Thursday, August 29, 2019


Wednesday, the day before yesterday. August 28, represents a number that has great significance for me and my family.
My grandparents, Robert and Louise Swanson,  took Romans 8:28, from Paul’s epistle to the Romans, as their motto and the name of their home in Sag Harbor. 

Romans 8:28;  
“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, for those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Those words are implanted in me.  Once I was about to commit road rage over a parking spot and the silent dashboard clock clicked loudly.  I looked down to see that it was 8:28. I took a deep breath and moved on.
At my grandchildren’s school, the day begins at 8:30 but the doors open at 8:28. 
That’s a good start.
The March on Washington where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech happened on August 28, 1963.  8:28.  
  This verse had given me enormous comfort and assurance, a sense of security and love.  My daughter says, “When I see that number I just feel like someone’s looking out for me.

And we know that all things work together for good.  Lovely, right?
But the Apostle Paul can’t leave it at that.  He has to qualify that lovely message.  “To those who love the Lord.”  OK, but how do you love the Lord and by what name do you call the Lord, or God?
And then, “To those who are the called according to God’s purpose.”  Who is called? How do you get the call and how do you even know if you’ve been called? It sounds like a private, invitation-only club to me. And then, what is God’s purpose and who gets to determine that?

I love Paul.  He has comforted me, inspired me, challenged me, and driven me crazy.
I love his story—the notion that the very worst person can be redeemed. Then there’s the burning bush on the road to Damascus, the abrupt turn-around, the way he traveled all over the world, telling his story.
But as Aunt Harriet said, when I reminded her that Paul said women should keep silent in church, “I’ve read every word of the Bible…some of them are very hard to take.”
Paul also says,”Test all things; hold fast what is good.” OK, Paul, I’ll do that. I’ll hold fast to your beautiful exhortations, like “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”  Thank you, I’ll think on those things.  I’ll test all things and keep wrestling the ones I don’t like so much.

Many writers have looked for reasons to hope in the future and 8:28 brings them to mind.
There’s Dr. King’s famous quote, 
“The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

And this beautiful line from Willa Cather's My Antonia,

That is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great.”
What are the words that bring you comfort and joy?

If you love Willa Cather as I do, I hope you saw “Willa Cather’s Ride”, by Kim Stafford in the July 8 issue of the New York Times Magazine. And the illustration by R. O. Blechman.

I couldn't make a link work, but you can google it.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Here's Something Else I love; COWS

When we moved to Vermont in 1964 there were still more cows than people in our county.

My High School boyfriend lived on a dairy farm; he'd get up at four to do the milking, go to school, go to basketball practice, get home for milking again, than play baketball.  There was no break on the weekends-- milking continued always.  He'd come over to my house and fall asleep.

I begged him to let me watch a calf being born and so he called me early one morning.  I rushed out of the house--my Dad said, "Ah yes, the miracle of life."  The mother was still locked in her stantion--the apparatus that held her in place.  I persuaded the hired hand to let her go so she could nurture her baby but as soon as she was free she took off for the feed room.  The baby was a boy so he was off to become veal.
So I'm not romantic about cows but I still love them and I especially love to draw them.

This is the little town we lived in. 

Here's a barn scene; I still have to finish the nest in the rafters--full of the Barn Owl's eggs. I had some vague idea of writing a story about two cows named Elizabeth and Jessica who yearn for life beyond the farm. They hate it when the farmer calls them "Bess and Jess."

Here they are setting out on their journey.

Another imaginary space inspired by Rome and the Fountain of Trevi.

The cows look pretty small here but I still call it a cow picture.
This was a lot of fun to draw.  the larger mermaid is actually 
a carving on a settee in a book about the great houses of Britain.  
Can you imagine curling up on this settee?

Here's a collage with that image.  I think I pushed the edge of propriety, but it was fun. 
The hand belongs to the image of an awakening Adam in the Sistine Chapel.
Working in collage, with the random images and the "Oh, whatever" attitude I brought to it, pushed my drawing in new directions.

 I like mermaids and maybe some day you'll see more. But I digress; this is a post about cows. 

 A cow with c;assical archetectural elements.  
I've also thought about a series of animals in stately settings-making triumphal entries.  

