Saturday, October 31, 2009

To Display at Kaweah Oak Preserve, 11/06/09

"Kaweah River" from a series "On The Walk...", Three Rivers, Winter 2009.

The daily walk along Kaweah River Road is full of adventure if you keep your eyes open. Critters and birds attracted to the water's edge, the seasons change the landscape and the way the rivers runs through it. A new home was built and I realized before long all the wild beauty will disappear, even the local Hawk was so disturbed by the loss of some of his territory he knocked the hats off a few walkers, even hurting a couple. I feel empathy for his rage, even as I understand how lucky the people who moved in are. I take my camera each season, hoping to capture this lovely place, just in case my fear is realized and the wild disappears.

"Truck Garden," Three Rivers, 2009

Pat O'connell's Petrol Station is a familiar landmark for those of us who live in Three Rivers, and many tourists who pass through, especially those who find themselves in difficulty and Pat has been called to rescue them with tow trucks. The line up of rusty ancient vehicles creates conversations of how ugly, and as my image shows, how beautiful and interesting, the O'Connell property is, depending on how you see the world. Since his wife, who passed away before I moved to Three Rivers, and I share our first name, I felt attracted to the stories of rescues the two of them participated in over the years. He towed in the broken vehicles, and she fed the waiting people. Mother Nature obviously loves the rusty stuff of what she finds on the O'Connell property because blackberry bushes fill in the landscape with lush berries that critters and birds must appreciate, enveloping the old truck in a wonderful garden.

Tulare County: Varied Impressions Art Show

Thursday, November 5th, 2009, at the Tulare Historical Society and Museum, the Annual Tulare Impressions Art Show will host the Artists Reception, 5:30 P.M. - 7:00 P. M. I have entered "Badger Barn," a 16x20 print, matted and framed in barn wood. The show will run through January.

Kaweah Land & Arts Festival

This coming weekend, November 6-8, 2009, is the Kaweah Land and Arts Festival sponsored by the Sequoia Riverlands Trust. Friday is the kick off at Arts Visalia Gallery with showings from Matthew Rangel, artist, printmaker and John Spivey, author, photographer.

Saturday at the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, artists, storytellers, muscians and natural history talks will take place 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

I will have a set up to display photo images of Kaweah Oaks Preserve, Yokohl Valley and Three Rivers enlarged, framed, matted, and as gift cards. Ceramic masks that were inspired by the natural beauty we are surrounded by. I will include the recycled objects I have lately been working on, thrown away rusted piles of trash turned into a new use: art.

Matthew had contacted me because he saw my Yokohl Valley photographs at Arts Visalia and wanted me to be apart of this weekend celebrating the land and history of the Kaweah watershed, where nature impinges on us daily. I am honored to be included.

On Sunday, there will be individual artist/author presentations in various venues around the area. You can go to to find out more detail.

May the days be crisp and sunny for this interesting and fun weekend ahead.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Concert on the Grass

The afternoon at the Haxton's home was hot, fun, entertaining, and carried on the tradition of the Concert on the Grass in great form.

Music by way of instruments and voices, poetry, dance and art shared by all. Colorful costumes from Scotland to Mexico to South America filled the stage.

I stopped counting at 175 people, who braved 101 degree heat, covering the grassy knoll of the Haxton's yard, picnic baskets, bottles of wine, snacks of every kind, blankets and picnic chairs spread out, young children swaying and dancing to the music.

One the amazing details is the parking arrangement with the Walker's, neighbors. You park on their property and then a shuttle van drives you to the Concert site. It is one of the small details that makes this event so successful, every detail worked out to look so simple, and yet, we all know isn't.

Thanks to Sara Shena, Ken Elias, Ann Haxton and Bill Haxton, along with the entertainers and artists from the Arts Alliance of Three Rivers, and all who come to enjoy the afternoon, we have celebrated the 29th Annual Concert on the Grass in fine style.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Concert on the Grass

Today is the Concert on the Grass. My first guest from Shell Beach arrived yesterday. The art work is on display, set up yesterday. The Haxton's, Ken and Sarah are set to host another wonderful afternoon. It will be hot, but under the trees, on the grassy knoll, a breeze usually washes over the crowd as we listen to the wonderful entertainment, a day I look forward to, and hope we have a large crowd. A new pond was built this past year and if we are lucky the breezes will be cooled by the water.

This propellor will be on display. It won a Blue Ribbon in this years Tulare County Fair. I call it Starry Night. Bill Haxton told me he thought it might be from a wooden small boat from the 1950's. It is part of the recycled art collection I have been making of late. I'll also have displayed Clay Mono-prints, a 16x20 framed photograph, matted photos and gift cards.

More guests from Fresno, and Visalia will meet us at the Concert. Dinner at my house for some of them this evening. Others will go to parties in other parts of the Valley. And tomorrow we converge for Sunday Brunch. Great weekend!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Book's Impact

"Run" by Ann Patchett is a treat to read. About the mixing and matching of race and class in Boston. It so reminded me of my family, not in the details of the book, but in the essence.

