Monday, August 22, 2016

Filling the Well

Yesterday I was fortunate to have a good reason to wander around one of my favorite museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I haven't been in a few years, but my daughter has a summer art assignment, so we spent the afternoon among all the awe-inspiring works.  I saw some things I don't remember seeing before, and visited some of my old favorites.

Among these were the European sculptures and paintings.  When you head to that wing, you walk through the hallway with all the Rodin sculptures.  This one, depicting Adam after the fall, is so powerful in it's tormented strength, agony, and despair.  

After being amazed by the emotions expressed by Rodin in bronze, I headed into the Impressionist rooms and absorbed the grace and peacefulness of the Monets, relaxing into the soft reflections and soothing pastels.

Then I was uplifted by the playfulness and beauty of the Renoirs and Degas.

 Finally, I stood rapt in front of the van Goghs.  The intensity and passion behind those thousands of flickering brushstrokes make his paintings almost shimmer.  It's hard to tell in these photos, but the skies and backgrounds are filled with dashed swirling brushstrokes that make the paintings come alive.  I'm more astounded every time I see them.  His subject matter is often so ordinary - a cypress tree, two browned and drying sunflower heads, a pair of old, worn shoes.  But they're treated with such love and care that they become extraordinary through the filter of his brush and paint.

This one below was my favorite this time.  Again, such simple subject matter - an ordinary family, a farmer at work in the garden in spring, a child taking her first steps.  The passion and emotion expressed in the father's open arms, the child's delight in this great accomplishment, the beauty of the light shimmering on the trees and making their cottage glow.  All of this conveyed without facial expressions but with simple gestures and postures and the soft dreamlike colors.  Just breathtaking.

After being sufficiently awed by van Gogh, I headed down to see some American art.  I was particularly interested in seeing the collection of Tiffany glass after having just read Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.  This historical fiction novel is the story of Clara Driscoll and her female coworkers who worked in a division of Tiffany studios, designing and creating many of the extraordinary windows and lamps but never given much credit.

The windows are displayed beautifully, lighted from behind, and it was great to get close up to see all the different types of glass used.  Tiffany had a glass factory in Queens, NY, where large sheets of glass were made in different colors and special effects were achieved by mixing and swirling colors, make some with striations, swirls, blotches, and other textures to resemble tree bark, water, rocks, and mountains.  Sometimes pieces of glass were layered to get just the right effect.

According to the book, Clara Driscoll came up for the idea to make lampshades out of stained glass.  Nature was a huge source of inspiration for her and she made lamps with dragonflies, butterflies, and a variety of flowers.  This is her water lily lamp, with the stems cascading down into a froth of blossoms that seems to float at the bottom.  Having an irregular edge like that was very time consuming to create.  And the bases were sculptures in themselves to coordinate with the theme of the shade - this one depicts lily pads.  Brilliant!

Here's another window, with iris and flowering dogwoods.  Spectacular!

Tiffany also had men who created fantastic vases and goblets by blowing colored glass.  This one is called the Peacock vase because of the feather motif on the fan-like top of the vase (it's difficult to see in this photo, because it was lit from behind and you're not allowed to use a flash).  It's amazing to think that the artist started with a lump of hot colored glass and was able to achieve those very fine feathery lines to resemble a peacock feather and work it into such a graceful, delicate shape.  And it's all attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany, although he wasn't really the one doing the work!

One part of the museum that I visited for the first time was the furnishings of the American wing.  I wandered through rooms and rooms decorated in various styles depicting different time periods, from early colonial up through the civil war and into the 20th century.  Much of it was very ornate and heavy, with velvet and lace draperies, dark, heavy carved furniture upholstered in dark velvets.  It seemed very stuffy and uncomfortable to me.  Then I came upon the Frank Lloyd Wright room.

I never really understood the appeal of all those straight lines and spare furnishings until I saw it in comparison to the clutter of the previous rooms.  It literally seemed like a breath of fresh air, with the clear light coming through the many windows, the use of natural stone and warm (but not dark) wood.  Now I get it!

