Wednesday, September 19, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #25 - NEW BEGINNINGS


Once we settled into a daily routine, life calmed down.  Mornings, diaper changes, breakfast, laundry - now it was time for me to set up my own schedule to paint.  It was easy to spread out a comforter and all their toys on the floor of the family room.  Cheerios were everywhere.  John had his trucks and a little train set.  I put on some music and sometimes I would be able to paint for an hour or so.  Naptime - another two hours if I was lucky!  We had fun.

The alla prima technique I learned at Jan's workshop allowed me to work fast.  I was good at drawing and this method relied heavily on a "cartoon" or sketch which would then be the preparation for the heavier paint.  Soon I had built up about twenty small pieces - some of which were quite passable.  My husband had invited one of his colleagues and his new wife over for coffee.  His name was Lamar Lamb, old-timer who lived in a ranch house in Pecos right next to the river. His wife was a teacher in Santa Fe.  They both took a liking to my work and before the afternoon was over had purchased two paintings for about $100! We were later invited to their rustic log cabin home for a visit - very upscale.  I sat in an old ranch chair beside the river - a quiet joy.  Another new experience!  

We were beginning to make friends.  The Tony Luna family lived across the street from us; their teenage daughter often babysat for our gang of three.  I met a woman artist named Edda Lynne and we became friends. We made plans to go out painting together and would pack up our easels and gear and set up in local fields to paint old ruined houses.   Through our field painting trips I soon came to know places along the Turquoise Trail - Madrid, Cerrillos, Golden.  Enough old buildings and landscape material to last a lifetime!  Edda was quite prolific and soon decided to open a studio gallery across from Three Cities of Spain (now Geronimo's Restaurant).  She also exhibited a few up and comers like a young Dan Namingha, who would later open his own very successful Niman Fine Art Gallery.  Through Edda I began to get acquainted with the workings of selling art.

I received a Polaroid camera for my birthday - it was magic!  I could take photos and the pictures were ready immediately - back up info for when I got home to paint.  Everything seemed to be falling into place.  If this was my life for the rest of my life, I would be a very happy girl.

I still had a lot to learn.....   

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

WORD PAINTINGS #24 - LOST AND FOUND

SOMBRIO DRIVE, CASA SOLANA - We began to settle into the house - adjusting to a new kind of normal - family life. Of course we had to have furniture.  Tom Broome was Chief of the Voluntary Fire Department.  When he wasn't battling blazes, he managed his family's furniture store.  We took out some credit and purchased a dining set, sofa and some chairs all with a definite Southwestern flair.  We didn't know it then, but we were at the front end of "Santa Fe Style".  The twins were starting to walk. They had their own language.  When they didn't want us to understand what mischievous scheme they were concocting, they would resort to their mysterious form of gibberish.  Bought my son a little bike and a pail and shovel - when he wasn't riding, he was rearranging the landscape.  I set up my corner in the family room - a small easel, the worktable and all my paints and brushes.  As soon as there was some semblance of order, I began to put to use the information I gathered from Jan's workshop and painted in my "spare time".  My husband quit his job at the high school and began teaching at a nearby college run by the Christian Brothers.  Ernie, the sixth member of our family had sold enough sculptures to purchase a plot of land high on a ridge slightly outside of town.

Weekends were our favorite time. We began to explore - picnic lunches at the Pecos Monument, lunch at a fairly new restaurant called Rancho de Chimayo - trips to galleries, shops on the Plaza, Healy-Matthews Bookstore on Marcy Street, lunch at The Shed.  On one trip to Hyde Park I said "This is God's country" - My son said " I just saw him" - ''Where did you see him, John?" - "Back there - He was just walking down the road!"  He was so sincere that I turned around and looked where he was pointing!

What I loved most about our new home were the people and their eagerness to tell me their stories - their family histories.  I was awed by the ancient pueblo culture and knew there were mysteries I would never fully understand - I was content with not knowing.  I loved the warmth and kindness of my new Hispanic friends.  And then I learned to love the food, but not at first.  On our first trip to Chimayo I ordered the only meal on the menu that didn't have chile on it.  Arturo Jaramillo  urged me to try an enchilada, but I was afraid it would be too hot.  Hah! Look at me now, more than fifty years later - green chile a definite addiction! 

How do you describe the brilliance of a New Mexico sky to someone who has never left Chicago?  My eyes were still trying to adjust.  How does one begin to measure distance in miles instead  of city blocks?  Absolutely nothing was familiar to me.  I had lost my bearings.  My Big City girl persona no longer applied to life in this strange landscape - I had to listen and learn.   Time for me to get real!


Monday, September 17, 2018

#23 - THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE!!!


Looking back on all my years at the easel, I have only met two or three artists as generous as Jan Herring.  She poured information into us - new words, new methods, technique.  No question went unanswered.  Our class came together as strangers and when Friday came around we had shared some very precious hours - no bitching, no gossip - just five days of colorful discussions about painting!  We became Soul Sisters in Spirit.  Time to pack up my brushes and wet paintings and go home to my babies.   My roomate's mother gave me a lift back to the little house on Alegre Street.

