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Archive for the ‘The Wild Things’ Category

Winged Life 1

“It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy and to float the earth.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN

We Wisconsin natives are akin to water.  Forming a border on three sides of our state (Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and “Old Man River”—the Mississippi) water defines whom we are, to a great degree.  I grew up with water—a friendly creek at the base of my family’s property, a summer lake home, the gorgeous Black River bluffs outside my grandparents’ door, water/water/water.

For eight years Joe and I lived full time on a quiet flowage with the Big Elk River just around the corner from our bay.  A favorite summer pastime of mine was to take my paddle boat, a book, suntan lotion and plenty of iced tea plus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches up the river where I dozed, read, swam, and ate my lunch.  The latter was a bit foolish, due to a plethora of black bears nearly as abundant as water in the vicinity.  As the years passed, we got more savvy about bears and Joe put a stop to my solitary picnics—but I could still paddle upstream, read, doze, and swim.

Now we live not on water, but surrounded by lakes and rivers in the unique Lake Country of Southern Wisconsin.  A considerable benefit of water proximity is the abundance of winged water life:  an abundance we enjoy every single day from March through mid-November.  Great blue heron, sandhill cranes, Canada geese. and many kinds of ducks fly over constantly, along with additional shorebirds such as sandpipers and egrets.

Along with these seasonal neighbors, our little garden and patio area host year round friends—cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, etc., and summer residents:  Baltimore orioles, mourning doves, robins, and those occasional warblers which stop enroute to northern nesting sites.  And throughout the year, we watch nature’s undertakers—the turkey vultures soaring with their frayed wings over the woods beyond the park, while scouting for a decaying meal.

Winged life is as much of whom we are as the water which surrounds us.  Thus it follows that birds appear in my art, along with water and wild woods.  Also, frequently present are something we do not have in Wisconsin but rather are native to my “home away from home” state—Colorado.  Obviously, that “something” would be mountains.  We paint what we love!  For me that also includes clouds and mist hanging over the water, woods, mountains, or whatever.

Just as we writers have a voice, ever developing as we live and grow, artists also speak through their work. I began in 2006—trying to paint realistic scenes which were at best colorful, but at worst totally humdrum and thoroughly uninspired.  I’ve saved many of the early renderings, and I can’t get over how unoriginal they are.

Not skillful enough to produce a beautiful photo-realistic scene (which I greatly admire from fine artists!) it was only when I cut the fetters that had bound me to standard, realistic shapes and colors that I realized I actually do have an artist’s voice.  Through books and DVDs, fine artists Barbara Nechis and (Wisconsin’s own) Karlyn Holman encouraged me to cut loose and sing!  With my one and only true “strength” which is color, this was (and is!) possible.

When I paint what I love, invariably someone else will love it as well.*  Time and again, I’ve offered a family member to choose from a group of paintings and he or she will pick what I like best.  For 2 summers now, I’ve presented to a jury—to select paintings for inclusion in a summer exhibit at our local arts center; and each time the jury has chosen the paintings I prefer.  I would never paint primarily to please others, but it seems a given that when we please ourselves others are pleased as well!

So curvilinear shapes of birds, trees, mountains, and flowers are continually surfacing—those things I love best.  Having been translated from years of living in a semi-wild environment to a suburban locale, occasional abstractions of buildings and bridges will appear.  But nearly always, these traces of man’s ingenuity float among masses of curvilinear shapes—often the shapes of winged life!

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

*Note:  often when painting what I love, I think of a late fine artist in oils who painted what he loved—while amassing a fortune because so many others (including the Walt Disney Company) loved his work.  Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” came to a tragic end.  Yet his art tells me that despite his very human failings, he had a beautiful soul!

From blog browsing I’ve discovered that Kinkade’s paintings are controversial.  Many object because they are either:  1) too realistic; 2) not realistic enough; 3) too idealistic; 4) not credible because one cannot tell where the light is coming from; 5) too commercialized; 6) ugly because they are popular; 7) not ugly enough (this critic believes that “real” art should be ugly because he believes that life itself is ugly); and 8) on and on ad nauseum.

I’m working hard on trying not to get unnecessarily angry,  but these comments have taxed my resolve to the max.  Although Kinkade’s art is not what I would choose to adorn my home, I believe that a valid function of the fine arts is to rise above the mundane while attempting to express a beauty intended for man before he (or she!) bit into that apple.  My belief stands unaltered by the stupid criticisms listed above.  Each artist has his or her personal concept of beauty, but striving for beauty is certainly a worthy raison d’être!

