Melt, Mend, Meld

Melt-to cause to disappear gradually

Mend- to make (something broken or damaged) usable again; to heal or cure

Meld- the definition of meld is to cause things to combine or blend and become one thing or substance, a blend of various things.

  In the Northhomesteadeast, we still have a small scattering of snow piles, remnants of this past wicked winter.  It was brutal on many fronts and a true test of our wills.  In addition, right in the middle of it my family had a medical crisis, which resulted in a 16-day hospital stay for my husband.

  Just as soon as the hospital stay part was over, I suffered a HARD fall that wrenched my knee and body, leaving me with even more aches and pains.  I feel like I have been crabby most of the winter for one reason or another; my knee or feet hurt or the weather predicts snow–again.

   First off,  I would like to thank everyone for your prayers and meals and generosity during our recent medical crisis. We are now on the MEND hoping to MELD and focusing on the new normal life has given us.  We are blessed, we survived.  Now, if the snow would MELT my antsy husband can get back on his bike again! You see, his passion is biking.  For him, his passion is feeling the wind on his face and through his hair which allows him to lose himself in his thoughts on a bike trail. 

   I understand it. For me, it is losing myself in a drawing or painting, creating something from nothing.  I have always liked to draw.  It’s cheap and portable. Just a pencil and a piece of paper.  And it’s true, the more you draw, the better you get at it.  But I think I have also reached a point in my adult life where I go out of my way to create art challenges for myself just to see how I’m going to solve them. For me, this is the thinking that artists do; it keeps my brain alive and challenges my critical thinking skills, like Sudoku. (which I don’t do but hubby does.)photo 4   During this stressful time, one of the things that brought me great comfort was drawing.  For a while now I have hoped that I could get back to the point of life when I nine.  I loved drawing and could actually lose myself in drawing.  You know how that is, you are doing something so intensely that time goes by. You look up and you are not even sure of where you are or what time it is anymore.  For that small time, you have  disappeared to a world of your own creating.

Sublime.

   Joseph Campbell (1904 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: “Follow your bliss”, calling this altered state of consciousness “Bliss” state.  Others might say “Zen”, in pottery it is referred to as “becoming centered”.

 So that is how you get lost in a drawing.  On the other hand, maybe it is in getting lost that we truly find ourselves.

  It’s strange that my recent personal challenge brought forth the opportunity to have that kind of experience again.  I remember President Kennedy saying, When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.

  For me being able to say to myself, “for 30 minutes every day while you’re at your husband’s bedside you are going to let yourself go and enjoy drawing while he rests”, was a true lifesaver.  It kept me sane and recharged my batteries.

 That is one of the reasons I am so passionate about nurturing art in our children. Not only is art fun, it gives you creativity and problem-solving skills, and it can give you coping skills.  Learning to express yourself through the arts can give meaning to an ordinary day.  It really is not about whether you are good enough or not; or whether your things look nice or pretty, or not.  It’s about the experience that you have.   Another great thing about drawing is you get to use your imagination, which is wonderful.

 In the past year, I have definitely spent more time drawing.  In addition, I am rebuilding some good habits.  I turn away from electronics and internet.  I clean off my kitchen table and put some music on.  I may start with a doodle and then ask myself; what is it?  What do I want to make it become?  What would be the first thing I would need to draw to make that happen?  How can I convince others that this line, this Three Blind Micedoodle, is really a mouse? How about a momma mouse with babies?  Oh, she would need a baby carriage then.  What if she had three mice babies and they were blind just like in the fairy tale?  They would probably be squirming everywhere.  Would she really be so exasperated as to cut off their tails with a carving knife?

 So, it starts with pencil and quickly jumps into mixed media to make it even more three-dimensional, oh, and she’s an old school Italian mouse.  She wears black lace on her head, (is it her disguise?) or maybe she just came from Mass at the old Catholic Church down the block.  Did she pray like I do, for God to “either lighten my load or strengthen my back?”

 Drawing also makes you pay attention.  If you really look at something and you study it whether it’s a finger or a leaf of a plant or sunlight or how shadows bounce on a cup then you really pay attention.  You notice differences and details and it is a gift because you get to see beauty where once you might have looked and seen none at all.

 Like many people, we have been bombarded with snow this winter.  Piles and piles of it and although we are luckier than many Midwestern states, we are all tired of seeing snow.  One thing I realized is when you see that much snow and it never goes away I started noticing subtle color differences in the snow.  And not just yellow or ash gray (eww).   A closer look reveals undertones depending on the time of day how much sun is shining and what the weather is like. Sometimes it is a light blue or a pale lilac and a very soft cocoa brown color.  Then I noticed sometimes the white snow looks more like ivory or cream and that makes a difference because now I am interacting with the landscape and I am paying attention on a level that I was not before. 

