Monday, November 29, 2010

Statues of Liberty

We just got back from New York City.  We took a night harbor tour and went out to see our Lady.  She was very beautiful.  Made of copper, she now glows that beautiful verdigris, lit up at night.  I couldn't resist pulling up a couple of Andy Warhols.

He used this camouflage pattern over many differing prints in the late '80s.  This one went to a French exhibition of his works.  Remember, the French gave us the Statue of Liberty, so this was fitting.  Note also the French and American flags down in the corner.

Walking down the streets of New York City at about midnight, and noting that the streets were still flooded with people, we realized that, yes, indeed,  NYC is 'The City that Never Sleeps.'  We walked out of Rockefeller Center and I looked across the street to see Christie's auction house!

Too late - too late.  This Warhol just sold on November 12 for a cool $2,210,500.00.  Beautiful, isn't she?  With a measurement of 72"x72", I'm thinking I could probably make a copy of her in acrylic in about 30 hours.  I'd sell my Johnson Liberty for a bit less.  Pocket change, anyone?

 Couldn't resist adding this one.  Peter Max, who else?  Peter Max did probably hundreds of Statues of Liberty - beginning at the Bicentennial. He did one then, two the next Fourth of July, three the third year, and so on.  In 1989 he did 89!  With his bright, bold colors, he is a much-loved Pop culture icon. In the 1960s, his artwork was everywhere, especially in poster form on students' dormitory walls.  His art is still very popular today.

His oversized book is awesome; I recently picked it up at one of my favorite stores - Half Price Books!

He's got a really nice art book bursting with his bright artwork.  Check it out! 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Goodbye to a Well-Loved Pet

This morning, Thanksgiving morning, I walked into my bathroom and found our cat, Rascal lying dead on the floor.  He went to his favorite spot to die.  This week he's been having serious breathing problems and I gave him extra love knowing it was coming.  But I wasn't planning on today.

We've had him for 13 years.  I guess I can't really talk about him right now, but he was one special cat.  I guess all I can do for now is pull out a poem I wrote for our dog, Yahoo.  The situation was different, but it echos within me and the pain is the same.

Several years ago, they came to take our dog, Yahoo, away.  Her fierce loyalty and protectiveness of her family made her a danger to anyone who came into our yard.  We got her at the pound and found that she was half Australian Shepherd, a very protective breed.  It seemed as if all our efforts to contain her were simply little problems for her to overcome and with all the people coming in and out of our house, she managed to get out now and then.  We knew it would eventually happen, and yes, someone reported her.  It was a horrible relief and a horrible time.  Here's my poem for Yahoo.

Today we said goodbye to Yahoo.  Last day of August.  Dark sunny day.


 Couldn’t sleep tonight.
Too many tears.  Too many thoughts.
Every time I think of you my face is flooded again.
No use.
I came downstairs to find you not in your cage.

And you’re not at my feet
          content just to be near me.
Yahoo, color of wet pinestraw
          luminous brown eyes always trusting.
Always faithful.
Semper fidelus.
You taught me the meaning of THAT word.

I feel traitorous.
Lifting you up onto that blue truck
          because you thought it smelled suspect and wouldn’t jump.
But you trusted me.
So I put you in that cage and latched the door
          Feeling like some black-booted minion loading you onto a train     
                   with a one-way ticket to your end.

It took some time for me to get used to a shadow.
There you were, everywhere I turned.
Everywhere I walked.
Everywhere I stood.

Wherever I would walk, you would hover until I stopped.
          then contentedly you would park yourself at my feet
          curled up by the computer, by our recliner, by the couch.
If I moved too much you would just lie down and watch me
          content to know I was there.
If I went upstairs, you would just watch and wait.
          Waiting there, no matter how long I was gone
                   red tail wagging at the sight of me.

If our house was full of people you had me marked.
Your momma.
Where is my mail getting friend?
Where is my backyard garden friend?
Where is my swimming pool friend?
Where is my sit or shake or bark or stay or dance for a treat friend?
Where is my pig’s ear  friend?

I need you, my faithful friend,
I want my dog back.
Oh, you were faithful, too faithful.
Your sheep-herding property-defending breeding defined you –
          what else could we expect?

You loved us fiercely – and oh, how fiercely that was!
And defended us!
No, you wouldn’t bite them as they faced you,
          your breeding inclined you to bite them as they turned,
          just like a sheep going astray – it needed a little nipping guidance.
The pizza man got more than a nip.  A lot more.

But oh, how safe we felt at night with you here.
          No need to worry whatsoever.
We could shout at the Boogy Man – HE should beware!

