Sunday, November 6, 2016

ON COURAGE

Courage, Final version_2014, 6 ft x 4 ft, oil stick, ink, acrylic, charcoal and gauze

Dearest Readers,
I’m thinking about courage today, walking through the woods musing on the possible definitions–trying to find words that explain my winged representation in the painting above. Courage is one of my three large works on human goodness currently on view through November at the Gilmore Gallery in the Peacham Vermont library. Several viewers at the show’s opening reception asked for reasons why I chose the imagery of wings. I stumbled through my answers. 

Wikipedia says, "Courage (also called bravery or valor) is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation." A romantic painting entitled “Godspeed!”, by Edmund Leighton (1852-1922) accompanied their definition.
Godspeed-Edmund Leighton

Courage for me is personal and entwined with the natural world. It is a pair of wings to wear in difficult times. It is a flying machine for facing death, inspired by birds and branches that reach for the sky. But this is only part of it.
Helping-Hand-Wings for Hazel Who Was Afraid of Death-21 in x 16in, ink and pastel on paper, 2003

After my mother died in 1997, I drew her a pair of imaginative wings made out of “helping hand” gloves, with velcro-fastened shoulder straps and headlights to smooth her transition from this life and beyond. I saw the fear in her eyes when the priest arrived to administer the last rights. I realized that I too wanted assistance at the end.
Cecelia at Hambidge Center with early Courage wings-Dec. 2009
Wings at Hambidge Center with shoulder straps and white "feathers"-Dec. 2009

In December 2009 during a month-long artist residency at the Hambidge Center for Arts and Sciences in the North Georgia mountains, I began my painting that I now call “Courage”. It was a long time coming. I found two branches on the forest floor and mimicked their wing-like curves in ink, acrylic and charcoal. I added eyes to see in the dark and strips of painted gauze as feathers that I later changed to pure white. I sewed my own pair of silk covered shoulder straps that fit my body perfectly. I could “wear” my courage on the wall.
Courage-mid-point 2010

Later the sky in the center changed from cheerful blue to a deep and cosmic blue-green blended by hand from oil-sticks. Planets and stars dotted the universe beyond.  I slashed two angled gashes in rough red paint and created a high color focal point in the middle.
Left to Right_Sally_Cecelia_Ruth in Hambidge mirror_2009

I sent the painting a year later as a gift to an Atlanta friend, Sally Wylde in hospice in Massachusetts with breast cancer. Sally and Ruth Schowalter, friends from Decatur GA in 2009 visited me during my stay at Hambidge when the painting took shape and Sally was going through chemo and radiation. We took a selfie in my Hambidge cottage bathroom mirror. Sally is left, Ruth is right. I’m the somber one in the middle. After Sally’s death in 2010, her husband Btitt Dean gave the wings back to me.  I kept it rolled up.

In 2013 I found the courage to unfurl it on my studio wall. I ripped off one foot of “superfluous” painting on either end. This was an act of courage to potentially destroy it, but now I needed to make it less personal and more universal.

I removed the “cutesy” straps at once, and in 2014 I painted over the all-seeing eyes that felt like they were judging. There. Done!

So, what is courage?
For me it is stepping out of a comfortable space and taking the risk to move forward into the unknown, trusting in whatever the outcome brings. It is not the absence of fear. It is releasing hold of safety, and free-falling into what must be done. It is accepting help and wearing the wings.





Tuesday, August 16, 2016

RACING HOME

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that (he)* who began it all
can feel you when (he) reaches for you.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
             translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows 
Book of Hours, II 1
                                                                                     *My parentheses
Dearest Readers,
Portland to Peacham, May 2016

Driving from Portland to Peacham this Spring was a 3,100 mile cross-country race home. I was outrunning the inevitability of a limited number of years left on this planet, and feeling the need to churn out the artistic questions about this love affair I have with the trees, forests, and the Green Mountains of Vermont–my ancestral home. This is the place where my great grandparents arrived from Ireland, escaping the Potato Famine of the 1840’s and the oppressions of life under English colonial rule. Some fought in the American Civil War a decade or so later, 
Peter Fagan-16th Vermont Infantry-Grand Army of the Republic
and most are buried in the same town of Rutland Vermont where they first put down roots, raised families, and where I spent the later years of my childhood. I am grateful to them for taking the risk of immigrating to a new land and making this place their home. 
Bridget Hickey Dunn

Margaret Conlon Fagan

Patrick Fagan in Civil War uniform

Thomas Dunn
Because of the Dunns, the Conlons, the Fagans and the Hickeys, I’m sitting in my 2nd floor bedroom scanning a vast sky over a lush green Vermont forest brimming with the inexorable creation and destruction that is the wildness of Nature.
My window view of sky above and forest  below at sunset
It is in me too. I fit into this landscape. My mind is the mind of the land interwoven with the continuous  progression of generation, growth, decline, death, decay, and regeneration. Outside my window is a cathedral. I stop, look and listen.
The Mother Hole-West Rutland Vermont 2012
If you remember, dear readers, I have in recent years burrowed myself a tunnel into the earth to satisfy my itch to claw into this Vermont-y-ness. I descended on a hand-lashed ladder, and I climbed out.
The Thinking Place-Peacham Vermont 2014-2015

More recently I fashioned a womb-like stick hut in the field outside my window. I cleared, I dug, I sawed, and wove the branches into a quiet thinking place. My friend Cynther added the leafy boughs.

Today the burrow is filled in, and the hut dismantled and rearranged into a pile of branches that has been home to hummingbirds, white throated sparrow and the ubiquitous, resourceful ground hogs.

Home is place, culture, memory, an old homestead, family, a community of friends and neighbors who help each other out, living gently and reciprocally on the land.

I call my road here in Peacham “the Hall of the Ancient Mountain Maples”. They too are weathered and stalwart. 

I feel the wind in my thinning hair. I walk and walk and walk my gnarly feet across the dark brown earth.  I turned 70 last week.