Monday, March 26, 2012


 A few days ago I reached the point where I was sick of art---thinking about it, wrestling with it, creating it.  I just had to get out of the studio, out of the house, out of the city---out of my brain, even, if that were possible.  A short drive, and I was tramping through the desert.
Birds chatted and sang, and cacti were beginning to bloom. This staghorn cholla held newly opened flowers, as well as a nest in the making.
A close-up view revealed a busy spider within.
Hedgehog cacti bristled everywhere
Their flamboyantly-colored flowers always look completely artificial to my New England eyes.
At the end of the day I returned home.  I was hot, sweaty, tired---and relaxed, refreshed, renewed.  In fact, I was bubbling with creative ideas and energy.  The day had had nothing to do with art, just as I had wanted---yet strangely enough, it had had everything to do with art.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012


We humans like to portray the Muse as that approachable and compliant creature (usually female, but sometimes male) whose only desire is to fulfill our every wish. 
We cling to the belief that we order, and the Muse obligingly (and smilingly) delivers, right to our doorstep.  Sometimes this actually happens in real life.
At other times, though, the Muse maliciously garbles the order.  To quote a colleague, "I asked for a plot, and I got a Halloween costume."
And at still other times, the Muse is...Deaf?  Asleep?  Dead?  When this happens, one is tempted to resort to name-calling.  Coercion.  Punishment.  Anything to make the Muse pay attention and obey.
I think of my son's description of the Russian Cat Circus that he attended a number of years ago in New York City.  "The trainer would give a command for a trick," said my son. "Then the cats would do the trick. Or they would do a different trick. Or they would do nothing."
Most of us discard by age 3 or so the notion that we can control cats, that we can do so by force, and that we will remain unscathed in the process.  Our collective human experience should teach us that it is even more dangerous to cross a Muse.  The Muse is a Goddess, after all (or a God).  Remember, for example, that Artemis slew Actaeon?  It's much safer for us creative people---and in the long run probably much more productive for us---to abandon our attempts to give orders to our Muse.  Instead, we ought simply to receive, with a gracious, sincere, and grateful heart,  every gift the Muse brings to our doorstep.  True, this time the gift might be only a dead mouse...but the next time it might be a masterpiece.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I've been weeding out an assortment of belongings that are no longer necessary to my life; a friend will pick them up and take them to Goodwill.   As I select each item and drag it out to the pile, I am struck by how similar the process is to editing a manuscript.

Enormous lamp: the character that doesn't fit, in scale or style.

Totally disintegrated dollhouse:  the manuscript that just can't be salvaged.

Mirror with curliques: the adorable passage of writing, so cute, but totally useless.

Falling-apart table:  the shakey plot line that doesn't support.

Multiple benches and stools: the excess verbiage that obscures and impedes.

And now, what is left?  Room, hopefully, for better living...and better writing.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Eva Auld Watson was a painter, muralist, and print-maker.  ( many other Google sites.)  Eva's forbears were people of business: entrepeneurs. As with so many other artists, Eva's career was the exception rather than the rule in her family.    

The roots of her interest in food, on the other hand, seem to me perfectly obvious.  Eva was born in Bandera, Texas, where her father, Cassius C. Auld, owned a gigantic cattle ranch.  It was there that Eva spent the first nine years of her life.  Ranch  life was rugged, outdoors, and self-sufficient.  The Aulds made their own soap; repaired their own machinery; made their own harness.  Except for staples like salt and sugar, they most surely provided for all their own food and drink.  Surely this was where Eva began her life-long enchantment with the art of culinary creation.

