Projects Large and Small

Bainbridge Arts and Crafts recently announced its annual “Almost Perfect Sale” – bargains for customers and a chance to clean out the studio for artists. I got out the 12×12-inch panels I painted in acrylic – nine flower panels exhibited in a shared show as one quilt-like piece. I like the idea of this sale – better the panels find a life out of their storage box.

I began to picture them signed and titled as individuals, and when I posed them about my little workroom, I told myself – this will be a project I will enjoy – painting again on each, even if only writing words.

And then I thought about Rose Frantzen. If you go to, you will see a really exciting use of 12×12-inch panels. The link takes you to Frantzen’s “Portrait of Maquoketa” at the National Portrait Gallery and her gallery talk.

Frantzen conceived of, and completed, a huge portraiture project. In her talk, she explains the genesis of her project – her initial “ah ha” moment came in the grocery store: “I’ll paint a portrait of each person in this little town!”

It’s fun to watch her begin to speak nervously, and then warm to the task of describing her working process – how many people, in what format, and what the whole experience was like (not what she imagined, going in). While you listen you get to see her lively paintings in the background – 180 of them, people of all ages – each painted from life in one sitting.

Frantzen is an artist through and through. She also taps into “project energy” with this series – the vigor that attends something we label as a project – setting aside time, making lists and plans, looking forward to the encapsulated period contained within this particular project, and finding pleasure in the moments of resolution along the way.

I sent the link to my painter friend and to my friend who paints in the woods, but didn’t think more about it till I was in the midst of the small, doable, (signing and titling) project (a break from pushing along the larger pocket book project). But Frantzen is great encouragement to keep going with big projects.

Her project is truly enormous – and the joy in the video is her articulate ability to tell of her growth and learning along the way. When Frantzen talks about her discoveries – about individuals and generations, little towns and community – she describes dedication. The video is 57 minutes (an easy to complete project) – an enjoyable, inspiring tale of what became so much more in the doing.

It’s a pleasure to share this – I really wish Rose Frantzen well. And all of you, with all your projects!

Pie Report

The last two weeks our farmer has offered pie recipes in her newsletter – and provided vegetables and early greens for savory pies – pies to use the shoulder-season bounty.

Spring farming and Saturday markets require fortitude by farmers, but reward shoppers with early greens, big bags of arugula or stir-fry mix, fresh eggs, potatoes and parsnips and their kin, and beautiful plant starts. (Kale and chard now huddle on our front porch along with little pea plants.)

The pie project began with “Greens Quiche with Potato Crust Pie.” For the quick-to-make crust, combine four cups of shredded raw potatoes (two medium potatoes and a small one), half cup of diced onion, a beaten egg, one cup of flour, and half a teaspoon salt and press into a well-greased, 10-inch pie plate (mine is only nine – bigger would be better). Bake at 400° for about 10 minutes, then remove from oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350°. Spread about six ounces of grated cheese (to taste – Dubliner cheddar was good) in the bottom of the crust.

For the filling: sauté half a chopped onion (or a leek or two green garlics) in butter or olive oil with salt and pepper until tender. Add in half a pound of any greens you have – all the season’s tender baby greens are perfect (I cut them in thin ribbons like the kale salad). Sauté with the onions till tender and much reduced in volume. Arrange over the potato crust.

Whisk two eggs and a cup and a third of milk together and pour over the greens. Top with more cheese (about a half cup) and bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes more. The pie puffs up with inviting good cheer and tastes great. The crust becomes a sort of potato-onion bread-like platform for the quiche.

Next up: Parsnip Pie. Sauté a chopped onion or shallot, two teaspoons dried thyme, and half teaspoon of salt in two tablespoons of butter. Set aside.

Steam two large parsnips until tender, then puree with one egg, quarter cup tahini, quarter cup milk, and the juice of one lemon. Pour into a prepared piecrust and top with a quarter cup of chopped nuts. Bake 350° for one hour. The result: a tart and tasty treat. (The wordsmith, after eating the pie at our book group, declared it the best use of parsnips ever, adding, “the crust was as good as the filling.” Deborah gets credit – I used whole-wheat and white flour in her “Pie Crust Made with Oil” recipe.)

Spring’s been long in coming, but these pies please while we wait.

The Green Man

Warmth is missing in my signs of spring series. (My young friend’s mother offered an alternative version by email: photos of rotting snow banks, standing water, and moose nuggets – welcome signs of Alaska spring!)

But here we lament the lack of warmth. Cliff Mass, the Washington weather guru, put some numbers to our chill. He requires 55° to declare a spring day (I’d settle for 50° and no wind). Mass says only two days reached 55° by April 15 – the fewest on record. Last year, by this time, we had 26.

On April 18, the thermometer briefly read 60°, and the indicators of spring – most known by the work of the Green Man – accumulate into a declaration.

Imaginary he may be, the pagan symbol of spring, clad only in leaves in spite of the temperatures, but I take heart from his presence. His flush, a chlorophyll blush, is reassuring even when the wind blows. Tiny new leaves of ocean spray begin to soften the gray trunks of our surrounding Doug fir, and bronze-green bracken soldiers, just inches tall, arms still furled, stand up overnight.

In the woods new elderberry and salmonberry leaves recolor the sienna and gray winter scene. Thick green moss spreads velvety fuzz on stumps and logs, and dresses the tops of fence posts in green spring hats along our little road.

The mason added a niche in the outside of our fireplace chimney when we built our house. In the past I’ve tried flowers in vases, candles, and little stone stacks in the niche, but the west wind blows most anything out of that space.

Except the Green Man. On a garden tour with my clever friend, I purchased a version of the mythic man at the garden of the sculptors Little and Lewis. From his shrine-like space he weathers storms and oversees spring.

He’s great in sunshine also – and must be ready to be warm!