A Valentine’s Day Meander

These tangled threads with reference to what “once” was is pretty apt at this stage.

We don’t do Valentine’s Day anymore. One of us can’t remember that it is, and the other does not want to remind him that he doesn’t remember. We will go out to dinner tomorrow with friends and enjoy ourselves.

We also pick who we want to spend time with and who not. Friends who make us laugh and remember good times are what we need more than those with whom we share limited  interests. Good friends are just there when needed and we, especially me, appreciate their being there.

But it is all good. The physical therapy is over. I need only keep up with the exercises and realize that some things are just not that important. And keep looking to take care of the things that matter.

Try not to muddy the waters so to speak.

And even if I do, find some clarity and move on.

Back to Australia in less than two weeks. Friends and family I can count on will be here for Lee. Using Skype and phoning will keep us keep in touch over such a long distance for the month I will be in that magical place.

And when I return home I am going to tackle all those closets and storage boxes and shelves that are loaded with the things that no longer matter. I look forward to the clarity that will bring to where I want to spend my time. Making more artwork that needs to find places to go seems a bit silly at this point. I might seek the advice of others….especially the art group.

I plan on drinking more herbal tea.

And I am going to slow down. That is the one thing my physical therapist kept nagging me about. “You need to stop rushing through the things that take time and concentration. You need to not be so obviously thinking about what comes next and work on staying in the moment.” “Breathe.”

I will leave with one more image of how it is for us now….a bit of the prickly along lines of holding things in place.

Til next week sometime.


The Things We Live With – Part II

Some other things that just stay in place. On the long thick pine bench my husband made and runs along a wall that faces the front door has at one end a stoneware vase. I put the reddish sticks from some out of control willow bush with white and green leaves in it. The bush was supposed to look like the neighbors down at the end of the road, but no, it throws floppy branches out into the driveway to rub across my car. It sort of flails it arms in a sense, and a couple times a year I have to cut it back. I think this only encourages it. But the branches are a deep wine red and I bring them in to poke into this vase. Then I add Eucalyptus stems that refuse to fall apart. The fake red berries are so totally not me, but once in the vase over the holiday season, they stayed. Only two rocks were supposed to be here. They were handy to take to classes when I taught earth pigment gathering and processing. For some mysterious reason, my husband has decided to bring rocks in to join them. I said I thought there were enough there now….but he may not remember me saying that.

Above the bench hangs a collection of Aboriginal Australian art. They are pieces that could not be left behind once found in galleries or meeting the artist. And above them is a coil of barbed wire from along our road. It was my Christmas wreath for two holiday seasons. In the barbaric calf muzzle that I attached to the wire wreath I hung holly, bright green and red from a tree not far from where the wire was harvested. I wanted something different for a wreath on the front door. It was too different for a neighbor who came by. He was reading too much into it….way too much.

These are faces of apartheid from a photojournalist’s book.  He was documenting South Africa while Mandela was still imprisoned. Again, I could not put the book down once I saw it in the store. I drew the faces with paint on tapa cloth and used sticks and fabrics to capture what it was that I read about them. The eyes staring out from the page just was not enough….I wanted to see them more often. The iron animals below are part of a large collection that started with just a couple. Originally they were made from oil drums in the Caribbean, then likely, when popular, mass produced in India. I love the way the cow’s head is flat and at right angles to his neck. Each one has such character.

At right angles to them is the bowl of rocks watched over by a black bird. Hanging on the wall above are Aboriginal baskets from Indonesia and Australia. There is very little in our house that is not in this same palette of browns and golds and beiges and greys.

On a chest from Bali sits some clever sculpture pieces with rocks, basket, nest…all back dropped with an old Indian textile tied carefully onto a black framed fabric so as to show the edges and disperse the weight evenly. And when I go out onto the porch through the door just to the right of the chest, I see this.

Baskets, a face jug and a tall sculpture that I made of spare parts from local farmers and a large rusted piece of metal that looks a bit like a horse’s head…well sort of. It was bulldozed up by the man who excavated for our house. He could not believe I wanted to keep it and mount it onto blocks of wood with old springs and other bits of rust. It stands as tall as me and I think of Garland and how he knew just how to clear the land to give us the best view even when it was just him on his machine in the middle of the woods. Those baskets were made in classes taught by Grace Kabel in the late 70s. I think she single-handedly is responsible for the contemporary interest in making functional baskets. She taught us. We taught others and it went from there. Because we worked with her, we were given  “at cost prices” for materials from the only supplier in the country of packaged cane. Back then it was the by product of the rattan furniture business.

