I have a thing about this rabbit that keeps coming to our front porch. I call him Notch because obviously he has a notch in one ear. Every evening around 8:30 I step out onto our front porch to take in the sunset and see what’s going on with the weather. There he is, in the exact same spot by our patio steps. There must be something really good growing there, or he just likes that spot. He’s gotten so used to me now, he’ll let me sit in my patio chair and take pictures of him. My husband is behind me now saying “You can NOT buy feed for that rabbit.” Who asked?
Lots of rabbits in the yard this year. I spook them as I begin my morning walk.
But Notch is may favorite. Not that I’m getting attached. No not me.
I just can’t keep away from storms. I’m out on the hill watching the cloud formations, camera in hand. My tombstone will read ” This dummy was struck by lightning because she was photographing clouds.” It will be worth it.
I spent four days in late June at a workshop for teachers hosted by the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. If you are an art teacher reading this, you probably are already mentally recoiling from the mention of in-service workshops. But in my summer The Kimbell Summer Teacher’s Institute is an oasis of art-focused learning and fun. Open to educators of all subjects, it is held in the beautiful Renzo Piano Pavilion museum studio.
See these folks? They are happy public school teachers and just people who like art in this beautiful studio space.
I believe this is my fifth time to attend a summer workshop at the Kimbell, which says a lot. You don’t repeat a bad experience. Each year the activities are based on the special exhibition at the museum. This summer it was the Phillips Collection, a rich and varied group of paintings and sculptures from artists like Bonnard, Van Gogh, Degas, Marc, Klee and Picasso. The well-defined structure of the days, access to the special exhibition and incredible museum educators are what makes this workshop so valuable. Each artist and style is first outlined in a lecture by Connie Hatchette Barganier, Education Manager for the Kimbell. Somehow Connie managed to evade my camera this year. While these lectures are necessarily compact, they enrich and inform each gallery experience. Great docents led our little herd of teachers through the galleries. Did you ever try to get teachers to be quiet and focused? Hats off to the Kimbell docents for being friendly and professional while herding twenty teachers (like herding cats) through the exhibitions. Unfortunately photography in the special exhibitions is not allowed, but if you follow this link http://phillips.kimbellart.org/ you can get a glimpse of some of the pieces in the exhibit.
Back in the studio the talented Studio and Family programs Coordinator Marilyn Ivy leads us through exhibit-based art projects. My photos show Marilyn demonstrating a lino plate printmaking project; one of my favorite lessons this year.
Printmaking is not my strong suit, so it was nice to have Marilyn demonstrate. I think I may finally have enough of a handle on the process that I can use it with my students this school year.
Inking the lino plate
Placing on the chase
Securing the print
The Kimbell provides top notch art materials and we get to try our hand at the painting, sculpture and printmaking activities. Again, happy teachers shown with time to create.
As an added benefit this year the museum had Carol Ivey, a Fort Worth based artist, present a still life from observation clinic and offer a critique of our finished acrylic paintings. She arranged a still life in the studio and we got a canvas and acrylics and got to work. No pressure there, right? Here’s a link to information on Carol. My painting is still a work in progress, but in three hours at the workshop and a few more at home, I’m feeling good about it.
We also did a mixed media interior drawing with a wonderful black multi-media board I had not used before. Here is a beautiful example by Carolyn. Jessica Montes this Great Dane made me think of your sweet dog. Carolyn, thank you for offering to give this drawing. I hope your family loves it as much as I do.
The last day of the clinic is invaluable as each teacher presents a lesson plan to the group inspired by the exhibit. I chose to relate to the Degas painting Dancers at the Barre.
Image courtesy of Google Art project. Public domain.
