Don't get me wrong, I love summertime as much as the next person...long, sunny days outdoors...nature trails, camera in hand...visits to grandchildren unencumbered by homework assignments...travel time adventures. It's all good... except for ....
THE CREATIVITY DRAIN!
Those long, lazy days can certainly drain the creativity right out of my brain! I was sure that a weekend of baseball games with the grandsons, followed by a few days soaking up the natural wonder known as Niagara Falls, would be just the ticket for fresh ideas for painting and printmaking.
I WAS SO WRONG!
I came home with some wonderful photographs and great memories, but not a single bit of motivation to pick up a paintbrush or even a drawing pencil.
UNTIL THIS PAST WEEK!
I no longer remember whether it was a Facebook post or an email, but somehow I discovered that the Dayton Art Institute "Language of Art" program had a book-related gallery tour coming up on June 27. That was only about ten days away at the time, but Amazon delivers quickly and I'm a fast reader, so I decided to take a chance on "The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories" by British author, Penelope Lively.
MEET MY NEW FAVORITE AUTHOR!
This book was a perfect introduction to Lively's writing style and sometimes quirky take on the human condition. Plenty of unexpected endings and a mix of past and present made each short story a delightful read on a hot summer day, but the whole time I was wondering how our DAI tour leader would relate these tales to art in the museum collections. I was sure that a trip to the Ancient Art galleries would be on the agenda since the first story in Lively's collection provided a bird's eye view of the life and times of ancient Pompeii at the time of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption that buried this once-thriving Italian city.
NOT QUITE CORRECT...
The title story was indeed the first one on the tour, but the artwork chosen for our discussion was Georgia O'Keeffe's "Purple Leaves", a lovely painting by one of my favorite American artists.. Purple pencils were distributed for some quick impressions, followed by a lively (sorry, couldn't resist!) discussion about the meaning of purple from the point of view of both artist and author.
Our tour included two other works, well-chosen for their connections to several stories from Lively's book. I came away with a new appreciation for artist Robert Brackman's "Life About Me", a wall-size painting that I had simply passed on by for years while on my way to view my favorites by Hopper and Wyeth.
SO, WHAT ABOUT BOGART?
Not just the famous American film star, but famous faces from another place and time, thanks to the amazing black and white photography of Yousuf Karsh. This exhibit of 48 iconic portraits, is on loan from the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through mid-September. I wasn't able to stay that same day to visit this exhibit, but returned two days later to soak it in at leisure. Photography was forbidden, but suffice it to say, that I was enthralled by Karsh's work. I had seen several of the photographs over the years in other contexts, but had never given a thought to who may have been the photographer. What a life he must have had, with the opportunity to fulfill his dream of photographing the movers, shakers, and history makers of the 20th century!
AND WHAT ABOUT THAT INSPIRATION?
As part of the Yousuf Karsh exhibit, the works of 20th century Dayton photographer, Jane Reece, were also on display. Unlike Karsh's sharp contrast black and white photography that so perfectly captures the personality of the individual, Reece's work has an ethereal quality with soft images and occasional color overlays with colored pencil and crayon. I've only dabbled a bit with black and white photography, and have much to learn, but I am going to get a few of my photos printed and give adding a bit of color a try in the coming weeks.
COMING NEXT...THE RESULTS!
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How did this book lead to a chance encounter with a fellow artist...in an airport gift kiosk, no less? Only in Key West, my friends!
And how did this chance encounter lead to my bringing home this print...signed on the spot by the artist himself? Or was he a clever imposter? And if so, why would he give away this print instead of attempting to pry the few remaining vacation dollars from my purse?
Let's backtrack a bit...
One of the highlights of my five days in Key West, aside from the beaches, of course, was a morning spent with a delightfully knowledgeable tour guide at the home of Ernest Hemingway. Her admiration for the man and his literary legacy were obvious and her meticulous attention to preserving his memory left me curious to know more. But, as is bound to happen when on vacation with friends, beaches and sunset cruises intervened, and scholarly pursuits were abandoned.
And then departure day arrived...
Let to my own devices after the earlier departures of my two friends, I wandered into the "Last Call Beach Bar" in the hopes of finding at least a magazine rack or newspaper stand for a little reading material to pass the time. Sure enough, around the corner and behind that soda vending machine, was a very small "Last Chance Souvenir Shop". I quickly spotted the bright red cover of "Hemingway's Key West", and walked over to see if this might suffice. As I was fanning the pages to determine whether to make the purchase, a gentleman dressed very casually in Key West style walked over and asked if I wanted to purchase the book.
Not ready to make a commitment, I responded by saying that I had found the tour fascinating and considered it one of the highlights of my stay because of the very engaging tour guide. Turned out that he knew her and that she was considered one of the best tour guides on the island...and here is where my encounter with the mystery artist really begins!
Our friendly conversation continued for a bit, as I had plenty of time until my flight, and as we chatted about my work at home as an art teacher and occasional artist, I noticed a small, hand-lettered sign..."Free print with any purchase". Of course, I was curious and upon asking was presented with this rather interesting print. The man assured me that it was signed by the artist, Michelle Kennedy, since he knew her personally.
Although this artist's style is not quite my taste, I thanked him and he began to roll the print to put it in a tube. Suddenly he stopped, turned to a rack with much larger prints, and said to me, "I think I have a print from the Hemingway House. Would you like to have it, too?" I was pretty certain that a sales pitch was forthcoming, but instead, the man pulled out several prints of watercolor paintings highlighting Key West landmarks. None proved to be of the Hemingway House, and he seemed a bit disappointed, but he turned to me and said, "You teach art...I'd like you to have one of these." Surprised, I chose this one of the oldest house on Key West.
"He smiled, confirmed my choice by saying, "Nice one, I believe", then proceeded to pick up a pencil, saying "This one's not signed," and quickly wrote a name in the corner of the border. He wrapped it up and handed it to me with a smile, and before I could say another word, wished me safe travels, spread the curtains behind the table with the cash box, and said, "Guess I'll get back to work now." Behind the curtains, I saw an easel with a partially completed painting, a watercolor paint box, and several brushes.
Had I met the artist...or just another interesting Key West character? Now I needed to find out who is he really was. Was he an unknown "wanna be" working at the airport kiosk to support a simple Key West lifestyle? Or was he someone more...someone who preferred a simpler life and a chance to meet people just for the fun of it?
As it was, I had a long day of travel ahead, with long layovers in two different airports. Plenty of time for a little research on the name "Kennedy" and any possible connections to Key West. And midway through a two+ hour stay in the Tampa airport, I found this link www.kennedystudios.net/index.php/robert-e-kennedy/florida/key-west.html. Robert Kennedy (no apparent relation to the famous Kennedy family in Massachusetts!) is indeed a watercolor artist with a gallery in Key West and several others up and down the East Coast. Although I couldn't find a reference to the print I was given on any of his gallery sites, the similarity was obvious...so I will always believe that I did, indeed, meet the artist in an airport gift shop kiosk!
I am a woman with many hats...artist, retired art teacher, Skillshare teacher, wife, mother, grandmother. In short, one very busy lady!