Henry Art Gallery, Seattle

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One of the first stops on my research trip this weekend was the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle.  The gallery is home to a handful of resources I’ve wanted to access as I write my story collection.

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It also turns out to be a pretty dynamic structure.  I like the way the domes and arches of the older building juxtapose against its modern glass cylinder and trail of pyramids.

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Lately / Ceramics

During my month of transition from this phase of my life to the next new journey, I took a ceramics class up at Baltimore Clayworks.  I’ve always had an acute tactile awareness, which is partly why I’m so drawn to textiles and ceramics.  So I thought it would be good for me to learn the wheel at last.

This is part of a longer process for me of reclaiming a sense of belonging and freedom in visual art.  It’s so creatively enlivening to explore these second mediums — ceramics and drawing and film photography.  It adds a loosening and layering to my primary creative work in fiction.

Learning the pottery wheel wound up being particularly apt at this moment as I get ready for my research trip, which includes a study of Japanese ceramics.

And I love this little olive dish I made.  It’s being bisqued while I’m away, and when I come home in March, I’ll glaze it and send it downstairs to the kiln to be finished.

Reflection

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Every day I walk by the Persian carpet store down the street from my apartment.  A few months ago, I caught the reflection of the buildings in the rug store window.  It looks almost as though the Mt. Vernon row houses are a design emerging from the pattern in the carpet.

Of course, as a textile enthusiast, I am always going to be attracted to to the designs and textures of carpets — and I particularly like this one.  I also love to the architecture of these old, nineteenth century Mt. Vernon row houses, with their brickwork and arcs and ornate entrances.

So I am drawn this layering of pattern and texture.  The resonance of organic and geometric shapes and warm color in both the cityscape and the Persian carpet, the way they interplay.

The image feels right just now: this resonance, this layering of place.  Back in the fall I mentioned that I received the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance’s Ruby Grant.  This winter I’ll use part of that grant to take a research trip for the last two stories in my collection.

That means that I’ll be away from my much-loved neighborhood for a little while, as I complete this book which spans from Baltimore to Japan to Hawaii to Seattle.  This story collection that layers refractions of place as its characters move across a shifting globe in the wake of war, and transport their complex webs of belonging.

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These photographs of Dulkarian’s Persian Rug Co. are part of an interest in Baltimore windows that seems to have taken hold this past year in my photography (see here).  In the coming weeks, I’ll write about my research travel, but I’ll also continue to post a series of these Baltimore windows.

In that way, I can layer place here in my studio space just as in my story collection.  I look forward to taking you all along on the journey!

Milk & Honey

I’ve been doing a lot of research for my book this week.  On Sunday afternoon, I decided to carry my research material across the neighborhood to Milk and Honey for some fresh air and a change of scenery.  I’ve been to this cafe a few times since I moved in last winter, but usually just as a brief stop on my way someplace else.  It was nice on Sunday to be in the open sunlight of those big windows with a wall of paintings and an expanding page of notes.

Last summer, on a stop in Milk and Honey, I took some pictures of their windows.  I love the industrial gold-dome lamps against the daylight, and the layering of cafe and church.

Blossoming / Ruby

When I moved into my new apartment almost a year ago, a dear friend mailed me a molten lava hibiscus so that my book (a collection of short fiction set in World War II Hawaii) would have a presence in my new space.

Earlier this month, I got some good news.  The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has awarded my project a Ruby Grant — funds that will make all the difference as I finish the manuscript.  This support couldn’t have come at a better time.  And to prove it my hibiscus plant blossomed for the first time — three massive dessert-plate blossoms — the week the news arrived.

There will be some exciting book progress to share in the months ahead.  In the meanwhile, you can learn more about the manuscript in the Ruby Grant announcement.

Old Records

As I write one of the last stories in my book, I’ve been listening to a lot of music.  On a trip to the Poconos this weekend, I took advantage of a record player at the Airbnb house I rented — and a sale at the music shop in town — to stock up on a few records from the 1930s and 40s.  Yesterday morning I listened to some late-20s Bessie Smith recordings.  It felt good to listen to Bessie on this old album, through tinny speakers.  Music has wound up having more of a presence in this book than I’d anticipated.  I’m waiting to see how it manifests in this new story.

Wyeth

One day when I was in Maine, I went up to Rockland to see the Farnsworth Art Museum.  By pure luck I happened to make this trip the day the museum stayed open late.  Which meant that I got to explore the museum’s main building at leisure, take a break for lobster, and then head back over to the museum again.

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The Farnsworth has a number of good exhibits and collections — including an interesting special exhibit on Shaker design — but its collection of Wyeth paintings is really the heart of this museum.  I’ve known Andrew Wyeth’s work tangentially over the years, but don’t know that I gave his paintings as much thought as I might have.  In person I found his work deeply compelling.  There’s such a subtlety in his brushwork, a patina that requires in-person viewing to fully understand.

The museum also does a great job contextualizing Wyeth’s work, both through its placement in galleries and special exhibits, and through thoughtful interpretive plaques.  I especially appreciated reading Wyeth’s reflections on his own creative process, which struck me as grounded and generous.  On his use of tempera, he wrote:

 “I love the quality of the colors: the earths, the terra verde, the ochers, the Indian reds, and the blue-reds. They aren’t artificial. I like to pick the colors up and hold them in my fingers. Tempera is something with which I build — like building in great layers the way the earth was itself built. Tempera is not the medium for swiftness.”

When I got to the Farnsworth’s Wyeth Center, a satellite gallery located in a repurposed old church across the street, I was the sole remaining visitor for the museum’s last hour.  Which meant that I had the galleries — and a small group of dedicated exhibit docents — to myself for a little while.  It was helpful to learn more about the entire Wyeth family — work by all of whom was on display — and to have long, solitary moments in front of paintings like In Her Room.

Part of what appeals to me so much about the Farnsworth’s Wyeth paintings is their predominantly Maine context.  The light and coloration and portraits of lobstermen resonate with me.  Perhaps in part because of my own long and early connection to that landscape.  But there’s also something deeply meditative about the experience of these paintings.  After leaving the museum, I walked along the long stone breakwater, out into the dimming night.  Local men were walking barefoot along the rocks to fish, rain was coming.  It felt like the space I needed to digest these paintings, this experience of place.

Wyeth’s reflections about the creative process are so often true across form and genre.  “I dream a lot,” he wrote.  “I do more painting when I’m not painting.  It’s in the subconscious.”  So true of writing, too.

 
p.s. For those of you not able to get to the Farnsworth, the National Gallery also has a special exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s window paintings titled Looking Out, Looking In, on view through November 30.  I’m so looking forward to stopping in DC to see it.
   

Maine Studio

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When I was in Maine last week, I spent my mornings re-immersing myself in my book.  I’ve been doing some work on the last two stories in the collection, slowly unearthing their threads and helping them find their shape.

It was a beautiful place to write: with spindling pine trees outside the window, and between them the bright blue spark of the cove, dotted in bouys.  Inside, a long low bookshelf cluttered with well-worn books, and my own stack of afternoon reading.  I miss waking up to that view, that stretch of time with my manuscript.