03 September 2014

Evening Sketches

Watercolor pencil, watercolor, and gouache on paper

I have been thinking a lot about the Mississippi River lately; not just the ecological values and services it provides, but how the river inspires people to explore, write, photograph, and paint it. In 1944, Harlan and Anna Hubbard assembled a shantyboat from scraps and floated the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for 7 years, living a life style appropriately called “a real odyssey” by a fellow riverman.   Recently, Ken and I enjoyed the company of another team, Wes Modes and Kai Dagleish, who traveled from California with their shantyboat in tow, and dropped it in the Mississippi at Minneapolis. Our friend, Marti Phillips, was so intrigued by the floating boat houses near La Crosse and Brownsville that she not only bought one, but wrote a book on their history  (The Floating Boathouses on the Upper Mississippi River, their history, their stories )– an adventure that took her into years of research and exploration.

In the late 19th century, a book called Picturesque America was written to convey the wonders of the country’s lands to Americans. The book described the Mississippi River landscape as “a study for the painter, a theme for the poet, a problem for the geologist, a clew for the historian. Whosoever will study it with his soul rather than his wit shall not fail of exceeding great reward. It is a grief that Americans should wander off to the Rhine and Danube when, in the Mississippi, they have countless Rhines and Danubes…All that is beautiful in lake scenery, in lower mountain scenery, in river scenery, is garnered here.” 

These days, I continue my own explorations of the river, drawing and painting in the quiet end of summer. Now, it seems we have the river to ourselves again, and I notice migratory shorebirds, v-formations of geese, and the steady chirps of insects in their final pleas for warmth. This Friday, I look forward to seeing the work of other artists inspired by the river at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum : “Revisiting Twain’s Mississippi: Photographs by Chris Faust , and Carved by the River: Woodcut Prints by Nick Wroblewski.


 Harlan Hubbard said: “A river tugs at whatever is within reach, trying to see it afloat and carry it downstream. Living trees are undermined and washed away. No piece of driftwood is safe, though stranded high up the bank; the river will rise to it, and away it will go. The river extends this power of drawing all things with it even to the imagination of those who live on its banks.  Who can long watch the ceaseless lapsing of a river’s current without conceiving a desire to set himself adrift, and like the driftwood which glides past, float with the stream clear to the final ocean?”

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02 July 2014

Exhibit Opening Next Wednesday!


 
 
River Sojourn Opening Reception
A Painter’s Portfolio of the Mississippi River Blufflands
Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center
Rochester, Minnesota
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Light refreshments will be served
 

06 June 2014

River Work!



It looks like just another kayak on the river, but it is really my "working kayak"; decked out with a little box filled with paper, ink, pencils, and watercolors. This little sit-on-top kayak has been hanging in the garage port all winter long. Ken and I bought it at a live auction - yes, it was an impulse purchase, but one that will serve me well. It's a long story: Ken and I used to go out on our pontoon boat with different intentions - he to fish, me to paint. Of course there were no fish to catch where I wanted to paint, and where there were fish was usually a spot I wasn't intrigued to paint. We sold the pontoon a few years ago, and just last month, we acquired a "new" boat again. 

So this week, we started hauling the kayak via the pontoon to a little beach, where I take off paddling, and Ken takes off fishing from the pontoon. We are still getting our system down, outfitting the little boat with necessities (i.e.. little anchor and drip rings), figuring out communications, and I am getting used to handling the little craft in the still-high and fast currents. I'm excited that I can slip into the shallow backwaters and tiny channels now, and hang out among the emerging water lilies, the bottomland forests, or the shoreline reeds. We like going out evenings, and staying out until sunset. The river has little boat traffic during the week, and it just seems like "our" river Stay tuned for posts from the Mississippi!

04 April 2014

Another Season Begins

The Edge of Spring, Oil on Linen, 24x30
 
It's hard to believe River Sojourn began two years ago, the days drawing and painting in the field and studio already fading into memory, Nancy's work of scheduling with venues, coordinating with film makers, marketing, and communication wrapping up at last. The paintings are currently on exhibit at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (through May 11) and at the National Eagle Center (through June), beginning their 2-year journey throughout the region. The studio is clean and organized for the first time in months. New brushes and paints are ordered to replace the ones worn to a frazzle or squeezed out to flattened, empty tubes.   
 
