It has been almost a year since I started my LEAP366 project and I am so pleased that the 5' Life Ring, the 45 Postcard Paintings and the Ring's swatch chart were chosen to be part of the Wyoming Arts Council's Fellowship Biennial Show at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper Wyoming! I guess you never know where an idea will take you!
Every other December, my Colorado cousins get their whole family together, rent a large vacation home and snuggle in for what my daughter calls, BIG CHRISTMAS! Big is not an exaggeration. The pool of people starts with the family matriarch, my mother's sister, Peggy. Add her husband Dick, her children Fay, Janette and Kelly, their families, my family, a few family friends, a guy named Igor from Kazakhstan, one boyfriend named Noam from Israel and what do you get? A crowded, happy, multi-generational, international pool of 34 people. That's BIG CHRISTMAS!
We all know the Christmas holidays are filled with lots of special events and meaningful customs; candlelight services, carols, gifts from and to the people you love, holiday decorations, bible readings, the naughty Santa game, food, food and oh yes, more food! I just need to take a minute here to sing the praises of Fay and Janette. Now all the women in this family can cook but these two are supreme organizers as well. When you are expecting 30+ people for up to a week, you have to have it together and these two do! They have meals down to a science, no one goes hungry, no one does all the work. If these two were in the White House our nation would be in good hands!
Peace on Earth and a Happy New Year to all and to all a goodnight!
South of Guadalajara, a thirty minute ride in a fast moving taxi will get you to Mexico's largest lake, Chapala. Picturesque towns ring the lake like a sting of pearls. Chapala, Ajijic, San Coslo, they are all havens for retirees from Canada and the United States. Why? Because the weather is great and the cost of living is low. But, that's not what brought me to Chapala. I was there to experience my first international artist residency. 360 Xochi Quetzal is a residency started by fiber artist Deborah Kruger . I stayed in Deborah's Lime Casita, newly renovated and lovely. During my residency I worked on some "Postcard Paintings" of Chapala, Guadalajara and previous adventures for my LEAP 366 life ring project,(always trying to catch up as you can see with the lateness of this post)! In residency at the same time was, Katie Shepard, a writer and podcast producer of, What's Happening Here, from NYC. Since Katie is all about audio, before she left I asked her, "What are the top three sounds that you associate with Chapala?" Her answer, "Mariachi music (every night is a party down on the Malecon), Dogs barking (agree), and Fireworks (it was Our Lady of Guadalupe's celebration season)". To the dogs barking and the saint's fireworks, I added Sweeping. My Casita was across the road from Parque Christiana which was lovely and full of flowering trees. Every morning all the leaves and blossoms that fell overnight, where swept away by people with large, handmade brooms.
Chapala was a mix of the old and the new. The rich and the poor. A vibrant culture full of color, sounds, smells, families, and art. The pictures below will give you just a taste of what my time there was like.
Traveling is always a way to open your heart and eyes to new things and people. Chapala and Mexico in general was no exception to this rule!
Sketching on site often attracts attention. My, "I don't want to talk now", trick is to wear headphones and listen to music. Dave, on the other hand, is happy to chat with whoever strolls by and shows an interest. That's how he met the ceramist, Pablo Pajarito Fajardo. We were in Tlaquepaque at the Museo de Ceramic on the 25th, when Pablo, a museum guide, noticed Dave sketching. After some pointing and gesturing towards Dave's sketchbook, Abby finally came over and translated for us. We found out that Pablo was a ceramist and had several pieces in the museum. That got our attention! We asked him where his studio was, "Tonala" was the answer. "Wow! We're planning a trip there on Sunday ," we said. "Could we visit your studio"? "Of course, please come," said Pablo in his best English. He gave us his card and address and we said our farewells.