My Stepfather introduced a view to family in a new way to me. Family is blood, but it can be more. What does blood have to do with love? Not much. Actions say loudly what love really is, day by day, filling in details, so that at the end of his life I had no doubts that my Stepfather loved me and my siblings deeply (whole, stepped, and adopted), and in a way that meant there is always room for one more. Love has no boundaries. It framed the life I was to choose, two sons I birthed (brown skins), a daughter of the heart, white, looks more like me than my birth sons, and a stepdaughter, Mayan ancestry who was adopted into my present husbands life and lucky me, I received her into mine. Like my Pop I have four children who came to me in different ways, and are so different from one another, and yet, each have a deep, lasting, fulfilling, place in my mother's heart.

There are other children who I hold dear, but for one reason or another I wasn't able to keep them close to me. Sam, Simone, and Andrea, children of the heart, who I helped raise in their young lives, fell deeply in love with, and had to let them go. Luckily I have contact with the adults they have turned into, so even though I doubt they realize how truly loved they are by me, they allow me in enough to keep contact so I enjoy what fine adults they have turned into. Pop also gave me this gift, since he too worked with children in a boarding type school, and I watched the relationships he developed. Some of his charges returned to see him all through the years, letting it be known how important he was to them. He always had room at his table for one more, no matter whether we were poor, or during the later years when things leveled out economically. I loved that about him, and hope to carry on the tradition until my time is done.

I wrote to Ann, thanking her for "Run." I wonder if she too came from a mixed and matched family, like mine? She has a white husband and a white dog shown on the websites about her. Not that it matters. Imagination can carry a person to that which they haven't experienced themselves. It as so true to my own experience that it just made me wonder.

Bruce said, "In 10 or 20 years stories of mixed families will seem so boring. Everyone will be mixing or already mixed. It is happening faster now." Maybe. By 2050 they say whites will be a minority in this country. Once again I feel the urge to push publishing "But What About The Children?". How do I get it from my computer to make real the dream of a hardback on the shelf, by Shirley A. Blair Keller? I tried for a while but no open doors. Maybe its time to try again.

I so appreciate Ann's inspiring me to think about my children in such detailed ways this morning. I wrote about them for two hours, trying to describe how deeply they are in my heart, and when it happened. It makes me think of Natalie Goldberg, once again, in gratitude. "Keep the pen moving. That is the only rule." Thus I scratched black ink on white paper, drawing in words the four who I call children. And now three of the four have provided grandchildren, another kind of love, free and flowing. But we will save another morning to delve into that pool.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Concert on the Grass

Samples of art to be shared at Concert on the Grass:
Photography: Inspiration, Spirit Hill, 2009
Bruce Keller, husband

Photography: Ami, 2 days old, 2009

Recycled Art: Flywheel in Dots, 2009

Recycled Art: Damper, 2009

Clay Monoprint: Attraction, 2009

Ceramics: Giraffe, Long Beach Blend Clay, Glaze, 2009

Photography: Kaweah River, 2009

Photography: Buckeye View, 2009

Pendant: 1/2 & 1/2 Clay, Glaze, Schwartski Crystal, 2009

Concert on the Grass

September 26, 2009 Concert on the Grass will take place once again. It is a lovely afternoon of music, poetry, drama, and art, along the Kaweah River. It takes place at Bill and Ann Haxton's on their large lawn. You can see more detail at their website: if you are interested in joining us.

Last year they invited artists to display art to add another quality to the event. I loved the whole atmosphere, creativity of people, and the beauty of the setting. Hawks soaring above, sounds of the river nearby, and music floating in the air. I am even more excited about this year. A couple of friends will come to stay at our place, and nearby others will stay. We will probably have a dinner party here at Spirit Hill afterward. Lot's to do to prepare between now and then. I cannot wait!

Sunday, July 26, 2009


It reared it's ugly head once again to the unsuspecting.

Mr. Gates returned from China to find his key wouldn't work. He and his driver broke into the house. The driver left. A neighbor observed them and called the police. Officer Crowley arrived with another officer. They went into the house, I guess by Gates invitation, and tried to assess was Gates trying to rob the place. Gate showed the officer his driver's license and his Harvard Professor ID card. The policeman called someone to verify that Gates' card was real, at which point Gates became angry. He felt he was being racially profiled. Here he was in his own house, with ID to prove it, and the policeman wouldn't let it go. So Gates told him to leave, I would guess in a rage, but Gates doesn't have a raging reputation, so I don't know. But I am sure he was loud and direct. The policeman asked him to step outside, and Gates told him something to do with his (the policeman's) mother. Since Gates was loud it drew more attention I would guess from neighbors since by now they are on the porch, so the police officer considers him disrespected, which in some police circles is worse than braking the law, thus he arrests Gates, handcuffing him and takes him away.

Up until now I can image this escalated as it did. Gate having just returned from China he was probably exhausted. I've taken that trip back from China. I have never been as tired before or since. Had he been rested he would have probably said, "Thank you officer for protecting my home." But he picked up something else that a lot of white people put off, even if they don't mean too. Or he was tired and thought he did.

