Tuesday, January 26, 2010

letters from Vincent

gallery talk about Vincent VanGogh's letters

self portrait by Vincent Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

I enjoyed a lecture on a Friday afternoon, but the take home message was even better! The lecture was on Vincent VanGogh's letters. They were missing 10 of the 12 VanGogh paintings the author intended to reference in Vincents letters but things happen and as it turns out those ten paintings were moved to storage to make way for renovations. Still two paintings for an hours talk were enough to keep us interested.
What I learned was that Vincent was a intelligent sensitive guy, he spoke and wrote 3 languages fluently: Dutch, French and English. He was dependent on several substances, like many modern artists, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and at one point lived for 14 days with only his coffee and cigarettes. He was a work- a- holic when it came to painting and drawing. He often completed paintings in a single day and one year painted 230 canvases. He only sold one of his paintings while he was alive which is what is so tragic I believe he is the most famous and popular painter in our time. Many people have studied his work and his letters to help us all understand him and his life better.

The reason the historian at NGA decided to do this talk about his letters, was to celebrate the completion by historians at the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam of a six volume collection of all his known letters which has taken since 1994 to complete. They collected all his known letters, scanned them, translated them and notated them. These historians sought out and researched all the art works and literature and people mentioned in Vincent's letters and combined all to create the definitive collection of the letters which take up six volumes. There completed work is now on the Internet for us to explore and study. I spent most of this past Sunday afternoon reading just a few letters online. Fascinating letters about the relations between Vincent and his younger brother Theo who was an art dealer in Paris and who supported him to become the great painter. According the the lecture Friday,Vincent wasn't crazy but he did have seizures and that is why he checked himself into a sanitarium where he painted the self portrait with dark blue back ground we see in the NGA's collection. Vincent wrote he is drawn and pale (green) because he wasn't taking care of himself instead focusing on painting. He also painted a second self portrait as he was recovering both to show his brother how much good going to the doctor's care did him and that he was fit to keep working at his passion of drawing and painting with Theo's support.
What I enjoy most about the website is that I can see a copy of the original long hand letters as I read an English translation and I can click on links that show me all of the paintings or drawings he is writing about if they still exist. Also I can find out who he is writing about in the notes that accompany the translation's texts. It is a brilliant experience using this Internet archive, way beyond any normal book. I think in some way better than a printed version could be but I would still like to have a look at some of the six volumes they did print.

Monday, January 18, 2010

living with ikebana a teacher

first form built of curly green willow branches
red twig dogwood
red twig dogwood designed to fit in a low triangular vase
green curly willow to fit this hand built Japanese ceramic vase

The past two weeks Keith has been working to begin teaching Ikebana lessons. His goal to be a Japanese Ikebana teacher began with many years learning the schools arrangement forms and parts. His instructor has been filling up a work book full of checks to prove to headquarters in Tokyo he has learned all the rules and forms. Now he has reached a new phase of his training in which he has repeat them all again building them from behind the arrangement, presenting them backwards as a demonstration is done for a class. Over the past two weeks he got to teach these sculpture forms to three classes. Culminating in the region's Sogetsu School workshop for twenty advanced Ikebana arrangers. It was very nerve wracking stuff for a guy who is a little shy. I know his work is strong and he was confidant in what he was doing and he did very well each time building up his nerve and experience. He was proud of his accomplishment and happy to be done Saturday when he returned home and unloaded his materials.
I got up today and decided I wanted to show off what I have been watching develop these last couple weeks. I built a make shift seamless back ground on the chilly porch studio table and shot these bar bones images. They are built to have flowers worked in between the sculpture branches. The sculptures are a sort of support and cage to enhance the flower arrangements. There is a third one that I didn't get to shoot because it was outside in the trunk of stocky cherry branches about 1.5 inches thick nailed together. These in my pictures are held together by tape covered wires that blend in so as not to distract the eye. I am very proud of my partner Keith and his achievement. I asked him to take his flowers and rebuild the arrangements because he didn't have time as instructor to make any pictures during his workshops. I excited to see how all the parts pull together to make the final designs. Join me in hoping he will post some pictures of his completed arrangements in the coming days to his blog and flickr.com pages.