Here are others made in her classes that sit at the end of the porch.

On a bench out there are more of those Eucalyptus stems dried up in a vase behind another old basket that came from a peach farm where my father and I picked peaches not long before he died.

And to the left of this bench hangs this. A carved face from the root of a bamboo plant.

It is hard for me to pass up things with faces and yet I can’t stand dolls. Odd isn’t it. There is a collection of dolls in the guest room with that pesky cow and his story full of characters and I wonder what to do with them. Obviously I do not like living with them that much because they are in a room I hardly go into. Back to the porch and bamboo.

Bamboo and willow sticks with a clay bird hung in. It is the messy end with the only surviving zebra fern. I loved these ferns when they appeared about ten years ago. All yellowish green and mottled.

And this too at the messy end. It is the remains of an old pottery fountain that I put dirt into and hoped a plant would want to live there. I didn’t. Old bamboo bits of things that have dried and cracked covering whatever died in there. Some rocks and a blue glazed clay round thing that a friend in Australia gave me years ago because I admired it. I never should have brought it home. I tried to float it like she did in clear fresh water with just the right stones in just the right pot and look what I did….neglected it to the point of it chipping and being stuck here with other sad things that for some reason I can’t toss out. I should have said, “No, you keep it here where it will last forever.” But I didn’t and now it has become one of things I live with.

I will do more of the happy fun things later but I do like this last image. Something sadly poetic about it.

Til later.

My Mind This Week

We are having some beautiful skies this week. It is the Summer Solstice here, Winter Solstice down under where I see they too have exquisite sunsets happening. It seems I am more in touch with what is going on down there than here according to my facebook feeds. It is the shared frustration with our politics as well as our interest in the arts that keep us in touch. The fears of “otherness” has put deep scars in not just our two countries but the world as well.

Ever since the seventies in the time of “free love” I honestly thought that we were headed toward a more enlightened way of seeing. Naive at best. And maybe it is being an artist, caught up in my own passions to visualize an awareness and then wanting to share.

It was sad to see an article by the BBC about how the truly American expression of quilt making has become so divisive here in this country. Conservatives squaring up against those who use the quilt form as expressions of opposition to our present government. How can that be justified? Objects, large objects made from the very medium that covers our bodies and “protects” us has always been one of the most expressive materials to make us think. Just think the Aids Quilt to start, then the narrative quilts of Faith Ringgold and others like her. I remember being so impressed to meet the young woman who was making quilts depicting the threatened owls of the Northwest through deforestation.

It is the responsibility of artists to use whatever medium is at our disposal to make a point. Whether the viewer likes it or not is hardly the point. I made this one after one President Bush left office and we were in the middle of another one. It is titled, “Lost Peaces”. The base cloth scraps were from canvases I had painted and collaged about the peace and calm of tai chi movements. Onto them I shaped fragile paper birds starting with the dove of peace coming in from the top right only to be shot down and added to specimen drawers full of his predecessors. Each of them tagged on the leg with a small excerpt from a gardening book why certain plants need to be kept away from other ones so as to avoid contamination of species. It is also filled with rusted nails lined up like armaments. It hangs behind me here in the office right now and only had one public showing. A textile show in Asheville where it was kept off to one end away from those that were more about cloth and surface design.

I will probably take it to the landfill after removing all those wonderful rusty nails….but not yet. It seems more important this week after reading the BBC article.

On another subject this week I just want to give a nod to the women who have touched me in ways few have. I am thinking of only three right now. One who is always there at the end of the phone or in person to remind me to laugh. She is always there before I knew I needed her to be here to listen, just listen with a scotch in hand. Another called last night, again with scotch in hand. She lives in Canada and we have known each other since graduate school twenty years ago. Her call was to commiserate about our pitiful state of politics in this country and how we have allowed ourselves to become so fearful and easily manipulated. Of course they have what most of us would consider the ideal leader sitting in their capitol while we have whatever this is…a combination of all the worst when there is such an absence of integrity.