Return to the Real World!  The house was filled with moving boxes!  We were at the very end of Alegre Street and much of the neighborhood's effluent had backed up into our bathtub while I was away.  My husband had been negotiating with a fellow who "flipped" houses and we were moving to Sombrio Drive in a fairly new subdivision called Casa Solana.  Heaven awaited us. The home was newer, lighter, brighter - no floor furnaces! My spirits lifted.  The washer and dryer was in the family room and I found an old worktable in the backyard, just perfect for paints and brushes.   I mentally marked my my new painting territory near a back window. A closed backyard for the babies!  If we stood tippy-toe at the front window, we could see the mountain known as Old Baldy.  One of the realtor's selling points - a house with a view.   Life was moving swiftly and while my little ones napped, I packed up their clothes and toys and hoped this move would bring us all to a better place.

There was still a coldness in my marriage.  So much had happened - the forced move from Chicago, the workshop and now another move.   I still felt wounded, betrayed and very tired. All the changes and chaos didn't give us time to even discuss how to move forward as a couple.   I would look across the dinner table and know that this man was a stranger to me.  I didn't know it then, but the workshop had altered my little world - nothing would ever be the same.  I had changed profoundly.  It was still my intention to try to be a good partner - keep the children happy, keep a good home - and paint when there was time.  In the back of my mind I had an idea that perhaps I could improve enough to be able to sell some work and bring in some extra income.  It was also my hope that we might slowly come together - become a real family.  Right now we were like new roomates trying to get acquainted with one another.  Mountains to climb....
  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

#22 - Taos 9/15/18 -REFLECTION

Twelve days ago I celebrated my 79th birthday!  A little bittersweet.... Do I miss those long ago days when I had great legs, a nice smile and lived life with strong certainty that I could accomplish anything? - Hell, Yes!!!  Now I move ever more slowly and my word of the day, every day, is "Adapt"!  I walk with a cane - a crooked knee the result of my glory weightlifting days at the Northside Health Spa - I leg lifted 400 lbs - not a smart move.   A lovely lady named "Hope" comes in to help me clean twice a month.  Am working very hard to keep my home to  a certain minimalism in order to avoid having my own special on Hoarders!.  Willingly gave up my car keys about three years ago - figure I probably saved a few lives by staying off the highway!  Am finding this time in my life to be quite adventuresome - like visiting an unfamiliar planet!  I had no intention of ever being "old"!

The temptation is to pretend that I am still capable of setting the world on fire!  Yeah, right after my afternoon nap!  The other day I saw a woman doing a marathon for old people at the age of 106!  Damn!  Puts me to shame.  I am slower now - I stop and rest every so often while doing housework.  Satisfied that I won't make the Guinness Book of World Records anytime soon.  If there is an award for quiet determination, I will take first prize! 

The underpainting above"Autumn Fields at Ranchitos" is 60"x36" inches - I have been working on it for a while now and plan to have it finished by Monday or Tuesday of next week.  It is one of my favorite places - high on a ridge above this little valley.  Whenever life got too chaotic, I would get into my pickup truck and park on that little hill to feel the peace and silence.  Yes,  I still find great joy in my work -- purpose and meaning.

This blog is part of my new adventure.  Have wanted to quit several times, because some of it is very difficult to relive.  What I know for sure is that life is never lived in a straight line - there are no accidents.  There have been amazing "Wayshowers" throughout my life.  These writings are helping me to get reacquainted with them and to be grateful for their presence.  Am also realizing there was no "good" or "bad" - each experience was essential from the beginning until this very day!  Am certain there are some surprises waiting just around the corner!      

Friday, September 14, 2018

#21 - EUREKA!!! MAMA LEARNS TO PAINT!



Jan Herring had taken a workshop led by Frederic Taubes, a well-known Polish painter and author.  Apparently she excelled and he invited her to be his assistant the following year.  Taubes had studied the methods of the Flemish masters and developed a line of copal painting mediums, which when applied to a board or canvas allowed the artist to complete a piece of art in one sitting.  This was called "alla prima" - all at once.

After two or three workshop demonstrations by Jan, I realized that paintings just didn't "happen" - there were probably thousands of ways to paint and this was only one way to do it.  It is a myth that artists just imagine a painting, sit down and put some colors to canvas and a work of art is born.  Here was my first experience, my first understanding that there was a craft to creating - a technique that had to be learned. Now as I am writing this from my home in Taos 50 years later, I know it is a life long learning process.

Jan explained the method of working with the copal mediums and made a very complicated process look easy.  I wrote many notes and felt that my head could explode at any minute.  Words like underpainting, glazes, cartoon (the drawing), dark to light - ways of applying color.  Remembering some of the Renaissance paintings from the Art Institute....yes, here was a way those artists put their colors on the canvas!  It did not happen by accident, these paintings were made by mixing and layering colors - method, technique, craft.   I was learning new words - a whole new language!