I question whether or not those critiquing Kinkade’s work are actually artists.  My exposure to the art world has revealed to me a tremendous spirit of love and acceptance among those involved because:  1) making art is never easy, although it may look easy to the uninitiated viewer; and 2) every artist should be considered free to make art as they see life. 

This spirit of love and acceptance has also caused me to realize that a penchant for beauty need not be the driving force behind all who make art.  Showing life as it really is in this fallen world is also valid, along with showing even the ugliness of some people’s “reality”—whether or not I like that kind of art.

Some critics maintain that Kinkade was not a “real artist” because he was intensely popular during his career.  He has been called a “hack”—a term normally applied to writers who produce for profit.

Hello, critics.  Have you ever heard of William Shakespeare?  I rest my case, although I might add, perhaps you “. . . doth protest too much, methinks.”  Shakespeare’s HAMLET, Act III, scene II.

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Hydrangeas in Bavarian Bowl

Every writer understands that we write our best about those places and things we love.  Novelist Willa Cather was steeped in the regional history of her Nebraska roots, and wrote poignant novels of pioneer life on the Great Plains—O PIONEERS and MY ANTONIA, among others.  Hamlin Garland, born on a farm in the hills of Southwestern Wisconsin, wrote about the hardships of Wisconsin farmers—THE ROSE OF DUTCHER’S COOLY being a memorable classic.  English-Canadian poet Robert Service lived and worked in the Yukon in the early 20th century, and left a legacy of Yukon lore in the form of ballads.

The importance of places and things we love applies to artists as well.  The great English watercolorists Constable and Turner immortalized the English landscape, and captured its atmosphere.  French painter Monet featured his gardens, and Matisse poured his soul into congenial still lifes and domestic landscapes around his home in France. 

Most of the contemporary artists whom I read about spend time in Italy.  The antiquity of that country, its quaint villages, and scenic vinyards—plus the classical art tradition and historical context of Venice, Florence, and Rome—have provided centuries of inspiration for artists.  I like to study paintings of Italian street scenes, with laundry strung between windows outside of ancient apartment buildings.  I’m sure that were I to travel to Italy, I’d want to paint it as well.  But at this point, painting Venice or Rome would be a static undertaking for me—lacking in authenticity simply because I’ve never been there.  I love Italian food, Italian opera, and Italian people, but I’ve never experienced Italy.

What are those places and things I love?  Like Georgia O’Keeffe was, I am passionate about New Mexico—particularly the region around Taos, where my husband and I have vacationed several times.  I love my “home away from home”, the state of Colorado:  the high Rockies, the front range and Denver where one of our sons lives with his family, and the artsy atmosphere around Manitou Springs where my husband and I lived in a cabin perched on a canyon many years ago—with our first child.

My family lineage includes centuries of Campbells from Argyll.  That was no more than a fact on paper to me, until 1993 when my husband and I rented a car and toured 2200 miles of back roads in Scotland, England, and Wales.  Our first days and nights in Scotland were spent on a sheep farm in Argyll.  I’m not a “mystical” person, yet I believe there is such a thing as a “racial memory”.  Something intrinsically profound connected me with this country and the history of my ancestors who lived there.  The bleak, rocky, windswept topography of the Scottish Highlands captured my heart.  Scotland is a place I love and would like to paint.

And then there’s Wisconsin.  I love my Wisconsin with its soybean and cornfields, undulating hills, wild forests and rivers, abundance of wildlife (including black bears and wolves in the North), its plethora of inland lakes—and its Great Waters:  the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior.  With an entire state to love, I’ll never run out of inspiration.

In and around the environment of our home, I’m surrounded by familiar things—things I paint with my whole heart.  “Hydrangeas in Bavarian Bowl” is a case in point.  Hydrangeas have become one of my most beloved flowers—right up there with most wildflowers and roses.  Perhaps it’s because of the way hydrangeas dry, and bring their summer essence to our long winters.  Hydrangeas have no fragrance, yet they’re incredibly beautiful to me. 

In the above painting I combined hydrangeas with another thing I fancy, fine china—either English, Bavarian, or Japanese.  Fine china is one more link with the past; it symbolizes my gracious childhood home—and the slow lane, gracious home I keep to this day.  The diffused soft edges of Bavarian porcelain lend themselves to delicate color—reminding me of quiet afternoon teas with my mother and her friends, in the German-American farming community where I grew up. 

The “Hydrangeas in Bavarian Bowl” painting was done on Yupo® paper.  The rendering was amazingly fast—as if the picture actually painted itself because I’m so delighted with the subject!