And another who my thoughts are with as she struggles with perhaps the final stages of cancer. I never knew her well but I wanted her to know just how much I needed to hear her answer to a question I had asked myself for years, “Am I doing enough and am I doing it right?”. I would ask every older woman artist that I respected if they were constantly nagged by that question. Most said they never gave it a thought. One time a friend and I asked an online ouija board the same question and after several minutes…it spelled out “maybe”. How silly was that! But this woman who I spent little time with and so admired her artwork told me, “Sandy, it doesn’t matter.” I stopped asking the question after that and wanted to thank her for her simple bit of insight that had escaped me.

My art group meets here this weekend and I am forever grateful for their willingness to talk and listen to the things that matter. This week they will see all the specimens framed and the journal I am working on. And they will also understand the deep importance of the Land of Lethe map still tucked into its blank journal waiting for words.

So finally in this rather rambling blog are more of the specimen journal pages.

One signature is finished and I am well into the next one. It has been a great distraction working on this, an imaginary place to go. It works like tai chi and some yoga stretches. You come away from it refreshed and ready to tackle whatever is next.

The next few days I will be sewing clothes. Taking two shirts or more to make one I would wear. Sewing up fabrics I just had to have from Dairings in Australia and throwing out scraps that at one time seemed important and now have no reason for being here.

Til next week. And if you have a friend who drinks single malt scotch, you have a good listener, a good friend.


Wrapping It Up – For Now

I have set up the last of the 8 x 10 gessoed board’s subject matter. Sticking with the Nature theme, I just picked a selection of things from the large rock and stick bowl in the foyer.  More of the things that are just picked up and once in the hand, can not be put back.


I like the feel of these pieces. They came from New Zealand and Tasmania mostly. Very seldom are there things from “here” in that bowl. It must weigh at least thirty pounds. Each thing in it told a story that is now mostly forgotten. Sad in a way. I wish I knew that the only thing left in a few short years of slipping these things into my pockets would be the feel and not where I was exactly and who I was with and why it caught my eye in the first place. Maybe, just maybe I would have left it lie there in the sand by a pounding surf of some place so far from where it was going to end up. Maybe. Do children want their mother’s bowl of rocks? I think they have their own and would feel badly having to say, “No thank you.”  Someone should start a home for the collected things like these that meant so much to someone so eager to own them.

I wrote a poem about them, those rocks and will add it here.

Owning Stones


I take the stones to own.

There is no thought

given that they are

removed from their

home, their place.

Once in my hand they

are mine. And other

things I own

will be left behind

to accommodate

the stones’ passage

back to my home,

my place.

Here they are arranged

to my liking…sorted

stacked and circled.

Each stone offering to

be held again and

again as I make them

into my story.

Each bearing the

marks of memory

from their own.

 Here is the finished board behind a mat and a detail of just how badly these boards were gessoed.



See all those holes and rough spots. They look and feel more like plastered panels and are the most thirsty surface I have ever painted on.

I am tidying up some other unfinished work in the studio. These books whose covers are altered images of details of large paintings are printed on both sides and folded in such a way that the front cover is three layers of imagery. For some reason I stopped making these in the middle of the assembling and decided this past week to finish the bindings. It is just a simple two signature three hole binding with the addition of complementary beads. What I do with them now is anyone’s guess. But at least they are finished and packed into clear envelopes.


They are just plain blank journals and if it weren’t for the complexity of fitting the images together in the layout and printing and folding, I don’t think I would have bothered with them. But I like the look and feel of them. Probably the feel is nice because I waxed the covers.

A friend is coming down this week to work in the studio. We will do gelatin plates. Just playing really. And that is hard for me. To just do something because it might be fun. I need it to be more complicated than that. I need to be saying something or at the very least learning something. Maybe I can learn to just have fun, just expect nothing more from myself. But it is hard for me. I think I am still dogged by the two questions, “Am I doing enough?” and “Am I doing it right.?”

I remember spending so much time asking women artist my age and older if they asked themselves these questions. Every one of them said, “No.” And then once a friend and I asked a ouija board on the internet. It took a good long time to spell out the word, “maybe.” How silly is that? Not long after I asked a printmaker/artist in Kentucky and she looked at me closely and said that the answer to my questions was, “It doesn’t matter.” I was quite relieved at the time and thought it was all behind me. Now I am not so sure.

But I will have some fun this week with my friend and next week I will show pictures of what my fun in the studio looked like.