Then and Now: Photographs by Susie Forrester

I studied art education in graduate school.  On our first day of class, the professor asked us each to recount our earliest memory of making art.  My first memory came to me immediately:  I was in kindergarten, standing at a child-sized wooden easel, painting abstractly with a brush and tempera paints.  I remember most of all the smell of the paint, but I also remember the way the brush felt as it dragged paint across the paper.  I was wearing a smock and I felt like the queen of the world.  This was where I was meant to be.  My home life was chaotic (a troubled marriage – my parents’ – not mine – not yet!), but here at school, in front of the easel, I was transported into another world.

I still get that feeling when I paint – it is still an escape.  I also get that same feeling when I look at the photography of  Susie Forrester.

On June 12th, Susie Forrester opens her exhibition of photographs (Then and Now) at the home of her friend, Annette Heist (they are calling it Gallery 77 and it is located in Kunkletown, PA.).  Susie makes a living photographing weddings.  Her wedding shots are beautiful and fantastical; pure and simple, presenting a world where love is new and full of promise.  If only the in and out days of actual marriage were as magical as the moments she captures!

Her personal work, shown in this exhibition, has many of the same qualities as her wedding work.  First, they still feel like an escape.  Second, they are photographs of people, places and objects that are quizzically juxtaposed, arrested in time.  Susie captures one simple moment –  one simple, yet precise, moment – that will never happen again in just the same way.  A few examples of her work:



 

In Susie’s own words, she writes about HER first memory of creating art:

“My first camera was a Polaroid OneStep  that I got when I was 12. I toted it everywhere, pretending I was a ‘serious artist’, saving my allowance to buy film. I didn’t just see pictures in the objects and life around me; I felt them. And being able to capture those feelings on film was thrilling.”

Years went by before Susie realized her vocation.  It wasn’t until her senior year in college studying sociology that she took her first photography class and it changed the course of her life.  It became her life:  she talked to photographers, read photo books, took workshops and trips to museums to study prints in person.  She became a master printer and studio manager to renowned photographer Larry Fink.  In the pursuit of perfecting her printing skills, the darkroom became her sanctuary – her escape – a place to print, listen to music or think.

Technology has changed, and now Susie spends her time sitting in front of a computer, manipulating her photographs in Photoshop rather than in a tray of developer.  What remains the same is her approach to photography.   Whether she is using a Canon 5D, a Hasselbad or even her iphone, she still feels the same pang of excitement when she sees an image that she has to record.  She no longer has her Polaroid One Step – it’s probably lost in a box in her parents’ basement (along with her Sociology textbooks from college!). However, about eight years ago, Susie bought a vintage Polaroid camera from the ’60’s that takes her right back to her One Step and makes her feel like the “serious” artist of her youth.

For more information and to view more work, visit www.forresterphoto.com.  For information about the exhibition, Then and Now, and its opening reception on Sunday, June 12th from 2 – 6pm , email Susie at sfphoto@ptd.net, or for directions, email gallery77directions@gmail.com.

Prints of Susie’s work, framed, sell from between $75 – 500.  Unframed, matted prints sell from between $20 and $75.

Please share your own first memories of making art in the comment section of this blog.  I would love to hear them!

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Portrait of a Pet

When I teach art to kids, I like to read illustrated children’s books to them.  In the best of children’s books, the language is poetry and the illustrations, fine art.  No matter how old or young we are, a good children’s book always offers a new way of looking at the world.  I’ve read books to kids as old as 12 who haven’t been read out loud to in years, and they listen with the same intensity and interest as a much younger child.

When we study Vincent Van Gogh, I read “Van Gogh and the Sunflowers” written and illustrated by Laurence Anholt. This book tells a fictionalized account of when Vincent Van Gogh moved to the small village of Arles in Provence, France.  He was an outsider and was welcomed only by the Postmaster Roulin and his family who all posed for numerous portraits.  It is told from the view point of Roulin’s youngest son Camille, who befriends Van Gogh and is not intimidated by the strange artist with “the straw hat and yellow beard”.

