Sparrow, Art, Life

ArtistTable

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.

CreativityBooks

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)

PineapplePrint

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.

 

PineappleWoodcut

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.

 

WaterAbstract

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.

 

WaterDetail

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.

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Nestle the sparrow

 

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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.

ArtistBooks

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?

Birds Art Life

“They were constantly chirping, and what they were saying, or what I heard them say, was: Stand up. Look around. Be in the world.”


BirdsArtLife

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“For me, birding and writing did not feel interchangeable. Birding was the opposite of writing, a welcome and necessary flight from the awkward daily consciousness of making art. It allowed me to exist in a simple continuity, amid a river of birds and people and hours. The stubborn anxiety that filled the rest of my life was calmed for as long as I was standing in the river.”

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“As long as I can remember I have been drawn to people who have side loves. Maybe because no single job or category has ever worked for me, I am particularly interested in artists who find inspiration alongside their creative practice. It could be a zest for car mechanics or iron welding (Bob Dylan) or for beekeeping (Sylvia Plath). I love the idea that something completely unexpected can be a person’s wellspring or dark inner cavern, that our artistic lives can be so powerfully shaped and lavishly cross-pollinated by what we do in our so-called spare time.”    Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear

I just love this little memoir. Writer Kyo Maclear, a novelist, essayist, and children’s book author, was feeling overwhelmed by the illness of her father, caring for her two young boys, keeping up her writing, and all of life’s other demands. She decided to begin a side practice, something to relax her and refresh her writing and creative spirit.

For a year, she accompanied an avid birder who is also a musician and performer in birding adventures around Toronto and wrote about it, along the way finding truths about life and art.

Many artists and writers are dabblers or become accomplished in a side practice that cross pollinates their art and their life. Vladimir Nabokov was a world renowned butterfly expert. Virginia Woolf gardened.

I’m not sure I have a side practice. Certainly nature feeds my writing and inspires me, and I’m experimenting with learning how to paint watercolors because painting is nonverbal, a relief from hours of being in my own head when I write.

For Kyo, birding was a delightful hobby and new passion because it was relatively easy to do. Despite living in an urban environment, Kyo and her birding companion were intrigued and entertained by the wide range of birds they found along the lake front and in streams, parks, vacant lots, parking lots, backyards, and right outside their picture windows.

Each chapter in Birds Art Life is devoted to a month and a theme: Love, Cages, Smallness, Waiting, Knowledge, Faltering, Lulls, Roaming, Regrets, Questions, and Endings.

A few chapter subtitles will give you an idea of Kyo’s thematic reflections:

Smallness: On the satisfactions of small birds and small art and the audacity of aiming tiny in an age of big ambitions

Lulls: On peaceful lulls and terrifying lulls and the general difficulty of being alone and unbusy

In one chapter, Kyo broadens her scope to reflect on climate change and how, day to day, urbanites and suburbanites don’t notice the human-caused environmental disruption and species depletion happening just outside their view.

Many birders have a spark bird, a particular species of bird that ignites their interest and launches them into birding. Likewise, many devoted readers have a spark book, a book they read in childhood that became a portal to a life of passionate reading.

Do you have a spark book? What comes to mind for me is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. 

This is a hugely satisfying memoir and meditation on life and art that will replenish your spirit. I highly recommend it.

“This is what birds do when they join a swirl of other birds, I thought. They don’t proclaim their individuality or try to make a splash. They dissolve into the group. I wondered if this merging felt so relaxing because it was an antidote to the artist ego, built on an endless need to individuate, to be your own you. In place of exhausting self-assertion, the relief of disappearing into the crowd.”

Do you have a side practice that complements your primary work? Do you have a spark book, or a spark bird, or something specific that sparked your passion in another hobby or practice?

 

Gone fishin’ (for books)

Summer

From Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear

 

This time around, my post is mostly pictures from bookstore stops on our summer vacation in the Pacific Northwest.

The past few years, we’ve been more consciously immersing in nature in our travels, and I’ve been reading and writing about nature, too. Along the way, I’ve become fascinated by watercolor painting and nature journaling, though I can’t say I actually do much painting or journaling.

Very early on, I let a teacher convince me I had no talent for art, and so I’ve avoided these artistic pleasures and pursuits. I’ve since seen the light, and now I have all sorts of intentions and anticipations when it comes to making art. We’ll see.