So now that I've filled my creative well, I've made some good progress on my own simple art.  I've selected all the book parts, decided on their placement, and glued or fused them all down.  I've even done a bit of hand stitching.   I like that the piece is made up of squares and rectangles, which references a quilt, although I've used paper.  It looks very architectural, and as I was working on it, I felt like I was building it, using the rectangular spines as columns and text pages as blocks.  I've stitched some lines to indicate windowpanes and the door is the hard cover of an old Reader's Digest Anthology titled "Getting the Most Out of Life."  The steps leading up to the door are titled "Making a Habit of Success" and "Improving Your IQ."

I made a point of selecting titles, words, and a few images that depict the importance and value of the written word, storytelling, libraries, and their importance in a democratic society.  Here are a couple of close-up shots of the stitching and some of the textual details.

I think I'll need to pick up some more pearl cotton in bright colors to hold all the pieces firmly in place and highlight certain things.  I figure I'll keep stitching until I think it's done or until September 8th, whichever comes first!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dog Days

Are you keeping cool?  It's tempting to just stay indoors in the AC but Cassie and I still venture down to the garden a couple of times a day to pull a few weeds, enjoy the view, and contemplate the miracle of a flower.  It's nice and shady down there early and late, although since we took down that huge oak in the spring, there's been several hours of direct sunlight in the afternoon, allowing for the waterlily and trumpet vine to finally produce some flowers.  Hooray!  All that hard work and expense paid off in blossoms.

Cassie likes to gaze into the pond for another reason too:  the frogs.  This week, there are two rather small ones, but they're fast.  She likes to watch them float up to the surface, then she puts her nose almost on top of them, and they zoom away.  Then the process starts all over again.  Can you see the little guy's head sticking up out of the water?

And aren't those waterlilies breathtaking?  I just love the layers of arrow-shaped petals tinged with pink and the bright yellow center - just gorgeous!

     You're probably wondering what else I've been doing for the past two months, besides admiring the flowers.  I have to admit, I have been doing a lot of gardening and other yard work, especially when the weather is not too hot.  Our yard has several huge challenges: the slope of the land, very poor clayey soil, and deep shade behind the house.  In the last few years, my DH has been driving his little ATV up and down the hill (it was a  huge help when we were putting in the garden three years ago) and that has eroded the soil on the sloping path from front to back.  Last summer he spent a lot of time and effort trying to dig "French" drains, but I'm not sure they're working as well as we hoped.  I'm furiously planting english ivy and spreading pachysandra in an effort to slow things down in the planted spaces, but the path has been quite an ongoing challenge.

Our front yard also has some challenges.  We had a trampoline here for a year or two (because it's almost the only somewhat flat spot) and that caused part of the grass to die off.  Rather than replace it, we decided to expand the front foundation garden, which was overcrowded anyway.  So late this spring, we defined the area with edging, and moved some of the smaller bushes out. I scattered some seeds that my daughter picked up and I put in some marigolds and salvia to help get us through the rest of the summer.  We'd eventually like to put in a small flagstone patio area, just enough for a small table and two chairs, so we can sit out here on in the sun on warmer afternoons in the spring and fall. And then I'd love to fill it with perennials, like an old fashioned country garden.  The front gets a good deal of sun so we can actually plant dahlias, hollyhocks, sunflowers, and all kinds of colorful, tall bloomers!  Next year...

And of course, the summer is also the busiest time of year for the Youth Services dept. of the library.  I worked four days a week for the last 6 weeks and when I got home, I often just wanted to sit and chill out with a cold drink and a good book.  And of course, my DH has been traveling again, which leaves me in charge of our 3 lovelies.  They're pretty self-sufficient at this point, but still need a parent around.  I've been doing quite a bit of reading as well, now that I'm leading one of the adult book discussion groups.  Among my favorites this summer were Clara and Mr.Tiffany by Susan Vreeland, The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian, and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (which will be released in the movies in October).  Looking forward to that!

And yes, I have been puttering around my art table now and then, but not as much as I'd like.  Norma guessed correctly when she said my plan is to make a library.  All summer, I've been collecting discarded books and their jackets and cutting them up for collage.  I'm making progress, but it's slow, and I think I'll still need more.  Luckily, titles cannot be copyrighted, and I'm using mostly the book spines and trying to choose texts that are old enough to be in the public domain.  I'm considering adding some color with paint and stitch, after everything is glued down.  It's very slow going.  Our deadline is Sept. 8th, so I still have a few weeks.  Now that work isn't as hectic, I hope I'll have more energy to continue working in the evenings.