The paintings above are portraits of the Roulin family:  Postmaster Roulin, oldest son Armand, infant daughter, Marcelle, and their cat, Timmy.

Just kidding!  The painting of Timmy is by Delaware artist Karoline Wileczek. It so reminds me of a Van Gogh portrait from this period that I had to hang it on the same wall.  In the Roulin family portraits, Van Gogh captures the life force of his subjects. In “Timmy”, Wileczek does the same.  (Yes, Karoline, I’m putting you on the same plane as Vincent Van Gogh.)

So enough about Van Gogh.  Let’s talk about Wileczek.

In Wileczek’s portrait of Timmy, Timmy is lively painted with rich, vibrant, colors.  He looks directly at the artist with an expression as bold as Wileczek’s painterly stroke.  I love this cat.  I don’t know him, but I can tell from the way he is treated by Wileczek -with the import of a human subject – that he has a huge personality.

Pet portraits.  They can be ridiculous but they can also be quite lovely.  I know a few other artists who portray pets as beautifully and with as much intent as they do their human subjects.  Rosemary Markowski is one, Rebecca Brame is another.

Oil Painting by Rosemary Markowski

If you are interested in a portrait of your pet, Wileczek, Markowski and Brame all accept commissions (at unbelievably affordable prices).

You can email them for more information:  Karoline Wileczek:  wileczek@aol.com Rosemary Markowski: tangelo@rosemarymarkowski.com  Rebecca Brame: rebecca@rebeccabrame.com

Woodcut by Rebecca Brame

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Brave Odysseus

Laura

These photos by Dave Moser represent the beginning of his series “Housewife”.  In full disclosure, I must tell you that Dave is my brother in law and that I, with my many contacts as a former housewife, am recruiting subjects for this project.

The three subjects featured here are 1) Nina – a friend I met on a plane twenty + years ago; 2) Laura – a friend who hired me for my first job when I returned home to Philadelphia  from San Francisco as a newlywed; and 3) Brenda – a colleague who is a fellow member of MamaCita, a Mother’s Cooperative in the Arts.

What defines a housewife?  In Dave’s verbal definition, it is a spouse who works less than 40 hours a week outside the home, is married or separated (though not yet divorced), is raising a family and is either straight or gay. His visual definition as revealed by his photos, define housewife as a solitary heroine in her own domestic drama.

The housewives represented in his photographs are heroic figures.  Their bodies are sculpted with chiseled features and well-defined muscles, glistening calves, taut tendons and strong jawlines.  Wearing flimsy, flowing tunics, they are standing, seated or swinging, defiant in their home environs.  These are not the ho-hum homes of the typical suburban housewife: (well, actually they are), but by manipulating light and color, Dave invents a dramatic backdrop for these women to inhabit.  He is the director, looking through their closets, choosing their clothes, setting the stage, telling them where to stand, how to sit, where to look.  In their real lives, these are fierce women, and in these photos their stance and their surroundings reinforce this truth.

Are these women patient Penelope waiting for Odysseus to return from his 10 year journey at sea?  Or are these women Brave Ulysses, setting the course, battling foes, staking their ground?

“Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man (and nothing stronger than a woman!)
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.
Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth,
turn as the days turn . . .”  Homer

Nina, Laura and Brenda represent women of a certain age.  No longer girls, they are women on the verge of the dirty “M” word.  None of these women are models and all had to face their fears of posing in front of  a stranger and his two assistants and then seeing the truth in the resultant photographs.

It is hard to look at oneself in photos.  When I look at these photos, I see three beautiful women.  Nina saw them and went to bed for a week she was so depressed by how tired and stressed-out she thought she looked.  The first question Laura asked me when I told her I had seen them was, “Do I look old?”  Why do women think this way?  It is the opposite of the truth.