Anyway, they get to the station and Gates is formally arrested, and kept in a cell for four hours. This is where I am amazed. Where was management in all of this? Where do policemen go for cooler heads to make sure an arrest is warranted? Why didn't someone at the station say, "Whoa, this guy wasn't robbing his own house?" By then Gates had been yelling, "Racial profiling," loud and long enough that the policeman certainly to save face couldn't back down. But where were his partners?

The President was asked at the end of a health care press briefing, what he thought of the above. He said that Skip Gates was his friend. He said he didn't really know the details, but it sounds to him like the police acted stupidly.

Oops! Or some say. I don't. I felt, Oh my how refreshing. A politician who says what he thinks and feels. As a man of color he is very aware of racial profiling. He responded honestly. But the right wing of our country goes mad. The conversation escalates.

Michelle, and probably Jarrett, talk with Obama. He appears again a day or so later. He called Crowley and apologized for the word "stupidly." It only hurt the situation. He invites Crowley to come to the White House for a beer, with Gates. He invites Gates in a later call. Will they both go at the same time? I hope so.

I wrote in Comments of the NYT, as soon as I heard about this, and again in Twitter, that this is a Teachable Moment. Being a mother of two brown sons I fear "driving while being brown," every day for my sons. People who hate do some pretty awful things. I have been at the end of some of them in my life. People have died because of overt racism. Because of our history of slavery, and the centuries it has taken us to finally have a President of color, most of us have in us some form of prejudice about the other. Most of us have come a long way. My granny took my mother out of a cooking class because her class mate was "Negro," as said then. Granny's great grandchildren have African, Indian (American), Scottish, English, Irish, Russian and Portuguese blood running through their veins. Times change.

I do not think Crowley went into that house to be a racist. I do not think Gates intended once the policeman entered his house to get loud on the man and disrespect him, and end up arrested. Both men are teachers. Teachers sometimes end up in ego battles with their students. It's not professional, but being human, it happens. I believe that is what happened here. But as the rest of us learned the story, the surface was scratched, and out came the worst racial conversation I have heard in a while.

I think its great. The police organizations of Cambridge lined up in front of the cameras professed undying support to Crowley and stated over and over there is no racism in the Cambridge police department. At first I was on their side, listening with an open mind. But after a few of the white males spoke I realized these people are being ridiculous. If there was no bigotry in their department why did they hire Crowley to teach how not to racial profile when policing? Why did they feel compelled to be so defensive? Why are all the heads of their organizations white males? Why were the people of color and women in the back ground?

My hope is Crowley and Gates meet one another in a cooler atmosphere. If they put their egos aside and put the country first, all they have to do is look at the reaction of people taking sides, to know we have a lot to address in the area of race. We've taken so many steps. Having President Obama in the White House is a step in the right direction. We have many steps to go to fix what we have allowed to exist in this country for hundreds of years. That people still have such hurt in them, like Charles Blow wrote about in the NYT's today, means we need more sensitivity toward one another. It's not simple. A lot of today's racism is hidden. We work together, then go home to segregated neighborhoods in many places and mostly segregated churches. Since I was a child I thought if people lived in integrated neighborhoods they would have had the same experience I had, some good people and some bad people in the world, and color has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes fear is the scratch that brings to the surface racism one doesn't even know is there. Again, that is what I think is part of what happened here. Okay, the situation happened. Now what?

Many say this is a distraction to the President. I don't. I believe having him as President is one of the most wonderful things that has happened to my country in a long time. His response is one a white person couldn't begin to have given. His understanding of why Gates became so upset, and yet, Obama has an instinct that most people in power haven't shown us, one of a mediator. He is a person that had to embrace diversity from inside out. His instinct is usually to rise above, see both sides, and then work for common ground. Who else is better to jump into this conversation and move us along? Congress is doing fine messing up the health bills as they should. They'd better get it right or they will be gone this next election. We the people meant our votes for change. So the President doesn't have to babysit them. Looking at the mental health of his country is also our President's work. Racism acted out isn't healthy and anything he can do to put light on the subject is great in my opinion.

Bruce announced to me that he thinks someone in the White House read my posts on NYT or Twitter, since the language they are using is what I used: Gates and Crowley meeting, teachable moment. I smiled at his compliment, which is what he was trying to do, say something nice because he loves me. I enjoyed it for that. But I think woman like Michelle Obama and Miss Jarrett have the same instincts I do, which is part of why I voted for Obama. He had women I admire around him, like his mother in law. Family oriented women with big brains, who would come up with this kind of idea: teachable moment. And what better way to de-escalate than invite people to your table. So I do not take credit. I take pleasure in thinking others are having the same reaction, and maybe great good will come from this whole incident. That is my hope.