But we couldn’t contain you.  Oh how hard we tried!
But every few months you would find a way.
Running, bounding, free – leaping like a deer – the way God made you.

But they didn’t like it.
I can’t blame them.
Too many complaints.
Too much jeopardy.
Then the ultimatum.
Then the blue truck.

Oh, how I miss you, my shadow.
Your beautiful red hair, your lovely shape,
The kinky-permed hair behind your ears, your flowing tail.
Trusting, trusting, always trusting eyes,
          and a happy pink lolling tongue.

Where is that pan-licker?
Where is my dishwashing helper?
Where is that Pickle’s-friend cat chaser?
Where is that eager-to-go-for-a-drive girl?
Where is that happy green-scarved dog, ready for the park?
Where is my biking companion?
Beautiful, ecstatic, muscled, flowing girl?
And here I am without a shadow
          a part of me missing forever.
A little lost like Peter Pan.

I loved you.
I still love you.
I will always love you.
Goodbye, Yahoo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Music Man Train Scene Progression

Here's a progression of some of our sets.  First,
Your basic tan wall.  Taped and framed the windows out for the future 'salesmen train.'  We've got it in two big pieces here, for ease of quick on-and-off movement during the show.  We've learned a lot about sets weight, and now are trying to go as lightweight as possible for ease of moving from where we build it to the theater.  I remember when we did Aladdin, we moved some sets from my driveway (in the rain,) and they literally fell apart when the truck and trailer went over the curb.  Wow!  We've come a long way!
Here's one side of the train complete with wonderful salesmen, and Professor Harold Hill hiding behind the newspaper. Since the show took place in Iowa, I painted only cornfields.  It took me about 45 minutes to tape up and measure the windows and paint them red, and probably a half hour to paint the sky and fields.  It got slapped up really fast, and for the corn, I simply laid down yellows, blues and greens and took a ruined 6" brush and smeared 'em for motion.  It was fun.

The thing that took the longest was taping... waiting for the paint to dry... taping.  Suitcases were easy and fun, too, and of course I had to paint on some of those cool travel stickers that I wish we still used.

I had YARDS of gorgeous red velvet that I stapled up around my windows.  At first, I stapled only the end curtains on each side, but had a little trouble because of a minor fault in my personality - (I HATE to measure!)  The curtains ended up a little higher and a little lower in places.  That was the first night of full run-through in the theater.  The second night I found more velvet and stapled up the swags across the top.  I think it added an extra richness, AND it hid my un-measured side-curtain tops!  Artists, don't think you can get away without measuring - I wanted to put paneling in the door of the Paroo house, and it took 45 minutes for me and a friend (thanks, Mike) to do the mathematical figuring and lay out the paneling with tape, and probably four minutes for me to paint it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Music Man Backstage Preparations

All right, that does it - I REBEL!  Yes, the picture goes out into the margins, and yes, it bothers me a little bit.  BUT... the next size pic is too small and you lose the exhaustion factor in our sleepy poses!  So... consider the fact that I'm spilling out over my borders ART (or please tell me how to overcome this problem!)

Well, our seven-show run of Music Man is now over.  This is how my students and I felt toward the end of preparing the sets.  If any of you have been in theater, you know what I'm talking about.

By the way, it was a GREAT show! For upcoming shows, check out

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Janet Fish Paintings - Our Art Gets Better with AGE!

One of my favorite artists, Janet Fish (born 1938), said this:

"I had this attitude that it was going to take time for my work to grow.  I had to develop skills to do what I wanted and I didn’t really expect it was going to happen rapidly – a lot of people come out of art school with a nice slick image but not much of their own personality in it.  They don’t have the time to work the ideas through."

Ahhh... one of the wonderful things about being 50!  Our art gets better with age!  Rejoice, people!  This is something to celebrate!
This is one of her paintings, Tropical Still Life.  Lovely, lovely.  Her work is quite realistic, and always saturated with bright color.

I remember the first time I saw her work, way back in, maybe 1994?  We lived near a small town of about 40,000 - Quincy, Illinois.  She had an exhibit there in the little tiny art gallery of our town.  I had my boys in the gallery's summer classes, and we just popped in. I think she probably had ten or 15 works in the exhibition, and they maxed out that little building!  Her paintings were all quite large.  One work in particular was a field of flowers with children's windmills stuck amidst the flowers, spinning gaily.  It was huge, too, maybe 5'x7'.  The festival of color and movement just blew me away, and I've been a fan ever since.