Dave’s photos reveal three strong, fearless faces that look straight-on and unabashed at the camera and not three feeble women waiting to disappear in the eyes of society and men as they mature into middle age.

“Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth,
turn as the days turn . . .”

My turn to pose comes in a couple weeks.  It will not be the first time I’ve posed for Dave.  The first series of photos he took of me range from stunning to deranged.  (Think about the mug shots of Nick Nolte and then imagine, my face transposed on his.)  I’m sure I will be nervous and afraid; unlike his subjects so far, I’ve agreed to pose nude.  Of all the things I’ve come to realize as I’ve grown older is the thrill of facing my fears.  I am more afraid of letting fear prevent me from doing something than I am of whatever it is that makes me afraid.  So what if I have to look at my naked body – see my droopy breasts, the cellulite on my thighs, the scar on my lower abdomen from my c-section…?  (Though it is highly unlikely that I would let Dave’s camera close enough to my graying beav to capture that!) I’ve written my intention here – I am going to do it and now I can’t back out!

A preview of Dave’s Housewife Series will be on display at The Pennsylvania Trust Company (5 Radnor Corporate Center, 100 Matsonford Road, #450, Radnor) with an opening reception on Wednesday, May 3rd from 5 – 7:30 pm.  Please rsvp Kim Patterson, patterson@penntrust.com, 610-975-4327, if you plan on attending the opening reception. On display until May 6th. For more information, please email Dave at dave@davemoser.com.

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The Roots are Long and Deep

Golden Tree, Karen McLaughlin, $400

As a Catholic in Recovery, religion is on my mind today: yesterday was Good Friday, tomorrow, Easter Sunday.  Bear with me Readers.  I know many of you are former Catholics; turned away by the ongoing sexual abuse scandal and the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality and abortion (and french kissing!). Some of you are agnostic now while others have joined the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Light”), and others have switched teams to join their husbands on Team Judaism (you know who you are Jen Berger!).  I am about to blog about an upcoming show entitled, Rooted. I am going to be writing alot about Jesus, which IS kind of funny as this upcoming exhibit is at Congregation Kol Ami – a Jewish synagogue.

I grew up Catholic, attending church on Sundays, singing in my grade school choir.    We sang in the back of the church, on the second level, above the congregation, eye level with the elaborate stained glass windows that flanked the walls of St. Francis of Assisi Church.  When I wasn’t getting into trouble (my friends and I used to bring nails, bolts, screws – anything small and hard – to throw down at the unsuspecting churchgoers, sitting obediently in their pews), I was looking at those windows, at the light filtering through the colored panes, colors separated by dark lines, daydreaming.  I can see the influence of those windows in my own work now.

October Defense, Melissa Tevere, $450

Like a baby who’s attracted to bold white and black patterns on their mobiles and play mats, I am attracted to the dark pattern of branches as they crisscross against the light sky, colors streaming through the leaves, similar to a stained glass window.

When it came time to plan my upcoming show at Congregation Kol Ami (April 27 – June 15), I realized that I did not want to exhibit alone; that this show would benefit from the work of an artist that counterbalanced my own.  I thought of Karen McLaughlin immediately.  Her latest work focuses on the lower parts of trees; not the branches and sky, but the place where roots meet the horizon and underneath, where they spread out, searching for nourishment.

Life Tryptich, Karen McLaughlin, $720

In “Life Triptych”, Karen divides her painting into three horizontal panels of canvas stacked vertically.  In “Fire”, her painting, though not physically divided, is pictorially divided into a triptych as well.  It brings to my mind the Holy Trinity and visits to the Cathedrals in Italy where triptych paintings of Mary, Jesus and Joseph abound.