In the meantime, my desires and my love for beautiful things are reflected in my bookstore adventures.

 

BrowsersBooks.jpg

Browsers Bookshop in Olympia has become a good friend, a favorite stop in my travels since I happened upon it last year. A warm, welcoming staff and an exceptional selection of books.

 

BrowsersZoology

Browsers Bookshop has many book categories and collections, sprinkled with staff picks. All in all, an outstanding selection of books, with many hidden gems, like the one I found below….

 

ATrailThroughLeaves

A Trail Through Leaves is extraordinary. Part memoir and part instruction in the daily act of keeping a nature journal, Hannah Hinchman’s writing and illustrations are outstanding. “The journal is a place to decant the stuff of life; reassuringly, none of it is wasted. It remains fresh, still tasting of its source. Transferring experience from the vat of life into the vessel of the journal is a distillation: it sieves, concentrates, and ferments. If after many seasons we develop some mastery of the process, the stuff can become as clear and fiery as brandy.”

 

Frogs

A page from Hannah Hinchman’s A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place. “Everyone should learn to draw competently, with a sense of play and invention, if only to honor the fact that it’s one of the first instinctive gestures we make to appease the appetite for beauty. If everyone acknowledged that hunger, and gained a whole selection of ways to satisfy it, a different culture would emerge.”

 

JayberCrow.jpg

Personally recommended by Browsers Bookshop owner Andrea Griffith. What a meaningful gesture, to press a book into someone’s hands. “I never put up a barber pole or a sign or even gave my shop a name.” – Jayber Crow    My journey with Wendell Berry continues. Recently, I finished Hannah Coulter.

 

BookNBrush

In addition to an impressive book collection, Book ‘N’ Brush in Chehalis, Washington sells art supplies and art instruction books. It has a loft, too, where the public can attend art classes. Book ‘N’ Brush was recently named a must-visit, unique independent bookstore by The Culture Trip. 

 

BookNBrushWatercolor

I couldn’t decide…and I could have spent another hour or two in Book ‘N’ Brush.

 

BookNBrushChinese

Chinese brush painting display at Book ‘N’ Brush. These intriguing and beautifully made tools were so enticing I was tempted to try this specialty, and I was led to another hidden gem….

 

ChineseBrush.jpg

“Absorbing and calming, spiritual and steeped in history, the tradition offers something for everyone….Most satisfyingly, the pictures you paint will be in your own ‘handwriting,’ unique to you. ‘Writing a picture’ is the usual way of describing the painting process in China.”

 

ChineseMotifs.jpg

Each page contains simple instructions for making a flower, a fruit, a vegetable, an animal, an insect, a fish….Who knew with just a few strokes I could make a snail, a fuchsia, a chili pepper, a peacock, a relaxing woman, a couple in conversation….

 

BookNBrushStaffPicks

Plenty of staff recommendations at Book ‘N’ Brush too, the mark of a good bookstore. I spy a few familiar faces…

 

KyoMaclear

On my to-read shelf, an urban writer observes birds outside her window for a year: “The artist peered at me thoughtfully for a moment. Her blue eyes were clear and perfectly lined with kohl. Finally she spoke, with a hint of bemusement. She said the students who came to her were always full of hunger. They were seventeen-year-old aspiring artists and eighty-five-year-old retired businessmen. People of mourned, mislaid, or unmined creativity. Their yearning was like the white puff of a dandelion. All she had to do was blow gently and watch their creative spores lift, scatter, and take seed.”

 

KimStafford

We were in Portland, too. At the Woodstock Public Library I found a life-sized etching of a poem written by Kim Stafford. (Earlier this year, I took one of Kim’s online classes, Daily Writing in the Spirit of William Stafford.You have the power to open centuries that trees hold/silent in their rings. This palace of the possible needs you,/your hand on the door. Enchant this place awake.

 

Many thanks to Browers Bookshop and Book ‘N’ Brush for much browsing pleasure, for great books I wouldn’t have discovered anywhere else, and for giving so much to their communities. What would we do without independent bookstores?