There are many places and things that I love—but not nearly so much as I love my people, and animals!  I have tried and I will try again to capture the life and vitality of the people I love, and those critters in my life:  the birds in my garden, the chipmunk on our patio, the cats and dogs I’ve loved in the past— and my precious Pembroke Welsh corgi, Dylan, who is sleeping at my feet this very moment.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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The Evangelist

Quagmired in stagnant bogs,

Eons old and motionless

The cattails stand where no wind blows

When—meadow born—a redwing lights

On solitary reed,

Proclaiming joyously the news!

“I HAVE BEEN FREEEEEEEEEED!”

Margaret Longenecker Been, ©1996

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Last evening I had a BDN.  That’s “Bad Disc Night”—not “disc” as in computers, boom boxes, or DVD players, but discs in the lumbar region of my body.

Joe and I like to go to bed early with our books and George Winston.  George is not actually present in person in our home, but we have 3 and 1/2 hours of him on our IPOD mounted on a boom box.  We play all kinds of music in the daytime—from opera, to requiems, to symphonies, and Celtic harp.  But at night only that poet of the piano, George Winston, will do.

Last night even George, my achey/bakey (a flannel bag filled with feed corn and heated in the microwave), and my prescription pain medication were no help.  Bad discs!

I was studying a newly purchased book:  ART MAKING, COLLECTIONS & OBSESSIONS, by Lynne Perella.  This book, packed with pictures and inspiring text, contains “An Intimate Exploration of the Mixed-Media Work and Collections of 35 Artists.”

I read, viewed, and savored page after page of wonderfully funky stuff—shelves and boxes crammed full of tantalizing junk, plus art and unique groupings fashioned from junk by imaginative minds with skillful hands.  But even the delectable contents of my book, in tandem with the above-mentioned remedies, couldn’t tame those bothersome lumbar discs.

The book finally catapulted me out of bed and into the living room.  Suddenly I just had to create something—a little vignette on the coffee table by one of our sofas.  I gathered odds and ends, puttered, and voila:  the above table laden with some of my (many!) favorite things.

From left to right behind the platter of shells you will see:  the corners of two 1917 nature books with gorgeous watercolor illustrations given to me by a precious friend, Georgian, who married my Dad when he was a 95 year old widower; a watercolor sketch of Joe fishing, quickly done by me as I sat behind him in the boat while dipping my paintbrush in the lake; a Cheerios® mug containing not cereal, but rather a baby jade plant; and my watercolor rendition of a wolf cub howling his heart out.

On the mirrored platter you will find:  a variety of Atlantic Ocean shells and some coral; a 1920s crystal door knob; an elegant little notebook given to me by our daughter, Judy; a battery operated tea light in a green glass votive dish; a piece of tattered lace; and (left front) a diminutive, ornately framed photo of my two sisters when they were young—Ardis who was 8 years older than I, and Shirley, the sister who died before I was born.

After creating this scenario of beauty, and surveying my personal “art making” with much satisfaction, I went back to bed and also to sleep—raging discs notwithstanding,  

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Every little trace of wildness thrills me to the core.  Today while walking Dylan (our Pembroke Welsh corgi) I saw rabbit tracks leading from our driveway into the pine trees that border our park.  (It is really everyone’s park, but we call it “ours”.)

I followed the trail until it disappeared into the evergreens and never came out.  Did the rabbits burrow into their warrens through the frozen (zero degree) snow?  Do they live under the pine trees?  Certainly they don’t fly, but the tracks evidently went nowhere. 

If we can only stay up late enough, maybe we’ll see the rabbits out at night.  I’ve always enjoyed fanciful pictures of rabbits dancing by moonlight, on a snowy landscape.  While Dylan would probably love to chase the rabbits, I suddenly have a burning wish to capture them with my watercolors.  I’ll let you know if I succeed!

While we left the bears and wolves behind when we moved 285 miles south, there is plenty of wildness here.  Coyotes abound, sneaking around suburban neighborhoods and farmyards.  Hawks soar over our park.  Some Canada geese winter in open streams near farms, where they can glean the harvested cornfields.

One day we saw a grouse in our front yard.  And our two funny friends, the chipmunks, live in a hole by our garden wall.  As I type, they are probably busy chomping away at the basketball-sized food cache of our bird seed–one basketball per chipmunk.  We won’t see the chipmunks until spring, but it’s delightful to know that they are close by!

Last week I saw the tiny saw-whet owl perched on a tree limb beside our road.  There is always plenty for the nature hungry heart to relish–so long as our eyes and ears are open wide! 

Now I’m going to “adjourn” and try sketching rabbits.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved 

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