Fire, Karen McLaughlin, $400

These paintings also remind me of illustrations from my elementary school science book: of a tree and its roots spanning across the shiny text book pages, divided in half by the book’s center spine. Typewritten labels point to critical parts of the illustration:  “topsoil”, “roots’, “subsoil”, etc.  The simultaneous existence of religion and science in Karen’s work makes sense.  As Karen writes:

“I envy those that carry a deep, religious faith.  It’s hard to put aside the love and fascination of the traditions and community that an organized religion provides… But science is my tenet. I find that as I age these beliefs, coupled with my firm disagreement with many of the stances that the Catholic Church takes, makes it harder to reconcile these two.”

Antithetical Mutation, Karen McLaughlin, $150

The influence of her Catholic upbringing is clearly evident in her line drawing “Antithetical Mutation”.  A more apropo title would be “Crown of Thorns.”  A delicate, graphite-gray drawing of a thorny branch circles in upon itself, pierced by blood-red berries.

Like Karen, I no longer consider myself a Catholic.  Both Karen and I have believed in God so long and so deeply, it’s hard to give Him up.  Karen can’t bring herself to say, “I don’t believe in God” and neither can I.

And that brings me back to the catechism that my childhood and Karen’s childhood were steeped in.

I still love the biblical stories depicted in the stained glass windows that dominated the church of my youth – the story of the stations of the cross, the saint’s lives, the repentant sinners now forgiven, the crucifixion of Christ, the crown of thorns, the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

I no longer see God in these stories but I do still see Him in the nature that surrounds me:  in the sun filtering through the branches and leaves, in the roots that anchor trees to this beautiful, transient earth.  I see the hand of  God when I look at an artist’s work – in the religious inferences in Karen’s work and in the fact that an artist, like God when he created Eve from Adam’s rib, creates something great from something insignificant.

“Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.”  Pauline R. Kezer

This is the quote that inspired the title for our exhibition, Rooted.  It can also be applied to the Catholic church.  Belonging to a religion gives us continuity and with that, a raisonne d’etre and hope.  “Change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.”  Without change, the Catholic church is not going to thrive or even survive.

To view and/or purchase Karen’s latest work (and to see more!), please come to the opening for our upcoming show, “Rooted” at Congregation Kol Ami, 8201 High School Road in Elkins Park.   The opening reception is Sunday, May 1st, from 2 – 4pm.  All are invited to attend!

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For Kate


Everyone must know who Kate Middleton is by now.  Right?

How about Etsy?  Do you know what Etsy is?

Etsy is the perfect place to window shop.

It is an easy-to-navigate labryrinth of shops owned by individual, autonomous artists or vintage collectors on the internet (or as an elderly friend still calls it with emphasis “THE WORLD WIDE WEB”).  I can easily get lost as I walk down an alley, turn left and wander into a store and then out the back door and onto an even smaller street, and on and on.  But I’m not really lost: I’m sitting on my couch in my pajamas drinking a cup of coffee, half-heartedly watching the Today show on NBC, and wondering with the rest of the world, “which designer will Kate Middleton choose to design her wedding gown?”

I easily hop from one boutique to another: one shop sells quirky handmade necklaces and that shop’s owner likes another vendor who is selling her own original Project Runway designs, so I stop at that shop for a visit when I notice that this shop favors another shop that sells vintage buttons. At the vintage button shop, I am directed to visit a vintage eyeglass store and after stopping at the vintage eyeglass shop, I head over to peruse a gallery of work by a painter who paints only underwater scenes of people swimming in the ocean.  It’s like going to a craft show but without the pressure of having to look into the hopeful eyes of a vendor as you approach their display and then their disappointment when you turn away without buying anything.

And the best part about buying at Etsy is that you are supporting a genuine artist or small business owner who is trying to make a living outside the mainstream.  You know that each item that you buy was lovingly made, selected and packaged and sent to you by a real, live person.

Kate Middleton – I have an idea – why not shop on Etsy for your wedding gown?

Here is some wedding-inspired shopping.  Stop in for a visit and get lost!

