I've been fascinated by the Shakers lately. I realized last year that as much as I've enjoyed visiting Pleasant Hill Shaker Village (quite near Centre College, where I went), I knew very little about the people themselves. My gently snoozing religion co-major reared its head, and I read four books on the Shakers, both historic background and more recent writings on the Shakers today. There are a few left in Maine, though all the Kentucky and Ohio settlements closed early last century.
Since I was heading to Cincinnati for a dance weekend, I decided to stop and see a couple more of the villages I hadn't known about before my reading binge. South Union is a much smaller village than Pleasant Hill, located near Bowling Green, KY, but it was a wonderful stop. They have a great museum, knowledgeable staff, and a setting that still sits right on a small highway, giving visitors a feel for how the villages were originally located. Pleasant Hill is much more contemplative and restful with the highway now bypassed around it, but visitors lose the feel of the engagement with the passing world that the Shakers depended on for their livelihood.
I spent two nights at Pleasant Hill, recovering from a busy couple of months. Mostly I hiked the trails (the wildflowers were GORGEOUS), played my banjo, took the tour (now that I'd done all the reading), and had a picnic on a rock in the middle of the creek, but I did manage just a couple of watercolors. Above is one of my favorite buildings, and the top painting was the view from my window. Pleasant Hill is apparently the only village where visitors can stay in the beautiful old houses that the Shakers built.
I also got to White Water, just outside of Cincinnati in the Miami Whitewater park. It's only just beginning to be restored, and there are three clumps of buildings plus a graveyard. The big dwelling is boarded up and whitewashed, but the upside is that it's completely deserted. I loved being able to sit and ponder without anyone else around. I read every tombstone in the cemetery and spent time with each of the buildings. I wish I'd had longer and been able to sketch there, but I had to get back for dinner with friends and some early waltzing. A good choice, overall. Hopefully I'll get back again with more time at a later date.
I'm a woman obsessed this week. As with all precious things, rarity makes the cherry blossom season seem even more valuable. I've had a crazy weekend with our local dance festival, a late-night party at my house for 80 or so, and squiring around the band a bit, but I've gotten out to paint whenever I could.
I've got one or two more to scan in when I get a chance, but otherwise, it's the end of the season for me. I'm heading out of town tomorrow morning to paint a little at Shakertown, dance with my old Kentucky friends, swing by the nearest corner of North Carolina to pick up a proof press (!!!), and visit my sister on the way home. Elmore is kindly holding down the fort and taking care of the dogs for me. I'm sure the cherry blossoms will be gone in another week, and I'm afraid the dogwoods will too, since they're so crazy early this spring. I will do a little painting on my trip, though, to try to make up for missing such a beautiful week in Memphis.
I'll post when I get home, but in the meantime, have a lovely week and enjoy the spring weather.
Memphis is just dancing this week in the joy and beauty of spring. I love flowering tree season, and I've been neglecting everything else I should be doing and seizing the short cherry tree bloom season to go paint. I did a pair of cherry tree oils several years ago, and it's been fun trying to capture them in a different medium.
Above is Belvedere Street, the prettiest road in Memphis for my money -- wide medians with an abundance of fruit trees and dogwoods. The entire neighborhood is a level three arboretum.
Below is the walking entrance to Overton Park, the one I enter by most days. The cherry trees are a fairly recent and very welcome addition there.
Last is the longtime row of cherry trees along Cherry Road, which runs in front of the Botanic Gardens and through Audubon Park. I remember riding along this road as a child, and the city parks department has done a lovely job replacing trees as needed to keep this row vibrantly beautiful every spring. I ran out yesterday to paint and only had time to do one, but I was happy to make it at peak season. If today's storms don't knock all the blossoms off, I may go back there tomorrow as well.
I'm having a crazy week (and will continue to do so, so there may not be too much artwork posted through the weekend). I have, however, had time to get myself over to the park on a couple of beautiful late afternoons. Thank heavens for daylight savings. It really extends my painting time.
