Tuesday, July 31, 2012

El Camino Real

We headed south into California a little more than a week ago. Just south of Oregon, where we live, California dominates the West coast, both as a huge and diverse physical presence as well as an economy and culture unto itself—almost a separate country that we both admire and revile from our adjacent position on the map. There is something so aloof and superior about California that the rest of the west cannot help but feel intimidated by its outrageousness, but eventually we all succumb to some reason to travel there and with both awe and fear we hit the road. We were headed, eventually, to Long Beach to view the Twelve by Twelve exhibit at the International Quilt Festival. It seemed like an opportunity to confront California and get to know a little more about it than  previous trips to selected destinations had allowed.

After our first night in Corning, the olive capitol of the world, we veered west to meet up with highway 101, a part of the historic El Camino Real, the Royal Road of the Spanish settlers, marked by these distinctive mission bell markers.

California has been a part of Spain, of Mexico and of the United States. Beginning about 1769, while part of Spain, the Franciscan order began building missions along El Camino Real, about a day's travel apart, 21 in all. The first real stop on our trip was the Mission San Juan Batista.

I cannot explain it, but I am fascinated by old  colonial Catholic churches and missions. I am not Catholic, not even really religious, but the history is compelling—that missionary passion and zeal to convert is inexplicable to me, but seems so strong and has created such vivid history in north, central and south America. It was not always benevolent and often shameful in its view of the indigenous groups they were hoping to "save" but there is a consistency of vision and culture planted so confidently in these unlikely places that fascinates me. It is all the same, whether in Ecuador, or Puerto Rico or Mexico or California, and I find it visually stunning. I feel I have taken this same photo of a long arched walkway across the front of an ancient adobe church at least a hundred times. It draws me in.

Gardens, chapels, candles, statues. I almost feel as if I have known these places in another lifetime. Haunting. Beautiful.
The shape of that window alcove knocks me out. Inspired.


And the obligatory statue of Father Junipero Serra, the founder of the California Missions. We ran into him a lot along El Camino Real.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I'm Back

Yes, I have been missing in action for more than a week now. We just got back this evening from a trip to California. Our final destination was the International Quilt Festival in Long Beach, where the Twelve by Twelve quilts were being shown. But we had some great adventures on our way there, including California Missions and the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Hearst Castle, just to name a few. I will be back with photos and stories in the days to come, but tonight I just wanted to check in and explain my absence before I fall, gratefully, into my own cozy bed.

As in Houston, the Twelve by Twelve exhibit was a big hit and again took my breath away to see what we have done. It is stunning to see all 288 pieces all together. How was I lucky enough to be a part of this?

P.S. I just had to add this picture, stolen from Gerrie, of me, Gerrie, Karen and our sponsor, Del. I thought it really showed how happy we all were that day. Giddy, almost.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nice news

I have been working pretty steadily to finish four  "elements" themed pieces to submit for our next High Fiber Diet show. I got word today that all four were accepted. That was really nice to hear and I also learned today that I have a buyer for one of them, which is extra nice. Here are the four pieces, finished.

I finally finished Marco's quilt and something special to go with it. I will post those later so as not to spoil the surprise for him. I know he reads my blog. (He is bright for two years old—yeah.)

This afternoon I was at my computer and something out the back window caught my eye. Can you see it?

Yup, a deer. In the backyard. He seemed to be checking out the kids' toys and the sandbox. Awfully pretty deer, but pretty brazen to be so near to the house like that.

I shooed him away and he trotted down the driveway, but stopped to look back at me before scampering off into the brush. I haven't checked to see how many roses he ate.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Color of Summer

Is orange, I'm pretty sure. At least at our house. This year. We are surrounded by it and it makes me happy, happy.

Crocosmia and lilies and shasta daisies.

More lilies.


Nasturtiums and agapanthus.

More nasturtiums. (you can't have too many.)

Wildflower mix with lots of California poppies.

Can't remember what these are called.

And out in the studio more orange. I am trying to finish up Marco's quilt for his birthday next month. It matches the garden.

My week in art

Thursday was the reveal day for the Twelve by Twelve group's "Mythology" theme 12 x 20 quilts. You can go over to our blog and see the results here. Just scroll down through the entries from Thursday. Lots of great work and really good stories to go with it. You can see my explanation of Pachamama, the Earth Mother here. Here she is.

She represents all the Earth Mother/Goddess figures from worldwide mythology, but especially the figure of Pachamama, the Quechua earth mother from the Andes of South America. What may not be noticeable, but was a fun feature that I added, are some small symbols quilted into the sky background. They include "earthly" figures of animals, insects, tree, leaf, flower, as well as the sun and a human form jumping over the moon.