Instead of a veil…  Hmmm…. lemon yellow   Elegant earrings  Something blue

Vintage clutch  Faux fur shrug  Pearl tear drops  Twig twin rings

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The Pursuit of Imperfection


In a previous post, I wrote that a college professor suggested I try drinking alcohol while painting.  He thought it would loosen me up.  I thought it would make me careless.

I realize now what he was really saying:  “Stop pursuing perfection!”  Maybe if I had a little alcohol in my system, I could trick myself into not caring about achieving perfection and thus, stop myself from over-painting, over-drawing, over-analyzing.

It is so interesting to watch a child develop artistically.  They start out so loose, so free – what they see on the page IS what they see in their head even if it bears little resemblance to reality.  The word “perfect” is not in their vocabulary. Eventually, however, kids start seeing a discrepancy between their depictions of life AND real life and then, the Perfection Trap begins.

I teach art to kids and rarely do I let them have erasers.  When they say, “I messed up, I need an eraser” or “Can I have a new piece of paper?”, I almost always say no (unless the work is truly hopeless then I might think,  “Man, he or she really did mess up” and I’ll hand over the eraser.)  Most of the time I say, “There are no mistakes in art.  Work with it.” and they unhappily continue. Hopefully when they finish, they realize that their mistake is really not a mistake at all, but an asset that enhances their art.

I try to follow my own lead when painting.  Even if a glaring mistake is killing me, I make myself walk away. “Let it go. Have a beer.  Take a break,” I say to myself.  When I return, it is with a renewed set of eyes (if not an altered pair of beer goggles).  Most of the time, the mistake is no longer a mistake but a new way in, a new way of looking at things – a jumping off point.

Mistakes are a part of life – they help us grow.  Like the other day, when I learned that ice cream cakes go in the freezer, not the refrigerator.  I stuck candles in the melting ice cream and we sang “Happy Birthday” anyway. I felt like a failure as a mother.   The next day, my son, Jacob came home from school in tears. He had forgotten his Daily Planner in the school bathroom.  When he remembered and returned to retrieve it, he found it soaking in a toilet.

“How could someone be so mean? I feel so stupid,” he said. “Is that how you felt yesterday when you melted my ice cream cake?”

“Yes, Jacob, that’s how I felt.”

He said, “Well, don’t worry Mom, it seriously tasted better.”

“…and now, Jacob, you have a brand new daily planner”.

As in life, our mistakes in art can turn out not be mistakes at all, but good fortune.

Kids’ art.  We can learn so much from kids’ art.  Mostly in the “pursuit of imperfection” department.  Adult artists try their whole artistic life to get back to the carefree, uninhibited, unconstrained art of early childhood.  We want to recapture the whimsy, the joie de vivre, the humor of our early art.  Few of us succeed.  While as kids grow, they want their art to look more like “adult” art.  It’s ironic.

Take a look at the following work.  It is from an upcoming show at the Green Line Cafe in West Philadelphia, entitled “All in the Family”.  Adult artists show their work side by side with their offsprings’ work.  I haven’t seen every piece in the show, but I can guarantee that the kids’ work is going to have an un – abandoned quality that we adult artists will envy.   Their work will make us smile – will make us remember –  will take us back to our own youth.

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“You Can’t Create if You Procreate”

On March 29th, my firstborn, my baby boy, Jacob, turns 11.  Hard to believe the big boy he has become – he is just centimeters away from being taller than me.  (Not hard to do when you’re a measly 5 feet tall, but he is only 11!)  I can see my authority slowly vanishing.  Last week at ice skating, I skated at least halfway around the rink, oblivious to the fact that he was giving me bunny ears.  Each time he passed me on his rotations around the rink, he would smack me in the butt.  I was indignant. “I am your mother!  That is disrespectful!”