Monday, January 11, 2010

winter is really extra cold

The other day we had one inch of snow that was powdery and didn't stick together because it is so cold here this winter. I noticed that the river was freezing over last week when I drove out to VA over the 14th St. bridge and thought that was unusual to see. This week local news shows us how cold DC really is by having a live reporter standing next to the frozen river front. They warn viewers not to venture onto icy river, lakes or other bodies of water because it doesn't freeze evenly and people are dying from hypothermia when they do break through. Last night a discussion ensued with my partner Keith about how kids would know to stay off ice. He says his mom always warned him to stay away from the icy water. I said we haven't had this much cold in so long parents might not have had any reason to warn kids to stay off frozen water until this year. Also on the local news the scene of rescue workers practicing how to rescue a person fallen trough the river ice was a reminder it isn't safe to walk on the river.
Late Sunday night CNN did a report about the extra cold weather this year. It was pretty exciting to get the first real meteorological explanation for all this cold weather around the northern hemisphere. A very large strong high pressure system over the Arctic is so strong that it has pushed the low pressure systems in the region we live in with the cold air down into the wind stream over lower latitudes. Vast areas of snow that has been dumped on all these unusually cold regions aren't warming up when the clouds leave due to the reflection of solar energy off the surface of the white snow covered land. Hopefully this is going to ease up later this week for a little bit more melting.
While writing I went to look up some more information and found a good report posted today on a Capital Weather Gang blog with some great NASA maps of average cold over the last month compared to the last ten winters. The cold in Europe looks really just like here only they got snow and wind with the extra cold and haven't had a break yet. The blog and CNN meteorologists both talked about the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and how this changes. This winter the CNN experts said AO was at a 60 year low. However now I am reading on Andrew Freedman's blog that the air in the Arctic is actually warmer this year Greenland has rain and unseasonably warm weather! My pal Jonny Jamtjord says in his arctic circle town Tormøs, Norway the temperatures are about 28ºC warmer than in the southern Norwegian capitol town of Oslo where it is extra cold today! In Tormøs they have darkness for several months too and he sent me a link to a slide show of what they see this time of year. So as cold as it is here in DC there are other areas that are experiencing the opposite extra warm weather. All of central Europe is very cold Russia and parts of northern China where they still use manpower to clear the roads with shovels and houses are colpasing from the heavy snowfall. We do live in a united world now more than ever. I suggest we enjoy the cold because the specialists are also predicting a hotter than usual year for 2010 after we get past our current cold spell.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

new year * new decade* new season

"snowbirds" juncos and a song sparrow feasting on seeds Dave brought home

Mom in her big chair moved to uncover the fireplace

"RECYCLE" stitches by Mildred Cunningham

handsome bird bag from Jenny and Frank

gingerbread cookies

fire place rediscovered

snowy fish pond seen from the kitchen window

I am hunkered down today hiding from the cold winds in DC and the very unusual cold air that is visiting this week from the far north. My pals Charlie Hamilton in Alaska and Jonny Jamtjord in Norway know all about this sort of weather but they venture out and walk on the snow. DC's snow vanished after the big snow-apocalypse with some warmer days and a lot of rain. Now the cold air is back with a vengeance only the snow hasn't returned. Winter is predicted to be colder and snowier than usual for DC this year and so far that prediction is dead right. This kind of winter is more like the ones I remember back in the 1960's with good snow for playing and lots of cold weather gear needed to endure being outside. Jonny goes walking on snow shoes every day for exercise and meditation. I wished I had some not long ago.
I wanted to slow down on new photo picture taking and work on scanning some of my drawings over the holidays while I had easy access to our scanner. When I got home from my visit I scanned 108 figure drawings and then transferred and edited them for emailing and posting on my web site.

Meanwhile Keith was trapped at home with his family in a black out caused by the snow storm that lasted all but two days of his 14 day visit and seven days without water because the power loss shut down their community pumping station. I only spent four days with my Mom and we had a blast and did not have much trouble with the snow. We made gingerbread men my favorite cookie. We worked cross word puzzles together, thank goodness for the big dictionary for cross words she bought last year! We even enjoyed a fire in the old fireplace on Christmas day. I got a very surprising gift from her and her pal Mildred Cunningham. It is a lovely needle point that Mildred stitched for me and my mom got framed so I could hang it here at home. I had no trouble finding a prominent place for it to hang next to my desk. Reading "No Impact Man" blog I have been thinking about the holidays and how to get the most out of it and one of the things he always recommends is spending quality time with your loved ones. I wanted to get quality time with my mother this year since it was just the two of us. My brother lives there with his dogs but they spend most of their time down in his room in bed smoking, only rarely coming up to join us to eat at home. He did come up to aid us in getting the dinning room table leg repaired. One leg split in two while Mom was moving it by herself. It appeared the pressure pulled an old dry glue joint too hard causing it to give way. We got that done pretty quickly after a trip to buy clamps and sanding paper. Funny that we had to eat on a card table for this Christmas day dinner because the big table was on it's side while the mended leg's glue was drying. I remember Holiday meals as children there were so many adults (aunts and uncles) that we had to eat at a card table just for kids. This everyone ended up eating on the card table. A Christmas to remember it was in many ways. We also enjoyed feeding the birds and squirrels on the deck with some seed brother David brought home. I left Manassas Sunday and came home to begin waiting on Keith to return.

Keith got home safely and was very happy to be back to our predictable warmth and hot showers and our familiar routines. We ate a nice dinner and celebrated the end of 2009 with gift exchanges and bubbling cider. This week we have been enjoying one of his Christmas gifts the series from AMC called Mad Men about advertising in the 1960's. This is the first time I have seen a TV series on DVD without the commercials
suddenly entertainment isn't so vulgar with all the advertisements gone! I read today that 30 % of American households record favorite TV programs and fast forward through the commercials which is cheaper than buying recordings of your favorite programs. This will be a happy new year and I wish the same to all my friends and neighbors.