Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking a Break from the Grandmothers

I need to find a couple of photos in the storage box that I want to share with you. So my grandmother saga is on hold for a brief time.

Instead, I'll tell you a bit about my week. I signed up to take a class from Ali Edwards of Designer Digital called "A Week in the Life." One is supposed to record the ordinary goings on in one's life for this week, and so far it has been quite a blast.

On Monday I went with two friends to a rehearsal of the local Chamber Music group that has an annual festival. There was a talk beforehand, and then we were treated to the most wonderful music! It was Opus 1 from a Hungarian composer I had never heard--or heard of-- before, and I must say I have been missing something! It was a Piano Quintet, which doesn't mean five pianos, but one piano, two violins, a viola, and a cello.
This is the piece and the cast of musicians, from the program  for June 25
This music is amazing, and the musicians certainly did it justice. I was really glad to get to hear them! 

I saw a T-shirt in the gift area that I later decided would be perfect for my viola-playing grandson. Of course I didn't think about actually buying it (I did take its picture) until we had left. But one phone call to my friend who had suggested we go to the rehearsal, and who had a ticket for the concert, and it was arranged! She e-mailed me that the deed was done; I'll pick it up at our regular meeting next Monday!

The T-shirt for my grandson

Tuesday was a full, but fun, day. I had planned to go to ArtWorks, where I teach, to "play" with my friend Meredith, and to exchange tips and tricks on antiquing with metal salts and solutions on various surfaces with my friend Tonnie. We had a wonderful time. Tonnie brought her Vagabond (an electric die-cutting machine designed for Sizzix by Tim Holtz) and lots of metal to run through it with texture plates. I brought the antiquing paints and solutions. We spent a happy three hours making samples and pieces to use in our art. Meanwhile, Meredith was tarting up a nine-foot umbrella she had agreed to contribute to a local Junk-o-rama. We did manage to squeeze in lunch.

Meredith is hard at work on the umbrella; Tonnie is in the background
Some of the samples Tonnie made were awesome--I mainly spread some gels out to make skins and worked on experiments with the antiquing stuff and heavy interfacing.

A piece of copper Tonnie embossed and antiqued

My antiqued interfacing
I also stenciled some antiquing stuff on gessoed canvas; it will eventually become a book cover, I think.

Stenciled canvas; rusted iron and patinated copper

After that, Meredith and I went to Seattle to our regular Belltown Book Arts group meeting. We had dinner first at the BellThai, which is a routine with us now. Then we went on to Uptown Espresso for our meeting. Unfortunately, the city of Seattle has seen fit to jack up the parking prices and keep the meters in force until 8 PM instead of 6, which covers most of the time we meet. This means we may have to find a new meeting place--after six years. Most of us are barely able to pay the current fee.

Belltown Bookies Meredith, Liz and Michael

Today was interesting. I didn't go anywhere (imagine! I stayed home!), but the Xfinity man was coming to re-do our internet and phone lash-up  So I had a few re-arrangements to take care of in the computer room, so he could get to the wall and an electric outlet. He was right on time, and I got his permission to photograph him for my Week In The Life project. I also photographed his truck.

Here is the Xfinity Guy, drilling a hole in the wall

This is the hole; that's daylight in the hole

And this is a sign on his truck.

It took him awhile, but he eventually got everything installed and working. And of course, as soon as he left, it stopped working. Luckily, I still have my connections, but my poor husband is still frantically trying to solve his problems. Isn't technology wonderful?

Here is my frustrated husband, trying to get things working

But it works for me!

I hope he gets the problem solved before too long--he is very grumpy when having technical difficulties!

Bye for now!  Nan

Friday, July 22, 2011

She became Mrs. Harry Hawkins

And I'll bet you guessed it, didn't you. By the time of her wedding, she was the Society Editor (yes, in those days there was such a thing) of the St. Joseph News Press. She wrote about the comings and goings of the rich and famous, and the weddings of the debutantes and the grand parties of anyone who had a grand party. She had a circle of young lady friends, all of whom had already gotten married, and she asked them to be her bridesmaids--and to wear their own wedding dresses. It must have been quite a sight! I am presuming her sister Ada was her maid of honor, and have no idea what she wore, as it could not have been a wedding dress, since she never married. I don't have any photographs of Helen's wedding, but I am sure she was a beautiful and radiant bride.