He still likes to cuddle and hug despite the fact that he is all sharp elbows and knees.  More often than not, he clocks me in the face.  When he comes to me for a hug, I instinctively cringe for fear of being inadvertently hurt or having my coffee spilled all over me.  The other morning he sensed my reticence:  the corners of his mouth went down and quiet tears rolled down his face.  I told him, “I hug you when you’re sleeping.”  This is true.  He is peaceful when he sleeps and looks just like the newborn he once was, lying in the bassinet next to my hospital bed.  I hug him and then the tears roll down my face.  He is growing up.

A mother’s love is strong. My ex husband’s mother claims that a grandmother’s love is even stronger than a mother’s love she loves my two children so much. She really believes that she loves my kids more than I do and now that I left my husband – further proof!

One day, Jacob asked me “what happens when you die?”

“Some people believe that you go to heaven, some people believe that your soul lives on, some people believe that you are born again and come back as another person…” No answer felt right.

Jacob, my sweetheart, replied with great conviction, “Mommy, if I come back as a different person and you come back as a different person, I will find you.”

When I first began composing this blog, my goal was to find art that dealt with motherhood.  The pickings were slim – most of the art was super-granola-ey: paintings of  goddess mothers cradling their radiant infants.  But then, I came across these photographs by Heather Gray – they made me laugh out loud.  My above reminiscence about being a mom to my no-longer-a-baby boy verges on the saccharine.  Heather’s work adds a little spice to my sugar.

In Heather’s own words, she describes the genesis of her art:

“I first began making art about motherhood when I entered into the MFA residency program at Vermont College of Fine Arts three months pregnant.   When the word got out at the residency that I was pregnant I was overcome by all the attention.  Older women would tell me their birth stories, complete strangers felt the need to touch my belly and the question of whether I would return next semester kept arising.  During the critiques of some of the women’s work, I sensed the resentment they had for their children.  Several of them mentioned that having a child postponed their ability to make art.  One woman stated, “You won’t be able to do it.  I had to take two semesters off when my son was born.”

Women artist are told they should not have children, and the “you-can’t-create-if -you-procreate” myth is common…  Only in the past few decades have women artist had the choice to have a career in both motherhood and art.

It is obvious that becoming a mother has a tremendous effect on your lifestyle.  Being a mother and creating art are both part of the human experience.  Why can’t we do both at once?  Having a child is a very important experience in a women’s life, so why isn’t there more art about such a wonderful subject?  It seems that women/mother’s would find more time to create if they used the subject of motherhood to their advantage.
I finished my MFA through the Vermont College of Fine Arts program and never took a break.  I went into labor the day after I left my second residency and graduated from the program when my son was only twenty two months.   My son Aasha is now seven and I continue to focus on developing an understanding of the broader social and cultural context of my personal experience as a mother and woman and address these insights in my art practice as a photographer.”

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To purchase Heather’s work, please visit her Etsy site: Hgphotograpy.  To view more of her work and to learn more about Heather, check out her website.

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The Northeast Kingdom

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I was hiking one day through a wooded area near where I live.  I wanted to start a new series of artwork, but I was stuck.  I was looking for inspiration, and was deep in my own thoughts, not paying attention to the path I had taken, where I was going or how to get back.  The trees were dense.  I could only see what was directly around me and just a glimpse of the sky beyond the silhouette of the leaves above.

I looked up from the ground, from my thoughts, and up ahead, I could see a speck of bright red mixed in with the dominant brown and green of the woods.  I was curious and headed towards the stand-out color.

As I came closer, I saw a person wearing a red jacket.  It was a woman around my age (fifty-something, the new forty-something) with gray hair and glasses like me.  She did not look startled or surprised to see me and called out, ‘hello’, as I approached. Although this was our first meeting, I felt like I knew her from somewhere. I’d probably seen her in town shopping at O’Neill’s or eating at the Keswick Diner.  Glenside is a small town and you see the same people time and again.

“Hello”, I said, “I think I’m lost”.  “Where are you coming from?” she asked.  “Militia Hill Road,” I answered.  “Hmmm…”, she said, “I don’t know how to tell you to get back.” “Can you get me to Bethlehem Pike?  I can walk back along Bethlehem ’til I get to Militia.”

