Sparrow, Art, Life

An artist’s work table. The photo is the artist’s mother. The feathers are thought to be sparrow feathers. This past summer, Kathy (my college roommate and an accomplished artist) and her husband nursed and fed a one-legged baby sparrow ejected from its nest, helped her learn to fly, and acclimated her to the suburban “wild.” Kathy said she kept finding feathers in her yard, as if the birds were leaving small tokens of thanksgiving.


My husband and I and Books Can Save a Life have taken to the road!

We’ve left upstate New York, where we’ve lived for over thirty years, and are heading to one of our favorite cities, Portland, Oregon, via St. Petersburg, Florida, where we have family. The place we’ll ultimately call home is still to be determined, but in the meantime, we’re in search of happy adventures and detours.

I’m excited to share with you highlights of our auspicious first stop: Audubon, New Jersey, the home of my good friend and former college roommate, Kathy. She is an artist who specializes in printing, painting, and drawing. Here is a link to her IG site, @blueberry_hills. If you follow her, you’ll be treated to beautiful art along with her thoughts about the creative process and challenges particular to her project of the moment. Back in the day when we were roommates, Kathy was always working on an illustration, a painting, or illuminated calligraphy. Just being around the making of these beautiful pieces awakened my own creative spirit.

Books nourish an artist’s practice. I see familiar titles here on Kathy’s drawing table, and ones new to me that I look forward to reading.


I’m intrigued by the books and authors that inspire artists. Kathy keeps these close at hand on her drawing table. I’ve read and highly recommend these:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honorè

New to me are:

The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus

The Wisdom to Know the Difference by Eileen Flanagan

Keep Calm and Carry On  (The title is based on a British motivational poster from World War II that was never actually used – it was for if and when Britain was invaded; the book is a collection of motivational quotes)

Woodcut, ‘Welcome Home’/’Pineapple’


I decided to call this post “Sparrow, Art, Life” because a few weeks ago I wrote about Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear. It seems to me that Kathy’s work, art and life blend together in a seamless way, and this can be so for the rest of us. Plus, a sparrow happened to come along that changed Kathy’s summer.


Detail of the woodblock Kathy carved to make the pineapple prints. The soft pine woodblock is a work of art, too, and woodblocks are often displayed as such. I deepened the color in this photo somewhat; the piece is beautiful – you can’t help wanting to touch the textured surface.


Kathy and her husband told us the fascinating story of their becoming foster parents to a baby sparrow. She said it was quite something to become so surprisingly intimate with a member of another species. Over the span of four weeks the sparrow, which they named Nestle, bonded with them. Nestle got to feeling quite comfortable snuggling up on Steve’s lap and going to sleep.


Exploration of wind across water, reflected trees. Woodcut, Akua ink on 400 count cotton sateen (a really nice pillow case). I find this piece and its production intriguing, mysterious, and unpredictable, and Kathy does too. It requires several steps and layerings of ink. Kathy was planning to create another water print the week after I left. She estimated the printing process would take about two days.


Taking care of Nestle, encouraging her to fly, and acclimating her to the wild was intensive, time consuming, and required a bit of research. Kathy and Steve ended up not following much of the advice they found online, but in the end they were successful. The process of letting go was quite moving; at first Nestle returned every evening and wanted to sleep in her cage, but eventually she stopped coming back. Now, occasionally, they spot Nestle in the backyard. I wonder if she remembers her human parents.


Detail, water woodcut


We talked about getting close to nature in this way. Maybe if all of us had opportunities to bond with a creature of another species, we’d have more appreciation for the earth and become more inclined to care for the environment. Kathy said Nestle has inspired a unique art project that she’ll be working on in the coming months. I can’t wait to see it.

I found Kathy and Steve’s story especially timely for me, because I’d just finished writing and producing another audio essay in my “From Where I Stand” series. It features the sounds of encounters with a humpback whale and Adelie penguins from my husband’s recent trip to the Antarctic. I hope to share a link to the audio essay here on Books Can Save a Life soon.

