Thursday, January 23, 2020

A painting I love

Sometimes an image really grabs me.  Like this painting, 
Tobias and the Angel. 

I just dug this out of my files. I found it years ago in one of my favorite places in New York--a treasure, really, the picture collection of the New York Public Library.  It's a magical place.  Say you want to look at pictures of mole rats, or shoe fashions in the fifteenth century, or Byzantine architecture. You just walk in with your library card, ask the librarian, who knows exactly where you should go and writes down the shelf and file numbers--you find a fat folder and sit down at a table to leaf through a pile of pictures, some of them decades old.  I  know you can do the same thing on the internet but there's something about holding those papers in your hand. You can take them home, too.
I must have been looking for pictures of angels and came upon this painting.  I was knocked out by the energy of these two figures, the rich color and the intense gaze of the young man.  I especially love the angel's feet.

It's the story of Tobias and the Angel told here by Frederick Buechner.
TOBIAS WAS A YOUNG man when he ran into the angel Raphael, and not knowing that he was an angel at all, let alone one of seven great ones who stand and enter before the glory of the Lord, Tobias hired him at a drachma a day to be his traveling companion. Accompanied by Tobias's dog, they had a series of adventures that were nothing less than extraordinary. 

Tobias almost lost his foot to a great fish. He discovered a cure for his father's blindness. He picked up a large sum of money that his father had left with a friend. And after first curing a young woman named Sarah of a demon who had caused her first seven husbands to perish on their wedding nights, he not only married her himself but lived to tell the tale. 

But the best part of the story is the short, no-nonsense prayer with which he married her. "And now I take not this my sister for lust, but in truth," he said. "Command that I and she may find mercy and grow old together. Amen" (Tobit 8:8-9). 

Never has the knot been more securely or simply or eloquently tied, and it's small wonder that it lasted them through a long and happy marriage that did not come to an end until Tobias died in peace at the age of one hundred and seventeen. 

Nice story, huh?  I just had to draw that angel.

Now that I look at it I see that the left arm is way out of proportion.  Oh, well.  After a while, I decided to put something in the hand instead of that little jar of fish oil so I helped myself to some of Sam's baseball cards, making this Trading With the Angel,  part of the series inspired by my grandmother's comment, "Tommy John got Traded to the Angels." Some little boys I know were horrified at what I'd done to the cards.

Would you say I stole this image?  Mark Twain said,  "It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected."  I found that quote in a terrific book about creativity and work by Austin Kleon titled "Steal Like an Artist." I recommend it highly.
I find that when I'm looking at art by other people I'm thinking, "What can I take from this for my own work?"  so I took the Angel Raphael and gave him a new setting.

Thank you, Mr. Verrochio, 575 years later your painting is still thrilling. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Happy Birthday, Sam

Yesterday was the birthday of our son,
Samuel Lawrence Woodhull Sherman.

In the middle of labor, when Sam was minutes away from birth, our nurse said, “Let’s check that fetal heartbeat. ..Whoa,” she said,  “This kid’s made out of STEEL!” 
 For years after that, I would look at him in his Superman pajamas and say, 
"Yup, made out of steel."

At our kindergarten parent/teacher conference Ms. Stewart said,
“Because you teach here, Barbara, Sam knows his way around, so he’s very helpful, without being boastful.”  Helpful without being boastful.  I liked that so much I asked my Latin teacher friend to translate it and made it into Sam’s motto.

Fert Opem Haud Superbus Dictus

I think it's "open hands with no proud words."   Latin scholars?  any opinions?

Was there ever a sweeter child?

Could you imagine a more loving brother and sister?

A friend took this picture.  When I saw it I felt absolute disbelief and then a glimmer of hope. In those days Jessie and Sam fought like sworn enemies. Our home sometimes felt like the Middle East.   

Around this time, with Jessie  in the throes of thirteen-year-old-ness,  slamming doors and not speaking to anyone, Sam came to me with some advice.
“You get mad at her and take away more and more privileges and it keeps getting worse.  She’s feeding on her anger.  You should wipe the slate clean and give her a fresh start.”  
I looked at him like, “Who are you?  Where did you learn that?”  But Arthur and I said, "Okay, let's try it," and yes, things got better. So, thank you,  Sam.