“Sure,” she said, “This a-way.” And we started walking together through the woods.  We were off path and honestly, I was feeling more and more lost with every step we took.

We began to talk.  She’d lived in this area her whole life – had never left, not even to go to college. She was a potter.  “I’m an artist too” I said and told her that I was a mixed media painter and book maker.  That I taught art workshops out of my home studio and at workshops around the country. That I had just had a book published called “Journal Spilling”, which is a guide to different journaling techniques – a great book of ideas to get your creative juices flowing.  (A book intended for someone just like me – who felt stuck – and lost! – and was out for a walk in an attempt to get unstuck – ironic.)

We had a lot in common and talked for quite a bit.  I was surprised when we came to the end of the woods and upon a settlement of small, well-built cabins, some with screened – in porches, some with small decks, others with just a stoop out front to sit on.  There were no manicured lawns or fences.  Just houses sitting in an over-grown field.  A large, hand-built wood-fire kiln sat in the field.  I noticed a man tending the fire in the kiln. When he saw us, he waved and shouted for us to come over.

I began to see other signs of life.  A cat’s food and water bowl sat under the kiln. A large orange cat just like my beloved kitty, Teddy , lounged  in the mid afternoon sun.  I could hear the shouts, cries and laughter of a group of children playing somewhere beyond the tree line. An occasional bright fabric could be seen streaking through the trees.

Where were we?  What was this community called?  It was so strange, set in the middle of the woods, close to Glenside, where I live, but seemingly, so far away.  It felt isolated from the world I knew.  A little village onto itself.

I introduced myself to the man stoking the kiln, and asked, “What town are we in?”  He replied, “The Northeast Kingdom”.  “Huh, I’ve never heard of it,” I said. “What township is this considered – Abington or Cheltenham?”  He looked at the woman and back at me.  “We’re part of Montgomery County.”  Evasive.

The woman brought me some tea and we sat near the kiln. She showed me her ceramics and introduced me to her neighbors.  They were predominately artists and tradesmen – a fiber artist, a carpenter, a plumber, etc.  We sat and talked for a long time.  I looked at my watch.  My husband, John, was probably starting to worry.  I pulled out my cell phone to call him but I had no coverage.  A young woman sitting on my right said, “Sorry – we’re off the grid.”

It was getting late.  I thanked them for their hospitality and company and said goodbye.  The kiln man offered to walk me to Bethlehem Pike and point me in the right direction.  When we arrived at the highway, I told him I was interested in visiting again. “How will I find you?”  I asked.  He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and drew me a topographical map with where we were standing as the starting point.

Diana finished her account.  She was explaining to a group of fellow artists the inspiration behind her recent series of mixed media paintings.

“I want to go there.  Can you take me?” I asked.

She shook her head, “No Melissa.  I made it up.  There is no Northeast Kingdom.”

Do I believe her? I don’t know.  Maybe she wants to keep the Northeast Kingdom all to herself. Her story seemed so real – maybe because I wanted so very much for this idyllic, off-the-map place to be real.

The slideshow at the top of this page contains work from Diana’s Northeast Kingdom series.  They are whimsical and fantastical mixed media works of art.  If Diana is to be believed, they are also mythical.  Artists look around and inside themselves and find inspiration in many places.   Diana accesses her imagination as effortlessly as an un-encumbered child.  When you look at this work, even without hearing the back story, they incite your imagination … make you feel like a child again.  That’s the wonder and beauty of original art.

The Northeast Kingdom reminds me of another legendary, off-the-grid, people.  I’ve always been intrigued by the Pineys who inhabit the Pine Barrens of South Jersey.  A notoriously anti-social bunch (who can blame them – constantly battling the Jersey Devil and the Weekend Warriors driving through the Pine Barrens on their way to the Jersey shore for a weekend of hell-raising?)  Or even of “The Others” in the television series Lost.  Only more friendly and less deadly.

