garden, waiting for me to have time to re-enter, clean, organize and begin again! Its going to be spruced up on the outside this spring... a deep red barn color, contrasting with the red trim, or, the same red as the trim, a streamlined color scheme, or, a deep forest green, to blend in with the woods. I'm a Libra, its been all of these and more in my head... we'll see what it finally becomes.

The beech tree seems to celebrate the blooming of the vinca minor at her toes. The silvery tone of her trunk is enlivened by the periwinkle delicacy of the dainty flowers. Its buzzing with activity amongst the blooms today - mason bees, bumble bees, unidentified flying, spinning, crawling things on long stick-like legs, zzzz-ing winged things. The shriek of a high-soaring hawk and the tap, tap, tap-p-p-ping of the woodpecker filled the space between trees and clouds: between my morning and my afternoon. 

May be hard to see, but that's a mason bee on the vinca flower. Wild, native bees.... solitary and don't produce large quantities of honey, if I remember correctly. Our honey bees were imported from Europe, just like the red fox. The native American gray fox climbs trees and is therefore harder to hunt. Our settler ancestors needed their fox hunt... so, they brought the red fox. I could do with a little research to check my facts, but the light is fading and I must go get sir Pasha cat in for the night....Honey and the red fox.... lovely additions to North America, I think, if my facts are right....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Out of the forest and into the gallery, to grandmother's house we go....

I mentioned in an earlier post that I just had a show at the local library. It was an interesting show for me as I so rarely have all the various mediums in which I work in one exhibition. Galleries that are interested in my watercolors are typically not interested in my sculptures- somehow they seem to come from different worlds. They all emerge from the mythic realm of my psyche, but the watercolors seem to be able to shape-shift into work that transcends the label a little more, or some such thing. The sculptures, on the other hand, come right out of the land and my relationship with it as a living, breathing being. They feel revealing and quite personal and are a little more vulnerable than my landscapes. Here's an excerpt from my artist statement about them: 

"Raw and unrefined, these sculptures feel close to the bone of who I am and make visual
the spiritual presence and power I feel in all things. The images come to me from deep within, spirit beings of trees and ancestors and shapefiters. They are made of stoneware, polymer clay or self-hardening clay, branches, roots, feathers, bones and anything I can stick together with an interesting form. The few here were made over the course of fifteen years and represent the recurring theme of Grandmother Spirits and Tree Spirits."

The landscapes, in this case watercolors ( I do also work in oils, haven't shared too many of those yet as lately I've been focusing mainly on watercolors and the scratchbord tree drawings) were described by a friend of mine as "mythic landscape". For me, this is quite accurate. They might not seem like "mythic landscapes" in some respects, but there are deep, hidden stories in the paintings, just as there are in the land. I know that the thread that binds all my work together is story. I tell stories of the land and trees and spirits when I paint, draw and sculpt. I tell other stories when I sing and lead rituals and still others while doing storytelling performances. It was an important moment a few years ago when I all of a sudden made that connection and could trace the thread of story throughout ALL of my work. It helped me to feel the multi-textured tapestry I am weaving in its fullness and to wrap it around me with more clarity of purpose. 

"Tree Spirit"

Two tree drawings

So I leave you with that tonight... a little peek at my recent show, a little wander through the visual stories that shape my life and my work. 

Old Man Tree

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Down into the well....

Window altar

I've just returned from breakfast with a dear friend at the Strawbale Cafe, just a little down the hill in Westhampton. My social event for the day before sitting down and the computer to write up a grant proposal. I'm gearing up for that... and wanted to write a quick post as I settle into the day of work in my nest. Its a cold, rainy and dark day, perfect for cozying up with a cup of tea and writing about my heart's desire and life's work. Little by little I move toward the work. 

The wood stove is burning away today, heating my little home. I took a few photos of the fire one recent morning mindful that soon the hearth and heart of my home will be put to rest for the summer. Already the burning is sparse, a few chilly mornings or a cold and damp day as today. Sometime today, on a break from writing, I'll need to bring in some wood to fill the wood box near the stove as this morning I used all but a couple logs. 

Meet my "Greenman" who hangs on my little porch, about to whisper some wisdom he has gleaned from going deep inside his magical soul. I used to have access to a kiln... would like to again someday.....

"Afternoon Storm", watercolor, 
available through the Mulford Gallery, link on right. 

I'll leave you with a painting that feels like today.... I'm off to make a cup of tea - another step in my preparations for writing - as I surely don't need more caffeine after copious coffee refills at breakfast! Its like this for me.... getting ready to complete an important bit of business, one that requires skill and clarity.... I ease myself into the work at hand in a gentle slide from the exterior world, over the side of the deep stone well, to the dark, mysterious inner cauldron where intuition and creativity breed like algae. Down I go!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wild intensity and happy Pasha cat....

