In a year of fundamental and existential shifts one of the most profoundly traumatic and transformative was the untimely passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In a year when not a day went by without weeping that day, we heard the news, was truly the nadir among all the trials and sorrows. A test from the Stoic Gods at war with the Muses.
Tribute upon tribute recorded her legacy as a “Prophet of Justice”. That was a fine place to begin.
The hand painted teacup is among my finest Her two gilded handles…the scales The stalwart facade of the wooden bench flanked by a single marble column…on the left Iron clad lace trimming a plain muslin cloth and the beaded stars heavenly hung in dissent and wisps of whimsy trailing notes of the sublime
Dearest Prophet…may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
I have Pete Seeger to thank for this one…and for his lifetime of advocacy and good trouble.
The aging hippie that I am was raised on ’60’s folk music It runs through my veins and wallows around in my soul While my fingers can still strum it plays out on my guitar
The aging artist that I am is informed by those chords And accompanies those rhythms tapping brushes on teacups
Among the many tributes to Pete upon his passing to that big sing along in the sky were many references to his activism. Lending his powerful musical voice to social, political and environmental justice inspired many a generation.
But this particular parable…inspired my Muses…
Parable of the Teaspoon Brigade
Imagine that there’s a big seesaw. At one end of it is a basket half full of rocks. That end is on the ground.
At the other end is a basket one-quarter full of sand. And a bunch of us with teaspoons, we’re trying to put sand in that end.
A lot of people laugh at us, they say
“Oh, don’t you see, it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.”
Well, we say, “It’s leaking out, but we’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time. One of these days, you’re gonna see that whole basket with sand so full that this seesaw is going to go zoooom-up in the other direction.”
And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so quickly?”
Us and our damned little teaspoons.
I don’t remember where I lifted this from but it has been carried over from one sketchbook to another and another for years until…
the Muses decided it was time the silver topped stick was Ted’s the well worn cane came by way of my great grandfather the teaspoons sat in Jane’s shop the teacups from my shelves… the magic the determination the hope and the joy… that’s all Pete… will you grab a teaspoon and join us ?
A much needed rainy day here in the studio affords me an equally much needed rest.
The last few days of summer like weather nudged me outside to put the garden to bed and my body is respondingly sore…but my soul…that is very very much alive.
Heavy sweaty work of raking and mulching the mountains of leaves felt as cathartic as counting up all those votes here in the great state of Pennsylvania. I danced some righteously happy jigs while tossing the hay all over the Ruth Stout garden. The crows, bluejays, wrens and one shy bunny all raised their voices in joyous song while I dug up the last of the late season potatoes.
The winds of change have indeed shifted and for me, it happened in a flash. Just like that, ding dong…the weight lifted, the doors flew open wide…and there was spontaneous partying in the streets all across the land. It reminded me of the sublime enthusiasm that Skip had while directing her swan song.
The Muses are vibrating with this newfound energy and I’m listening.
First order of business is to clean up this website. It is almost 20 years old now and since we are on about the business of clearing out cobwebs I’ve signed on to update and upgrade and give it a general overhaul.
We will be working throughout the next couple months with most of the tweaking being done behind the scenes and under the hood…or so Ross tells me. (More on his new company and adventures to come.)
Along with some design changes I will be using this opportunity to reorganize the Print section of my site. The time is upon us to make good on what I had promised to do this time last year…raise the prices on the prints. The material and shipping costs have increased even more so we have settled on $295 as the new charge for the 17 x 22 sized prints.
I’m announcing that now because, like I did last year before the holidays, it will give those who are interested an opportunity to purchase prints at the current $195 until the NEW website goes live early next year. Shipping will continue to be FREE.
A total revamp project like this signals to the Muses that I am ready to rock and roll.
Uncharacteristically…and quite surprisingly…I have absolutely no idea what I will paint next. Which feels just right. Herself told me she’s not the least bit worried about that.
So there you go.
I’ll bring you along for the ride… let’s see where this train takes us !
I was working at the Harvard Coop which was then quite a hopping place. In the middle of Harvard Square was a tiny alley paved in colonial cobblestone called Palmer Street. At the top of that alley was a hole in the wall music cafe called Club Passim. If you are of a certain age and had a soul that craved folk music then you already knew that.
