Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The grackles sing avant the spring

Have you noticed that the birds are starting to activate these days?  I hear them cackling and whistling and calling just about every time I go outside.  Their sounds--a reaction, I'm sure, to the increased sunlight of March--are on some days the only thing capable of reminding me that spring is coming.  When I hear them, I think of the Wallace Stevens line, "The grackles sing avant the spring."

Common Grackle

Stevens, America's most distinguished poet of the twentieth century, lived on Westerly Terrace in Hartford's West End, within walking distance of my home in West Hartford. 

From Westerly Terrace, he regularly walked down Asylum Avenue to his job as an attorney for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company, now the Hartford Insurance Group. He composed poems as he walked, and neighbors used to say that they would see him walk by at a  measured pace, stop, rock in his footsteps, and proceed.  When he arrived at work, he would dictate his poems for typing.

I figured if Stevens heard grackles avant (before) the spring, then grackle voices must be among those I'm hearing these past couple of weeks.  You can go to this site and listen and tell me whether you've heard anything like that outside these days.

I know I hear blue jays and cardinals.

This time of year, those crackly bird voices are to me a fragile crackly bridge across to greater sunlight and warmer weather.  If the birds are getting ready, then spring must be approaching.

Today I decided to look up the Stevens poem of which that line is a part.  I found this:

Snow and Stars
by Wallace Stevens

The grackles sing avant the spring
Most spiss-oh! Yes, most spissantly.
They sing right puissantly.

This robe of snow and winter stars,
The devil take it, wear it too.
It might become his hole of blue.

Let him remove it to his regions
White and star-furred for his legions, 
And make much bing, high bing.

It would be ransom for the willow
And fill the hill and fill it full
Of ding, ding, dong.

How do you like his expression of the sound the grackles make?  Spissantly--it's brilliant.  The man had a way with onomotopaeia.  And to rhyme "spissantly" with "puissantly"?  He's a combination of snooty and cuckoo, like Katharine Hepburn on LSD. 

And what the heck is "high bing"?  Is it the opposite of high dudgeon? Never mind--I know exactly what Stevens means when he tells the devil to take this robe of snow and winter stars because it might look good in his domain, and because his legions might like it. 

And yes--what a concept--let that robe of snow and stars be ransom for the willow.   Are you looking forward to seeing a few greening willows?  I am.

 Wallace Stevens' poetry is often obscure and his image enigmatic at best.  But he got it right about this late-winter Connecticut wish that the never-ending snow will stop and the willow will green.

P.S. Did you know that Stevens' wife Elsie was the model for the liberty head dime?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Color of Water

This question goes out to every one who reads this blog entry, but especially to my art friends:

How do you depict the transparency and luminosity of water?

Such as this:

I'm calling this image Heaven on Earth for its otherworldly reflection of the sky in shallow water on the sand.  For me, it's a transcendent scene, and it will be the first in a series by that name.  I'll show you some of the other potential scenes later.

Meanwhile, this is the first Heaven on Earth, at this point, the challenge is getting the water right.

The transparency and the luminosity:  tough to depict.  My first effort, with Shiva paintsticks, was ruined by injudicious thread painting.  The threads were removed, but a pox of needlemarks remained in the painted fabric.

I now realize that, once the fabric has been treated with Shiva paintsticks, the weave of the cloth is covered up, and needleholes show.  What a mess. 

 Anyway, I'm going with Plan B:  covering up the pockmarked fabric with something else.

But what?

I pulled out some tulles and iridescents...

also some silks in the right ballpark of colors, some of them from the late great Japanalia of Hartford, Connecticut...
also some home decorator fabric, some of it in the form of samples from my interior design buddy Kathie Ferguson...

Also some Angelina fibers, for glitz.

I also got out some Jacquard pearlex pigments and some colorless extender to act as a vehicle for the pigments.

 Once I had those materials assembled, I painted and bonded, bonded and painted.

I used Misty Fuse and Bo-Nash to bond glittery Angelina fibers to a variety of tulles and sheers

I also applied paint to silk and sheers:

 And you know I made patterns for some of the pieces.  Because that's the kind of gal I am.  The kind who makes patterns:
I spent several hours swapping around the options.  It's a challenge to use the Angelina fibers for glitz without overdoing it.

This piece of painted silk became the silvery puddle on the path:

And this piece of Angelina bonded with something or other became the shiny brownish puddle in the left foreground:

You know what else?  I learned that my Baby Lock Ebellisher, aka a felting machine, is good for adding texture, especially to silk:

Above, a piece of silk on the left and a home decorating sample, a synthetic, on the right.  Both gave me a nice texture to use for the sandy mud in the left and right foreground:

Mind you, these pieces are all going to be trimmed and appropriately fastened to the background, and they're going to be embellished with hand and machine embroidery and whatnot for details.  The little foamy bubbles in the water above, for example, will be French knots.

But I'm not there yet.  I'm still trying to get the water right.

This is what I have so far:

Try to picture it with appropriate details added, such as hand and machine embroidery.