Here’s one more quote by Hannah Hinchman, from A Trail Through Leaves; it occurs to me that I must have been not that far away from this scene as it happened – I was in college in Appalachian Ohio in 1976:

“The girls wore plain long dresses with a sort of blazer coat, equally plain. They led me to the barn with no concern for the mud. They showed me the milk vat, half full of milk. Startling to see a whole lake of milk like that, with cat tracks on the lid of the vessel. Such an austere cold and windy gray day, spitting pellets of snow. Arriving at this farm in the deepest of Ohio agricultural land, far from the mainstream of the world, and meeting these youngsters, plain as the winter landscape, but with faces like young peaches, smooth as fresh-shelled beans, like sprouts in winter.”  Hannah Hinchman’s journal, Volume 19, Ohio, 1976.

More about Hannah Hinchman here.

(Since I wrote this post, I found out Hannah Hinchman has another classic book, A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal. It’s available as an e-book, but the print versions are now quite expensive. It would be great if a publisher would re-issue a print edition. Print books such as this one disappearing from the world are a loss.)

What are you reading this summer? If you’ve been traveling, where to, and have you found any bookstores to recommend?

To inspire your creative practice, soak up another’s

AtHomeinNature.jpg

“Those who have taken up homesteading – whether in the late nineteenth century, in midcentury, or in more recent periods – have all been acting out particular versions of larger experiments in American cultural dissent and spiritual creativity.”

 

I wake up early, not so usual for me, and when I raise the blinds it’s always sunny here on the dry side of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

I put on a thick woolen sweater with a Native American design in sepia and acorn hues, owned by the artist who lives and works here. I grab my cereal and juice, head outside, and eat my shredded wheat looking at Mt. Hood.

We just sold our home of 23 years, where we raised two sons. Wanting to get our minds off of what we left behind, we flew across the country to an artist’s studio and retreat in the Pacific Northwest. New terrain and evidence of an artist hard at work teaching, learning, sharing, and making are reviving my creative spirit.

These things inspire:

  • a weaver’s loom
  • artwork on all the walls, mostly nature based
  • marigolds drying in a basket
  • a display of cloth swatches dyed from goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, turmeric, eucalyptus, horsetail, walnut, and blackberries
  • a fragrant garden with mint, basil, tomatoes, squash and other goodies
  • a handmade bread oven
  • poppies everywhere in gold and fiery red
  • jars filled with mysterious things, such as dried flower petals and I don’t know what
  • thick, blush-pink pear slices put by in glass jars
  • a catalog of enticing classes like Wooden Spoon Carving, Flower Farm Dyes, Ikat Weaving, and Columbia Plateau Beadwork

 

ArtistRetreat.jpg

It’s chilly in the morning, often windy, always sunny.

 

Other people’s book collections take us down unforeseen paths, and sometimes the more off the beaten path, the better. There are many books to sample here. At the moment, I’m delving into At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America, by Rebecca Kneale Gould, learning about John Burroughs, Henry David Thoreau, Helen and Scott Nearing, and lesser known American homesteaders – an intriguing slice of American history. It’s perhaps more scholarly than I’d prefer, but I’m enjoying it.

Some other books that live here:

which “aesthetics” do you mean? ten definitions, by Leonard Koren

Coming to Stay: A Columbia River Journey, by Mary Dodds Schlick

A Dyer’s Garden: From Plant to Pot, Growing Dyes for Natural Fibers, by Rita Buchanan

Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine, by Jennifer Hahn

Art of the Northern Tlingit, by Aldona Jonaitis

The Textiles of Guatemala, by Regis Bertrand and Danielle Magne

Native Arts of the Columbia River Plateau: The Doris Swayze Bounds Collection, edited by Susan E. Harless

In Zanesville, a novel by Jo Ann Beard (I loved her memoir, The Boys of My Youth.)

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family & Survival, by Christopher Benfey

Recommended by my son, which I packed in my suitcase:

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber

Other books I brought with me:

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker (book club reading)

The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, by Christine Valters Paintner

No Experience Required! Watercolor, by Carol Cooper

I’ll likely read just a couple of these but it’s nice to be able to choose.

 

MtHood

View from the backyard. (I zoomed in on Mt. Hood.)

 

 

BreadOven.jpg

A homemade bread oven. At the moment, a burn ban prohibits its use.