Our first stop in Tonala was the Sunday market. A stream of people packed shoulder to shoulder, moved through the small aisles of the market. It was all a bit overwhelming! We only lasted for about a half hour in the market before we called Pablo and hailed a taxi to his place. We got slightly lost, but a quick conversation between the driver and Pablo got us on the right track. Soon we were in Pablo's house and studio. We meet his wife, daughter and white kitten who had two different colored eyes, ( Abby had to hold the kitten of course). As Abby translated we found out that Pablo was from a family of potters whose roots and skills went back five generations! What a legacy. He talked about how they sourced their clay and the natural ingredients for his family's trademark and distinctive glazes. He explained how each new design starts with an original sculpture that is then cast into a mold. He showed us how he kneads the clay and gets it ready to mold. We got a painting and glaze mixing demonstration and finally, he showed us his kiln which is in his 80 year old father's backyard just the other side of his son's wall.
We purchased 3 pieces from Pablo and today they proudly sit on our fireplace mantel underneath Mel's protection, (Dave's Mule deer trophy named after Mel Torme). Talented, generous and proud! That was our experience with Pablo Pajarito, a highlight of our Mexican vacation.
The bells of Templo Expiatorio Del Santismo Sacramento and Cristobal Balenciaga, Ismael Vargas, and Jose Celmente Orozco at the Museo Del Artes! Wow, and that was just the beginning of our Mexican experience. Dave, Abby and I walked, rode buses (thanks to Abby for translating for us and making sure we were headed in the right direction) and took taxis all over the bustling city of Guadalajara and beyond. One of the paintings I did while in the city was of the arches on Vallerta Street. Every Sunday this very busy street gets closed down to traffic for miles so people can bike, walk, skate and anything else you can think of that's propelled by human energy. What a fabulous way to create community and health.
Under a blizzard of magazines, projects and books, was my father's wooden, New York World's Fair, marimba. It lived in our dining room, so it also served as a buffet table. Needless to say I didn't hear him play much. Dad owned a lumber yard and was busy supporting a family. Free time to play and practice was limited. He finally sold it to a friend and years later, that friend played hymns on it for his funeral. I wasn't sure if I was at church or a tiki lounge party. So fitting! Then their was my Mother. She was a pianist and it was all about classical music and hymns. Mom had a baby grand in all the houses I can remember. I can still picture her playing complicated pieces while I sat on the couch and soaked it all in. Lovely!
My parent's four children had plenty of opportunity to play an instrument but few of us tried! My sister Nancy took up the violin in school. It was short lived. I asked my mother to teach me piano. She gave up in frustration due to my left handed ways. During a recent visit with my cousin Linrae, she reminded me that I actually took piano lessons with a teacher named Mrs. Pierce. It must have gone poorly since I don't even remember the lessons and I certainly don't know how to play anything today. Kurt and Eric, my brothers,well... to my knowledge, they didn't even try.
BUT...music does feed my soul! It's a part of my everyday life. It relaxes, it frees, it connects. Music, from rock to world music, to the classics, flows through my studio and is a part of my creative process. So, combine music and world cultures in one large museum and I'm there! The Musical Instrument Museum, North of Phoenix, was the brainchild of former Target CEO, Robert Ulrich. Only six years old, the museum has a 16,000 strong collection of instruments from over 200 countries. The rooms are divided by regions and specialties. Multimedia displays allow you to experience the sounds, costumes and customs connected to the instruments on display. There is a room devoted to musical icons like Elvis Presley, Santana, John Lennon and more. How about a room full of automated instruments like player pianos, harmonicas ( who knew!) and one man bands. Want to play the weird and unearthly Theremin ? How about the Gamalon from Cambodia ? You can do it all and more in the hands on room.
This is a museum you could easily spend 3 hours in, I only had two. I paced myself to make it through every continent. Africa in general and the Congo in specific was especially interesting to me. I lived in the Congo for a year in the early 80's and the sounds were familiar.
The picture to the left is of bark-cloth. It was made for me by a man from the local Pygmy tribe in the village I lived in. I used it in the LEAP366 Life Ring to represent the museum. It speaks to me of mankind's ability to use nature for everyday survival and to make the instruments that have nourished every culture's soul for centuries.
PS… In my musical defense, I did marry a man that played the tuba in high school. We produced a son that played the trumpet through most of high school, till he fell in love with theater and a daughter that majored in the oboe in college.