I've got a big book of hers, one of my FAVORITES, which I show to my students all the time.  When they moan, 'Mrs. Johnson, there's nothing to draw,' I'm not feeling sorry for them.  I inform them with happy frisson that there's ALWAYS something to draw, and show them one of Janet's paintings of plastic-wrapped fruit or a lineup of salad dressing bottles! 

Check out to view her book, Janet Fish Paintings. Buy yourself a Christmas present. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Art in New York City

I'm reading Refractions, a Journey of Faith, Art and Culture by Makoto Fujimura.  My copy is already dog-eared, highlighted, and interspersed with my own sketches.  I really enjoy my books.  Check out this book, it'll really make you think.

Makoto is an artist that lives three blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.  We were just up there this weekend, so I picked up my book again and began rereading.  He writes about living in the City as an artist and as a Christian - in a city that needs hope after 9-11.

The following is an excerpt from his pages:
"Leo Tolstoy, the Russian author of War and Peace, wrote in What is Art?:

'The task of art is enormous.  Through the influence of real art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful cooperation of man which is now maintained by external means - by our law-courts, police, charitable institutions, factory inspection, and so forth, - should be obtained by man's free and joyous activity.  Art should cause violence to be set aside.'

Art "should cause violence to be set aside" because to Tolstoy, who wrote under totalitarian oppression, art expresses the desire for, and instinct toward, freedom, justice, and beauty.  Tolstoy's argument for this ideal for the arts continues:  "The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth."  In other words, the language of the arts translates the universal longing for peace into the tangible experience of the desire for peace. The arts provide us with language for mediating the broken relational and cultural divides: the arts can model for us how we need to value each person as created in the image of God."

We went to Ground Zero.  It's no longer a zone of destruction, but one of construction - of hope.  There is always hope. We are created in the image of God, and each one of us special.  Made in His image, we are creative beings, so our natural response to the world around us is to be creative ourselves.  I agree with Makato.  As artists, let's work toward giving hope to this world that so desperately needs it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Upside Down Drawing

Can you tell what this is?  Well, it's my highschool art students' assignment for tomorrow.  I took a page out of one of my old sketchpads and am planning on making them draw it UPSIDE DOWN.  Under no circumstances may they look at the picture rightside up, until they're finished drawing!  This is a trick to shut down that left side of your brain that says, "Oh,that's a dog, I know what a dog looks like, I can draw a dog..." and "that's too hard!  You can't draw that!"  After a while of upside down drawing concentration, the left side of the brain finally gives up and shuts down.  This enables the right side of the brain to take over and say, "Hmmm... that line slopes up here," and "okay now, this line angles like that..."

My students are delighted and surprised at how good their work is when they draw this way!  I got the idea from Betty Edwards' idea-packed book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

(and yes, the pics of the sleeping dog are entitled, "Piano Lessons."  When my son took piano, the teacher's dog would sprawl happily at my feet and snooze, just inviting my sketching attention!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recognizing Beauty

My eleven year old, Noah, and I were watching birds the other day.  There were so many in our yard all at once - blue jay, titmouse, cardinal, woodpecker, wren, and the ever-present mockingbird, that we got out the binoculars.

After some time of urgently-shared binocular use, Noah exclaimed, "This is better than real life!  I can see more through these than in real life!"

Sure enough, once I finagled the Bushnells out of his eager hands, I had to agree with him.  Each spot I focused on was brought into great depth and detail.  It was beautiful.

Here's a little corner of my garden.  I have a nice climbing ivy of some sort that has clambered over my railroad ties and beautifully spills out of any spot I place it.  You can also see a philadendron with holes in the leaves.  One of my favorite plants, it's a Swiss Cheese!  Yeppers.  Just like the cheese itself, these leaves are full of holes.  

It must be fairly rare, because I had one 25 years ago and killed it in a move.  It took me about 20 years to find another one.

At any rate, I began looking very closely at our back yard, tending a plant here, pulling a weed there, and ALWAYS brushing off pine needles, all the time thinking of Noah's comment.  As I worked, I saw minute, wonderful things with intense focus.  Even a small, empty terracotta pot, turned upside down, partially covered with little patterns of moss and mold, with a lovely, determined little vine tracing its way around it, caused me to sigh from its beauty.

These are root beer plants.  Not the plant you make the drink from; nonetheless, if you break off a leaf or stem, the strong scent of root beer strikes you.  I love these babies - they grow six or seven feet tall and have unusual, fairly insignificant flowers which look like six inch, white caterpillars.  They do well in the shade, with lots of water.  I got one plant about five years ago at Mercer Arboretum, and it has multiplied into perhaps thirty or so plants in my back corner.  I can see how it could possibly be invasive if given seriously wet, shady conditions.