I'm not the only artist who loves cows--these images came from an ad for an exhibit of paintings by William Beckman at the Forum Gallery in 2003. His cows are gorgeous.

Now I live in  New York City and the closest I get to a cow is the dairy aisle at my supermarket.  For the milk in my coffee, cheese, yogurt, ICE CREAM may I always remember to thank my friend, the cow.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Another Artist I Love; Joseph Cornell 1903-1972

I first encountered Joseph Cornell at a show of sculpture at the Whitney Museum.

This is the piece I saw; it's titled "Taglioni's Jewel Box."

"The first of dozens Cornell made in honor of famous ballerinas, this box pays homage to Marie Taglioni, an acclaimed nineteenth-century Italian dancer who, according to legend, kept an imitation ice cube in her jewelry box to commemorate dancing in the snow at the behest of a Russian highwayman. The box is infused with erotic undertones—both in the tactile nature of the glass cubes, velvet, and rhinestone necklace (purchased at a Woolworth's dime store in New York) and in the incident itself, in which Taglioni reportedly performed on an animal skin placed across the snowy road."

Joseph Cornell thought outside the box while making beautiful little boxes. He was a pioneer of assemblage--taking found objects and making art.  He never traveled and spent his life caring for his mother and his brother who had cerebral palsy.  But he clearly sought and found exaltation.

 I thought about him for years and couldn't figure out how to incorporate what I loved about his work into my own.  I made a few Cornell boxes of sorts with my children's shoes.  They were so dear and evocative that I couldn't throw them away so I made them into art.  this is more scrapbook than art, but I kept thinking about Cornell and his magical way of taking odd little pieces and making something sublime.

I paid homage to him in this collage; 

a drawing of his home on Utopia (!) Parkway--an ordinary little house in which extraordinary things were created.  I followed his lead by adding pieces from other works, including a portrait of Lady Cecily Heron by another of my heroes, Hans Holbein.  the doormat is partly covered but it says, Cornell.

Here's a collage from my little black book; I stole the cockatoo from an for a show of Cornell's work.

Here's another beauty;

I'm not Cornell's only admirer; this is the poster for Wes Anderson's movie, 

The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Do you think he ever looked at Cornell's work?

Friday, August 9, 2019

My Exhibit at the Syosset Public Library

I"m having an exhibit of drawings at the Syosset Public Library, with a reception on Saturday, August 10, from 2-4 pm.

If you'd like to go, it's right off the Long Island Expressway. Take Exit 43, turn left at Oyster Bay Road and it's on your right.  You can't miss it.
     Is Syosset not on your itinerary this month?  that's OK, I'll give you a tour right here.
Ten pieces, eight 18"x 24" pen and ink drawings of gardens and trees.  and two 41"x 29" of house elevations.
Here they are.

This is called Pink and White.  I love to draw trees.

I love to draw pagodas--eastern and Asian houses of worship.  I start with a little building and let the garden grow around it.

This is one of my favorites especially the sky.  I also love the tile floor--done with no thought of perspective.

The golden frame; I think it gives the work extra heft and depth.  More pagodas in a fantasy landscape.

I really love houses, elevations, and floor plans.  The first in this series was inspired by the illustration for a NY Times review of The Annotated Pride and Prejudice.  I cut it out and kept it on my bulletin board for a few years--then drew it on the biggest paper I'd ever used. This is one in that series.

The Red Fence; more patterns--my idea of fun--and a willow tree.

Sunshine.  I love the sun, but I like to admire it from a shaded spot.  These trees were fun to do. 
now I think I shouldn't have left the vine-y think in the upper right with a white background.

Another house--this one in shades of gren and brown.

The willow tree.  I love willow trees--the soft rustle they make in the wind.  My friends, Bill and Ellen, have the most beautiful willow in their backyard--I told them I go there, that is I think about it,  when I want to have a quiet moment.  Do you like the water? I know there are artists who can draw water with pen and ink but I'm not one. so I "indicate" water.