The second day of study we opened our paint tubes and laid out the colors.   My first attempts at alla prima were forgettable.  We worked from live models and there were still lifes set up all around the studio.  Jan gave each student individual critiques and encouragement.   Her energy kept us all at a high level of creativity.  I had never had this experience of  being in a room where everyone spoke the language of art all the time.  Here was a teacher, a woman who seemed to have it all - a home and family and work that she loved - she was an inspiration!

Each evening I made a call to Santa Fe and talked to my babies  at that moment aching to be home with them - to see their sweet faces.  Homesickness overtook me.  Too much excitement - jumbled thoughts, ideas for paintings.  This was the "how of it" but it was only the beginning - a whole new beginning.

After the workshop ended, Jan took me aside and asked if I would assist her during next year's workshop.  Without hesitation, I agreed!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

#20 - JAN'S MAGIC BRUSHES!


Jan Herring was a dynamo.  Quite simply, she loved people and she loved to teach!  Married to a Texas farmer named Henry they raised their family in Clint, Texas.  She began painting in 1952 and it was my understanding that she had studied with well-known artist and writer, Frederic Taubes. Over the span of her career, she produced more than 12,000 paintings!  She exhibited in over 103 one-woman shows and won many major awards, including the American Artist Gold Medal in New York City - all while raising children and keeping her home in Texas.  (Here I am reminded of Gov. Ann Richards comment about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire - "She did it dancing backwards and in high heels"!)  Each summer Jan maintained a large teaching studio space at the Lodge, plus a separate cottage on the grounds as living space.   Thanks to our friend Ernie's El Paso gallery connection with Jan, I had been given the gift of one week's workshop experience!  It changed my life!

All through those years of visiting the Chicago Art Institute and living with the Renaissance and Impressionist painters, there was a great mystery.  How did they do it?  I had studied these works intensely and all I had were questions - I still didn't even know what I didn't know.  I was as empty as those few blank canvases staring at me that first Monday morning of this painting workshop.  I didn't even know enough to have any expectations - life is so full of surprises!

There were about 20 students - the door opened and Jan appeared.  Laughing and affable she put the entire room at ease.  Tensions disappeared in those first few minutes.  She put a newsprint pad on her easel in front of the room and made some charcoal sketches of faces and figures - gesture drawings, proportions - fast flowing information quickly written down in my notebook.  She put a model in front of us and we practiced some sketches.  After lunch she did a demonstration in the Taubes technique of alla prima oil painting with copal mediums. All based on Mr. Taubes' lifelong study of the Flemish masters.  I was faint with joy!  Answers to some of my questions!  After this first class, the studio crackled with new energy and much excited conversation!  We were in awe of Jan and her magic brushes!!

Note from Taos: Last night I read an article which stated that college art majors had the same chance of finding jobs as high school dropouts!  Jan's workshop was the equivalent of a full college art course!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

#19-MAMA TAKES SOME BABY STEPS

Need to start this post with a huge confession.  Although my resume states that I studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, my night school studies there lasted only one half of the first semester.  Started out with high expectations of learning the basics.  Although I won prizes all through my grade and high school, I wanted to learn HOW TO PAINT!!!  Read many books on technique, but I really didn't know what that meant or where to look to find it.

This attempt to learn how to paint was in the early sixties - beatniks, coffee houses and marijuana.  Perhaps I was too straight-laced to understand what our professor meant as he roamed around the basement classroom telling us to "BE FREE"!!   From his reaction to my work (some rolling of the eyes and a sneer or two) it was clear I didn't "get the picture".  My only conclusion was that I was too "square" to understand what he meant.  One evening I looked at this fellow and realized that he would never be able to teach me what I needed to learn.  I picked up my big newsprint pad and portfolio and left.  If I really wanted to make art - good art - I would need to look elsewhere.  It was clear to me that freedom comes when you relinquish past habits and old ideas.  As far as technique was concerned, I was fresh off the farm.  I didn't even know what I didn't know, but I was determined to
learn!

Looking back now from many many years of painting, what I have learned is that technique develops gradually and is always subject to change.  At first I was completely impressed by Jan Herring's workshop and painted what she taught me for quite a long time.  Then I tried working in the styles of artists whose paintings I admired - not always a good idea if you want to remain friends.  TECHNIQUE IS A LIFELONG PROCESS!  It unfolds gradually.....and, if an artist is a little rebellious and of an independent mind, they trust themselves enough to allow their work to change!   One thing leads to another.  Painting is heart work.  Once galleries start to market an artist's work and they start to sell it becomes much more difficult to BE FREE!

Back to Cloudcroft....Here I was in this strange place, missing my babies.  Honestly I had no idea how I got into this "workshop" situation.  This was as exciting as every first day of school!  I had a big newsprint pad, some vine charcoal, fresh beautiful tubes of paint and blank canvases.  The studio room at the Lodge was huge.  I marked out my space and spread all my supplies around me.  (A tear in my eye to remember this)   I took out my note pad and pencil, prepared to learn everything Jan Herring could teach me!

WORD PAINTINGS #25 - NEW BEGINNINGS

Once we settled into a daily routine, life calmed down.  Mornings, diaper changes, breakfast, laundry - now it was time for me to set u...