Sam's full of good advice.  A few years ago, as I was planning a big fancy dinner for Christmas he said,

“Mom, don’t do that.  You work really hard, you get tired, then you get mad and it’s no fun.”  So we’ve simplified our day; the kids have their time with what Santa left at their house and come to us around eleven.  We have popovers and coffee and then open presents at a leisurely pace and have turkey soup for supper. And I don't cook and I don't get mad.  It's pretty blissful.

Sam's always known how to celebrate great events. This was for my birthday.

Growing up in the city, our kids had no great urge to get their driver's licenses.  Sam was in his twenties when he finally decided to take the test. As I drove him way out on Long Island to the closest testing site, I told him about my brother Alan’s first road test on his sixteenth birthday.  The inspector told Alan to take a left turn, even though there was a 
NO LEFT TURN sign.  Alan did as he was told and the man said, “You flunk.”  Alan had to wait another three weeks to re-take the test and by that time the summer was over. 
Sam and I had a good discussion about authority and how to know right from wrong. 
He passed the test with ease.  
Then I said, “Okay, you drive home.”
“But I’ve never driven on the Expressway!”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
We headed home at exactly 55 mph, Sam clenching the wheel at ten and two, staring straight ahead.
Then he said,
“Oh, Mom... driving with me and Jessie fighting in the back seat must have been a nightmare for you.”

Have you ever had a moment like that, when you just have to ask the world to stop so you can give thanks?  

Sam's given me many occasions to give thanks, as he has for many of us.  Here he is with his girlfriend, Annye and Molly and Teddy.  They will tell you he's an excellent uncle.

So, let me say it again,

Happy Birthday, Sam

Friday, January 10, 2020

Less is a Bore

I made this etching after I gave up teaching to concentrate more fully on my art.  My children were in school full time and my days were now my own. I first spent hours and months just filling little blank books with images and quotes that caught my attention.

I crammed into this piece everything I could think of to define a new phase of my life. As I think back, maybe I was defining myself as an artist.

I put the seven continents across the top, each with an indigenous animal.

On either side is a great ocean—on the left, the Atlantic, with an allegorical figure of Europe from the plaza outside Musee D’Orsay in Paris. She’s sitting with a stag under a pine tree.

On the right is the Pacific, with a palm tree, a parrot, and a pineapple. I'm not sure why I put a seal there.

Two cows honor my years in Vermont.

My family is represented by our signs of the Zodiac; an Aquarius Bear for Arthur, Taurus, the Bull for me, Cancer, the Crab for Jessie and Capricorn, the Goat, for Sam. You can find those yourself.

And some of my favorite saints;
Saint Barbara, patron saint of architects and those about to be struck by lightning.

St. Honore, patron saint of bakers—appropriate for my family history

San Isidro, who prayed so fervently that God sent an angel to do his plowing so he could spend all his time in prayer.  Where is the patron saint of cooking dinner?

St. Joseph, for his patience and forbearance.

The Lion? Maybe he’s Aslan, the Christ figure from the Narnia Chronicles, maybe he’s one of the  lions who guard the New York Public Library.

I was starting to write a little; I loved Stuart Davis, with his use of words as part of his compositions, 

 so I wanted to put in some words; the words and phrases I had randomly scribbled into my little blank books. I’m not sure of all their sources. 

Remember, I did this on a brass etching plate and the image is a mirror of the plate--so I had to write everything backward.  Hello, Leonardo.

Restore that easy laughter, liberal generosity and the yearning for what is good, just and sublime.

Value yourself enough to absorb the relentless disciplines of art.

“Accuracy for the sake of imagination.”  Eugene Delacroix

Refinement and rigor

Clarity, health and human connection—this is from a biography of the poet Anne Sexton, describing what she yearned for. 

Faithfulness without malice, humor without flippancy,

Texture, surface, form, line, color, luminosity

“Patience, doggedness, thoughtfulness, and desire give wings to natural gifts.”

Substance and style, style and substance

Refinement and rigor emotional generosity

Elation Hopelessness Panic

Common sense, dignity, modesty, candor, self-worth, loyalty, and faith.  I think these were listed somewhere as the qualities that die in the face of a totalitarian government.

From the Bible. Jeremiah 29:11 "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

Above all, “Less is a Bore.”

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 ...