 

Sunflowers.jpg

I think these sunflowers would be a relatively easy watercolor project for a beginner like me.

 

Marigolds.jpg

Marigold blossoms drying

 

Climbing a small mountain is another way to get your mind off things. I have more stores of endurance than I thought and limbs that are plenty sore, but the climb gave me a sense of accomplishment.

 

Mt.Hood.jpg

View of Mt. Hood from Little Huckleberry Mountain in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

 

We saw three of the Cascade mountains once we made it to the top…

 

MtAdams.jpg

Mt. Adams

 

….which I could not have done without the encouragement of my husband.

 

MtStHelens

Mt. Rainier 

 

TakingMyPic.jpg

Atop Little Huckleberry Mountain, on the ruins of an old fire lookout. Elevation: 4,781 feet.

 

An artist’s tools and artifacts. Books that belong to another. Climbing a small mountain. How do you feed your creative spirit? Can you recommend any books? Are you traveling this summer or working on a creative project?

The Goldfinch

“Every new event—everything I did for the rest of my life—would only separate us more and more: days she was no longer a part of, an ever-growing distance between us. Every single day for the rest of my life, she would only be further away.”   The Goldfinch 

The Goldfinch book coverI made it through all 771 pages of The Goldfinch. That may sound as though reading it was a struggle. It was, occasionally, but I couldn’t abandon Theo Decker, even though things get awfully dark, because just about everyone else in Theo’s life lets him down one way or another. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the novel – I do, very much. But Donna Tartt’s fiction is a commitment, in the way I remember David Copperfield being a commitment when I read it in high school.

(After I wrote this, I found out Stephen King has compared Donna Tartt to Charles Dickens.)

You have to be a reader to take this one on, and a devotee of fiction, and willing to grapple with life’s big questions.

Thirteen-year-old Theo and his mother, a lover of art, are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art when a terrorist bomb explodes. Unbeknownst to Theo, his mother is killed instantly, while Theo finds himself comforting a dying man in his last moments. The delirious man urges Theo to take the painting that has landed in the rubble nearby. In shock, Theo obeys, managing to find his way out of the museum clutching The Goldfinch, a priceless 17th century painting by Carel Fabritius.

Theo is left completely alone. His alcoholic, flimflam artist father abandoned Theo and his mother some years before. So Theo goes to live with the wealthy family of one of his friends from school. Theo still has The Goldfinch in his possession, though no one knows. He can’t bear to part with it.

“How was it possible to miss someone as much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater.”

Eventually, Theo’s father and his father’s new girlfriend whisk him away to a god-forsaken development in the Nevada desert, where most of the houses are in foreclosure or were abandoned, half-built, by the developer.

Donna Tartt’s third novel is a serious, funny, sad, wicked story, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It takes her about ten years to write a novel; she has also published The Secret History and The Little Friend. 

Theo’s life is suffused with, and saved by, the spirit of The Goldfinch. He has this to say, which I think also applies to Tartt’s novel:

“I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.” 

Losing our newspapers is not a good thing

I visited my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio this weekend. On Sunday,  The Plain Dealer printed artist and critic Karen Sandstrom’s creative work ethic, “I Must Remember This.”

Enchanted, I happily discovered Karen and her blog, Pen in Hand, as well.

Even better, Karen succinctly and eloquently sang the praises of The Plain Dealer, daily newspapers, and printed newspapers.

I’m all for electronic media and the creative flourishing and publishing opportunities now open to more people.

But Karen reminds us not to forget our daily newspapers and their talented, hardworking staffs. They are doing important work.

Some daily newspapers have disappeared, with more to go, I’m sure.

Journalism is changing like everything else, but we still need unbiased investigative reporting, long-form news and analysis, depth and breadth of content, and media everyone is comfortable with. (I believe a significant number of readers still prefer their news in print, and have not found or would not know how to go about finding comparable news online).

Most important, we need engaged readers and citizens who care and understand what vibrant journalism means to a healthy democracy.

If we let our daily newspapers go, we damn well better make sure we know what we are doing.

Bay Village view of Lake Erie

Bay Village view of Lake Erie at sunset. To the east, the Cleveland skyline glittered and fireworks blossomed over Lakewood.

(Full disclosure: a member of my family works for The Plain Dealer.)

What do you think? Please comment!

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