If you are wondering what happened to Mr. Washburn, her other fiance, I can tell you: He married a lovely woman named Nina, who bore him two children, Wallace and Gertrude, and eventually wound up in San Mateo, California, getting rich in the meat packing biz. Wally died as a young man, but Gertrude and Nina had a house built in Berkeley, next door to the one my Aunt Quail had built for herself and her mother. Helen and Nina were fast friends,and played Canasta almost every afternoon. The world is indeed a strange and wonderful place. But I digress. (You will find that I do that a lot.)

The New Mrs. Harry Hawkins on her Honeymoon
Back to the newlywed Hawkinses. Because Harry worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad at the time, he was able to take his bride on a wonderful honeymoon to Lake Louise in Banff. On their wedding night, my grandmother told me, she took one of her boots off, and then, with a bit of a devil in her eye, demanded that Harry remove the other one. Well, he knew right away what his life would be like if he gave in to that demand, so he refused. She refused to remove it herself. She wore it to bed, she told me, and later she had the grace to be ashamed of herself. I imagine that the picture above was taken before she realized what a jerk she had been, judging from the expression on her face. Harry is in the original picture, too--he is standing about three feet to her right, and there is a bottle of--I presume--whiskey on the ground between them, wrapped in brown paper.

Wearing a boot to bed didn't hold Helen back any--or Harry either, apparently--for, nine months to the hour of their wedding later, a bouncing baby girl was born to the Hawkinses, now living in Spokane, Washington. This was my Aunt Quail, whose given name was Helena Ann; this name was used only on her driver's licence--everyone always called her Quail.

Helen and Quail Hawkins, 1905

My Grandfather Harry was a sweet man, but never very prosperous. Helen had to work, and so she got a job on the Spokane Spokesman-Review. I would really like to dig into that newspaper's archives and see what she wrote. I know what she wrote about: again, she was writing about the rich and famous, in the paper's Society pages. In those days, Spokane was at the end of a rail line, and all the great artists of the time, from musicians to ballet dancers, came through on their tours. She interviewed them all, from Ephraim Zimbalist, the violinist, to Anna Pavlova, the ballerina. Her pen name was Hannah Hinsdale, after her grandmother, whose pet name was Hannah.

She became Society Editor, and told me some great stories about her days on the paper. One of these is my particular favorite: She formed a group of intellectual friends called The Serious Group of Little Thinkers. This group met on Sunday evenings, and on one occasion, she told me, she had interviewed Paderewski, the world-renowned pianist, and invited him to her home. She had several children by then--I don't know how many at that time, but eventually there were seven--and had left strict instructions that the piano keys were to be cleaned, in case the maestro were inclined to play. All went well, and after the evening was well underway, Paderewski sat down to play. It is too bad I can't show you the grimace and gesture my grandmother made in telling this part of the story, but I shall try to give you the idea: She put her hands out as if playing the keys, drew them up sharply, rubbed her right thumb across her other fingers, and made a face like she had eaten a green persimmon. "Peanut butter," she quoted the august man. "Peanut butter." Wet cloths were hurriedly brought forth, and keys and pianist were wiped down. Then, the music began, and all else was forgotten until the evening ended. As Paderewski departed, Hannah apologized once again for the sticky keys. "Ah,no, Madam," the great man said with a bow, "it is I who should apologize to you, for calling attention to it."