Compression and release, a slow revealing of space both inside and out. A master of balance. Who is this person so admired by my tour guide ? The creator of “organic architecture“, Frank Lloyd Wright of course! He is hands down, America's most famous architect, ( when all you have to do is Google Frank L….. and his full name pops up, you know you've made it ! )
When FLW ( as my architect nephew referred to him in a text ) first began building Taliesin West ( Welsh for Shining Brow) in 1937, it was to be his winter home and headquarters for his Fellowship School students. The extensive property is now ringed by North Scottsdale, but back then it was just them and a desert full of cactus and critters. FLW’S Fellowship was learning by doing. There was no degree given, no textbooks or tests. They all stayed in temporary shelters designed by, Himself, ( my British friend, Win refers to her husband as that and I think it so works in this case too ). As our guide was explaining this, my mind was saying, “ I don't care if they were designed by “Himself”. After my Winnebago experience in Tucson, he better have had a plan for keeping rattlesnakes out!
During the tour we got to go through many of the main buildings and we could take pictures of whatever we wanted to until we got to one particular building. As we walked by this, no photos zone, we could see students hard at work in a space and on desks designed by FLW ! How cool is that !
The Fellowship School is still active and training the next generation of graduate level architect students. The students live and work on site for the length of the program. The guide showed us pictures of temporary shelters some of the students are still building and living in. Hum… they didn’t look snake proof to me !
FLW’S personal life had its highs and lows, including leaving his wife of 20 years and their six children and the tragic death of his mistress and six others in a fire at his Taliesin home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. In his professional life he was known to be, “notoriously cantankerous”. Tempers and tantrums are words I come across while reading about him. Something I do admire about him is that he was creating, some of his most famous buildings, in his 70’s ! In that respect, I want to be just like... Himself !
Just one hour from the Mexican border, on the Tohono O’odham reservation, sits the, “White Dove of the desert”. Built between 1783 and 1797, it is the oldest European structure in America. In the flat, Sonoran desert landscape, the mission’s spires stretch towards the heavens and draw you in like a beacon.
I pulled into the large parking lot, tried to find some shade and parked the car. “Is that bacon I smell?” Wafting through my open door was a familiar smell in an unexpected space. Yes indeed it was bacon and various other foods being offered from makeshift kitchens to hungry parishioners and tourists. It was Sunday dinner on the grounds, as they used to say in the South.
Unlike some of the churches I was going to see in Guadalajara, this one was more rustic with folk art carvings of the saints and such. The priest who performed mass was elderly and a bit grumpy. He called out a tourist for taking pictures in the middle of mass! How embarrassing. Nobody wants to get scolded by a priest no matter how old you are.
After the service, dozens of worshipers stood In line to touch a reclining statue of Saint Francis. Some left a scrap of paper with a request on it, some patted the statue as they prayed and a few older men slipped their arm underneath Saint Francis, as if cradling an infant. A man in his late fifties, who looked
more like a Hell’s Angel, touched and crossed himself in front of every statue in the church. It always interests me to observe how people of different faiths approach and worship God. I find it moving and I search to understand and appreciate their faith traditions.
Next it was off to the church gift shop where you could buy approved candles ( some types give off too much smoke, which over time blacken walls and statues). Also on sale were an astounding selection of rosaries. I brought three, plastic white ones which will be added to the Leap366 Life Ring. Purchase in hand, I headed out into the brilliant sun. My stomach was telling me it was time to eat. With the address of a nearby restaurant who advertised in the church bulletin in hand, I took one last look at the White Dove of the Desert and set out for the day’s food adventure, “ Authentic Sonoran desert cuisine. Yes!
PS. My fabric choice for this story deserves a longer explanation than some. I was at my favorite thrift store looking for a nice, bright white, dress shirt to represent the White Dove and the respect I see for the church in the Mexican community and I came across this one. I saw the label and started to walk away. "No", I said, "I'm going to cut it up and make it represent something positive despite the negativity surrounding this man and the Mexican community!" Plus I got to take a picture of the shirt with my Trumpbuster button given to me by a man from our local synagogue.
The Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona in Tucson was started in 1937 by AE Douglass, founder of the modern science of Dendrochronology. I found out about this place while looking for tree ring images on the Internet. I immediately thought,“what a cool place this would be to offer a workshop”! With a little more digging, I found out the Lab had an outreach coordinator named Pamela Pellitier. An exchange of emails and a few phone calls later, and a Life Ring's workshop was set up for Saturday, October the 22.
I arrived in Tucson on the morning of the 21st to set up the work space and get oriented. The first thing I saw as I walked into the building, was a gigantic slice of wood on display in the main foyer! Incredible! Next, I met Pamela and she showed me my work space. I unloaded my supplies, mixed up my adhesive blend and scooped it into individual containers for each of my 8 students. Then it was off to Pamela's house to meet her family and set up camp in her silver Airstream. I had supper that evening with her husband, John and two children. They both wanted to sit by me at supper which started a bit of a squabble! I felt like a visiting Rockstar! After a delicious meal, we talked about life and family and I got a tour of their extensive backyard. Pamela said they had coyotes around and rattlesnakes but she hadn't seen a snake on their property in 10 years. Good! I said!
After supper and conversation I was pretty tired, so John went out to the camper to turn on the fan and cool thing down. Minutes later, I heard a loud, persistent and unfamiliar sound. Pamela knew just what it was and leaped out of her chair! Under the Airstream was an angry Rattlesnake! Non emergency, wildlife control was called in, ( I thought it was pretty important)! The unwanted guest was removed and relocated. So much excitement and my workshop hadn't even started !
I didn't get a great night’s rest between the heat and dreams of a hissing camping buddy but Saturday's workshop went off without a hitch. My students turned out to be a fairly international group. 4 of the 8 were from different countries. 2 from Russia, 1 from Sweden and 1 from England. All of them understood and excitedly embraced the Life Rings concept. Each piece, each story, was individual and unique. All of the Rings, along with the written stories are now on display at the Tree Ring Lab. Included in the show is one of my Grandmother's Life Rings from the “Life in a Dress” series ( it would surprise Grandma Palmer to know some of her homemade church dresses would be hanging in an educational institution in Tucson). The whole experience was a resounding success. I saw people connecting through art and stories, I saw art and science blending together and last but not least, I never heard that persistent, rattle again!
I confess that football, how to play it and why you'd play it, has always confounded me. Its not that I didn't have exposure to it. Examples of football fans were all around me! My Mother loved it, even her mother loved it plus my cousin's Craig and Ron Wolfley played professional ball. So,what was my problem? Weird artist I suppose.
I was headed to Arizona to teach a workshop in Tuscon and as a bonus, I was going to get to visit with Ron. Before I took off, I did a bit of researching about cousin Ron's career. After all, I couldn't arrive totally clueless again! I had to come with some knowledge about his life as a football player. I learned that Ron played for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals from 1985 to 1991 and that during his career, he was selected four times to go to the Pro Bowl as a special teams captain. Ron now co-hosts a morning, drive time talk radio show with Doug Franz called, "Doug and Wolf"(thank you Wikipedia for helping me )!
I arrived in Phoenix on the 19th and the following evening, I was right in the thick of things with dedicated, Cardinal fans, at the Big Red Rage broadcast at Majerle’s Sports Grill. It was fun and great to see Ron in action! Sometime during the evening, I'm sure he glanced at me and thought, " Yeah, Georgia doesn't have a clue what we're talking about but it looks like she's enjoying the french fries"! It was all good! I was there to share apart of his life and hang out with his daughter, Savannah, who was quite at home with all the football fans and talk.
What I do have a clue about, what I am sure of, is that I had a rich and rewarding time reconnecting with a cousin whose house I spent so much time at growing up. I also had the privilege of getting to know his generous and caring wife Stephanie and their children, Savannah and Vetter. Ron and I talked of many things, family, faith, failures and triumphs. Some hard, some funny, but all with deep caring and knowing that comes with a shared family history.
It was such a pleasure! Thank you.