This is a pagoda with a pink sky.  These gardens are the result of three trips I took in a short period of time, to Seville, Athens and  Istanbul, and Budapest.  In the Moorish tradition the  garden is considered an earthly depiction of Heaven.  So planting a garden is a holy act.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

It's our Anniversary

On Wednesday, July 31,  Arthur and I celebrated our anniversary.  We got married at the home of my Aunt Jan, on Long Island.  We planned a reception on the lawn and didn’t order tents, because they’d be too hot under the July sun, but if it rained, all would be ruined.  I told my grandmother that I wouldn’t listen to the weather report because what could we do about it?  She replied, 
     “Oh, they can report and predict all they want and then the Lord just goes ‘Poof!’ and the weather changes.”  
The morning of the wedding dawned cloudy and gray.  As I walked out with Jan a few sprinkles fell on us.  She looked up at the sky, shook her fist and said, “I haven’t been tithing [giving away ten percent of her annual income] all these years just to have rain today.”  
I stepped away from her, knowing she was about to be struck by lightning. But the sun came out. That’s the irreverent but sincere relationship Jan had with God.  I picture Him sitting on a cloud saying to the cherubim, 
“She’s pretty cheeky, isn’t she?  But you know, she’s not asking for herself...Oh, what the heck, let’s blow those clouds away.”
 the Lord said, "Poof!” and our wedding day was glorious.

     It’s been forty-three years—forty-six if you count from the day we met.  How have we survived and flourished?  Here’s a story that goes back to before our beginning.

After I moved to Vermont my friend, Susan, back in Port Washington, started going out with Dan, the coolest boy in the school. Everyone was moved by the Civil Rights movement but he actually did something.  He started SAM, the Student Action Movement, and organized trips to the “poor neighborhood” in our town to help kids with their homework.  And he was cute in that early sixties clean-cut style of short hair but not too short, khakis, tan bucks, and button-down shirts.
He and Susan would take the train into the city and visit The Museum of Modern Art. He once sent Susan a postcard that said,
“Giacometti is dead.  the world will revolve a little slower.”
  I was sick with envy. It was so romantic--so cultural.  I could never hope for such an elegant boyfriend.  What could I offer a boy who wrote about Giacometti? I didn’t even know who Giacometti was.  There was so much I didn’t know and my failures in school made me think I’d never learn.

Life went on. 
      Last February Arthur and I took the train to Washington to celebrate his birthday.  He wanted to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum; I complained that it was too dreary. “Can’t we see something pretty?”  But it was his birthday, so we went.
As we started through the exhibits we got separated and I, feeling contrite, really paid attention; I read every label and spent more than two hours absorbing the whole experience.   Arthur, knowing my impatience, rushed through it and waited in the cafe, calling me repeatedly on my cell phone, which sat in my pocket in the coat check.  It was kind of like the Gift of the Magi.

Then we visited the East Wing of the National Gallery.  Entering that great soaring lobby and seeing the gigantic Calder mobile hanging from the skylit ceiling always makes me catch my breath. 

First, we went to a room full of small Calder mobiles.  I said to the guard, “I really want to see these move.  Aren’t you ever tempted to give them a little nudge?”  He answered, giving me a stern look, “There are cameras all around.”

Then we found a room full of Mark Rothko’s large color fields. 

 I waited impatiently as Arthur walked slowly around the room, drinking in all that color. 
“Rothko leaves me cold,” I said.  (I look at art with the thought of stealing something for my own work, and Rothko doesn’t give me much, although I do like the colors in this one.)
     “I don’t want to hear that,” Arthur said, “these paintings move me. I feel it, deeply, right here,” and he touched his heart.
“Okay, you stay here and I’ll go look around.” 

I walked out of the Rothko gallery and bumped right into Giacometti’s life-sized walking man.

     Ah, Giacometti.  All the envy and yearning you inspired.  Now here I am with a man whose heart fills up at a painting by Mark Rothko. The memory of that old story made me wish I could go back and speak to my young self.  I’d say,  

     “So now you know what you want. That’s the first step.  It will take hard work and you’ll have to make some leaps, you’ll have to leave behind some things you thought were important,  but don’t worry. You’ll get there.”

     Then, full of love and gratitude, I rushed to the gift shop and bought Arthur a Mark Rothko coffee mug.

Isn’t it a beauty?

Christmas in July

I've been feeling a little uninspired and overwhelmed by papers and stuff, torn by needing to clear the decks and get rid of everything ...