I went to their website just now to get my facts right and it would appear it first came on the scene the year I was born, 1958, in the form of Club 47. That’s sorta fun. In 1969 it was established as the Club Passim that I came to know and love. It boasted the likes of Baez and Dylan taking the postage stamp of a stage. In my era I saw Tom Rush, Suzanne (New York City) Vega, Shawn Colvin.
But I had a unique view of that musical mecca. Literally.
Just across the alley and up one floor was the closet of a frame room which I managed for most of that decade. And for the first part of that tenure it was a windowless workshop. Until…while on a muffin break, I came up the stairs from the basement club and looked up. Huh. I never really gave it much thought but there are windows up there…where my desk was…only I faced plywood when I framed.
There was always a big turnover in that frameroom…think young college students and musicians needing work to bridge the gap until the rest of their lives came calling. On that day I had a particularly crazy group of framers who actually did go on to become musicians. Look up Sluggo…I dare you. He is a founding member of The Grannies.
A band which I am too musically challenged to classify but I can attest to the fact that Dug, excuse me Sluggo, was and is one of the grandest humans in the land. Big big heart that guy. It gives my own heart tremendous pleasure to add that he now owns and operates FRAME, voted 2017 winner of best frame shop in San Francisco.
So, with all that burgeoning creative energy working around me, I hurried up the back stairs to the closet and started pulling things off the makeshift shelving in front of what I now knew was a window. We began with a drill. A very small hole. And the light poured in.
Over the course of what I remember as a few days we enlarged that hole and waited to see if anyone discovered us. Then we got out a saw. A very small saw. After which we had a deck of card sized hole. Waited a bit more but at this point we could actually see the weather. The next phase brought us what I remember being a horizontal rectangle about the length of a pair of my reeboks at the time. And that’s where Club Passim re-enters the story.
I could now see the top of their steps.
Where I once saw Nanci Griffith ( big fan ) leaning against the brick wall with one elbow on her guitar case and the other one lifting a cigarette to her lips. We could watch the lines form for evening concerts and the occasional film crew that came through. One famous actor (Follansbee would remember his name, Gene Wilder and Sidney Poitier come to my mind) had to run through the alley carrying a dozen eggs which he bobbled and splattered on the cobblestones. They had to clean the whole mess up after every take of which I saw three.
And here’s were the painting comes in…
I could also look down from my peep hole perch and see…my saxophone goddess.
Her name I have forgotten but not her long curly red hair…and her chops. She would throw her case open and lean into some sweet jazz that wafted on the salty Cambridge air straight up to our window and into my heart. When I saddled my nerve I tossed a quarter in her case and asked if she gave lessons.
In my brief career as a sax player I learned two songs. As Time Goes By from Casablanca, and Cannonball Adderly’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
The instrument has traveled with me lo these many decades since and somehow the muses found it this winter and brought it down from the old prop room as a dare.
As you see, I called their collective bluff, but it started, as many paintings do, with a simple gesture…
Our renegade window did eventually get spotted. Some big wig saw the light emanating from it as I worked late one night. I got all kinds of yelled at and we had to cover it back up, which may or may not have been a clandestinely removable patch.
In my dreams now it is open and I can see the stars above the chimneyed rooftops.
And I have told Herself that if I go first she will know every time she hears a saxophone… it’ll be me.
It has become a tradition to unroll the new paintings for the annual Granary Gallery show here on the blog. The work flow has evolved along with the technology and I now use the time spent focusing on each painting, loading them individually onto my website, as the time I also write their accompanying Painter’s Notes.
So, for the next fifteen days, picture me in the studio office, sitting in a comfy chair, this is my view…
And let me say right off the bat… the best part about this view… this week… is that it is air-conditioned.
I wrote in the last blog post about adding the photographing of each painting into that aforementioned work flow. After shooting, the files get brought here at the mothership to be processed in Photoshop. That tech part I am comfortable with and once I have an archivally satisfactory image stored on my hard drive I can begin getting them up on my website.
