The whole experience at the John C. Campbell Folk School was so great, I didn’t want to leave.
So I didn’t.
Okay, I admit I was already booked to stay an extra night to avoid having to pack up and move back to the Holiday Inn before my Sunday flight out of Chattanooga, but still. I was delighted to prolong the Folk School high. I just didn’t expect it to be so lonely.
I had spent some time Saturday with Mom in Murphy, dodging raindrops and browsing galleries and shops, but then I drove back to the Folk School to start packing and to take advantage of a pause in the rain to shoot a few final photos.
The sudden quiet was a little unnerving after the bustle of the week, and I wasn’t sure what I would do with myself in the evening after I got back from one last dinner with Mom and Dick. My wine buddies had all gone home. But then I noticed a flyer that there was to be contra dancing that night in the Community Room. I decided to go watch.
Well. That’s not really how they do things at JCCFS. You don’t watch. You do. So next thing I knew, people were introducing themselves and teaching me the steps, and I danced until I begged for a pause to get a drink of water. It wasn’t hard to pick up, although I had a few random lurches in odd directions. But as the caller said, if you didn’t do what he called, it wasn’t wrong. It was different. So much fun, and I’m glad I went, but I ducked out early to finish packing up.
Sunday morning, the sun was breaking through as I loaded the rental car and drove down the hill to Keith House to make myself a cup of tea and bid the place farewell.
At some point during the week, digging through the heavy bag I carried to and from the painting studio, I noticed in the bottom a small, smooth, black rock, the perfect size to fit in the palm of my hand. It startled me at first, seeing it there, but I knew what it was. It was a grief rock, given to me during my earliest grief counseling in a group for the newly bereaved. It was meant to be something solid to hang onto, something smooth to soothe the ache. But it also had a little weight to it. I had another one at home on David’s dresser. That one was not going anywhere. Not anytime soon. But this one? Did I really want to continue carrying a memento of grief with me everywhere I went? No, I decided. I was ready to let it go.
So in the freshness of a glorious sunny Sunday morning after a week of rain, before I got in my car to drive away, I held it in my hand for a moment, then I left that stone among the daffodils just beginning in earnest to raise their heads and shine with gold.
I left something behind that needed leaving, but I brought home so much more. And I’ll be back. I hope to see you there with me someday.
The week flew by, and by midday Friday we were all choosing and/or finishing a few examples of our work to display in the Community Room for what the schedule calls “Closing Ceremony” but people actually call “Happy Clappy.” Love that. Here’s where we could finally see what had been produced in all the various studios. Like these bowls from the woodturning class:
And this candelabra from Metalworking, which happened to be “Hammered Copper in the Arts and Crafts Style” this week (by one of my housemates, Stuart Lenz):
And this table from Woodworking:
I showed you in the last post some of what they were making in blacksmithing. There were also classes in glass fusing, clay tile making, hand-stitched book binding, mountain dulcimer, and more.
Here’s the display from my watercolor gouache painting class:
Here’s a better shot of my “Loose Goose Spruce” painting, so called because the brush I used is called a Loose Goose brush.
I wanted you to see it, because just after we got everything set up, a woman from the fused glass class came over and asked me if I sold my work. What?! I was so discombobulated, I think I said, “Uh,” and turned around and walked away laughing to tell Mom and Kathy! Excellent salesmanship, right? But she was persistent. When I wandered back toward the painting display, she said, “I’m serious. Give me a price. And take a photo, because I’m leaving here with it.” So I sold it to her. She made my day. I was smiling so much my cheeks hurt.
Then Kathy said, “I can just see David going, ‘Yes!'” as she pumped her fist. As soon as she said it, I could too, so the tears threatened, but I didn’t stop smiling. I think I floated to dinner.
Then we all came back to the Community Room for a mountain dulcimer concert with Don Pedi, which included hilarious stories and flying-finger tunes with catchy titles like “Jenny Broke Her Wooden Leg A-Dancing at the Ball” and “I Love My Wife As Well As Anybody, But When My Back Is Turned, She’s A Huggin’ Everybody.” You can click on his name above for a link to his website, or search for him on YouTube, and you should, but neither will quite capture the fun of his live performance. It was the perfect cap to an evening called “Happy Clappy.” There was a lot of both.
Wishing you many happy-clappy evenings of your own!
As you know if you’ve read the last several posts, I just spent a week at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and what a joy it was. It didn’t even matter that it rained all week. The people were warm and friendly. The teachers, highly skilled craftspeople all, were nevertheless patient and encouraging. The weather, though wet, was warm, and the grounds were beautiful and blooming.