Also on Thursday, was our monthly meeting of STASH at Gerrie's house. Suzy and Beth were traveling, so there were only four of us, but Gerrie had prepared a very fun project for us. She had a large, gessoed canvas set up on the patio outside her studio and a selection of acrylic paints and brushes. We did a big group painting, each of us moving around the table adding elements, adding to other peoples elements, ending up with a densely painted piece. She will cut it into 6 pieces and each of us will take one which we will incorporate into a project of our choosing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mountain person

Living here in Oregon I know a lot of ocean people.  Me, I'm a mountain person. This means, simply the landscape you long for. The place where the air smells like air should smell, where you feel most alive and most at home in a very basic way. I think there are probably desert people and prairie people and city people too. That is why it felt so wonderful to drive through forests and up winding mountain roads on our recent trip. I'm a mountain person.

The Beartooth Highway, (my Dad always called it "The Cooke City Highway") goes from Cooke City, Montana to Red Lodge, Montana. Charles Kuralt called it the most beautiful drive in America. Last week, after spreading my Aunt and Uncle's ashes near the highway, just out of Cooke City, we drove to the summit.

You climb upward beyond the timberline where there are vast alpine meadows and small lakes. Still big patches of snow early in July, but lots of wildflowers as well. The road winds in a serpentine pattern up the mountain.

Partway up you cross over into Wyoming for awhile, then at the summit you are back in Montana.

Coming back down you see a stunning view of Index and Pilot Mountains.

We stayed in Cooke City, a small town just northeast of the north entrance to Yellowstone Park.It was beautiful and not overrun by tourists. Just a main street, with some pretty old buildings, but the surrounding mountains made it seem like a movie set.

A forest fire came close to the town some years back.

One evening Ray, my brother Steve, and I walked across the street from our motel to the saloon, just as the moon was coming up over the mountain. Not much action in the saloon, but we sat and had a drink and listened to a young guy play guitar and sing. We were his only audience it seemed. We told him we enjoyed the music and tossed a few dollars into his tip jar. The next night we had a big, catered family dinner at the old lodge where the rest of our group was staying. The caterer, cook, server, cleaner-upper was one guy—the same guy who was providing the music at the saloon the night before. Small town.

I can look at that photo of the moon and smell the pine-scented air and feel the cool mountain breeze after a brilliant, hot day. Intoxicating stuff for a mountain person.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The hat, again

I took the hat on my trip and it was used a lot. Worked perfectly in my opinion. On one windy day it occurred to me it might be good to add a cord or strap to keep it on. I think I will do that for my rainhat version.

Up on the mountain with my hat. That's my cousin Ginger in the red and family friend, Virginia, with me.

Here is my brother in the hat. It fit him nicely and he liked it enough that I think I'll make one for him. We stopped here for our picnic lunch the day we drove through Yellowstone Park. Steve is looking quite smug because our family name name is Howard.

I spent a couple of hours drafting the pattern and turning it into a .pdf file this afternoon. (See how much I love my big-headed friends?) If you want a copy of the pattern leave a comment with your email address in it and I will send it to you.

Because of the size of the pattern pieces you will have to cut four each of the brim and crown pieces and tape them together to get the full size pattern pieces, but I think it is pretty straightforward.

I found some great fabrics today for rain hats, which I will make from the same pattern. I found a store that carries all kinds of outdoor type fabrics, as well as all the clips and toggles and zippers and other goodies one might need. For those of you in Portland, you need to check it out! For the rest of you, they do mail order, but you miss out on the bin of remnants where I found my fabrics. Rose City Textiles. This was a great resource and the clerk I worked with was super helpful and knowledgeable.

Nick Cave at the Boise Art Museum

Thanks to the wonders of the iPhone and my Kindle Fire, as we traveled last week I was able to read my email. The discussion on the SAQA (Studio Art Quilts Associates) list was about "trends" in art. The comments were interesting and as much as I would have liked to toss in my two cents worth, typing on my small devices was more trouble than I wanted to go to and so I just watched the discussion evolve. I knew, eventually, someone would express my point of view and, of course they did. The "trends" thread led to mention of "cutting edge" artwork, and there was some outrage and some confusion and some asking what that even meant. (What does it mean??)  And finally, from Sandy Donabed, who never disappoints me when a voice of reason and intelligence is needed, a challenge. Go look at some contemporary art and think about it and learn about it and report back.