 I first learned of this technique while studying the work of Frederick Franck. He was a painter, sculptor, and author of more than 30 books on Buddhism and other subjects who was known for his interest in human spirituality. He was a native of The Netherlands and became a United States citizen in 1945. He was a dental surgeon by trade, and worked with Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa from 1958-1961.

 His sculptures are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Fogg Art Museum, the Tokyo National Museum, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.   His major creation, however, was a sculpture garden and park adjacent to his home in Warwick, New York, which he called Pacem in Terris, or “Peace on Earth.” In 1959, Dr. Franck and his wife, Claske Berndes Franck, purchased for $800, the 6-acre property, the site of an old gristmill, which over the years had become a dumping ground. They opened Pacem in Terris to the public in 1966. More than 70 sculptures adorn the property, which is now operated by a nonprofit organization.

  I encourage you all to discover his work and to start paying more attention to the “little things” more closely.  The exercises in seeing that his work is based on are simple and  fun.  It is a game you can play anywhere much like “I spy”.  When you start noticing how many colors of green there are you start noticing there really is a lot of beauty in the world. 

  Lastly, I have some news from my studio. I was thrilled to have won first prize for one of my new mixed-media pieces in a very solid art show!  I have included a couple of sketches of my recent colored pencil works. Some of them are still unfinished. I am also developing a new drawing class for colored pencils that I am excited about.  My Art & Soul studio is back up and running offering classes for children and adults in painting, drawing, sculpture and sewing.  I am also a “teacher on the go” again.  I have recently become a registered Merit Badge Instructor for Boy Scouts of America and I am an experienced Workshop Instructor available for retreats.  Contact me, if interested.

 I have some fun art apps for your smartphones, if you have one. The first is Blenduko. It is fun and a great way to develop you “value scales” in art.  The other one you probably have already heard about is “Draw Something” which is a funny thing to play with among friends or with Internet connections.  

 I have also been working online with digital art using the Sketchpro program and my new Sensu digital brush, which is a very weird and interesting tool that I hope to play more with in the future. That is the thing about being an artist, you know we do not ever retire; we just keep looking at what is next.

 Books to recommend; The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd 

Your Life Calling by Jane Pauley owl

Divergent by Veronica Roth

David and Goliath, underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants by Malcolm Gladwell (Surprisingly, underdogs DO win more often than not)

 Again, I want to thank everyone for your prayers and kind thoughts, meals and gift cards, and for not forgetting us. I know WordPress is a pain, asking you to join before you can leave a comment, but please do.  I love to hear feedback and make connections with other people. I hope that this post will encourage you to develop passion in your life about whatever excites you and “charges your batteries.”  I know that drawing is a great tool that can help that and it can be a beautiful art form in its own right.

 Creatively yours,

Dianna Mammone

Things Revisited

Where to start?

I have put off writing this blog entry for a variety of reasons.  Not simply being busy or overwhelmed, well, maybe overwhelmed.  The topic I was going to write about was “things revisited”.

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In progress

The idea that the skills and experiences we learned as children can serve us well as adults.  For instance, remember when they had Home Economics class in school?  The class that taught you a bit about how to cook and sew.

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Lillie, Mixed-media

I was stubborn and rebellious in my 8th grade class taught by Mrs. Bain.  (It’s funny, you always remember the really good or bad teachers by name.  Mrs. Bain was a bit of both).  She was into precision and I just couldn’t deliver.  I thought the skills she was teaching were equivalent to algebra, something I would never really use in life. She taught us how to make a ridiculous salad that was supposed to look like a candle for Christmas with a banana, pineapple and maraschino cherry.  Who lives like that?

But, the sewing thing got my attention.   Maybe it was the idea of making a two dimensional thing into a three dimensional thing, trans formative and creative.  My seams were uneven, my zipper puckered, and yet she taught me how to hem pants, sew on buttons, and make an apron and a skirt.

I have continued sewing throughout my life, in both traditional and non-traditional ways.  I have made art dolls, aprons, my children’s clothes, and once when I was very poor and couldn’t afford curtains I ironed brown paper bags open and sewed them into cafe curtains.  They looked so nice people were envious. (smile)

Over the summer, I usually ask my drawing students if they want to learn something new since we usually have more in-depth studio time.  Some of my drawing students this year asked me to teach them how to sew.  These sewing classes have kept me sane and I’m having so much fun!  My daughter was never interested in sewing, so in a way this is kind of revisiting this craft. It also helps to find kids between the ages of 11-14 who are creative and into discovering new things.  And so, we sew.  Flannel pajama pants, pillowcases, banjo straps and catnip toys.

That’s what the topic was going to be about, and then

The sudden, unexpected reality that my husband is having a serious health crisis that will require surgery.  Our lives are blown apart. We are terrified and shocked as we wait for a surgical date.  We clean, paint, bike, and repair around the house to keep busy. We read and pray and do anything we can to distract us from our fear.  And we wait.

