Lady Baby Spring Doings

Because I was in Alaska when news came of the Sweet Baby’s arrival, I got to watch Lady Baby see the first photos of her new cousin. With the sweetest expression of curiosity and awe, she said, “She’s so tiny. She’s the size of Pink Baby, right?” (Pink Baby is a soft doll clad in pink terry cloth, a long-standing, cherished member of the family.)

At Downtown Abbey now when I’m with Lady Baby, it’s like visiting with a really good friend. We enjoy each other, laugh at old jokes and memories, and share new experiences. Her dad came home one day and said, “You two are thick as thieves!”

He’d found us sitting at the top of the basement steps with the door closed. (It’s always closed and has a cat flap because the Ladies Cora and Winnie aren’t allowed in the basement where the Lords Cromwell and Wolsey spend a lot of time.) I’m not sure why we hunkered on the top step chatting. Well, actually, (as Lady Baby often begins a sentence), she had requested we sit for a “meeting,” because of some “concerns” about Baby Boy. (He likes to skate but fell on the ice. I said: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” She replied: “It’s OK, he’s a doll.”)

We spoke of other matters, the weirdly painted stairway walls (my doing long ago), more “concerns” (not serious ones because I can’t remember them), questioned how bulky Wolsey clambers up to his perch high on a shelf, and I told her the story of how Frances came to live with us. Lady Baby loves stories, and ones grounded in reality work just fine.

We only broke up the meeting because we’d discovered her bike in the basement where she showed me her steering and braking skills. We realized we could take it outside! (A miracle if you live in Alaska and only know bike riding in the basement.)

It’s a purple bike with training wheels, and must be really hard to pump, but she rode the whole way to the bakery, bike wheels spinning out a little on snow patches. Liberation – a bike to ride in springtime.

Muscles grow stronger with daily rides around the block, and one day we rode to the nearby school playground. We stayed a record two hours, sliding, swinging, and watching a family hide Easter eggs.

Whether Lady Baby rides her bike or we both walk, we’re fond of singing loudly “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor….” Lady Baby doesn’t know Mr. Rogers yet, but she surely knows the first part of his song, and sang with lusty enthusiasm while tromping the gritty sidewalks.

This time I suggested the ancient Johnny Horton hit “When It’s Springtime In Alaska…”, but couldn’t remember any words. So Lady Baby sang, “It’s springtime in Alaska, and the birds are nearly singing!”

And that works just fine.

Scanned Image

Maira Kalman and a Bird

Oh I do find inspiration in Maira Kalman’s sense of humor and her take on life. She makes me want to go and do – to travel, to see, and to make. To get on with it!

And just when I needed an infusion of energy in the bird project, a Workroom friend posted a video by the filmmaker Gail Towey. It’s about Maira Kalman, and particularly about the process of selecting objects for the opening exhibition at the recently refurbished Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

I hadn’t heard about the video or the exhibition – and thought how fine it would be to select objects with personal resonance from a huge collection (some 200,000). It was enough fun to draw all those flowered things from the V&A and post them here! Fancy choosing objects because of the stories they tell, the emotions they can arouse, or because they elicit a “gasp of delight” – and then to make an exhibition, and even collaborate on song and music about your choices.

Kalman calls the exhibition room of “Maira Kalman Selects,” a “contemplative space,” recognizing that people will gravitate to specific objects. The range is broad and eclectic – from Lincoln’s pocket watch (and a recording of it ticking after 200 years!) to hats and shoes and mourning samplers.

Part of her series, “Portraits of Creativity,” Gail Towey’s wonderful film is here:

http://www.portraitsincreativity.com/maira-kalman-smithsonian/

And I loved this longer one,

http://www.cooperhewitt.org/2015/02/18/maira-kalman-my-favorite-things-a-film-by-gael-towey/. This video records the premier of Towey’s film followed by a question and answer session with Towey, the show’s curator, and Kalman. They talk about what Kalman wanted to see, how they traveled to off-site storage locations to view “the cutest dog in the world,” and about being told, “No, you may not borrow Lincoln’s hat,” by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

With the serendipity of creative collaborations, everything came together to support Kalman’s themes of time, of life and death, and questions about the human condition like, “Why am I here?”

