Shaping the Gift of Reality

Long before encountering a palm tree, years before skimming across watery ribbons of lapis and azure entwined through the heart of Caribbean islands, lifetimes before walking entangled and thorned into tumbles of bougainvillea and the shadows of tropical dreams, I loved Winslow Homer and his art.

A prolific and engaging American watercolorist, Homer (1836-1910) moved from New York to Prout’s Neck, Maine in the summer of 1883. Despite his love of the New England coast, he often vacationed in Florida and the Caribbean. His mastery of his medium and his unique vision of the islands produced exquisite renderings of sun-drenched homes, palm-fringed beaches and great, vivid falls of blossoms redolent of nutmeg and honey.

During a first visit to the Caribbean, I was intrigued to discover how completely its marvelous realities entangled themselves in my mind with Winslow’s work. It seemed impossible to separate the threads. I had expected to think, “Winslow Homer’s painting looks like this.” But as I gazed about, wriggling my toes into sugar-soft sand and tasting the salt-heavy air, I came to a rather different conclusion. The Caribbean looked liked Winslow Homer. It was as though the artist himself had absorbed, intensified, and re-presented the sea, sand and sky in such a way that his paintings were distillations of the islands – purer than reality itself. Continue reading

The Foreign and the Familiar

It was, I thought at the time, rather like going to church. The spare, sweeping space of the galleries, the click of heels across marble and wood, the sound of parents shushing children into silence and the sight of impassive, stolid guards lined up along the walls like ushers felt familiar, even if the painting and sculpture did not.

I was young and slightly timid, well-educated but inexperienced in the arts.  With an eye still incapable of discerning distinctions and little appreciation for technique, my first experience of a “real” art museum felt like a visit to a foreign country.  I might as well have been in Tanganyika, a country that still existed the year I found myself plucked from my familiar, everyday world and transported to the National Gallery of Art.

Previously, my museum-going had been confined to the Des Moines Art Center.  Building additions, including one designed by I.M. Pei, have changed its appearance over the years and expanded the space available for exhibits, but in its original incarnation it was positively cozy. With creamy stone facades, immaculate lawns and lush trees, it could have been any upper-middle class home in any upper-middle class Iowa neighborhood. It was as familiar as the neighborhood playground or the Dairy Queen, and as comfortable. It played to its audience, and did it well. Continue reading

Evangeline Memories

For weeks I’ve watched my blogging friend Proserpina entice her readers into accepting a simple concept – color-based blogs – and encourage them to help create a rich and expressive tapestry of personal preference. “Here is a color,” she says. “Here are its qualities. Here are some references to it in history and the arts. Does it remind you of something? How do you feel about it? How has it decorated your life?”  

Such simple questions, and yet the answers she receives build one upon another to form patterns of exquisite complexity. Readers contribute images of famous paintings, or their grandchild’s refrigerator art. They bring limericks and literature, poetry, personal photographs of beloved objects, memories from days of long-past travel and dreamscapes from journeys yet to come.

With each new color, discoveries are made. When Proserpina designated “Blue” as her first color, I was a bit disappointed. I’ve always considered blue to be my least favorite color and yet as images, videos and snippets of literature were posted, I realized “blue” is too general a term. While I dislike the primary blue of the color wheel, powder blue baby blankets, navy blue and electric blue, I wear denim and covet turquoise jewelry. I’ve reveled in the azure, aqua and cerulean of Carribbean waters and will sit for hours watching the smokey indigo of disappearing sunsets. Clearly, there are distinctions to be made. Continue reading

Dancing Down Life’s Storms


It seems impossible that four years have passed since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the coastlines of Mississippi and Alabama.  As the secondary tragedy of New Orleans’ levee failures compelled the world’s attention,  the destruction strewn across the Mississippi coastline faded into the background.  In a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial, the South Mississippi SunHerald put it succinctly: 

There is no question that the New Orleans story, like ours, is a compelling, ongoing saga as its brave people seek to reclaim those parts of the city lost to the floods. But it becomes more and more obvious that to national media, New Orleans is THE story – to the extent that if the Mississippi Coast is mentioned at all it is often in an add-on paragraph that mentions “and the Gulf Coast” or “and Mississippi and Alabama.”
Christ Episcopal Church, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Given the nature of things, neglect of Mississippi probably was inevitable.  Given the realities of human nature, it also was inevitable that some Mississippi residents would express bitterness at their relegation to the fringes of the story.   The bitterness surely was understandable, as was the accompanying anger at the unfairness of life, but in the end it was the sadness which touched me – the deep, pervasive sadness of  people who know the living death of surviving a cataclysmic event.  Standing in the rubble of his life, a man from Waveland who was interviewed shortly after the storm captured all the poignancy and pathos of events when he turned to a reporter and said, “You know, we had a storm here, too.” Continue reading