So, with no further ado…I give you…
Captain’s Log – 18 x 24
This painting is all about the mitten.
For the featured summer shows, the staff at the Granary Gallery do something a little extra to bring each artist’s work to life. They masterfully reflect the essence of the art work by arranging antiques, props, artifacts and flowers subtly positioned to add depth and often whimsy to enhance the patron’s experience.
They stay late on the Saturday night before the openings and make all the decisions about hanging and arranging with a keen collective eye to design. So it is always a fun surprise to walk into the show on Sunday afternoon and see, for the first time, what they have created.
On one such occasion, tucked amongst a pile of some wooly and maritime artifacts which were displayed under one of my paintings, I remebered it being one of the sheep but it may have been the spinning loft or quite possibly the black Irish horse Macy anyway on this occasion… I spied the mitten.
All of three inches, it was held to a tiny ball of yarn by four shiny steel needles thin enough to put inside the stem of a spring violet. I was in love. Honestly, to hold this gem in the palm of your hand and see the impossibly small stitches took this knitters’ breath clean away.
They said it had been found in an old sea captain’s chest. OK well there you go…I’m hooked. I begged to take it home to show the Muses and, now leaning against the window frame by my easel, it has become a powerful talisman. My imagination soars when I ponder who worked those triple ought sticks, who spun that finest of wool, for whom was it stitched, and on what fateful voyage.
Because it is what I do, I have begun to work some of these scenarios out… in paint.
There are two in this year’s show. So that probably means the Muses have a series in the cards.
The Captain’s Log let me play with some old favorites among the prop shelves. And I found some of my earliest homespun yarn which was almost as thin as that used by the captain…or was it his wife…or perhaps the harpooner…with which I tried a tiny ribbing stitch to get the feel of the needles.
Ouch. Those babies are surgically sharp. I had spent this last winter twiddling size one needles around while knitting socks, and my fingers had the callouses to prove it, but the Captain’s sticks are wicked barbed wee deevils. I have a new respect for the men and women of the Aran Islands shown in old black and white photos flying those same steel shafts around at high speed while simultaneously tending their flocks and seeing to supper and minding the bairns lo those centuries ago.
Ah…when idle hands… and magical gallery moments meet on the easel…
Today was the day. After a couple read throughs of her books,
and heading down a few you tube rabbit holes… and waiting for the weather to thaw…
Today Kory and I created our very own Ruth Stout garden bed.
Complete with a Ruth Stout memorial archway…
With the ground thoroughly frozen at the start of the day, and mother nature shining a record breaking 65 degrees down upon us by mid-afternoon, everyone was in high spirits to be spending a February day in t-shirts.
I laid out some cardboard and newspaper to define a border and the stories in the Vineyard Gazette will be whispering to vegetables for years to come.
Let the deliveries begin…
After an early morning spent bearing witness for an immigration trial at the jail, my human rights hero, joined us to help supervise…
And one of the best parts of the day was watching how much fun Finn had playing in the hay. I didn’t get a good picture but she had such a big smile on her face…as if this fluffy soft bed was just a big gift for her.
Early on Kory could see that the ground was thawing rapidly so he made a lovely path…
By lunchtime we had almost two thirds completed.
Ruth recommended a good 8″ of mulch. She used spoiled hay because it was cheap since the farmers couldn’t feed it to their animals. After trying to find a ready source of that around here I decided, as you will recall from my last post, to use the regular bales available at our local supplier…thank you again Homer.
This chronicle is not meant as a how-to, interested gardeners will get much more pleasure out of reading Ruth’s own words of wisdom. I CAN report that there has already been much eyebrow raising, and not a little “mansplaining” from those who have heard of my plan.
Ruth had much to say about that…
“Naturally the neighboring farmers at first laughed at me; for a few years they doted on stopping in in the spring to ask if I didn’t want some plowing done. But, little by little, they were impressed by my results, and when they finally had to admit that the constantly rotting mulch of leaves and hay was marvelously enriching my soil, they didn’t tease me anymore. On the contrary, they would stop by to “have one more look” before finally deciding to give up plowing and spading and to mulch their own gardens.”