As luck (or something) would have it, the first stop on our road trip was Boise, and as we often do in Boise, we made time for a visit to the Boise Art Museum. It is a small art museum in a smallish city, but I am often impressed with the high quality of the exhibits. Really great museum. I recommend it if you find yourself in Boise. The current show is "Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth." I think it might qualify as cutting edge.

I was confused about Nick Cave. I thought he was a musician. Well turns out there are two. This one. And this one. The artist is a former dancer with the Alvin Ailey company and now teaches at the Art School of the Chicago Art Institute. His visual works are mostly large "suits" that can be worn or exhibited as sculpture. The first piece we saw as we entered the exhibit was this huge bear, constructed from striped wool sweaters.

All of his work is big—taller than human size—and has a sense of iconic tribal figures and costumes. I was immediately reminded of African dancers, and yet the materials used are mundane, often "tacky" artifacts of American life. Old sweaters, cheap toys, hotpads, doilies, knickknacks, synthetic fur and glittery souvenirs. And yet there is a kind of dignity and mystery, and I found myself circling and circling and discovering all I could about each piece.

 How clever is this? The repeating circular images on old tops and those 
same patterns crocheted into hot pads?

These suits he calls "soundsuits" and the sound that is made by a human moving inside the piece becomes a part of the work, taking the work from static artwork to performance.

Lots of ceramic bird figurines!
Nick Cave is clearly influenced by his dance background. These suits are made to move and make noise. There is a costume influence at work here. He also says his aesthetic comes from a poor childhood and a mother who delighted in his creativity, though it was created from found objects, old clothing and whatever was cheap or free. There is a sense of the collector and the joy of serendipity as odd objects come together and speak to one another and dance together. Whereas it could be chaotic, it is ordered and intentional and each piece has its own meaning and personality. It makes you smile. It makes you laugh. It comforts you with familiarity and surprises you with originality and unexpected combinations.

Would you take it home for the family room? Of course not. This seems to be the common objection to unconventional art. It isn't conventionally "pretty" or "tasteful". Some of it is hard to understand. Some of it is downright disturbing! But if it makes you react, or laugh, or cry, or feel somehow a little bit off-center, then it is communicating something that the artist feels. It is more than decor. It could be a message or a question or just a feeling of joyful abandon. It makes you feel something new. This is what I love about art.

Photography was not allowed in the museum. All images here were gleaned from the internet, but these were all pieces that were in the exhibit.

Saturday, July 07, 2012


 A family reunion. A journey through the past, remembrance and a glimpse of the future.

We met my brother and my cousins in Pocatello, where I grew up, gathering first at the old cemetary to dedicate a headstone for my aunt and my oldest uncle who died last December. Some of their ashes were buried here, where they lived all of their married life. The rest—well that is the rest of my story.

It was a beautiful summer day and the mood was celebratory, not somber. Memories were shared, dear people remembered with affection, and we mingled and greeted relatives and met their grandchildren. At the end of the informal ceremony the children released balloons into the clear blue sky and we watched as they became smaller and smaller and finally disappeared. Thus began an odyssey of sorts as we traveled, over the next few days, the familiar roads from Southern Idaho, up to our old family cabin, on to Yellowstone Park and into Montana where the remaining ashes would be left.

 The Tetons, from the Idaho side

Three days later we all found ourselves climbing a steep path near the Cooke City Highway in Montana, to a rushing waterfall that crashed over rocks and fallen logs, a place my aunt and uncle loved above all.

We gathered on the hillside. Words were said and the ashes became a part of the Montana earth.

That evening we gathered for a big family dinner in Cooke City. We live scattered across the United States so there was a lot of catching up to do and plenty of sharing of photos and stories. Games and prizes for the kids and toward the end of the evening, a toast to Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill—juice for the children and non-drinkers, Tullamore Dew, brought from Ireland by Uncle Bill, for the rest of us. It was a happy, noisy crowd and I couldn't help feeling there were ghosts among us, joining in the laughter, just across the room, around the corner, watching through the windows. My Mom and Dad, Uncle Bill and Uncle Eddy, Aunt Pat and Susie and Ed and Aunt Clio. Grandma, too—telling her stories and laughing. I imagined my cousin Bill, gone from us far too soon, watching his handsome son move through the crowd.

My Dad and aunts and uncles who grew up, not so far from where we were, are all gone now. It is a sobering thought to realize that my siblings and cousins and I are now the oldest generation of our family. And it is good to be with them from time to time. We have shared a lot. "Remember this" I tell myself. Just remember it all.