Light Catcher

appletreespiderwebIn the back corner of my garden there lives an old apple tree. There isn’t much left of it and a wet snow this winter took down another big section of it. Still, I love that tree and enjoy the woodpeckers  who like to visit it now.  One afternoon last summer I came across this huge web~it had been spun right in the circle created by a hanging branch, and the slanting sunlight had picked out its delicate strands. I really liked how it lit up that dark corner!

Last week was pretty eventful… I found a wee gallery right in the middle of Main Street to rent. Wow! So there has been lots of running around~bank, State Revenue office for a tax ID number, business license, etc etc. Hopefully this week will be the fun stuff~moving in and making it mine 🙂 It has been a dream of mine for a very long time. To have a place where I can talk to people one on one and they can get to know me and my work. I expect it will be a place of poetry reading (not mine) and who knows, maybe I can get a paint club going. Wouldn’t that be fun? I’ll keep you updated. Can’t wait to order my signs and put them up.

 

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Into the Light

Pakistani girl in alley

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Clearing out my Dad’s house in preparation for selling it means being reunited with some of the paintings I did for him over the years. ( A couple of them got snapped up by my siblings!  Yay!)  I always sort of liked this one, even though it is quite different from anything I usually do.

He’d been working in Pakistan and Bangladesh, helping design irrigation and drinking well projects.  I think things have not gone well with those wells in Bangladesh in recent years. It is very sad. Anyway, he liked the people there very much. He wanted me to capture the feel of an alley in Pakistan, how the buildings loom over the young girl as she walks along. She seems unaffected, serenely striding toward the light around the bend.

How different her world is from mine, yet she has something to teach me. I can read the terrible headlines and wring my hands over the state of things, or I can set my course and stride forward, not letting myself be deflected. I cannot put out the fires in California, or stop the bulldozers in Austin, but I can avoid the consumerism that drives them.

I wish you all a serene day with lots of light streaming in 🙂

Gardens and Art

Big Clay Pot;CBG

Big Clay Pot

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As I’ve mentioned you some of you, my dad passed away about a month ago.  On Father’s Day, in fact.  He was a wonderful man who lived an enormous, interesting life, from serveying mountain peaks in Alaska to helping design hydro-electric plants in Bangladesh.  Wherever he traveled he made a point of learning local customs and language, and would relate to a person at whatever level they felt comfortable. I could go on and on, of course, as any of us could about our dads. I adored him and feel I’ve lost my moorings without him to talk to every couple of days.

My trips into my studio have been sporadic since he died, and I notice my interests have shifted.  I find I’m drawn to gardens more, and paintings of them. It turns out there is a rich history of artists in their gardens.  Not a serious subject, maybe. But then, I think there can be a useful message here. Many of my environmentalist friends espouse a wish that humans would go away. Some people hate nature, some people love nature and hate people.  Wouldn’t it be better to embrace both?  Since both exist, after all.

My dad would go into a proposed project with a series of questions.  What conditions exist?  What problems exist? How can a solution be found that maximizes benefit but causes least harm?  Well, granted, he worked on a number of dams in his day and we didn’t always see eye to eye on that.  But the point I took from his method was always to look to nature for solutions. For me, a garden can be an excellent model for getting along with nature.  Can you plant beautiful plants in with the food plants? This can keep soil in good tilth and break up pest problems. Can you contour the garden to maximize water where needed? Can you put in plants with big leaves in that area that always grows weeds, so you don’t need herbicide? These are some of the things gardening has taught me. I want to share them, because in the face of all the scary news of climate change, water shortage, (and contamination from chemicals), bee hive crashes, I think we need to find elegant, easy actions to take to help ourselves out of the mess we find ourselves in.

For some, the Garden of Eden was nature before people stumbled.  I’ve always felt it could be a paradise in which people worked with nature.  A beautiful, healing place.  What do you  think? Can we create that? That would be some art.

Journeying

Jim and Katie on Dune Trail

This morning I thought I’d share this painting I did a few years ago of my children.  They are sitting on the Dune Trail, gently enjoying a small snake that has come across their path.  We are lucky to live in a place where one  needn’t  fear the snakes.

I feel almost a mystical tie to Illinois Beach State Park.  When my family first moved to Illinois in the 70’s, my parents took me there to see it.  I remember seeing a young lady in a park uniform putting out flags and something like a bell went off inside me.  “That will be me one day”, I found myself thinking.  Then I forgot all about it until my life had taken me down several other roads.  Life zipped along, to the day someone suggested that I might want to monitor butterflies for the Nature Conservancy.  OH!  magic.  It became my life~nets, workshops, days on the trail counting butterflies.  My children grew up, it now seems, on this and other trails.  Now when we walk the trail we find layers of memories all along the way.  One day I remember that young lady and am startled to think, yes, that did become me one day.

Now my children are grown-ups (wonderful and awful all at the same time!)  and my knees tell me they are done chasing butterflies.  It is a difficult decision to pull away from something that meant so much to me for so many years, but it has been time to for awhile.  There is a new monitor at Illinois Beach, I am told.  I feel like the old racehorse that runs the fence when he hears the bugle, but I know it is time for me to turn my focus.

Yesterday I had a reception jointly with another artist at a gallery I joined this spring.  I feel like I’ve come home all over again~all these years I thought nature people were my tribe but I started to notice how isolated I felt.  I don’t really belong in that world.  But at this gallery the artists come and hang out together.  Hours fly by as we discuss media and method.  I found my peeps!!! Funny how that can happen almost by accident, isn’t it?

