With the arrival of winter, I sure seem to be painting a lot of flowers. I painted this bouquet last weekend on a particularly gray day. I think I might be trying to conjure up my own imaginary spring.
On Saturday morning I was looking through a bunch of photographs on my computer trying to find old family photographs and other reference photos for my collage project. At one point I happened to stop on some photographs of Lake Superior that I took several years ago during a visit to Duluth.
I've always loved this photograph and I was inspired by the soft shades of blue to paint a few blue watercolor washes as I worked through various ideas for the collage. Then, I decided to paint my own little version of Lake Superior. I didn't really have time for the diversion, as I needed to be focused on the collage. But sometimes, unexpected diversions are good medicine. In this case, the quick little visit to Lake Superior was a welcome change. It didn't help me get any closer to completing the collage project, but that's ok. I think I just needed the trip.
Last week’s topic in MATS was wall art and the assignment was to create an abstract, collage-style piece of art containing florals and words for a retailer such as Anthropolgie or Urban Outfitters. Initially I had a hard time finding my way into this assignment, as it’s a different style than I’m used to working in, but as I started sketching ideas, I remembered that I’ve been wanting to create a more modern version of rosemaling, which is a decorative folk art that originated in Norway. For inspiration, I photographed a few of the rosemaled pieces I have in my house that belonged to my grandma. As I began to paint and collect items for the collage, the project cascaded deeper into my grandma’s life, as I found many of her things that I am now fortunate to have, including her handwritten lefse recipe, photographs, her fabric, and several sewing and crochet patterns.
My grandma lived in the same tiny community, Petersburg, Minnesota, for the first 94 of her almost 99 years. I’ve mentioned Petersburg before, and at one time it was a small, thriving, rural community with a church and a school and a creamery (where my grandparents worked and met), a store, and a gas station. The church is still there, but the school is gone, the businesses are closed, and it is now just a collection of homes near the crossroads of two highways.
As I began working on the assignment, pieces of this story -- of Petersburg and my grandma -- began making their way into the collage. The collage includes bits of her handwriting, crochet patterns, and photographs of the lace from her wedding dress and Petersburg, where she lived the majority of her long life. It also includes a striped pattern that I painted inspired by piano keys, as she played organ for our country church from when she was a teenager until well into her 90s. I realize this collage is more personal than "mass market” (I seem to have forgotten that the class is called “Make Art that Sells”, not “Make Art that Only Your Family Would Buy”), but as soon as I started gathering pieces of her life and this community, I knew that they needed to find their way into the collage. I initially thought about using photoshop to create a digital version where I would replace the pieces that are specific to my grandma with more general imagery and patterns for the final submission. But in the end, I decided to submit it this way, as it just felt right to me, even if it may not be exactly right for the assignment.
My grandma’s life was quite simple, but upon closer inspection, it was also quite extraordinary. By today’s standards, she didn’t have a lot of opportunities in life. She wasn’t able to go to college. They didn’t have a lot of money, and she lived the majority of her life two miles from where she grew up in a tiny rural village that slowly deteriorated from the thriving community of her youth into today's quiet shell of abandoned buildings and shuttered businesses. But she was always joyful, hardworking, and kind. She taught piano lessons, she played the organ every Sunday, she knitted, she cooked, crocheted, read voraciously, and wrote a weekly newspaper column for well over 50 years that chronicled the lives of people in Petersburg. That is not a simple or poor life. It is a rich life.
While finishing up the collage, I decided to add the word Velkommen, which is Welcome in Norwegian, as my grandma was very proud of her Norwegian heritage. In the end, this may have veered too far off the tracks of the original assignment, but I think my grandma would have looked at this piece and smiled and said, in her own pleasant way, “Well, that’s real nice.”
I added this new coffee cup print to my shop this week. My goal is to start adding new prints on a weekly basis. I’ve wanted to do this for a while now, but I haven’t been able to get any traction behind it as my focus inevitably wanders off to other projects and priorities. But releasing a steady stream of new illustrations, prints, and products is something I want to get better at. So you heard it here first… A new print each week for the next five weeks.
And now that I’ve said it, I’m excited. (And I hope that I can do it!)
A few weeks ago I shared some of my photographs from Decorah, Iowa, and here are a few more from that afternoon. Several were taken in the alley just behind main street. Small town alleys have become one of my favorite places to take photographs. They are more tarnished and textured, a bit more rough around the edges. I love the alley doors and chipped paint and the contrast in personality to the smooth brick facades of main street.
It's nice to look back on these photographs of a crisp, bright, fall day. It ended up being a great fall here in Minnesota after a bit of a rough start. This winter is having an equally rough start. Snow and icy roads arrived earlier this week and January-like cold temperatures are on the way. Hopefully it isn't a sign of what is to come for the rest of the winter. One can hope anyway.
It's always a hard transition when daylight savings time ends and the already shorter days suddenly become much, much shorter. Darkness by 5pm isn't fun, but November also has great light when the sun is shining. Yesterday was bright and sunny, and maybe I noticed it more knowing that it would be gone an hour earlier. Here are a few photographs from last night's sunset in southeast Minnesota, with a bonus flock of geese flying south and one bald eagle, which is silhouetted in the photograph of the red trailer. I'm back in Minneapolis today, but I'll try to remember this scene tonight when the darkness starts to creep in.