"Instructions for living a life : pay attention, be astonished, tell about it."
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Crane, heron, raven…I call them spirit animals because each holds an enduring spirit that captivates me. I marvel at the heron's stillness and grace, and that exquisite stipe of black and white feathers down the throat. I smile watching ravens fly above the mountains when I hike. They sometimes seem to play with the wind, to delight in their ability to somersault and dive, even fly upside down. And cranes… here is a story about Sandhill Cranes.
In my early twenties I taught 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades all in one classroom. The school was in a small town along the Rio Grande river in New Mexico. Every fall and spring migrating Sandhill Cranes follow the river to and from their winter home in Bosque del Apache. Sandhills have a captivating flight call, so undeniably rich and evocative of ancient times. It can be heard up to two and a half miles away, and always thrills me. I describe it, fondly, as sounding like a squeaky swing with harmonics.
One morning early in the school year I heard a flock of Sandhills through the classroom windows. I shouted "cranes" and bolted out the door, a bewildered flock of 6, 7, and 8 year olds not far behind. They saw me searching the sky and followed my gaze. Together we found the source of the magical noise and stood spellbound… watching, listening, being present. After several more enactments of this ritual, the students took over the roll of signaler, each wanting to be the first to hear the cranes and lead us outside.
It wasn't my intention, nor did I realize it at the the time, but I was urging those children to connect to nature…to marvel, to be curious, to find joy in recognizing another living being.
I have more spirit animals to paint- horses, whales, owls, hawks, elephants, wolves..…
Inside my Heart
rivers & stones
By September, our mountain creeks are usually quiet and lazy. But in September 2014 rain fell relentlessly for a week over the front range, saturating the earth and swelling the creeks to a breaking point. The creeks flooded, including one near my home. It became a river of brown water carrying windows and parts of roofs, propane tanks and wheelbarrows, and grand, ancient cottonwoods. It also carried tons of silt, rocks and boulders that carved into the earth, plowing a new river bed that would, in places, be 8 feet deep and 100 yards wide.
After days of crisis control and moving out of our home, I did what always makes me feel better- I walked. I walked the edges of the flooding creek and on the sand bars that formed as water receded. When I looked past the debris and the uprooted trees, a suitcase filled with silt and a child's yellow sand bucket, I saw beautiful rocks everywhere- river rounded granite, pink pegmatite sparkling with mica, milky quartz. I wanted to paint them, but first I wanted to get my paper muddy. I soaked it in the flood water, scooped up mud and rubbed it in, then left it to dry in the sun. When I rinsed off the mud, the paper had become beautiful shades of biscuit and buff sandstone. It was mottled, wrinkled…it was perfect.
Painting the stones marked my acceptance of both the power and beauty of the flood and the destruction it caused. I was compelled to paint the flood itself- the round, sinuous shapes of this new river as it flowed across the plain. Nature is an unfolding story and I wanted to record this episode. The floodwater would continue to recede, but I hold those meanders in my memory and in my heart.
26" x 40" mud, gouache, watercolor, metallic acrylic "To see small beginnings is clearness of sight." Lao Tse
26" x 40" mud, gouache, watercolor, metallic acyrlic "...with each drop of rain, the ocean begins again." Richard Brautigan
26" x 40" gouache, watercolor, metallic acrylic, walnut ink "When the waves close over me I dive down to fish for pearls." Masha Kaleko
26" x 40" mud, gouache, watercolor, metallic acrylic, walnut ink
26" x 40" mud, gouache, watercolor, metallic acrylic "It is raining today in the mountains. It is a warm green rain with love in its pockets." Richard Brautigan
26" x 40" gouache, watercolor, metallic acrylic, walnut ink
River Stones V
River Stones IV
River Stones III
River Stones II
River Stones I
to shield = to protect
I started painting shields without knowing that I was painting them. It was two and a half years ago, and I had been experimenting with abstraction, painting loose round and triangular shapes. One day I painted only triangles. As they took on their own irregular, elongated character, I realized I was painting shields. Just then my husband walked into the studio. He looked at my work and said, “those look like shields”. "Yes", I said, and showed him the growing stack of articles on my table.
One was about 276 Muslim school girls in Nigeria kidnapped by Boko Haram. They were forced to marry the Boko Haram fighters, and those who refused were killed. One was about Ibrahim, a 7 year old Muslim child who watched from hiding as Christian militiamen killed his parents. He ran 60 miles, barefoot and alone, until he encountered peacekeepers who pointed the way to a Catholic church that sheltered Muslims. A man on a motorcycle offered him a ride. At a militia checkpoint the man was told to pass, but to leave Ibrahim and the militiamen would kill him. The man said they would have to kill him too. So the militiamen let them both go.
Yes, I was painting shields. And I began to paint with intention… the intention to instill each one with the power of protection, the strength to endure and to heal, and perhaps even to forgive. The shields are well used, scratched and dented, recycled from former times. They are for anyone, anywhere who needs one.
Earth & Stars
20" x 26"
To Shield = To Protect
20" x 26"
Wings to Fly
30" x 30"
Circle of Strength
29 1/2" x 20"
Ledger Art is a form of Native American narrative painting that began in the 1860's and continues to this day. The Plains Indians traditionally painted their stories on animal hides using plant and mineral based pigments with brushes made from bones and sticks. Hunting scenes, horse raids, courtship scenes, and dreams and visions were recorded by the men on teepees, clothing and shields. But in the second half of the 19th century the US government eradicated the buffalo herds and forced the Plains Indians onto reservations. The men began drawing and painting on paper from accounting ledgers obtained from army forts, traders, and government agents. They used whatever tools were available, mostly pencils and crayons, occasionally water colors.
I find works of Ledger Art to be exquisite in their simplicity, honesty and detail. I am particularly drawn to the horses in Ledger Art and chose that form as the basis for my collage series. There is both beauty and loss in this choice. The horse is a strong, magnificent and beautiful animal. It was central to the lives of the Plains Indian tribes. Then that way of life was taken from them.
A Fiery Sun
11" x 15"
9 1/2" x 12"
It Will Be Enough
12" x 15"
What It Is
11" x 15"
Here One Is Clear Pine
9 1/2" x 12"
The World Is Alive
9 1/2" x 12"
There are many things about birds that enchant me - flight, feathers, songs that fill the morning, nests built with beak and claw...and eggs. They are colored in rich blue and cream, soft olive and ochre. They may have speckles, splatters or graceful calligraphic markings. Their oval shapes vary from more round to more conical. Their permeable shells are fragile yet strong. And all of these characteristics are adaptations that help ensure the survival of new life within.
Eggs of the Common Murre have several compelling adaptations. Common Murres breed in dense colonies on cliff faces along the northern Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They build no nests. Each female lays a single egg on a bare rock ledge. The egg is pyriform in shape, strongly pointed at one end, so that it rolls in a tight circle if bumped. This helps prevent the egg from rolling off the cliff. The pyriform shape also allows more efficient heat transfer from the parent, which could be critical on bare rock, as compared to inside a nest lined with down. There is extraordinary variation in color and pattern of Common Murre eggs, from plain white to blue or green with extensive splotches and scrawls. Because the breeding colonies are so crowded that birds are nesting, literally, cheek by jowl, this could be an adaptation that helps parent murres recognize their own egg.