Hannah Hinsdale, in her 30's; a publicity shot
Among the things my grandmother did while working for the Spokesman Review and later the Seattle Times was start the Junior League (at least in Spokane, and perhaps also in Seattle) although, as a working woman, she could not belong to it; she did something wonderful enough for the Colville Indians that they adopted her (and her family) into their tribe, giving her the name Wa-Witz-Ka-La, the Meadow Lark; and she introduced a grieving widower named Ben Kizer to his second wife, whose name I think was Mary, and they produced a daughter named Carolyn, who grew up to be a famous Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet. And she had a baby every two years from 1905 on, except for one four year break (she was out of town, working in Seattle, at the crucial moment) until 1921: seven children in all, and nursed every one of them. Yes, she had help, but still--that is some record. She told me people would stop her on the street and give her advice about the latest birth control method, but every time she tried one, she got pregnant.
Left to right: Harry, Jr; Mark; David; Hannah, holding Dick; Quail; Harry
At the Seattle Times she wrote the Dorothy Neighbors or Prudence Penny advice column (these ladies were in competition, and I don't remember exactly which one worked for which Seattle paper, the Times or the P-I--they each wrote sort of a combination Heloise and Dear Abby type columns, and like Betty Crocker, did not exist). She was undoubtedly a whiz at this sort of thing, what with all the experience she had working, meeting all sorts of people, and just plain living. One of her stories stands out in my mind; she told me this one when I had a new baby and was fussing with bottles and sterilizing rubber parts on the stove, having just stopped nursing the kid. She was at her desk at the paper, typing away, when the phone rang. When she answered it, a frantic female voice on the other end of the line howled, "My nipples are melting! What shall I do?" "Back away from the stove dear," was the sanguine reply. Then she hung up. She never understood, she told me, why they didn't fire her on the spot. If I ever write a real biography of my grandmother, and I have toyed with the idea from time to time, I am going to call it Back Away From the Stove.

Yes, of course there is more--but it will have to wait until next time. ---Nan

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"If you would be wise or rare, pick your Grandmother with care."

Call me a Luddite--I admit it--I do not have a Twitter account, and I do not Tweet. Chirp, maybe, on occasion, but no tweeting. One has to draw the line somewhere.

I cn cndnse wth th bst of thm, but I just don't want to.

I get this obstinate streak from my paternal grandmother. She was the kind of person, as my Uncle Forrest once said, who would not have invented the automobile until everybody had a horse.

Her name was Helen Rich Lyon, originally, and she was the granddaughter of a nineteenth century poet and activist, Helen Hinsdale Rich. I have tried to find out more about Mrs. Rich's activism, but there isn't much out there; I am guessing that she was a suffragette, and involved in things Jane Addams would have encouraged. The introduction to her second book of poems has a brief bio:

"Mrs. Rich is a daughter of pioneers in the northern wilderness of New York [which is why she was later known as "The Poet of the Adirondacks"], where her father made his clearing and built his log house eighty years ago....[Charles Goodrich Whiting is the writer--and this is in 1897.] Her educational advantages were small so far as schools were concerned. She has taught herself, and has been taught well by the best teachers, books, and the association of thinking and cultivated minds....the great activity of her life in humanitarian causes has gone on without ceasing.
"Her present home is Chicago, where she is valued according to her desserts, is concerned in important interests, and affiliated with liberal and advancing minds in religion and social economy."

The poems themselves, while garnering critical acclaim in her day, are very old-fashioned in tone, and are often strained by the need to rhyme. I sometimes wonder what her work would be like if she were writing today--her ideas were quite advanced, even if her style was not.

Helen Hinsdale Rich, right, and her daughter, Mary Rich (Lyon)

Helen Hinsdale Rich  in 1897

Anyway, the point is, she was my grandmother's grandmother, and some of her rubbed of on her namesake, my grandmother.