Pines on a Damp Day

Images for today... a watercolor from a few years ago. A somewhat cold and damp feeling painting. This evening is chilly, but not damp. I spent the last bit of sunlight outside with Pasha - who had been jailed all day. He was ecstatic to be outside and raced around the driveway and up and down a couple of trees. Usually when I get home its too dark for him to be out at all. Around here, its inside before dusk for kitties or be dinner for coyote, fisher, and bobcat. Even mountain lions have been seen around snatching a cat in these hills. We have a deal, Pasha and I, I will let him out as much as possible during the day if he comes when he's called. And he does. Unfortunately on the days that I am off teaching I leave quite early and often get back after dark. So, those are jail days and he lays the guilt trip on pretty hard when I am getting ready to leave in the morning. He looks at me with his gold-green eyes and with a barely opened mouth makes a sound quite literally like mwaaaawww. Its very convincing. I apologize profusely and list all the days he WILL be out this week before I head out the door. Wednesdays are good 'cause he has a stint of four days straight unless there is something special on the calendar. 

a forest pool

Meet "Root Woman". I made her a few years ago from a large hemlock root I got on the side of the road. She sits at the entrance to the forest, a kind of magical sentry. She's an intense character and seems to inspire women and freak out men- or at least a few. She inspires me, she has the wild intensity I was after, but I can see the point of my two male friends who say she freaks them out. You wouldn't want to mess with her. She's the perfect sentry to guard the entrance to the forest realm.... Too bad the squirrels aren't freaked out by her, there is a small chunk bitten out of her nose, I think by the red squirrels who inhabit the hollow tree she leans against. And, after several years of sitting outside all winter, buried in snow, I need to re-paint her face. She's made very simply from Cellu-clay stuck on the bottom of the root system. I added some wood glue on the bottom of her head for good measure and used two acorn caps for eyeballs. She's lasted quite well through rain, snow and ice and was a test of how well paper clay would do outside. If I shellac her, maybe she'll do even better...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A couple of nests and sketchbook pages...

I am in awe of the two little chickadees who occupy the nesting box on the telephone pole in the center of my driveway. All day long they gather food and bring it back to the squeaking of little birds. Its quite a thing to witness. Its not that time yet - squeaking little bird time - for now its just the pair, one bringing food to the other sitting on the eggs. The moths that gather at the front door light are a source of great bounty for this industrious pair of nesters. Often, in the early morning, as I am making coffee, one of them is flitting around just outside taking moths from the grapevine wreath on the front door. 

Two sketchbook pages today - from a while ago - and a journal page. Sometimes they don't look so different, especially recently when I have been using a sketchbook that an art supplier gave me as a sample as my journal. I taped gingko leaves to the paper. It was just after I had done some re-arranging to my upstairs space and wanted to give it a name other than office, study, library... so.... it became my nest. Funny, I think about nesting in the winter - hibernating in my den. I watch the birds outside in sub-zero temperatures puffed up for warmth and wonder that they don't use nests until they are raising young. That they survive at all - mere ounces of body weight - is a marvel. I'm happy that the little pair has returned to raise their young again in my clearing.... maybe this year I'll finally be around or up early enough or whatever the trick is to witness the little ones leaving in the nest.... one day they are all there, chirping away, the next, silence. I've missed them leaving every year and miss their constantcy once they are gone, but pleased that they seem to like that box on the telephone pole so very much. Or, is it the bounty of moths that brings them back every year? 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A late morning walk.

Just before noon, after a particularly nice sound meditation, Pasha and I strolled in the sunny woods. A few more weeks yet before the leaves are out, a lovely time to appreciate the bounty of sunlight. Soon, the oaks, beech, birch, maple and cherry trees will fill in and darken the forest considerably. The large oaks and beech around the house help keep me cool in the heat of summer, but I dance between wanting to trim and let more light in and appreciating the cool shade they offer. 
Pasha at "our spot"
Our stroll today took us to a place I have begun to call "our spot". It was heavily damaged in the ice storm a couple years ago and many large hemlocks are uprooted all around. It was always one of my favorite places to sit and watch the mosses grow, so, when the trees went down, I was initially devastated. A friend came and cleared the path, which helped, and he made me a little bench with fallen logs. Pasha and I like to sit there, now quite a  sunny clearing, and listen to the forest. There is still plenty of work to do here, and I'm not quite sure exactly what that will be, but I have begun to appreciate the increased sunshine, especially in the middle of summer when most of the rest of the forest is shady and cool. Its one of the only areas at RavenWood, other than around the house, where there is a  significant clearing. Pasha likes to sit under a tree opposite the log bench while I sit, sing and practice melting into the forest. 
One view from the bench is a rhythmic dance of lines. 

Just above the bench, the more dappled light of the thicker wood and the mossy path leading to the forest circle. 

Heading back to the house, at the other end of the downed tree clearing, Pasha pauses on a mossy spot to wait for me. Once I've moved on a bit, he raced past me and up a nearby tree, amazing me with his agility and strength and most of all, communicating his delight in our walking ritual. 

 An old, very tall mountain laurel trunk. 

One needs to practice discernment in the clearing. The forest wants to take over. Though I leave much of the rest of the woods to itself, around the house I choose what stays and what goes. The little birch I didn't weed years ago is turning white this year. I almost cut it thinking it was yellow birch, but paused to take in the shape of the leaves and decided it was probably white. So, it stayed. What a gift to be somewhere long enough to witness the small birches turn white, to get to know each little sapling and watch them mature. Years ago, when I had just a little plot of garden in Providence, Rhode Island, I mentioned to a friend that I didn't like thinning my carrots. Her response was simply, "You are the gardener". I call on that wisdom again and again here in this forest, and I now understand what deep wisdom it is indeed. Around the house, I am the gardener. Out in the surrounding forest, the gardener is the wind, the ice and snow, the deer, bear and porcupine, and the ancient spirit of the forest who beckons me to watch, listen and be.