I chose to break my lesson down into three steps. First, draw the painting upside down to so that my students focus on the shapes only rather than what it is they are drawing. The human figure is very daunting for elementary students. Second, concentrate on the arrangement of positive and negative shapes in the composition. I was really fascinated by the way this Degas painting is composed, the legs of the two dancers are almost at unbelievable angles, but it works. Using tracing paper on my contour line drawing I concentrated simply on isolating the positive and negative shapes of the composition and how they fit into the format. Finally, the third step is using another tracing of my contour line drawing to make a paper collage of the piece, using basic tones of paper and adding chalk to simulate the textures of the painting. So you explore three of the basic elements of art in this lesson, line, shape and color.
I’ve included some shots of the other teachers presenting their ideas. That is one of the best things about these days, hearing ideas from other teachers about how they would present a concept. It is always eye-opening and fun to see what everyone comes up with.
You walk away with a catalogue for the special exhibition A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection, a copy of all those lesson plans (40 pages in all this year), a flash drive with all the lecture notes and images plus a binder with the written version of all of the resource materials.
What a treat and a stretch for the right side of the brain at the same time. Next year is Asian art. I can’t wait.
We lost most of the pond frogs in my front yard pond last winter when an unexpectedly hard freeze sealed the top of the pond for too long. I missed their chirping in the evenings. Now all of a sudden we have a population boom in my Texas pond. A dozen or more frogs make a splashy exit every time I get too close. This morning I was lucky to snap a few family shots. They have my permission to eat all the mosquitos they want.
I love July in north Texas. Sure it’s hot, but there is B-B-Q and the garden is picking up steam. I like getting up early to take my walk in the summer. So after dousing myself with repellent to keep away the hummingbird-size mosquitos and the chiggers lurking in the grass, I walk up and down my country road for my requisite thirty minutes. I am serenaded by my four donkeys as soon as I walk out the front door; our built–in intruder alert system. This morning when I got back Indy came up for a little snuggle time and to see if he could finagle a treat.
God had a good day when he made donkeys. These little miniatures are loyal, affectionate; they keep away coyotes and kill the bad snakes before they get into the yard. Indy is a little stud donkey we keep on our back pasture. He is by himself (not counting the deer) on about four acres, we keep the Jennys fenced on another pasture (we have four miniature donkeys and that’s enough) and his sire, Poco in the pasture up front. Indy has a thing about smelling my shoes. His version of asking “Where have you been?” So after he investigates my shoes, he gets his scratch and poses majestically for pictures.
I think donkey eyes are beautiful; rimmed with black and with the longest eyelashes! Donkeys are perfectly adapted for the rocky, cedar-covered hills that surround our home.
This summer I have been trying to get the back garden going again. We have a few tomato and green pepper plants in our garden berm that has fencing around it to keep the deer out. I have not done much else but plant a beautiful Purple Fountain Grass plant (my new favorite plant) yarrow (which the rabbits are eating) and Moonflowers.
The Moonflowers have made it so far I think only because they are poisonous and the animals know that. They will have large white flowers that bloom in the afternoon and smell wonderful. The rabbits or deer ate all but three of my sunflowers as soon as they sprouted. But those three are the colossal kind so they will be enough. On the other side of the patio is a huge berm where the trick is to pick plants that like partial to heavy shade, hot weather and resist grasshoppers and hungry rabbits. So far, the dianthus, zinnias, coleus, begonias and cosmos have done the best. There is a large red oak tree over this spot that shades these plants.
I’m especially enjoying today because my sweet husband of almost forty years is smoking ribs and a roast in the smoker today. He is a talented and passionate griller/smoker and from the looks of things I won’t have to cook meat for a while.
Green salad and potatoes to go with, plus I baked a two-person size red velvet cake for dessert. Yum. I’ll have to walk for an hour tomorrow.
She used to iron his uniform, I think he called them fatigues, late at night. I watched her from the floor, sitting under the kitchen table. Sounds like a strange place to sit, but from there I could see the small black and white television on the breakfast bar in the kitchen and talk to my mother while she did her work. Mom colored at night at that kitchen table, hand-tinting black and white photographs with oil paints before the relentless advent of digital photography. She worked at the photography studio during the day but her real world seemed always at night. I watched all the old horror movies holding onto my mother’s legs under that table, secure in their strength. The scent of turpentine, linseed oil and thermos-glass instant coffee was her uniform.