Eventually Cassius discovered that his partner had been fiddling with the ranch's financial books.  The family returned to Pittsburgh--the city.  Later, as a young woman, Eva went to study art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York---another city.  One of her instructors at Pratt, Ernest W. Watson, became her husband.  When Ernest co-founded the Berkshire Summer School of Art in Monterey, Massachusetts, and the Watson family began spending summers at Greywold, their summer home in the Berkshire hills, I feel certain that Eva must have been ecstatic to be once more intimately connected with a rural landscape.
Greywold became the Watson's print-making studio.  Here they created their editions of prints---carved on linoleum blocks by Eva or Ernest, then printed jointly.  
And as with all artists, life and art were often commingled.  Here in this photo of the empty studio it is clear that Eva's prized cherry table, under the draped fabric, has been commandeered to provide an extra surface for the print run. It is the perfect metaphor for the coming together of art and food that was so prominent in Eva's life.
In the summertime, visitors could visit Greywold on Sunday afternoons to peruse the latest Watson prints, and perhaps purchase a few.  But for Eva, no open studio was complete without refreshments; and so after visiting the studio, guests would adjourn to the terrace and partake of delectable cakes, iced tea, and lemonade.  (And take note of the boy sitting in the center of the photo: my father.) 
I have a handful of Eva's recipes, written out in her vigorous hand on large index cards.  One card reads:  "Dry Cooking Wine and the Ingredients for a Savory Sauce. [The recipe for the dry cooking wine is on another card.] Cooked in the same dry wine with a handful of spring onions, a bay leaf, a slice of lemon, and a sprig of thyme, a fish (or any desired meat) came to the table with a flavor of indescribable delicacy."  Another card reads "Rhubarb Dedicated to Bacchus.  When past its first tender succulence, charged slightly with one capsule of carbonic acid gas, the wine by winter became somewhat like champagne.  A ham constantly basted in it is an Epicurean masterpiece."  A third recipe is for Orange-Cream Cakes, perhaps something that she served at one of the Greywold open studios:

2/3 c butter 
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
rind of 1 orange
rind of 1 lemon
2 1/2 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs lemon juice
5 Tbs orange juice
2 Tbs water

Cream shortening, beat in sugar til creamy.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add lemon and orange rind. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt, add alternately to butter mixture with lemon juice, orange juice, and water.  Bake in small or large cup cake tins at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.  5 dozen small cakes; or 2 9-inch layers.  When cool, cut out centers and fill, then replace top and dust with confectioners sugar.  Filling:  Combine 1/2 c whipped cream, 3 Tbs honey, 1 tsp grated orange rind.  [Eva's notation reads: "Small and filling."]
Eva's prized cherry table is now mine.  I keep one leaf up for my everyday meals.  When company comes, I lift the other leaf for additional seating.  And like my grandmother, I sometimes press the table into extraordinary service when I am working on an art project that overflows my usual working surfaces.  Food, and art: it is impossible to separate one from the other.  They are both served with the same the same hands...and from the same table.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012


 I am a pushover for blank books.  Hopelessly, eternally besotted by them.  I am a collector, a buyer, a giftee, of blank books.  Perhaps blank books even multiply, secretly, on my shelves when I am not looking.  If they do not, then I am unable to explain the quantity of blank books that take up foot after foot of shelf space in my studio.
Sometimes I am looking for a particular kind of blank book, in this case something that would be suitable as a diary for a male character I am developing for a story.  (And incidentally...have you ever noticed that, judging by their appearance,  most blank books seem to have been created with the female in mind?  The male sex has very little to choose from---and that little of a boring and dull complexion---when in need of a blank book.  Discrimination.  Prejudice.)
 Other times, I am hit by a wave of nostalgia, as when I saw this miniature specimen, that reminded me of the composition notebooks I had used for years as my diaries.
Sometimes blank books are modest, and quiet...
...others rather flamboyant and garish.  
And when I spot this tiny bejeweled gem on a store counter...can I...should I...leave it behind?  No.  I can, and should, not.  

There is only one difficulty I have with my collection of blank books.  I cannot bear to use them.  When I translate thoughts into marks on paper, the result is such a mishmash...such a chaotic, undecipherable-to-all-but-me (and sometimes-not-even-to-me) mess...such a falling-short of the beauty that the clean empty pages of a blank book require...
So I do all my writing (and my rough picture-sketching) on yellow lined pads and newsprint, and my blank books remain, unused, on my shelves.  Pristine, unbesmirched, they are my cherished symbols of the possibility of perfection.