To purchase Diana’s work, visit her Etsy site.  To enroll in one of her workshops, visit her blog.  Looking for inspiration?  Weekly, Diana has a special feature on her blog called “Nudges”, which offers weekly tips to spark your own creativity.  (Diana – you certainly sparked mine in the writing of this blog!)


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I Remember Rome


The spring of my junior year was spent abroad with Tyler School of Art in Rome, Italy:  the best, most life-changing semester of my life as I’m sure most students who’ve spent a semester or year abroad would say.  That was the semester I knew I would be a painter for my entire life; not because I was driven, (I was), but because of a remark one of the professors who is younger than I am now, (I’m 45), made to me.

I turned 21 years old in Rome.  In the Fox Pub on the night of my 21st birthday, a bar full of Italian men (Were they really men? No, looking back, mostly boys) sang “Buon Compleano a tu!”.

When I wasn’t in the pubs downing pitchers of beer or sharing a bottle of vino with my friends while sitting on the Pantheon wall, I was painting or drawing.  I had arranged my schedule so that my semester consisted entirely of studio courses and not academics.  I had a little cubicle/studio that looked out over Lungotevere and the Tiber River and every day, I would swing the casement windows wide open to hear the chaotic sound of Roman traffic and to smell its pre-catalytic convertor fumes.

I looked up to my instructors like they were Roman gods.  The most influential was Richard Reisalis, a landscape painter who, when not teaching in Rome, was an art professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Before arriving in Rome, I was told by a friend, who had studied with him in the fall, that Richard Reisalis looked like a bug because of his dark hair and eyes (so dark, his pupils and irises were one).  No matter –  I loved him just the same! His opinion of me and my work mattered the world to me.

One night, I was at a student party when Richard and painting and drawing professor, Susan White, showed up.  They were drunk.  Richard pulled me aside and said, “Susan and I were talking about you at dinner.  Even though you are NOT the most naturally gifted of our students, we think you are the one who will continue to paint for the rest of your life.”

That remark has stuck with me for 20 plus years.  It played on my insecurities about my talent, but eventually I began to think, “what good is talent anyway, if you don’t continue to make art?”  Painting and being creative every day or almost everyday sustains and fulfills me.  It makes me feel alive.

(As a side note, Richard also suggested that I try drinking alcohol while I paint.  He thought is would loosen me up!)

The painting above is a commission that I painted for someone who wanted a painting of Rome to remind them of their honeymoon in Italy.  While I was working on this painting, memories of living in Rome in the spring of 1987, kept coming to my mind.  I wrote the following memory down and taped it to my easel.  Although this painting is not a view from the Palatine Hill (it is a view from the Botanical Gardens in Trestevere), I wanted to convey the feelings that I felt the spring of 1987, when I was 21 and knew I would be a painter for the rest of my life despite (and to spite) my lack of natural talent.

“I remember lying in the spring grass on the Palatine Hill, looking out over the ruins of the Roman Forum. The cherry blossoms are in bloom. It is a perfect mix of warm and cool – a perfect day for a pair of capris and sneakers. I can feel the cool breeze on my skin, but it is negated by the warmth of the afternoon sun. Later that evening, just when the sun is starting to set, I will walk (practically skip) along the Trestevere, on my way to an end of the semester party. The sun has made my skin blush and my freckles deepen and multiply.   They spot my face like the crocuses that mark the new spring grass. I am happily alone and free. Liberated. A girl on a wire.”

A few pieces I like by artists Chris LeHan, Patty Leeper, Lora Shelly, Olha Pryymak, Susan Najarian and Nina Sabatino (contact ncsab@comcast.net):

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Janice Hayes-Cha Article

Janice Hayes-Cha

Check out this article about Janice Hayes-Cha – an artist I profiled on my blog in early January:  http://www.philly.com.

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