Nestle the sparrow


An artist’s garden. Kyo Maclear, in her book Birds Art Life, writes of artists and writers having a side practice, and certainly for Kathy it is gardening. I enjoyed seeing the flowers and meditation space she’s created over the years and hearing about her future garden plans.


Our visit with Kathy and Steve was too short. I loved hanging out in her studio and seeing her other creative spaces, and we could have talked for hours.

Another art studio book stack…..


I’ll write more in a few days from on the road.  Do you have especially loved books about art, life and creativity? What are they?

24 thoughts on “Sparrow, Art, Life”

  1. This a delightful post, Val. It fills my heart with hope, and restores my faith in humanity and our ability to coexist. Many thanks for sharing Kathy’s artworks and the heartearming story. I hope you would make more memories during this important trip. ❤

  2. This is a beautifully written post (they all are really, but this one is extra special). The world of art and artists is a little foreign to me as I have no talents in this area, but I do love to read about your life and discoveries. I hope you continue to find joy and inspiration in the world around you. It’s wonderful to share your journey.

  3. Your reader, New England Judy’s comment reminded me that three of my best friends on earth are library scientists and of course one of them is you, Val.
    Mi piace molto l’arte della tua amica, Kathy. E’ bravissima e molto inspiring!
    Tante grazie per avere condividerla con tutti noi, i tuoi lettori.
    Si, stai calma e carry on!

  4. Oh, I love your title: a perfect homage to Kyo Maclear’s mediation. And the story about your friends and their sparrow is so inspiring. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have let her go, knowing how vulnerable she would be in the wild. As a sparrow-watcher in the yard, I have, at times, been able to recognize specific returning birds, but not often. It seems like May Sarton’s journals would be a good fit with some of the other books you’ve got here; I revisit them occasionally and enjoy them a great deal.

    1. You know, I have not yet dipped into May Sarton. What a wonderful suggestion. And how cool that you are a sparrow watcher. The cool thing about Nestle is, she’s easy to recognize because she has only one leg! Kathy says that every now and then they will spot her hovering nearby, on the bird feeder for example. As if she does recognize them but will no longer get super close.

  5. That was so much fun, hearing about your new adventures and visiting with your artist friend, I love her artwork. Yes those textures in the pineapple one were luscious. And peeking into her library was a tere too. I’m always looking for new art books. What a sweet story about Nestle too. I can imagine how hard it must have been to watch her disappear into the wild again.

    1. Deborah, I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and Kathy’s story about Nestle and her art. I did have you in mind when I posted this, you’ve been so wonderful sharing your work here. I am getting braver and may actually post on my blog some simple Chinese brush paintings I’m dabbling with from a wonderful book of motifs I found. Being on the road – although we’re stationary for a week visiting family in Florida – is fun but stressful, too. I admire your world travels and spirit of adventure….hopefully I can embrace an attitude of adventure in the coming weeks. Yes, the part about Nestle transitioning to the wild was haunting…..

  6. Please consider coming through Albuquerque on your travels – it is a lovely place to visit/live here in the middle of the “Land of Enchantment” – I’d love to reconnect!

  7. All the best with your move, love the sound of your trip and calling in on friends and families.

    I have since given it away, but I love The Woman’s Book of Creativity by C Diane Ealy and more recently enjoyed Elisabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

      1. I also have one on my shelf to read, that I haven’t dipped into yet by Doreen Virtue, The Courage to be Creative which I know will be inspirational. She knows how to get to the heart of blockages and the things that prevent us from moving forward.

      1. A move across country is tough. The sorting and purging of personal items collected over years and years is a lot of work. Also, moving after you are a certain age is a challenge because there are no kids in school to meet other families, and you leave all the people you met through work and other organizations. So, you have to put a lot of effort into meeting people and making friends. We stayed because family is here, and if we were real honest we wouldn’t want to do it again. 🙂 Once you do it, you realize that the effort involved is why more people just complain about where they live and don’t actually do anything about it. 🙂

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