Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Images of Summer

Happy Summer Solstice one day late, not that it hasn't felt like summer on the Texas Gulf Coast for many weeks now. The tomatoes have quit producing, it's just too hot. The grass grows so fast you can't believe it. I ride my bike early or late and swim when I can. After putting in about 12 hours on the art chair I wrote about last week, I decided to scrap it and start over. Same quilt concept, but on a larger scale, not so fussy.... And so it goes. I'm off to the beach!

photos by KAO: Grass Shadows; Self Portrait on Bike, June 2010; Tomato Harvest; Biggest Sunflower, 2010.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Art Chairs in the Making

The Furniture Bank of Houston has given local artists the opportunity to get creative this summer. All are invited to paint a chair for their big bash, the Show Your Heart Furniture, Arts and Decor Expo, to be held August 28 and 29, 2010 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The art chairs will be auctioned off to benefit their main cause of supplying furniture to families and individuals living in poverty, "making empty houses homes". Click here for an application.

Visiting their facility to pick out a chair was like poking around in granny's attic. One of my friends took home a rocker and a child's chair. I chose a rather chunky, almost colonial-looking chair because it had plenty of wood surface to paint. My concept is that of a crazy quilt. I post this photo of my a small section of my first start with some hesitation. There's plenty of revision going on as I test my design and methodology. There may be further embellishments of the surface if I really get obsessive and try to add some calico-like patterns to my solid colors.

As often is the case with my creative process, I tend to jump into things without much prior knowledge, planning or experience. I like to wing it, but often end up hustling to catch up on technique. Right now I am enjoying playing with the color palette, creating old timey, cozy colors that would be found in an antique quilt. Finding the right brushes and paint consistency is also part of the learning curve. Since I am also doing some interior house painting this summer, my favorite old clothes will be getting a bit more paint-spattered than ever. I am grateful for this opportunity to create and and donate to a good cause. Painting a chair feels like play to me. As Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Little Garden Within: the Poet Emily Dickinson and Her Love of Flowers

I don't know if I'll ever get to Amherst, Massachusetts to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum, so instead, while I was in New York this week, I made a pilgrimage to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, where there was a wonderful exhibit pairing her poetry with many of the flowers and plants she grew in her garden. Known more as a prolific gardener than a poet in her day, Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 - May 15, 1886) often worked in her garden by moonlight. As she aged, she had problems with her eyes that made bright sunlight prohibitive.

Although it only took less than an hour to see the exhibit, what I value most from making the journey was simply enriching my connection to the poet. I read the 28 page Emily Dickinson's Garden: Poetry of Flowers catalog from cover to cover as I waited for my train back to Grand Central station. Various bits of trivia spoke to me. Her poems speak to me more and more every time I make the effort to read them. Some years ago, we had a wonderful minister at our Unitarian Universalist Church who we fondly referred to as the 'poetry preacher", and for several weeks a bunch of us met with Bruce Bode to read aloud and discuss Dickinson's poems. Of course the poems bore much inspection, and sometimes we'd spend as much as an hour on one short poem, falling completely under her spell.

Dickinson's mother was an avid gardener, and thus the poet spoke of being "reared in the garden." Her favorite flowers included roses (the most mentioned flower in her verse), daisies (I connect to this because the daisy is my mother's favorite flower), lilies, tulips, daffodils, jasmine (especially loved because of its fragrance), indian pipe, gentians and even the common dandelion. Like any good gardener of the Victorian age, she understood the language of flowers/floriography. She sometimes called herself "Daisy". The most common meaning attributed to daisies is innocence, interesting because in Dickinson we do see profound purity, yet it is paradoxically paired with a multi-layered, rich, dark, complicated wisdom and intelligence. For me, her deep rootedness to the earth couples with her light-as-air, far reaching acquaintance with the heavens, an inexplicable package of genius and inspiration.

As a young girl, Emily Dickinson kept a leather bound scrapbook of pressed flowers and plants identified as to genus and species, commonly known as a herbarium. In the winters, she gardened in a small conservatory her father added to their Homestead. She sent pressed flowers in her letters and inserted her poems (also known then as posies) into bouquets she gave to friends. She was a "lunatic on bulbs" and favored perennials over annuals, though her garden was known to include nasturtiums (an annual I have always loved for their round leaves). The family kept vegetable gardens and an orchard, as well as an 11 acre meadow where wildflowers went wild.

I learned that Emily Dickinson was buried in a white coffin, holding heliotrope, with lady's slippers at her throat. Her coffin was carried through a field of buttercups near the Homestead, and her grave covered with flowers. There's lots more to read and learn about Emily, but for now here is poem 106, written in 1859:

The Daisy follows soft the Sun -
And when his golden walk is done -
Sits shyly at his feet -
He - waking - finds the flower there -
Wherefore - Marauder - art thou here?
Because, Sir, love is sweet!

We are the Flower - Thou the Sun!
Forgive us, if as days decline -
We nearer steal to Thee!
Enamored of the parting West -
The peace - the flight - the Amethyst -
Night's possibility!

photo by KAO: "The Little Garden Within " (from Letters 969, Emily Dickinson), with floral display at NY Botanical Garden, June 2010.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Short Poems from East Texas

Some years ago I enjoyed taking a guided tour of the McFaddin Ward Historic House Museum in Beaumont, Texas. Today I came across these small poems I wrote about the place, some of which I've posted below. The McFaddin family were part owners of Spindletop, the place where the Texas Oil boom began in 1901. Perhaps you've heard of the Lucas Gusher, which first erupted at Spindletop on January 10, 1901, with the oil shooting as high as 150 feet, netting some 100, 000 barrels a day. Today you can also visit the place, now called the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum.

Live Oaks
In the summer of 1836,
William McFaddin walked home
from the Battle of Goliad
with two acorns in his pocket,
acorns he gathered from
the San Jacinto battleground.
He planted them near the house
where two tall, wide, and wise live oaks
still stand today, often surrounded
by astonished tourists.

The Cook
Mr. Lemon, the black cook,
roasted red pepper
on his wood stove
to keep interlopers
out of his kitchen.

Spiritual Furniture
In the bedrooms of
all the young ladies,
ornate kneelers imported from Europe
invite even the unholiest to pray.

The Lucas Gusher
In the north bedroom,
where one of the McFaddin boys slept,
a picture of the family's oil well
at Spindletop hangs over the bed,
eternally gushing black oil.

photo by KAO: from the East Texas Road sign series