We are caught in limbo, not knowing exactly when surgery will take place or what the recovery will be like.  We can’t make plans or commit to anything because we just don’t know.  Yet, life goes on.  We get up, get dressed, put one foot in front of the other and muddle through our lives, numb.

So I’ve put off writing this because I couldn’t figure out what to say.  I guess I could just not even mention it but for some reason, to me that doesn’t seem honest and I will tell you why.

I teach a child that has severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Really, seriously. I  talked to the parent and asked her how I could help her child.  She said that the psychiatrist told her that whenever she makes a mistake to bring it to the attention of her child and show him, “see, even grownups make mistakes.”  The Dr. explained that our culture has become so “edited to perfection” that kids don’t have positive role models that show life is sometimes a struggle and unpredictable.  We need role models to show the reality of humanity.  That there is joy, but also despair. That we get frightened, that we struggle, that we persevere.  And so, this blog entry will perhaps share my humanity.

I’m glad I have my Faith. Much like sewing, it has been something I had early exposure to and struggled with.  At times feeling much like sewing; bumpy and uneven, messy.  My Faith today is hardly recognizable to the religion I was exposed to in my youth.

A few years ago, I learned about sword making.  I learned how the metal is heated and tempered repeatedly making it stronger each time. Tempered, what a great word. As defined by Webster, brought to the desired hardness or strength by heating and cooling. I feel that way about my faith these days.  It’s strong from years of questioning, searching and studying. Tempered.  In sword making, realigning particles on a molecular level.

Does this make any sense?  This idea that things we are exposed to as children can revisit us as adults and make us stronger, more skilled? More marketable?  More creative?  Can it make me more as brave as Malala?

So, this is my blog post.  This entire, wandering miasma.  I can’t put a happy bow on it or tie it up pretty.  It is what it is.  However this idea of “skills revisited” intrigues me.  Before I sat down to write this, I had a dozen examples in my brain and obviously, that file has been deleted.

I’m sure as I continue to work in my studio getting ready for Christmas shows that I will start writing them down.  In the studio, I am busy painting large wooden Father Christmas sculptures, snowmen.  And, with my friend and student Lisa, we are busy firing the kiln with plates, trays, candle holders and more.  You can see more pictures on my Facebook page and email for show information if you are interested.Thanks for listening, prayers welcomed.

 

Witness Trees

Witness Trees

In a town 10 minutes away from me, a majestic red oak was cut down this week.

Majestic. It’s not often we hear that term anymore. The town paper referred to it as a” decayed icon.” The final portion of the tree left a stump three feet across and the last piece removed weighed 20,000 pounds. The inside was decayed leaving a three-foot wide gaping hole in its center.

In recent years, I have been drawn more and more to trees. As a child growing up in Michigan and Tennessee, I climbed them, picnicked under them, ate their fruit, and hung a swing from them, all while taking them for granted. It wasn’t until I recently started hearing the phrase, “Witness Trees,” that my thinking about trees took on a deeper meaning.

Robert Michael Pyle writes, “A witness tree is a large tree so situated that it can serve as the reference point. The Umbrella Tree, a huge Douglas fir near Deep River, Washington, was a famous witness tree saved from logging for that purpose. In his book A Witness Tree (1942), Robert Frost describes one in a poem called “Beech”: the title tree, having been “impressed as Witness Tree,” allows truth to be “established and borne out, /though circumstanced with dark and doubt.”

“Witness trees,” designated as such by the National Park Service, are venerable specimens on Park Service properties, trees that have “witnessed” key events and people in American history. These might be a Civil War battle, a president, or a runaway slave. When witness trees are so old they’re on the verge of collapse and have to be felled, they’re sometimes turned into wood chips — an ignominious end for something once so proud. The Park Service is legally bound not to sell wood from the trees.

Just think, the tree in my neighborhood was standing before the birth of our nation and before George Washington’s retreat over the Hackensack River to New Bridge Landing. When it was measured in 2010, it measured 80 feet tall and close to 200 feet wide. The trunk was listed as 70 inches in diameter.

In some ways the witness trees are like “The Giving Tree” of Shel Silverstein’s children’s book. But unlike that tree, which had nothing left to give by the end of the story, at least some of the Park Service’s trees can be reborn, thanks to modern science. They’re propagated through genetic cloning, and the clones are replanted where their parents once stood.

This past winter, National Geographic profiled the trees in Yellowstone Park, home to some of our nation’s largest and oldest trees. They had a two-page pullout that showed the size and grandeur of these trees made even more remarkable by the ant-sized scientist in a red jacket, perched high up into the tree, collecting data. National Geographic does this so well.

I carefully pulled out the photos and posted them at eye length of my nursery school students. The kids are naturally curious. When they saw those trees—-it takes a lot to impress kids these days, but that day they were wowed. Those photos were part of an ongoing conversation for many days to come. We learned that the trees were each named. And from the scale of the photos with the scientists in the trees the kids really got a sense of wonder and awe.

A living witness to history—-
Awe is a good thing at any age.