“Small questions.” Kalman says.

Olive-sided flycatcher

Olive-sided flycatcher

Daffodils and More Birds

At the beginning of March, sunshine and daffodils in yellows warm and pale lit up the world. Cold mornings gave way to warm middays, and all day the sun shone into my workroom onto bird photos and paintings. Welcome rain returns this week, but I loved sitting and painting in warmth.

I discovered other amazing bird photographers to add to my acknowledgement list, most specially Alan and Elaine Vernon’s beautiful photos. They are generous and their site a fine resource: www.naturespicsonline.com.

With frets in the air about the early spring and low snowpack, I wait for the migrants to return. No sign yet of these two, the White-crowned sparrow and Violet-green swallow, but I hope to see and hear them soon!

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

Violet-green swallow

Violet-green swallow

Winter Wren

On a pouring rain day at the end of February, a lone bright-red anemone, scattered crocus, and many snowdrops bloom in the garden. Hellebore cluster together on straight stems and bow their blossom heads. An acid spring-green colors a proliferation of not-yet-blooming forget-me-nots, the sharp spears of new crocosmia, and thick moss on garden bed edging logs and pavers. That newborn green shines against the dark gray of winter forest, and amid a discouraging amount of standing water.

Indoors, I consider the bird project – begun with my very favorite and one of the smallest – the winter wren (maybe finding its shape, but not yet background.)

IMG_4595

 

“Big Bad Birds”?

Last year Bainbridge Arts and Crafts presented a group exhibition called “Big Bad Bugs,” and this year I’m invited to participate in their May show: “Big Bad Birds.” The deadline approaches quickly – it’s a temporal truth that time speeds up toward a due date.

Drawing a winter wren for the Twitter exhibition in Oslo reminded me how I love to draw birds. And from a few years ago, I have the photographers’ permission to draw from pictures of juncos, winter wrens, robins, sparrows, chickadees, and other beloved birds – now filling the woods with their spring song.

I’ll post more here later, but the image below is a start –- getting familiar again with bird colors and shapes. In the end I hope to make little paintings – maybe on wood, not big or bad birds, but small and sweet birds.

Bird Study - neighbors

Beginning a bird study – near neighbors in pencil and watercolor on Rives BFK…

 

Considering April

My young friend and her parents came to stay at the Buffalo during her spring break, and I loved having them here. It seemed so neighborly to have people you love next door, like in my old neighborhood. They enjoy this place – like sleeping late and reading, walking in town or on the beach, going out to dinner or eating at home by the fire, some nights rewatching favorite movies.

As they headed to the ferry on their last day, we walked the trail at Bloedel Reserve – past pink rhododendron blossoms, hellebore, and primula, much green grass and ducks on the pond. Part of the charm of Bloedel is the manor house, a graceful mansion that looks so livable (if one were really, really lucky). My young friend’s mother and I smiled to see it.

Houses have been much on my mind. I recently read both Bill Bryson’s book “At Home: A Short History of Private Life,” where he rambles, as is his wont, through our relationship to houses and their contents, and “A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman,” a collection of Margaret Drabble’s stories. These wonderful stories span her whole career as a novelist, but have never been collected together before. I remember houses in Drabble’s books the way one remembers characters, and first wrote about her here.

Then, looking for April inspiration, I came across the dummy pages, quotes, and illustrations for a house journal my young friend’s mother and I once talked about doing together. I also found an old sketchbook with line drawings from a solo trip to Hawaii long ago, when I drew all the utensils in the kitchen drawers instead of vistas or flowers.

These thoughts moiled around until April seemed a month for houses – with open-ended possibilities, visits, details, houses in movies? The art of life is much about house and home.

In these parts March has gone out like a lamb (albeit a lamb well-hydrated by rain), a beautiful ending with flowering trees and blooming bulbs. Indoors, on the sunny days, light reveals cobwebs, dust filigrees, and smudges – and that will surely be another part of the month of house – to see if I can inspire myself to a “deeper clean” or just draw pictures of sun splashes, never mind the housework.

Frances in a sunspot