I didn’t have much chance to hike around snapping photos, but here are a few I managed between deluges:
And yes, that is a giant tree in the bottom right photo that fell over due to the soggy soil. Yikes. On the plus side, I got to wear my fab plaid rain boots all week and splash through the muck like a little kid.
Mostly, though, the classes were so interesting, we didn’t mind being inside. If you need more convincing, check out this great video. As well as excellent instruction . . .
. . . there were several demonstrations offered after studio hours, so Wednesday evening Mom and I braved a downpour to check out what went on at the blacksmith shop. Here’s Paul Garrett, resident blacksmith at the Folk School, during a demonstration for those like me who had only a vague image of blacksmithing as just heating stuff up and banging on it with a hammer:
Okay, yes, technically he is banging on hot stuff with a hammer, but of course there’s a lot more to it than that. The temperature of the steel, the timing of the quenching, the tool used for striking, the placement of the strike, the position on the anvil, all come into play. And more, I’m sure. I still know next to nothing about it. I can’t even promise I have the vocabulary right. But check these out. Here’s what he was teaching the blacksmithing class to make:
Exquisite. The evening of the demonstration, in about 45 minutes, he made a simple square-edged nail, a beautiful little hook for hanging on a wall, one of the delicate ginkgo leaves you see above, and then showed us how to fashion the perfect twist you’ll find on a lot of wrought iron railings. Bonus: Here’s part of the building where he gets to work:
So much beauty and excellence everywhere you looked. Once I could take my eyes off myself and my fears and inadequacies, there was so much to admire and appreciate. If you know me at all, you know opportunities for gratitude are some of my favorite things.
So, thank you, Kathy Chastain, for cheering us on, for showing us the same thing multiple times until we got it, and never letting us give up on a painting.
Thank you, Deborah Rossi–book binder, repairer, and conservator extraordinaire–for the fascinating demonstration of limp vellum binding and the intricate hand stitching required.
Thank you, Paul Garrett, for the fun, fiery demonstration on that rainy evening, and for patiently re-explaining, when I accosted you at breakfast, various details I didn’t get the first time around. (And thanks for making us wear safety glasses!)
While I’m thanking people, thank you to my fun housemates, Linda Martin, Sarah and Stuart Lenz, and patient David Frick, who rarely joined us, but never complained if we were up a few minutes past the 10:00 p.m. Quiet Hours deadline.
And, of course, thank you, everyone at JCCFS who makes these weeks possible. We’re not done yet! Next up, Happy Clappy.
Wishing you endless opportunities to appreciate excellence!
Sunday afternoon, the 17th of February, Mom and I left Murphy for Brasstown (a ten-minute drive) and headed to the Folk School. We were still a bit early, so we wandered around Keith House . . .
. . . until we were finally allowed to check in and find our lodging. This was mine for the week:
My room was on the second floor, the one with the shed dormer windows. Super cute, and my housemates were friendly from the start. (It may have helped that the first thing one of them said was, “Oh, good. You brought wine, too.”) Four of us ended up having a nightly glass (plus chocolate, of course) in our common room. It was one of the few times things slowed down enough to have real conversations with anyone, the kind David always loved. I had a disconcerting urge a couple of times to call him to tell him how great it all was. In the fourteen months he’s been gone, that’s never happened before. So . . . weird. At least I didn’t dissolve in weeping. Definite progress.
That first day, though, was just about getting acclimated. Mom, as an assistant teacher, had a complementary room in another building, so after we both settled in, we walked around taking a few pictures, since rain was forecast for most of the rest of the week.
Then back to Keith House for orientation in the Community Room, then dinner in the dining hall, then to our various studios–for me the painting studio–for class orientation and setup. I was taking Watercolor Gouache with Kathy Chastain, and my mom was her assistant.
It was all a bit like sleep-away camp for grown-ups, in a good way. Make your own bed (optional). Show up to meals or miss them, as you wished. No KP, except to carry your dishes to the window when you were finished. They offered a 7:15 nature walk every morning, weather permitting. So maybe it happened Monday, not that I was ever going to see 7:15 a.m. in public. I barely saw it in the bathroom mirror. Then Morning Song everyday at 7:45 in the Community Room. Never made that either. I did get to breakfast at 8:15 every day. You could sit wherever you wanted, so I had a bit of middle-school angst at every meal, trying to gauge whether I was welcome at a table or was taking a seat someone was hoping would be filled by someone else. Ghaaaaa! It got better as the week went on–everyone was so easygoing–but it was disturbing to see my insecurities raging to such a degree.