 Project Manager, Nancy North, and I are delighted to share the work and converse about the Blufflands with so many people. It is what it is all about - caring about the land, sharing the beauty and diversity of our home with one another, thinking about what is important for now and for future generations. We have learned more about our home, about the Driftless Area, what is precious, even rare.  We have met folks that we treasure for their perspectives, talents, and willingness to share their lives and lands, to work hard for what they believe in. It has been a good journey!
 
Now, a new season begins  I am not hanging up my field hat, but will continue to observe, draw, and paint throughout the Blufflands, to go back to places I want to revisit, to explore the places I didn't get to. I want to spend more time in the furthest reaches of the Driftless, and create paintings that still float in my head. I plan to spend a lot of time on the Mississippi River, via kayak and pontoon boat, and hang out with the water lilies and dragon flies.  New paintings will be incorporated into the touring exhibit so it remains fresh and exciting! It's kind of how I feel right now -  excited, ready to burst into the spring. Stay tuned!

28 February 2014

River Sojourn - the Video!





Years ago, I faced a TV news interviewer to talk about a forest that was about to be destroyed. I was like a deer caught in a car headlights; I actually fled into the forest. I absolutely could not do it.
 
Everything has changed. KSMQ Public Television's award-winning creative team has just produced a half-hour film featuring my adventures into the Upper Mississippi River blufflands. From the start, it was fascinating to be with this team. They were inquisitive, professional, and fun to be around. I was thrilled to lead them into the heart of the Driftless Area. We hiked up bluffs to river overlooks, navigated narrow paths (with bulky camera equipment!) to hidden rock shelters, and sat around the kitchen tables of landowners who have chosen to protect their land forever. I found deep commitment from everyone around me. The resulting video captures the heart and spirit of the land and its people. It tells my story of creating a body of work to share the diversity and beauty of this region with others, the process of creating paintings from nature, and brings attention to regional conservation land trusts whose staff work with interested individuals to preserve the natural landscape.
 
O.k. I admit to still being camera shy, but this is a story much bigger than me. It is about the place we live, the need to think about what we value most and want to leave for the future, and the spirit of nature to touch us all. Thank you KSMQ Public TV!  

 
 

23 November 2013

A Study on the Easel



Suddenly winter is here, only 13 chilly degrees this morning!  But it is cozy in the studio, with the wood stove burning, Peter Ostroushko on Pandora radio, dogs and the kitten at my feet (underfoot, really). 

It is time to pull all the field adventures into final paintings. This is a 9x12 study (in progress) of the Upper Iowa River. I spent days on this river; sitting with the eagles and vultures high above the water, canoeing with Ken.  I love working this way -  spending hours in the field, observing the environment around me, and now putting it all together in the studio. When I am out there, I often feel overwhelmed with possibilities.  However, when I open my sketchbook, the memories flood back to the present, but time has helped distill what resonates, what is essential about a place. This small study may be a model for a larger painting - we'll see! 

27 October 2013

Barn Bluff, and thoughts of HD Thoreau


 
 So much is happening right now with late season sojourns! Yesterday, I spent the day on Barn Bluff at Red Wing, MN.  It's an impressive bluff along the Mississippi River; the town of Red Wing comes to an abrupt halt at its base. A hike up is rewarded by great views and paths through a magnificent prairie. This time of year the plants are dry and brown, but a careful look reveals lovely patches of bronze, pink, red and gold.  It's a steep bluff, with sheer drop-offs and some of the biggest bur oaks I have seen anywhere.  The winds were blowing about 25mph, and I found keeping my tripod and paintbox upright a challenge. It was an invigorating experience, with bald eagles flying, the prairie grasses rustling in the wind, and the distant hills changing colors with the blowing clouds!

My introduction to the bluff came via Nancy Berlin, a botanist who lives in Red Wing.  We first met for coffee to discuss Henry David Thoreau's journey  west in 1861, when he traveled to MN in hopes of improving his health. He hiked the bluff, recording species he found there. Nancy handed me his species list, discovered in his unpublished journals, an almost unbelievable opportunity to see a glimpse into one of my favorite writers. He was a good botanist, carrying a plant press and botanical guides everywhere he traveled. Thoreau inspires my painting in many ways, but I'll save that story for another day.