Seeing this clock for the first time after years of walking down Main Street, Visalia, CA Sent this image to be judged by Photo Shoot Day Contest


Absorbed photographer on Main Street, Visalia, CA

Stained Glass

Ben Maddox Bed & Breakfast, Visalia, CA 7/18/2009

Photo Shoot Day - Visalia, CA

I had a wonderful day with photographer's in Visalia, California. This was a day shared across the country in many cities. 50 of us met at the Fox Theater. We walked around 2 miles, stopping at other historical sites: The Ben Maddox Bed and Breakfast, St. Mary's Catholic Church, Arts Visalia, and past the oldest building in Visalia, now a church, down Main Street, to end at Vintage Press Restaurant for those who were still with the gang to share photos on computers. Ron Holman graciously hosted us. Meeting so many people with interest in photography was thrilling. We sent in two photos each to compete in a contest that will be judge in August. I'll post some of the images I took, that I liked best.

Not long ago I went to Manhattan, camera in hand, and spent three days capturing the excitement of the big city. As I walked through the streets of Visalia, I decided this day to really "see" what was in front of me. I hope you enjoy the results.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wild Flowers

Trip up Mineral King Road with Deby Cook on Wednesday morning captured many wild flowers.
Tincture Plant (Far left)
2) Slender Larkspur (near left)
3) Queen Anne's Lace (Below)

Daughter of the Heart

Today we celebrate Maria. Kay, step-mother-in-law, Lavonne, mother-in-law, and I, mother of the heart, will take her to lunch at Vintage Press, a nice restaurant in Visalia. Her mom is ill and lives too far away, so we stand in her stead. Alex, the son, will appear for a few minutes, flowers in hand to surprise her. We are bringing individual gifts we each made, and some crisp bills to add up to her 50 years of life, but our main goal is to surround her in motherlyness. Does she need this? Probably not. But we do.

It is shocking to have your children reach half a century. Time moves so fast. It seems only yesterday the 14 year old tiny girl showed up at my side to apprentice me in the infant program. By 16 she called me "Mom," and has ever since. Her son I consider the first grandson. My eldest son is moving toward fifty, his brother 3 years behind. Delia, my step-daughter, is 18 and in college. Decades have past. Six grandchildren call me Granny. I look back and feel so lucky. Ups and downs to be sure, but in general it has mostly been joyful. And the most blessed moments are the young people I call my children, to see them as parents being far better at it than I was, and yet, I see my values were passed along.

So this day is a celebration of Maria and the kind of adult she has grown into. A strong willed, capable, loving, and pretty woman who makes a difference starting with her own family, and working her way out into the community. We are proud and love her and hope today conveys the depth of our love.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jury Duty Continues...

Jury Duty lasted ten minutes. The Judge walked in wearing his robe exactly at 12:30 when we were all signed in. He announced the case was settled. He thanked us for our service, explaining without the knowledge that a jury is in waiting, sometimes people settle last minute, like doing a term paper at the last minute. He didn't want us to feel we wasted our time. Some people had driven as far away as 250 miles since this was District Court.

Personally I had to contain myself from showing too much glee. The whole drive I sang "Please settle. Please settle. Please settle." Over and over I sang my mantra. I almost danced down the street to the parking garage. To serve, and yet, not serve, that is a pleasure. Onward.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jury Duty

Heading for possible jury duty today. The creative will be limited to knitting the scarf I have been working on for months! I have never served on a jury. The closest I came was to be questioned for the 13th seat, alternative. But having lived in Synanon, believing in rehab, not in favor of death penalties, loosing two family members to murder, knowing people who died because of drunk drivers, some where along the line I wasn't considered to be objective s0 I have been excused. But I have never been asked to U.S. District Court before so this is a new adventure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My house is the yellow one.

Morning after, fireman keeping contained as fire burns itself out.


More on fire.

Yesterday in setting up the swamp cooler we found a burned hole in the cover. One more sign of how we lucked out the night of the fire. Those who watered our roof probably put out a fire they didn't even know had started.

We heard the insurance company is holding off cleaning up the mess next door until the investigation is complete. Once in a while I can smell the ashes. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Book and Murder

I am reading the book "In My Fathers House," by Mark Arax. When Mark was 15 his father was murdered by two hit men in the bar that was the dad's business. The murder was never solved. Over the years Mark's need to find the murderer's grew until finally he took leave of his reporter job at the LA Times, and moved back to Fresno with wife and two year old child. 

Reading the book is interesting, just Mark's story alone, keeps me turning pages. But there is so much that taps into my life experience that I am totally captivated.

Many years back when I lived in Badger, Synanon, we took in a bunch of teenage boys from Fresno. The courts sent them to us. These boys were the most damaged children I had ever worked with. I had in the past worked at a home for delinquent teens in San Diego. They were mild compared to this crew. 

These boys had no sense of morality. They had almost no emotional affect, except rage which took very little to provoke. I remember daily feeling astonished, trying to figure out how kids turned into these robots? Did who ever have them decide, I am going to ruin a human life and then proceed to spend all their energy hurting these kids physically and emotionally? I have worked with many kids over the years who were abused and had very bad situations, but even then they had a survival instinct that carried their humanity forward until a better opportunity appeared, which they took full advantage of. These boys didn't seem to have the capability of pulling themselves out of the stone walls they put themselves behind. Prison was the only future I could see for them, and it depressed me to no end. 