Leading a Volunteer Workday

The Botanists 4:2015The Botanists

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Yesterday I had the good fortune to help lead a volunteer workday at a nearby nature preserve.  Almond Marsh is blessed with a large natural marsh and a nice quality upland savanna.  It is also blessed with a wet area accidentally created when a road was constructed. A low area filled with water, creating snags that attracted herons who nest there every year now.  When I arrived I saw a large bird fly right over the parking lot….a Bald Eagle!  That was an auspicious start to the day.

In a short while my charges for the day arrived~3 Brownies and their mothers.  My job was to take them out into the woods and teach them a little about what they were seeing and then have them pull garlic mustard.  I’ve done this before, but this was the first time I felt like an elder passing along knowledge.  It was really moving to see these little girls bend over, studying the Toothwort and Trillium I was showing them, and then learn to pull the garlic mustard.  Once they learned how to get the whole root they were all over it, triumphantly holding each one up for me to admire.  They were too young to be given detailed natural history lessons, of course.  I hope they loved the day as much as I did, and that they left with questions forming in their minds and wonder in their hearts.  I hope they come back.  They and their mothers were a delight.

The painting I wanted to share with you today is a celebration of the many citizen scientists it has been my pleasure to know over the years.  As I understand it, sometime in the early 80’s folks around here started to adopt parcels of land.  In some cases these were already forest preserves, but had not been managed.  In others they were parcels of land that people just wanted to save.  Organizations were formed, funds were raised, and land was purchased.  People began to study their field guides and historical records to discover what plants and creatures should be present.  Techniques were developed to restore the ecological health of prairie, wetland savanna and woodland.  Really, it has been a human blossoming as well as a natural one.  Every now and then I step back and marvel at these people from different walks of life teaching themselves botany, entomology, birdology 🙂 you name it, and then dedicating thousand of hours every year  to help restore natural processes in the land.  When I sit in stewardship meetings, I notice that all of us are growing old.  Will this have been a fluke, a passing thing that will die with us?  I hope not.  I hope it continues, and I hope it spreads to every region.  Spending a day with 3 sweet little Brownies and their wonderful moms gave me hope for the future.

To read more about this movement and hopefully be inspired to start it in your area, I recommend the book, “Miracle Under the Oaks”, by William Stevens.

May eagles soar above you, and flowers bloom at your feet.

A Beastie!

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“Making Her Way”   www.melissabluefineartandgardendesign.com

 

When I was a kid my family lived on a small lake.  The station for the train that took my dad into Chicago for work was at the far corner of that little lake. He could walk the half mile down our road, or he could have me paddle him across in the canoe.  🙂

He paid me a nominal amount, but by far the glee of our twice daily trips were the best wages I could have asked for.  He is the one who arranged for camping trips in the mountains, trips to Yellowstone, etc.  He sat on the end of the dock with me, regaling me with stories as our fishing poles lay forgotten beside us.  Back then, it seemed like every morning brought a new and exciting discovery.  The grass would swish, and there would be a SNAKE!  Gazing into the water I’d see schools of bullhead, or sunfish, or fat tadpoles.  Mid-summer would bring baby painted turtles perched on lily-pads~ it was paradise.  And so, over time, those canoe trips would become show-and-tell times.  All day I would be prowling the shoreline for new treasure to tell him about.

One afternoon I came across a turtle the likes of which I had never seen before.  It sat there hissing at me, with its hooked mouth agape.  Dragon spikes marched down it’s shell and tail.  Wow! Who knew things like this existed? Dad had to see this!  Cautiously I picked it up.  As alligator snapping turtles go, this wasn’t a huge one but still.  I got it into the canoe and paddled across, waiting for the train.  What I failed to realize was that summer was ending, and days were getting shorter.  So, by the time the train came and my dad climbed down the embankment and settled into the canoe, the light had quite faded.  Turtle forgotten, we swapped tales as is our wont.  After a bit, when we had fallen silent, there was a scratching sound on the bottom of the boat.  My dad, cautiously,”…..what is that?”  Me: “…..OH!  Well, there is this enormous turtle I found…”  Instantly we both had our feet up out of turtle range.  To this day we laugh about that turtle.

There is something so epic about these turtles that I’ve always wanted to paint one.  Isn’t she ancient and terrifying to look at?  And yet, can you see her vulnerability?  It is hard to know how to respond to nature, especially if it isn’t furry with big eyes.  I’ve seen kids take sticks to these creatures, and biologists dispatch them into jars of formaldehyde.  I think we are all searching for a way of knowing that we have forgotten.

Field of Dreams

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A funny thing happened with this painting.  After studying it for a bit, my mind got busy.  Theory and bad things like that.  This is what happened:

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I thought that by making the color dots larger in the foreground and adding more definite brushstrokes, it would only enhance the jewel-like look I was going for.  It is suppose to be a painting of spiderwort, but I’ve noticed that small blue flowers don’t show up well in a painting.  So I thought I’d use some pointillism, bouncing orange dots off of the blue to bring them out.  What I see is that the blue retreats to a quiet murmur and the orange dances forward gleefully.  Very nice in its way, but there aren’t any orange flowers around here like that, so…..  Now it just looks polka-dotty to me, and the colors are actually duller.  hm.

 But hey, the sun has come out for the first time in days, it’s cool again, and the birds are singing.  I think I’ll go join them 🙂

A wonderful day to you all.