Helen Rich Lyon was a clever and independent child, and by her own admission, very stubborn. She told me once that she reported to her mother, a gentle widow raising three children on her own, demanding to be spanked. "You said you would spank me if I played in the irrigation ditch, so spank me now, because I going to do it."
Helen Rich Lyon in 1881

She is about a year old, one side or the other, in this picture. I have one other picture of her as a child, taken when she was two. She is wearing the same dress, I think, or at least the lace trim is the same. You can see that this two-year-old was destined for Great Things, can't you?
Helen Rich Lyon in 1882

The next picture I have is when Helen was 18. By then she was what they used to call a "belle," and soon would go to work for a newspaper in St. Joseph, Missouri, her home town. She did not graduate from High School, she was fond of telling me (especially when I was in high school and despairing of passing my physics course), and it didn't hold her back any. As any of my many cousins who lived on occasion with their grandmother and her daughter, Quail, NOTHING ever held her back any. She was, I am positive, a Force of Nature.
Helen Rich Lyon at eighteen

Of course, if you are as lovely looking as she was, you will have suitors, and she did. Many of them. But eventually, she settled on two: Frederick Washburn and Harry Hawkins. Of course she couldn't marry them both--but she could, and did, get engaged to both of them. By then she was to meet the families, and in the throes of her dilemma she wrote to Harry's mother that she was "in the worst trouble a girl could be in." Well, you can imagine what happened next: Harry's Mother, Anna, wrote back that she was to come at once to St. Paul, and "if Harry is in any way responsible, we shall see that he does the right thing." Baby clothes were gathered, and a nest was prepared for the poor unfortunate to whom Wrong Had Been so Cruelly done. Of course, it was all for nothing. My grandmother was, in spite of any other shortcomings, a truly moral Victorian woman. The "worst trouble" she had been in was a fight with her mother over her two fiancees. Frederick turned out to be a rich meat packing executive; Harry turned out to be a poor man who was often gulled by business partners whom he trusted too much. Guess which one my grandmother married?

I'll tell you next time. But right now, I should tell you that the quote in the title is from Stephen Vincent Benet's book of patriotic poems, A Book of Americans.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Art Is Where You Find It

It is, you know. Just take a look around, and you will find amazing things that could translate into art. A clutch of leaves in an interesting pattern, a crack in metal with rust around it, paint you put on paper--things like that.

I've been on a texture kick lately. I have taken my little point-and-shoot camera everywhere, and made a pest of myself in friends' houses; I have climbed into park flower beds to shoot birch bark, delayed leaving a restaurant to shoot some interesting wood, and taken pictures of glass vases through shop windows. My family and friends have laughed indulgently, knowing I was on another one of my crazy kicks. But I notice that after I have taken a few pictures, they begin to point things out to me--"Did you get that?" my daughter asks, pointing at a piece of interesting wood on the beach in Fairhaven, and when I complain that the footing is a bit iffy for a person of my advanced age, she offers to get the shot. Which she does. It's catching, you see.

Here's a good example of the kind of nutty thing I look for. Who would guess that this is the layer of crackle paint on a page of a book I am working on?

Compare that to this shot of white bark peeling.
That's the sort of thing I have been up to with my camera.

But that isn't the only thing I have been up to. On most Fridays I go up to Open Studio at ArtWorks in Edmonds, where I teach, and do stuff that requires spreading out, something that is hard to do at home. Also, at ArtWorks there is good company and it is fun to see what other artists are doing.

This past Friday, I was working on an Art Journal. Now normally I wouldn't waste my art-making time not making art but journaling about it. I have a hard time "journaling" about anything, although I have a lovely collection of blank books to journal in, should I find a reason to do so. I am actually surprised to find myself blogging, because this journaling thing kind of intimidated me. But I guess this is different than blank paper. I have a hard time making that first mark on blank paper.

Anyhow, I decided that for this Art Journal, I would make some frottage pages. I took some blank pages out of my journal--it is wire-bound, so that is easy to do--and set about doing the rubbings, using some texture folders I have and Prismacolor pencils. I had already made the title page at my friend Ami's on Tuesday, using oil pastels, both water soluble and not, using different textures from my "ooh, that piece of plastic would make a great texture" collection. I like frottage, both to make backgrounds and to define particular spaces. Frottage is the fancy word the Dada folks made up for rubbings. Personally, I think they could have come up with something that didn't sound like soft French cheese, but that's just me.