Below is Mario, our seven month old kitten, crossing our 'Monet' bridge amidst the root beer plants.  She came to us as a 'he,' and my guys promptly named HIM Mario, after the game, of course.  When we took him to the vet, she surprised us by letting us know the secret - the fact that he was a she.  I tossed around a lot of feminine names, but was stonewalled.  Sometimes she's called MISS Mario, but she will forever remain 'Mario.'  By the way, the vet said we were right to be fooled - almost all gold cats are males.  So I guess we have a rare cat, too!

Anyway, back to the binoculars and all the things I was looking at much more closely.  I believe that our busy lives are not allowing us time to stop and absorb the beauty.  We are so hurried and frazzled that we depend on high definition television and all the other technical advances to see for us, and we're awed by what they present, all the time missing the beauty surrounding us.  Psalm 33 tells us:  "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord."
Here's a beautiful plant by our back door - it's an Allspice tree.  You heard correctly.  Break off a leaf and it smells like pumpkin pie.  When he gets to be a big boy, he'll produce small, black seeds, much like peppercorns, which will be that particular spice!

God surrounded us with beauty.  All the earth speaks His name.  He is the Creator God, the Master Artist.  He gave us senses to appreciate it.  Maybe it's time for us to slow down, pick up our own binoculars, and find that beauty.  Psalm 46 says "Be still, and know that I am God."

As for me, I think I'm going to go get those Bushnells out again...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Grant Wood's American Gothic and Music Man Sets

Here's a funny picture.  I did it on the wall of the piano teacher's house for our CYT show, Music Man.  It took me an hour to paint it, and I had a few handicaps as I worked.  I painted in the dark during a dress rehearsal with a small light we rigged on the side of backstage.  As I worked, I received all kinds of helpful advice from the backstage crew (thanks, guys, I love ya.)  Actors ran on and off stage all around me, and at one point the house-movers moved the house with me IN IT!

 Okay, I know, it's kind of goofy, but what can you expect with all that going on?  Didn't finish before it was 10:00, the witching hour - the point that we must all clear the theater or turn into pumpkins.

By the way, when Grant Wood painted this, it was because he noticed a home in Iowa with this Gothic architecture (it's still there somewhere, I forget where.)  By the way, all you young 'uns, I didn't really FORGET this useful fact, it's just that my brain is so, SO full of wonderful things, that to let any new information in, I sometimes have to let a little bit out!  Besides, you need something to look up on your own!

For American Gothic, he recruited his sister and his dentist to portray a father and his unmarried daughter. Funny things is, the father looks like MY doctor!  They both look a little unhappy about their state, don't they?  Looks like dad wants to marry her off as much as she wants to go!

I was planning on coming back in the next day to paint the pitchfork and a few other unfinished details, but it got nixed because it wasn't feminine enough for a lady's house.  So, it's now buried under a coat of white paint and a mountain landscape that took me all of ten minutes.  For seven shows now the director and I have been almost of one mind; usually I'm much harder on my work and wanting to change things when she's pleased!  So... I don't mind an hour of fun painting work unused - that's show biz!
This picture shows me holding my own 'pitchfork,' my tool of choice, a paintbrush.  It's a rare pic you'll find of me without a smile; I was trying to match the sobriety of my two characters.  Nice shirt, huh?  I have about six more just like it!  ...and a robe, and some jeans, and a couple of  unfortunate dresses...

By the way, I did paint the frame straight on the wall; it just seems we can't take a straight photograph! You may also note the wall below American Gothic is a little drippy.  Yep.  Had to paint over my mess.  When I start painting, the stuff flies all over.  I get into concentration mode and don't think about things like that.  Minor details!  Had to paint the floor beneath it, too.  What?  I could have used a drop cloth?  That would have been too easy!  Besides, it would have tripped up the actors running in and out as I painted!

Tomorrow night is opening night.  I finished even the touchups tonight - the normal wear and tear on sets that the backstage hands inflict when they're moving them around.  I have only two things left that I can think of.  We have a pianola that plays itself and I need to glue some sheet music onto the roller inside it (gonna slap some paint on the back of the music and slap 'er down.)  I've decided to use some extra flute music I've got arranged by my good friend and great Christian music arranger, Camp Kirkland!  He won't mind.  Do you mind, Camp?  It's an honor... really! :) Then the last thing I have to do is paint paneling on the front door of a house.  That will likely take a half hour simply because I'll have to do a lot of measuring again to get the panels all the same size and straight.  I'll post some pics of our show very soon.

Give me a comment on your thoughts on my Grant Wood.  Thanks!