After reading Mark's take on Fresno during those years, being run by a bunch of crooks, I could see a connection between the "lost" boys as I thought of them, and the environment they grew up in. The drug trade ruled and if you lived in poverty forget it. From the top officials, including police, to many Ag giants who used their air fields for crop dusting planes as a way to import drugs, to more than likely their parents on the bottom of the rung, these kids saw nothing but hypocrisy and grew into cynical excuses for human beings. I haven't finished the book so I don't know where all of this leads, but an ah-ha moment occurred, a possible answer came to me about how these youngsters were so ruined. Sad.

Another connection that disturbs me is that we have had two family members murdered. My husband's brother was shot and killed on the streets of Philadelphia. We never knew why, except he was a drug user and lived mostly on the streets, so probably was drug related.

My nephew was shot and killed on the street where I lived as a pre-teen. The family lore is that a policeman was behind the killing, although a 16 year old actually pulled the trigger and was jailed. 

My nephew was in gangs during his teen years. He went to jail and was released at age 21. I had worked with him a few days on my parents house, a first where he and I spent time alone. He told me that in prison he had time to read. He began to realize he had choices even back then. He didn't have to choose gangs. He had always had choices. 

And now he was deciding what to do with the rest of his life. He sees his gang friends with gold dripping off them, girls on each arm, pockets thick with cash, and fancy cars. 

He was on parole, many limit's to his life. He could drive to his $5.00 hour job helping at-risk kids at a center, and drive straight home, no stops in-between. He wasn't allowed in the old neighborhood. And many other rules. He didn't make enough to pay rent so he had to live with his friend, a girl he was dating, but if he had a choice would not be living with her. He didn't tell me she was pregnant. That we didn't find out until he died. A month later his son was born, and has been a blessing ever since.

A story he told me was about two policemen: one who stops him regularly to see how he is, to ask if he needs anything, and who warned him to stay clean, especially since there was another policeman who was out to get him, and for my nephew to watch his step. The good policeman encouraged his working at the center.

The second policeman also stopped him, roughed him up, pushed him against the car, searched him, threatened him, and in general abused his power. Why this was happening I wasn't told. He just hinted that the cop was dirty, and was trying to keep my nephew in line, under his control, not to help my nephew.

When it came out that the Los Angeles Ramparts Police station was investigated and found to have abusive, dirty, dishonest cops who had gotten away with murder even, it became the opinion of many in my family that the abusive cop had something to do with my nephew's murder. Because my sister did not want to sit in court to watch the shooter's trial, nor did she want to pursue anything about her son's murder we all backed off in attempts to push the idea that we find justice for our nephew. I believed we were helping my sister in her efforts to move on in her life. Loosing her son caused a damage she has never overcome, and I doubt ever will, but she was able to marry a wonderful man, and have some semblance of sanity most of the time, and a good life with her grandson. 

In reading Mark's story though, it occurs to me that maybe we were mistaken and that had we pursued the truth, maybe her life wouldn't be as hard as it is to keep balanced. Every now and again I feel a knot in my stomach when I think of that policeman getting a way with murder, if he in fact had anything to do with it. I read the reports of the investigation of Ramparts and it seems many policemen were held accountable to wrong actions, and I hoped he was amongst them. I felt satisfied that it didn't have to be our exact detail. They did so much harm that if any of it was brought to light, I felt satisfied justice was done. 

But as I read about Mark's compulsion to find answers I question why we had none. Why I am so willing to let it go since we cannot change the outcome even if the guilty party is found. I do believe that on some level. And yet, there is a nagging doubt that makes me feel like a coward. A lot to think about.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Twitter, Photoshop, Clay and Fire

Learning technology is a challenge. The latest is Photoshop and Twitter. The amazing part of the process is how long it takes, how many failures I must experience before that ah-ha moment when I realize how easy the procedure truly is. 

Elsah Cort, the organizer of the Three Rivers Artist's Studio Tour, wants the artists to join Twitter. Being that Twitter is the latest rage in communication, or so the NYT's said, she thought it might help us do a little marketing for the upcoming tour March 19, 20, 21, 2010. So far a handful of the artists have jumped on board. How it will play out is hard to tell. But for me, it has pushed using this blog since there is a way to link from Twitter to here. 

I had started with Facebook since a few friends included me, and especially when I realized our daughter Delia using it, I jumped at the chance. Uploading images is easy and the way Facebook is organized captured me. Twitter, 140 words an entry, whereas Facebook you can write more. But Twitter has a link capability that I haven't figured out on Facebook, yet.  

The photographs now have the Haiku on them. I will mat them today, wrap them in protective sleeves and put on the bulletin board. It will give a chance to look at them for a while, to see if I like the result.

Last Monday I glazed the two masks and one coil pot that is in this batch of firing. All three survived bisque firing. The only crack was a very slight one on one of the masks. 