Part of the problem was likely my complete lack of experience with watercolor gouache. I had done a little painting with watercolors, with mixed results, but never with gouache, so I had a baseline anxiety percolating, anticipating epic art failure. The classes weren’t really about that, though. Don’t get me wrong. There was a LOT of excellence going on, especially from the instructors, as you’ll see in my next post, but the students were accepted and encouraged whatever their level of experience or talent. It took me a while to really let that sink in, though.
So the first few days were about finding my feet (not literally–that was only a 7 a.m. challenge 😉 ) Those days were about accepting myself where I was in my learning process, enough to let it go so I could look around and marvel at the talent and expertise of others without reservation. Stay tuned for that!
Here’s wishing you sufficient confidence to forget about yourself long enough to celebrate the accomplishments of those around you!
LOVED it! But there’s way too much to tell to fit in one blog, so here’s part one:
I flew into Chattanooga, Tennessee, on a balmy Saturday afternoon. Half an hour later I was in my rental car, driving along the Ocoee Scenic Byway, struggling to keep my eyes on the road as flashes of waterfalls rushing down the steep green walls of the Ocoee River Gorge kept grabbing my attention. It was only mid-February, but here spring had definitely sprung. I was on my way to Murphy, North Carolina. I would move into my lodging at the Folk School in neighboring Brasstown on Sunday afternoon, but Saturday night I was in Murphy, where my mom and her husband, Dick, have a little place to get away from the worst of the Indiana winters. They met me at my hotel, and we headed to Parson’s Pub for an early dinner.
Well, we thought it would be early, but an hour after ordering we were still waiting for our food. The place was hopping and the kitchen couldn’t keep up. It didn’t matter to me. I was still on Colorado time. The bartender and his wife, our server, were apologetic, but we were fine. We had wine, live music and plenty to talk about until the food arrived.
Mom told me the church on the hill above my hotel had some tie to the pub, which piqued my curiosity. So the next morning, since Mom couldn’t meet me until about 12:30 and I had to be out of the hotel by 11:00, I thought maybe I’d check out the church. I don’t love new situations, especially walking into rooms full of people I don’t know, so I was still undecided as I drove slowly up the steep drive and parked on the far edge of the parking lot, facing away from the front doors, hoping the tinted windows rendered me at least sort of invisible. I turned off the engine, but then just sat there in the car. I almost bailed, but what else was I going to do? Finally, I had a little mini-conversation with God: Okay, fine, I’ll go in, but I’m only doing this for You. And immediately heard back: Actually, I’m doing this for you.
Okay, then. I may not always slow down enough to hear it, but when I do, I try not to argue with that still, small voice. I went in. And it was great. There were a few appraising looks, but a number of people introduced themselves and didn’t seem at all fazed that I was a one-time drop-in and would likely never be back. Before I had been there long, in walked the pub guy and his wife. He turned out to be the “Parson” himself and the former pastor of Shepherd Church. They immediately started telling everyone how patient we had been at the pub the night before. There went my hide-in-a-corner plan, but at least they were saying nice things. Never mind that I didn’t really deserve such lavish praise simply for not being rude. Anyway, they insisted they wanted to sit with me if I didn’t mind, even though I was lurking in the back row. So much for my quick getaway, but I didn’t really want to leave anymore.
Then the current pastor, Chris West, got up and said something I hope I never forget, “If all your prayers were answered tonight, would it change the world or just your world?”
Excellent question. He went on to introduce a new outreach the church was going to be undertaking, fundraising and giving to Charity: Water, which funds wells to provide clean water in developing countries. The whole morning was thought-provoking and motivating.
I came out of there warmed by the human connection, cheered by this unexpected gift from God, and inspired by a possible avenue toward making a difference. I’ll be looking into Charity: Water. You may want to, too. Either way, I promise going in was way better than sitting alone in a rental car at the edge of a random parking lot.
So here’s wishing you boldness to go where the still small voice of God may be inviting you. May the experience warm you, cheer you, inspire you, and provide you with a way to make a difference.
I’m still stretching my creative wings as much as possible. It seems to be how God is leading me most fully into engagement with life. I’m doing a bit of piano improv (sort of). It’s really more writing music over a given chord progression, which I don’t think is quite the same thing. Improvisation, in my opinion, should be natural and spur-of-the-moment. And what I’m doing is only spur-of-the-moment for a hot second; then I figure out what part of it I like and write it down. Lexi says this is completely acceptable and in fact is how you learn patterns and motifs you’d like to use and build on. I’m choosing to believe her!