The old metal frame of the ironing board would squeak as she pressed the creases into the khaki, the hiss of spray starch punctuating between creaks. Serious work, those uniforms. He had been wearing them since he was fifteen, when my father lied about his age and joined the Navy. In the Air Force now, Dad worked on the radios of the B-52 bombers. I watched him polish his heavy brogans in that kitchen too, ebony black. Dad’s real world always seemed to be the morning. Up at the literal crack of dawn, whistling, always rushing, packing. Dad worked. I watched him walk back to us from the flight line, his distinctive walk helping me pick him out from all the others. The smell of boot polish, starch and the Brilcreem in his hair was his uniform.
A scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. “This tilling of the soil can become compulsive, you know.” Suzanne Pleshette’s dirt-smudged face and sultry voice sticks in my mind as I wander the aisles of the local garden center, accompanied by a multitude of sparrows chirping in the metal rafters overhead. Mental headline reads, “Woman Pecked to Death by Sparrows at Local Home Depot.” I smile up at them thinking “Not enough of them for an attack and they don’t look like the angry crows in the movie.” Not yet anyway.
I love shopping for plants. How can you miss the slow joy of wandering through a humid wonderland filled with flats of colors and scents, envisioning the English garden soon to appear in your back yard? How can you hurry through that experience? I see ample evidence of how all around me. The cloyingly sweet perfume of the frantic gardener next to me slaps my nose as she piles her plants onto a wobbly orange flatbed. I move over an aisle to get away from her. She clops past me all red lipstick and ridiculous spiky heels. Rushing her treasures to the check-out.
I take my time to breathe in the surroundings; the smell of fertilizer,wet potting soil, spicy tomato plants. I had made a list of plants I wanted the day before, which I know I will never stick to because plants I have never seen will call me and end up in my cart. I’m what you call an accidental gardener; I accidentally get a plant in the right spot in my garden and it grows. I love to grow things from seed, and currently Alyssum, Zinnias, Dianthus and Cosmos are the tiny seedlings making their presence known in my back berm. It’s cheaper to plant from seed and you get to know the plant foliage as it develops I reason. But today, while my sweet husband is looking at chain saws and weed eaters, he has turned me loose in the garden center to buy bedding plants. Heaven.
I’m practically mowed down by a plant vendor with a sweaty red face pushing a six-tier cart of tender young plants ready to be pushed onto the shelving. ” What the hell are you doing?” she says to the pimply faced worker she spots ahead, who is evidently not moving fast enough for her. “Get that stuff on the tables!” Sigh. I move over another aisle.
I think about my grandfather now, who was a real gardener, he kept greenhouses, widow ladies’ yards and knew plants. He had a true green thumb. I have red Begonias in my cart in his honor, he loved them. The riotous colors of the Moss Roses are for him too. The Spanish Lavender I chose is for my husband, who had never seen that variety until a landscaping company put one in our yard seventeen years ago. Now that I think about it, most of the plants I plant are about other people. Zinnias for my grandmother, the Cosmos, Larkspurs, Moonflowers and Morning glories are for my mother, who loved wildflowers, the Petunias, Dianthus, and Alyssum are for the characters from a book called “The Uninvited”, where a ghostly presence was heralded by floral scents.
I plant for animals too. Salvia and Cardinal vine for the hummingbirds. Sunflowers for the woodpeckers, mockingbirds, chickadees and titmice that populate our Texas yard. The Fountain Grass I choose because our kittens used to love playing hide and seek in the soft mounds of grass, leaping out to roll and tumble down onto our back patio. We no longer have the kittens, but just seeing this grass makes me smile inwardly.
And what new treasure did I find, just for me? A beautiful blue Lobelia. A feathery Yarrow plant and some Mexican Heather. New plants I’ve never planted.
And one old favorite, a Rosemary plant, for remembrance.