There is a rule we joke about at the workshop, "Don't fall in love with a piece until it makes it through the final firing. Anything can happen." Well, I do love the two masks I made this time. One is porcelain with colored slip that I put transparent glaze on the colored part, and the half that had the sliver of a crack. The other is more plaque than a mask, a sun/moon combination out of black mountain clay with colored slips that also have transparent glaze applied only on the slips. Both are beautiful pieces. It is a joke in the workshop that I do ugly really well, because  many of the masks I do are primitive. I still sell them to my amazement, but every now and again I do a mask that is really beautiful, and both these masks fit the bill. They have one more firing to get through. 

What could happen? The glaze instead of being clear like I want could be tainted with chemicals from other colored glazes on other pieces in the firing. Someone's could blow up, or mine could, if an air bubble is in the clay. They could stretch in the firing because it is so hot, and crack in ways that ruin it. Sometimes the cracks are a blessing. I sold one that the woman said, "It gives the face character." So to fall in love with your piece before it is done sets you up for huge disappointment! But I cannot help it this time. I really love these two masks and I hope they do fine in the firing.

Marn was over yesterday to see the mural Nadi Spencer finished for us the day before. The shed wall is empty of masks. "Where are they all?" Marn asked. "I sold them. That's all that's left," I said. "You'd better get busy and do more than one mask a week!" She's right. I look at the schedule of shows coming up, and the studio tour, in the next 6 months and I need more masks to sell. This is a great problem to think about. Do I bring clay home to work? Or go to the workshop an extra day? 

The stars are back and so is good sleep. Both Bruce and I slept the whole night in peace, a first since the fire. The trauma of opening eyes in the dark to find a raging fire next door that threatened lives and property shook us to our very souls. But as the week progressed the reality that no one was hurt, that no homes were burned, that because of firemen and neighbors and spring green of grass, trees and bushes it wasn't as devastating as it could have been. The neighbors did loose the tools of their trades, he construction, she a gourd artist, which is bad enough. 

The barn that burnt down blocked the stars from our bedroom window. Now I can see the hillside covered in oak trees. And since the neighbors were moving shortly anyway, I am not sorry the barn is gone. The moon has been with us this week, and when it disappears the stars will fill the window like they did when we first moved in.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Change is in the Wind

For years, I have awakened before dawn to write. I scratch black ink on white paper with a special fountain pen. The only rule, keep pen moving. In a half dream state I write, starting with the mundane of yesterday. Layers unfold. I find my own mind. I started this after 20 years of living in Synanon, as a wife, to living alone in one room. It was an avenue to explore where I had been, where I was now, and what kind of future to design. It served me well. 

Change is in the wind. I am now an artist. I work in clay, creating masks. Not sure why I obsess with faces, but I don't question, just make them. I do less writing than I used to. The first draft of the memoir has been waiting to be attended to. Does it need a rewrite or is it ready to be sent out? I do not know. But it calls me. And the Ink Quilts, an art form I invented, one for every chapter of the memoir, to be completed. They illustrate in collages of images, drawings, and "ink" quilting, instead of cloth and threads. 

Digital photography is my new play, learning how to take pictures, how to use photoshop, iPhoto, etc. Almost immediately I won awards for images. My husband pointed out that maybe I have found the art form, the awards an indication, when in writing rejection letters fill the files. Maybe he is right, maybe, not. I follow my heart, and it is taking me back to the memoir. Not enough time in each day to explore all that draws me.

I have had this blog for a while, only occasionally writing in it. Added photographs to it, but really hadn't figured out how to incorporate it in my day. Then along came Twitter. The Three Rivers Artist Studio Tour #9, 2010, had begun the preparation process. It was suggested we Twitter our art process. In learning how to get onto Twitter I discovered it could be connected to this blog site. The 140 words are not enough for me. Some of what I read on the site is a little self absorbed, at least the first impression, more like teens using cell phones to touch base. But I noticed fellow artist, Jana Botkins trail from Twitter to her blog, journaling about a mural project she is in the middle of , an Ah-ha, moment. 

So, I decided to start in my journaling on paper to get the boring stuff moving, but once I tap into what really matters I will move to this blog and finish the journaling process here. In Twitter I'll write the topic and tie it to the blog, to see where it all leads. Every time I take on a new learning process the excitement builds. 

Today I will finish framing the Yokohl Valley Rock Art images. Then I will notify Dick Burns, the photographer, to show him the five images. He wants to approve the quality and to be assured that they came from Yokohl Valley. Then once he approves, I will call Ken Woodward, the representative of the local Indian Tribes, to tell him Dick approved, and to make sure Ken makes clear to the Elders that I have no intention of selling the pieces in The Yokohl Valley Art Show in July, at Arts Visalia. The Indians are tired of everyone making a profit off their contributions except them, which I appreciate. 

I want to donate the pictures to La Sierra High School in Porterville, and I think Ken and the Elders will like this idea. Some of the students who flow through the school come from the reservation nearby and I think it is an appropriate place for these beautiful images to hang. Other kids come from South, Central America and Mexico, have Indian heritage, too, and might find them interesting. 

These photographs will be added to the many original art pieces we, and our artist friends, have donated to make the environment beautiful for the students attending the school. It looks more like an art gallery, than a school, something Bruce and I are really proud of.