So, here are some of my Art Journal pages. They use frottage, mostly, but there is some stenciling; I also have sealed everything with clear gesso since I got them home. I am not sure what I will do with the pages from now on, but this is a start. At the end is a page I did over gesso for a book I am working on. I used plastic letters intended for scrapbooking and such as a stencil, and water colored over it. Incidentally, I only use artist quality water color, because the results I get are more satisfactory with those. But I do use crafty paints and all sorts of acrylics for a lot of the stuff I do.

Hope you enjoy the examples! Cheers, Nan

This is the title page, using oil pastels

This doesn't have much on it, but I like it; I used a Tim Holtz texture folder

Here I covered the whole page with frottage clocks and gears by Tim Holtz

Here I used a stencil made from lacy scrapbook paper and water color and spray dye.
This used the Tim Holtz plastic letters as a stencil; not part of the Art Journal

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Play's the Thing

Yesterday we celebrated the long weekend by going to Carnation (a small town in the Cascade foothills) to watch our son and grandson perform in a take-off on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. The weather was supposed to be typical: cloudy with possible showers and in the high 60's in temperature. Well, indeed there were clouds, but they moved right along and what we got was a lot of sun. Imagine! Sun, in eastern Washington in July! Who ever heard of such a thing?

Fortunately, the play started late in the day, so we were not too afraid of sunburn. We sat on folding chairs behind some hay bales which were, I suppose, seats for the Groundlings, although in Shakespeare's day, the Groundlings stood for the whole performance. Yesterdays Groundlings were quite young, and in the end found the bales uncomfortable, but for awhile there they sat in a small row to wait.

They did end up watching the whole performance, although they moved to sit on the ground where they could loll better. We sat through the sound check, and apparently the guys running sound thought it was a rock concert in a 30,000 seat venue, because they left it very loud. Too loud, in some cases. The cast was wearing teensy flesh-colored microphones that could not be seen from the audience, and they weren't really used to them yet, so sometimes a head was turned away and the sound dropped off. They did need the mikes, though, because the road behind the stage was quite well-traveled, as it was a main north-south route between freeways.

Here we are, waiting. That's my son Matt on the left, and my son Jeremy (in costume) on the right, on the hay bale quaffing a coke. Husband Morrie is the one in the Aussie hat, and my blue shirt is saving my place while I run around taking pictures of everything textural in sight. I am on a texture kick, and there were some great paper birches and some neat rocks in the little park next to the lot where the stage was.

Time for the play finally arrived, and it was quite a romp.

The play loosely followed the plot and some of the language of Shakespeare, but with lots of modern touches. The cast was obviously having a wonderful time, and Falstaff's machinations to woo the wives and win the gold of the richer citizens in town were fun to watch. The costumes were minimal, but effective, and everyone played his or her part with gusto. Poor Bardalph was cut from the play, and one of Falstaff's cohorts made much of looking for him throughout the proceedings--without ever finding him, of course. There was a prop boy who looked to be no more than six or seven, who performed his duties perfectly and unobtrusively. The one scenic element was a table that stood throughout the play and became variously a pub, a writing desk, and whatever was necessary to the houses of the Wives. Oh, wait--there was also an oak tree, toward the end of the play--also quite effective.

There were no programs, so I can't give credit where credit is due to the actors I don't know, but I must say they all performed their parts well. Page was positively brilliant with his two kinds of accent, and Jeremy, who played the Doctor, managed his outrageous French accent without a hitch.

All in all, it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. We followed it up with a family dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and we managed to consume almost every dish down to the plate.

Here are a couple of pictures of the performance of Windsor's Merry Wives:

Jeremy as the Doctor, with Mistress Quickly and the Prop Boy.

Grandson Kevin, left, and the Pages, with the Oak Tree in the background. Kevin's character has just married the Page's daughter.

Everything is sorted out, and all end's happily for everyone.

Happy Fourth of July!  Nan