Originally I had planned to use straw bales as a border, which would provide some structure to run wire rabbit fencing all the way around and then available, directly upon disintegrating, to be tossed onto the mulching bed.
But we had much more hay than we needed to start out with so Kory used hay bales along the back edge and Him and Herself fetched another couple truckloads of straw to line the other sides. The straw is cheaper and won’t break down as fast as the hay, but all of it, as I repeat myself, will eventually be tossed onto the bed to provide the continuous mulching required to build the soil.
Fun fact…In the past years, when I was experimenting with strawbale gardening, it was quickly discovered that a fully grown studio rabbit is just the right height to reach up and nibble the tenders growing at the top of a bale. A bit of wire fencing was enough to decide them that there were other delicacies requiring much less work elsewhere in my yard…and several of them have been quite happy enough with that arrangement to pose for me in between noshes…
Some tossing techniques…
It was simply a glorious day to be outside making those January dreams come alive..
Even though our entire yard is on a sloping angle, this section of the studio yard is full of underground springs and is a devil to mow because it’s a swamp on all but the driest days. One of the benefits of this mulching method is that there should no watering needed. Ruth described setting out a small lawn sprinkler only to give seeds a head start.
Time will tell if the mulch will be happy as happy as the rabbits with this arrangement.
By three o’clock we had finished the large bed, hay mulched a nearby flower bed as an experiment, put straw down between all the raised beds to make muddy spring passage a bit easier, in addition to Kory tackling all of the chores Miss Pat had on her to-do list.
The finished bed…
Kory replenished the firewood stack on the log cabin porch, and now we can sit back with our feet up in front of the fire and wait for winter to rain and snow on this creation and for all those lovely earthworms and critters to wiggle their way into Finn’s fluffy bed.
I figure we made a loosely consistent 18″ or so blanket of hay and built a 15 x 50 foot bed.
I also figure there are more of these warm weather breaks ahead, and I have a large pile of leaves which we can chop up a bit with the lawn mower and toss on the RS bed (that pile is frozen now). And from now on all of the garden waste and grass clippings will go on there as well.
I’ll still keep the compost piles going. We had great success last season sifting many wheel barrows of that home grown gold. The existing raised beds were put to bed with that gold in the fall so should welcome rotations of deeper root crops this year, and most of the leafy greens and such.
Our next project is to replace one of the first raised beds I built, the bottom boards are rotting away. So it will be just the place for a keyhole garden. Oh yes, I am. I’ve designed it to use the same galvanized corrugated aluminum which we used to repair the walls of the asparagus bed last year. With some tweaking and design updates I’m hoping to improve on our first attempts and make a more permanent structure that can double as a cold frame for winter greens. Stay tuned for more on that.
Expectations for the RS bed this year are low because of the time it will take to break all that hay down and begin to build a nutrient rich soil. Others who have tried this report it took a year or more to begin to have soil that would support deeper root crops. OK, so I will be planting potatoes. Ruth just pulls back her mulch and throws them directly on the ground and piles the hay back on top. Pretty much the way I’ve been growing them for a couple years so there ya go.
Gonna also try onions and leeks, brussel sprouts and kale, shell peas and edamame, and a big section of squash. I sow all the seeds I can fit in the studio and the greenhouse so I may start most of the RS bed plants by pulling back the mulch and adding a couple of inches of composted manure and peat before planting the seedlings.
And don’t forget that strawbale border can be planted in as well. Maybe with marigolds and nasturtiums with onions and turnips in between. And a cascade of morning glories for the memorial arch.
Ahhh, what an absolute bliss of a gift this day was.
Thank you Kory for all that you do for us. These two old ladies are so grateful.
They have a powerhouse collection of artists featured in this show and you can preview the work by clicking on this link…Click Here.
As we settle back home, after a whirlwind week at the Granary Gallery show, the studio has a bit more room to move around in and the muses are taking full advantage. No rest for the artiste…I am being given short spurts of time off to harvest the tomatoes, and pluck the odd green bean or two…then it is right back to the easel.
So watch this space…
Now that this new website is blazingly fast, it will be a pleasure to send out blog posts in a more regular and timely fashion. Thanks as ever, for coming along on this ride.