The show in July is part of a process to stop Yokohl Valley from being developed as planned by the Boswell Corporation. The valley is over the hill from where I live, maybe ten miles as the crow flies. Mostly cattle ranchers own the land, except that which Boswell bought up over the years. He, too, used it for cattle grazing, but is in the process of turning his property into another Sun City, or Chula Vista, wall to wall suburbs, shopping area, gas station, golf course, etc. Housing for 10,000, and a vacation spot for up to 29,000 in total. Since no affordable housing will be available for lower income people, all who do the landscape work, housekeepers, gas station attendants, etc, will have to drive from quite a long ways from their homes to work there, thus more traffic on the roads, etc. And the most serious issue, water, is barely addressed when you ask questions of the planning commission who is giving permission for this endeavor. There are questions as to how the water will last for the existing people in our county since the water table lowers every year. We use more than Mother Nature can replenish and have for years. It is catching up with us. 

The Boswell project, I suspect, is on hold because the economy has tanked and who would be able to buy houses right now? Mr. Boswell died last week, so that might slow things down. His son is running the company, and I don't know how in control he has been with this whole idea. 

There is a push to try to get the Planning Commission to set a standard to build within, and around the existing cities in Tulare County and to leave the open spaces alone as much as possible. We certainly have enough small cities. But how to deal with the Private Property issue, "It's mine to do what I want," which is the majority view in this county. We haven't been known for looking at the whole of the county and planning ahead for growth in sustainable ways. It's mostly been who has the most money to influence that determines where we go. Boswell is a perfect example. He figured out ways to influence state and government to allow him to get as large as he wanted, even though the law of the land was to help keep farms in our country 160 acres at the largest, starting back with President Lincoln, who thought if we kept farming in smaller increments it would always be an avenue for poorer people to make a living, to feed their families and live on the land. The law was never really enforced thus Boswell, and many others, were able to grow enormous. I do admire the creative ways in which his workers improved and invented. But they also created situations that worsen our lot. Poisoned waters, interruption to wildlife, hampering diversity of people and agriculture (per "King of California," the book about Boswell's empire), and many other problems. Do I think we will stop the Boswell's? Not really.  But I never thought a man who looks like my sons would be President of the United States in my lifetime, so "hope springs eternal," as Emerson said.

Cloudy, gray, and cold day. More rain? Hope so.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Last Saturday I was in bed before 9, reading with husband, friend in guest room, her door closed. Bruce turned out his light but I continued to read for a few minutes. Then I turned out the lights. I closed my eyes and for some reason opened them again in the darkened room. The color orange filled the picture frame on the wall opposite. I thought, "Natasha must be doing something with lights?" But her door was closed. Then fear seared through me and I turned to the window behind. The barn was filled with fire.

"Bruce and Natasha, up. There is a fire," I yelled. I jumped out of bed and headed to the phone in the living room and called 911. She transferred me to the Fire Dept. I rushed outside to find Bruce and Natasha grabbing hoses to wet down the fence, bushes and the edge of our house. We are about 20 yards from the two story barn, a container, a wooden fence and plants between us. The fire was three stories high, reaching out of the skylights that had burst. Explosions filled the air, pop, pop, like gun shots. That's when I insisted we move the cars. Bruce grabbed his beloved bike, I grabbed the metal box with our legal papers, Natasha had her backpack, grabbed my camera and insisted I take more. I looked at her and realized I really didn't care about anything but Bruce's safety and hers. The rest could be replaced over time, but my friends could not. So we drove the cars down to a neighbors. 

It took the fire department 20 minutes for the first truck to arrive. We live in the boonies, and many small town fire departments must respond from long distances, and mostly volunteers fight our fires, so I was later told by a retired fireman, in the country 20 minutes is good timing. If you want faster, move to the city. A water loaded fire truck cannot go faster than 40 mph up a hill, something I never thought of before. Once they arrived they obviously knew what they were doing, making up for lost time, protecting the closest house,  the barn owners and mine, and the above hillsides of grass that would lead to more homes, and contained the fire. Some where in that 20 minutes the roof caved in, the noise terrifying, sparks flying, threatening the houses below. When I next looked at a clock it was 9:42 and seven fire trucks (2 small, 5 bigger) were every where, on the upper road, two or three on the property, and the rest on the road, lining up to bring in more water, then spraying their load, then heading back down to fill up at the hydrant about a block away, returning to line up.

I heard the firemen discuss water, a very big issue for our foothills community. Those of us using water hoses to spray nearby buildings had less pressure because we were all using the water at the same time. They used water to keep the fire in the center of the cement platform the barn was built on, and decided to let it burn out on its own. Someone watched all night, and into the next day to make sure it was truly out.

When night descends fear returns. When the sun appears the fear disappears. I guess that will go away with time. I am so grateful to the folks who appeared to help us all. I've never met some of the people before. I said out loud I need to call my son and a cell phone was put in my hand. I was too shaky to dial so she dialed as I said his number. Who was she? The man appeared and watered down our house. Thank you.