On the fused glass front, my second version of the fall trees piece was slightly improved, but not enough, so I’ve added a bit more and it will go in for another firing this week. After that, no matter what, I’m calling it done. It is only my first effort, after all. I have also put together my Ile de Ré inspired piece, so here it is with all the frit (smashed glass bits) piled on approximately where I want it . . .
. . . so that will also be fired this week. This one is much more a mixture of opaques and translucents, so guess we’ll see. It’s all a learning process. I’ll take a photo with the light behind it when it’s done.
I haven’t done a lot of writing lately, but thought I’d share with you one of the final assignments for the last session of the writers workshop, the end of September. We were instructed to write a portrait, or rather to describe an actual portrait or self-portrait, so I decided to do both. You can probably guess what I chose first:
David at the Anchorage
It was a quick snap across the table as we waited for our drinks at the Anchorage bar in the harbor. He’s grinning, flashing his dimples, looking off to the side, out at the boats, maybe, so you can’t quite see the changeable blue of his deep-set eyes, but fish are teeming across his shirt in shades of aqua and azure, cobalt and cerulean. There’s a chunky silver chain at his neck that gleams against his sun-kissed skin, echoed by tiny highlights in his eyes and on his slightly uneven top teeth.His hair is still mostly dark, but there are hints of grey at his temples and on his unshaven chin.
He is completely still and sharp, caught in this moment of perfect contentment, but the background is strangely distorted, not out of focus exactly, more like a double exposure, giving a sense of movement to everything but him. And if you look closely, you can see the faintly golden reflection of a Windsor chair just above and to the left of his head, oddly seeming almost a sort of Byzantine halo, and beyondthat the dim red glow of the word EXIT. If this were an album cover, there would be endless discussions of the symbolism of these images, in light of his death a few years later, but there was no awareness of any of this at the time.
When I took this shot, I had no idea how important it would be, how ubiquitous it would be. He’s not even looking at the camera, and yet it turned out to be everyone’s favorite shot of David. It was first on public view in my blog post wishing him a happy 64th birthday. Less than a month later his cancer was diagnosed, and I chose it as his profile picture for the CaringBridge website updates. Since I was on the site so often, Google kept a thumbnail photo icon on my Chrome homepage, that I saw every day until suddenly new graphic icons replaced the screen shots a few days ago. I felt strangely robbed and maddeningly impotent in the face of this unwanted update. But I also used this photo for the celebration of David’s life and I have a stack of extra programs on his bedside table and the 18 x 24 foamboard poster on an easel in the vestibule, so it’s not as if I can’t see it whenever I want.
But he’s looking away. He’s happy, but he’s not quite with me completely. At the time he was, but now forevermore he’s looking away, beyond the blue.
Sunny at the Rio
Of course, it’s not an actual self-portrait. These were the days before selfies were hourly occurrences. David took this shot, trying out my new phone’s camera. A quick snap and it has been my favorite picture of myself for years. I love the way the afternoon light is streaming down at just the right angle, make Sunny seem even sunnier somehow. And although I am not especially happy to have my picture taken, I’m obviously happy to be with David, happy with my new phone, happy with the margarita almost out of frame, but ready and waiting.
If you look closely, you can sort of see the large graft on the side of my nose where the cancer was removed, and you can certainly see that my nose is a bit cockeyed as a result. “Picasso-esque” David and I called it. But that’s not what draws my eye. I see the glint in the green eyes and a smile so big, I can almost pretend I have dimples.
Mostly I see joy. And sunshine. And I know I am still that person.
True. I absolutely do know that, but by this time last year, David was on hospice, so those memories are a bit more on my mind than usual. Also, tomorrow (Sunday the 18th) is the 40th anniversary of the day we were wed, so that’s got some emotional weight as well. I’m trying to learn to let go of random markers like that, at least as a source of regret. I’m choosing instead to be grateful that we did have almost 40 years together, even if it was almost.
And I’m looking forward to lots of time with family and friends coming up over the holidays. We ALL miss David so much, but he is a part of all of us, so when we’re together and reminiscing, somehow he’s present and it is good.
Also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HELEN! Forty years ago, she let us co-opt her birthday for our wedding day. Thanks again, Helen! She turns 91 tomorrow and is still going strong. The rest of us can barely keep up! If you don’t have her contact info to send a birthday wish, leave it in the comments and I’ll be sure she sees them.