Smoothing over the jagged edges of grief

Folks who know me know that my sister Jerol, who fell on November 15, 2014, sustaining traumatic brain injuries, died on February 1, 2015.  Except for me, she was the last survivor of the four Cadrain girls of 104 Concord St., Hamden, Connecticut.

Here we are in  about 1959.  Jerol is on the left; our sister Linda, who was born in 1939 and died in 2011, is in the middle; our sister Jeanne, who was born in 1945 and died in 2002, is on the right.  That's me in the front.
Here we are in...uh, the year my nephew Andy got married, because this was taken at his wedding.  There's Linda, now no longer a nun, front left, and Jerol, front right.  I'm on the back in the left, and Jeanne, the mother of the groom, is on the right.
 Now I'm the last of us, and the only one with the memories of our childhood bedroom, with its two bunkbeds and its portrait of Jesus, framed in filigreed gold metal, decorated with red plastic roses, and lit from above by its own lamp.  That item, wondrous in its drama, had been a gift from Jerol's boyfriend Twap.

Jerol was so many things to me: when we were kids, a playmate in the bathtub, comfort in thunderstorms, and a moral sounding board; later, the model for my own efforts at experimental gardening and adventurous cooking.

After her marriage she moved to the mountainous country of Sussex County, New Jersey, where migrants work the onion fields, dairy farms are losing ground to ski slopes, and everything is 45 minutes from home.  In those years, when she and her husband Larry were raising their two children, necessity forced her to put on heavy gloves and take a job making pallets from rough slabs of wood.  Somewhere along the line there, she developed the grit of a hard-luck country heroine.

I'll never fully understand the sources of that grit, but I do know that, gritty or not, Jerol never lost the generosity that had once motivated her, as she left high school, to seek work at the New York Foundling Hospital in New York City.  Instead, she ended up taking a training course to become, and being certified as, a dental assistant, but her soft heart for foundlings remained:  over their years in the country, she and Larry took in many a foundling, friends of her children and later her grandchildren, kids who had run out of love and places to stay.   Pregnant, unemployed, illiterate, even thieving,  no one who ever crossed her path with a sad story and a lack of options was turned away. As I write this, her grandson and a friend of his are living with a space heater in the garage of the house that Jerol shared with her husband Larry and her daughter Lynn.  Lynn's boyfriend, Concepcion, who is Mexican, now lives there too.
I didn't set out to eulogize Jerol, though I guess I've ended up doing so, in a very shorthand way.

What I set out to say is that

1.  Jerol's boots will never be filled.
2. The depth and breadth of my grief are going to bear in on me, a little at a time, time after time.

In the mean time, I put one foot in front of the other, and I solace myself by creating art, which takes me away from consciousness of my loss.

I love sand ripples because they're ephemeral but eternal at the same time.  Today I'm working on two sand ripple images from First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod.

Jerol loved the beach.  Any beach. Especially Long Beach Island, New Jersey, where her ashes--or should I say cremains--will probably be scattered this spring or summer.  But when she visited Cape Cod, First Encounter was her favorite beach because it didn't involve stairs and was more compatible with her limited and achy mobility.

This is how I smooth over the jagged edges of my grief.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Light's Inside of Me

Heaven on earth.  That's what I think of when I see clouds reflected in standing water on the ground.

Here's my latest effort to capture this image:

Today and for the next several days, I'll be working on my monthly free-lance legal research and writing gig for the Society for Human Resource Management.  But when I'm not on that, I'm gonna be on this.

Working on these images is going to get me through the winter.  Who needs Florida?  The light's inside of me.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Today in Art

 It's a snowy Saturday, and I'm taking the time to finish my first two pieces of 2015.  Both of these two new pieces were begun in 2014, and both are images of sand ripples.  I love the sinuous patterns left in the sand when the tide retreats, and images of those ripples, and of Cape Cod in general, are going to get me through this winter.

Low Tide, Eastham is ready to be put on stretcher bars and sit for its portrait with photographer Joe Rubin.

It's a whole cloth quilt, which means it's one big piece, not made of lots of smaller pieces.  It's one big piece of Pima cotton, painted with Inktense pencils.  I used a technique called thread painting to pick out details in the water and in the background, but you can't see them in this photo. You'll be able to see them after Joe takes a shot.

Eastham Low Tide is based on this photo, which I love enough to use as my Facebook wallpaper:

Until Joe gets a moment to mount and photograph it, Low Tide Eastham waits on the dining room table.

Sand and Sky is also ready to be mounted on stretcher bars:

This piece consists of a small square quilt mounted on a larger felted piece.  The small square quilt is raised, with a technique called trapunto, so that it looks like the actual ripples left in the sand by the retreating tide.

You can see how I made it, pulling puffy white yarn through sewn channels representing the sand ripples:

The larger felted piece represents the sky when the patterns in the clouds resemble the sand ripples.
 I just finished adding the last details to the clouds today, using curly roving called curly locks.

I deliberately folded the felted piece, rumpled one of its corners, and left another corner to turn up.

When these new pieces have sat for their formal portraits, I'll put them in the quilt gallery on this blog, where they'll have pride of place as my two newest creations...and the practice that's going to get me through the winter.