I am not sure, but I think I was the first to see the fire and call 911, close to 9. I had already called when the owners screamed behind a wall of bamboo, "Bruce and Shirley, fire." Bruce said, "Yes, we know and we called 911 already." Had we waited ten more minutes I'd be writing this from my sons house, probably living in a camping trailer, if we were lucky enough to wake up before our house went up totally in flames. The barn didn't take but minutes to fall down, so I suspect our small wooden house would take less. When others told me they called 911, it was busy, so many called at once, I figure around 9:20.

When the barn was built it stole our view of the hillsides filled with oaks, and the stars that filled the night skies. We were so disappointed since it was the stars that pulled us into Three Rivers. That is all back now. I am filled with joy at this view from my window, and sad that such beauty came at such a dangerous price. So many helped to save our community because so much was at risk. As Natasha said,  "It was a good fire drill. The grass is still green. We were lucky."

I do plan to make discs of my favorite photos, and writings and stick them in the metal box. It was foolish to think I wouldn't care down the road for the creative work I have done over the years. My neighbor is a gourd artist. She lost it all in the fire. I put myself in her place and know I must prepare better if there is a next time. Emergencies happen. And its silly to pretend they don't.

Twitter and Art

We are beginning the process to prepare for the Three Rivers Artist's Studio Tour #9, March of 2010. One of the suggestions is to Twitter, logging your artistic process along the way, thought to be another way to market our event. So I am in the learning process of how this blog and twitter connects. Will I have time to do both? I write every morning in a journal, scratching black ink on white paper, the old slow, messy way of putting thoughts to paper, searching to find my own mind on the life that unfolds each day, pen in hand, moving constantly the only rule. I cannot imagine a day without this pleasure. The brain and hand keep moving across the page, pulling out the mundane to find the important below it. When I take the writing to the computer, typing on a keyboard, it is different. It is work. It is editing to make it perfect, something others will see.

Monday, January 12, 2009

La Sierra High School Mural Project

Nadi Spencer and I were admiring her piece of art during an artist's reception at the Tulare Historical Society. It was a rendering of a finished mural done at the Three Rivers Elementary School. I had watched the students work on the mural each time I drove by and wished the students at my husband's school, La Sierra Charter High School, could have such an experience. Nadi told me what she charged and when she was free. 

Less than a year later, after receiving a donation from the Phylon Foundation, and a Grant from the Board of Supervisors of Tulare County, we completed two murals. The students worked along side this Master Artist, producing something beautiful for their school, learning to complete a complicated project, working together as a team, "Even with people you don't like," as one student wrote in a paper about the project.  

These students are at risk of drugs, gangs, and poverty. Horizons were broadened, 51 students hands made the murals, and had fun doing it. 

Two classes were held to plan the subject matter of the murals. Nadi put out a stack of images on a table and asked the students to walk around the table and pick out what they liked. As each student touched a picture, she'd ask them what they liked about it. Color, or shape, or style were the answers. There were three magazine pictures of masks on walls that the students picked up the most. They decided they'd like the idea of a wall of masks. Nadi asked what they thought if their faces were supper-imposed on the masks. We had our cameras and could take their pictures. They loved it. At least, most of them did. One boy refused to participate until we started taking pictures. He asked Nadi, "What if my hand hid half my face?" Her face lit up, "What a great idea. I was looking for another element to flush out the picture. Hands." So instead of being a resister, his idea enhanced the art. Notice the hands in the finished mural.

As we took their images, they said they wanted the staff/teachers on the wall, too. So we took pictures of the staff, who started out a little resistent, much like the students, but soon were caught up in the spirit. Nadi then used photoshop to design Mural #1.

The second mural is the school mascot, the falcon. It was suggested by a student in the beginning of the session. Two hours later an idea emerged. After much discussion about the safety net the students felt at school, since they live in the center of gang territory, fear is something they live with all the time, except at school, they said. A student at the end of the two hours suggested that the falcon's wings open, and under the wings animals curl up in safety. Each student could pick an animal to represent them. Again, Nadi took the ideas to photoshop and designed Mural #2.

The Principal, Jan Mekeel, planned to kick off a new art curriculum, a first for the school. The English teacher, Stephanie Sapien, was giving up a prep time to teach the art class, five days a week. They needed supplies. When the Grant was written I added money to supply the new classroom with art supplies. We also provided funds to hold an Artist's Reception, hosted by the Leadership Group of students who helped run the project and did most of the work. Parents, Board of Supervisor representatives, Artists from around Tulare County, and the general community came to celebrate the new murals and the work the students accomplished. It was a special evening.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Election is over...

...And a New Year begun. It's hard to wish everyone happy new year with two wars that we are engaged in, and one in Gaza, the economy tanking, and so forth. But hope springs eternal, and with the new administration maybe some of the negative will move in more positive directions over this new year. 

I have gone back to my regular middle names A. Blair and will leave Hussein to those whose mothers gave them that name, first, middle or last. We voted in the President I so wanted and soon he will be official the one and only. Right now the old is still there, and things feel headless, and worrisome. He keeps adding as many devastations as possible, and then throws in something good here and there. It will be a relief when the old guard goes.