Wishing all of you rich times with your dear ones! Bless you!
A few weeks ago, there was an artists’ studio tour here in Fort Collins, and I definitely took advantage of it. I visited three on Friday afternoon, another ten or twelve on Saturday, plus a few more on Sunday. What a treat. I’ll leave a few links for you at the bottom. If I give them to you now, you may never come back to finish reading this post!
One of the studios I visited was that of Cole Thompson, a photographer working entirely in black and white. His work is stunning and he very kindly talked with me, rank amateur that I am, about various aspects of how he produces his images. I love his work and he has inspired me to learn more about photography. One of these days, I may even do a post with black and white images, but not just yet. Although I love the drama and the artistry of black and white, I have to admit color feeds my soul in a way I seem to need right now. So for the moment, I’ll take my black with a splash of vibrant color. Like this . . .
During the studio tour weekend, I also stopped by to see Sibyl Stork, whose work I have loved for years. She’s the artist who taught the watercolor class I took (and LOVED) just before our 2016 road trip out to Portland, right before David’s cancer was discovered. It was good to talk with her again and to check out all her fabulous new work. She doesn’t have a class available for me right now, but I’ve got a lot going on at the moment anyway. Another possibility for the days ahead.
Today is ten months since David’s been gone, and I’ve had a few rough moments recently, times when the irrational questions resurface. Questions like, What?! Really?! Forever?! (here on earth, anyway). But as I wrote in the last post, I’m making a concerted effort to be present in the here and now and to let the day’s own troubles be enough for the day.
In fact, I’ve been so open to trying various creative things, in my efforts to come back to life, that I’ve gone a bit overboard and now have to reevaluate and maybe scale back a bit. Pro Tip: You know you’re not listening quite well enough to the still small voice of God when you have to get life advice from a Dove chocolate wrapper: “You can do anything,” it said, “but you can’t do everything.” Hahaha. Okay. Got it.
One of the activities I’m keeping for now is Kathi Dougherty’s fused glass open studio on Thursday afternoons. Hers was another studio I visited, and her work is an absolute celebration of color. For my first project, I wanted to play with the hues of fall foliage, since that has always been one of my favorite things. Kathi has done some gorgeous pieces on this theme, but of course I didn’t want to copy hers, so was a bit paralyzed at the start until she directed me to begin by collecting my colors. THAT I could do. I definitely also wanted sky and water. You know how much I love blue, even aside from how it reminds me of David.
Since for this first project I wanted to work primarily with crushed glass, called “frit,” I then smashed larger pieces to create a pallet of colors with which to work.
I could have made a plate or bowl, but I chose to do a flat art piece (using the term “art” VERY loosely). Mostly the point for me was to play, experiment, create. I read this yesterday in Girl, Wash Your Face:
Creating is the greatest expression of reverence I can think of because I recognize that the desire to make something is a gift from God. — Rachel Hollis
I agree and I am grateful for that gift. And as much as I would love to effortlessly produce truly beautiful things, the chance to try is enough, and the learning that comes from mistakes is a bonus. Here’s version one of my first piece →
Not horrifying, but not fabulous. I love how the light comes through, but I didn’t realize the small black “branches” would be as prominent as they are, showing through the translucent glass, as you can see. That was not what I intended and they bug me. Fortunately, it’s possible to add glass and fuse?/fire?/heat? it again. I don’t really know the lingo yet. But onward — and hopefully upward — to version two. I’ve added some opaques and I’ll see next Thursday if it’s improved or not. Here it is awaiting a second turn in the kiln:
My next project is inspired by this photo looking west from Île de Ré, the beautiful island just across a bridge from La Rochelle. This is possibly my favorite photo from our various trips to France, so I don’t expect to improve on the photo, but I’m super inspired by the colors.
Here’s what I’ve done so far:
I think it’s therapeutic for me because there are no rules, except reasonable caution for the sake of safety, and there’s no hurry. Kathi and the other regulars I’ve met are kind, so that’s a welcome change from the news, anyway. And I do think there’s something transcendent about the simple act of creating, that somehow taps into the image of our Creator God, put in each one of us.
Here’s a bit more from Rachel Hollis:
The freedom to carve out the time and have a safe place to create art is a blessing of the highest level in a world where so many people are unable to have either.
I am grateful for both the urge and the opportunity to create. Wishing you both as well!
I’ll leave you with a colorful October family photo from thirty years ago. Yikes. Half my life!
Please leave a comment if you have a minute, even if it’s to tease me about the enormous eighties red bow in my hair! I love hearing from you.