Above is the small statue in a bird bath outside the Brooks Museum. This is a revisiting for me. I painted this statue in an MCA summer art camp when I was 14 years old, and I think it may have been the moment when I realized I wanted to be an artist. We were working in watercolor (and I was doing a much larger piece), and somehow the blues and greens in the statue mixed in a way I hadn't anticipated and came out so much better than I intended. I was hooked. This small miracle only happens about once a year. The rest of the time, the painting you make is a pale shadow of the one you saw in your head before you started, but that once a year is magic. And even on frustrating days, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.
One of the very best things about living in Memphis (among many wonderful things) is that it's the home of Di Anne Price and her Boyfriends. They are my favorite band, bar none, and just happen to play in my local burger joint once a month or so. Even better, they usually play Sunday afternoons from 4 to 7, which is just perfect for me. I can walk over from my house, have a glass of wine and a little dinner, hang out with some friends, and still have plenty of time to read before bedtime.
We do usually meet friends, so I didn't get the full paints out. (Especially since said friends have a toddler who's into everything). But I did manage a few pencil drawings, since it had been a grey, cloudy day with no real chance to get outside to paint. Elmore, who had been tutoring, and Dad, who had been out at the farm, joined us for the last set, and it was lovely just to hang out with my people and listen to such an amazing band.
I've spent most of the week working on illustrations for a short story for Memphis Parent. It's my first commission for them, and I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to post them before they go into print. I was excited to be asked and very happy to be illustrating again. It's fun to work with a text and see which scenes really beckon to me.
So instead of posting those, I'll post this super cool video. Frank Kelly, the director of youth ministry at Idlewild, took photos of the hanging of "The Garden". He set up the camera to shoot at one minute intervals and then strung together a 30 second video from his stills. I'm so grateful to him for using his gifts to document what was, for me, quite an occasion. And I'm posting it here because it really is nifty to watch.
It's fully three years since I first started thinking about doing a large scale painting for the chapel wall at Idlewild Presbyterian, where I'm artist-in-residence. I almost always go to early service, so I spend a lot of time in the chapel.
I did one early study, and while there were things I liked about it, it wasn't right in the space and with the windows. After thinking for a while, I did the study of what would become the final painting. It's a more ROYGBIV than most of my paintings, but the front of the chapel has a fabulous, mod, 1950's or so stained glass window with lots of red and yellow, and I wanted colors that would complement it.
I did a good bit more thinking before I dove into painting. I had done exactly one painting even close to the size of one of the larger sections, so this was fully three times bigger than the biggest thing I've done. It was intimidating, but also exciting. A trip last year to the Walter Anderson museum, with its glorious murals, finally sparked me into action, so it's fitting that I was just there again before the final hanging of my piece.
The painting is called "The Garden", and is my vision of the promised renewal of creation, with the tree of life at its center and rivers flowing out of it to water the earth. I've been teaching apocalyptic literature over the last couple of months, and one of the things I love about it is that promise of a new creation. Not just human souls are saved, but all of creation is remade into what God intended for all of us. The visions of life lived in the very presence of God are the most compelling thing about that genre for me, and worth facing and making peace with the strangeness and occasional violence of those books.
The Bible texts included in the painting read: "They will be called oaks of righteousness, the plantings of the LORD." (Isaiah 61:3). "The righteous shall be like trees planted by streams of living water." (Psalm 1). "The LORD God planted a garden.... A river flowed out of Eden, and there it divided and became four rivers." (Genesis 2:8-10).
The painting was done in memory of my mother, Neta Wellford Kelly, but because of the tree of life imagery, I decided to include names from my personal tree of life along the stretchers on the back. I have found myself unexpectedly moved by lighting candles in Greek Orthodox churches on my travels, a completely alien action for a life-long Presbyterian. However, the tangible symbol of the prayer, continuing in the space even after I've left the sanctuary, is powerful. I decided to include the names of those who have been dear to me as a tangible prayer, keeping their names perpetually in the space of worship, even if I'm the only one who knows they are there.
I'm a little nervous about people seeing it for the first time on Sunday. It's big enough that folks can't ignore it, like it or not. I hope more people than not are happy to have it in their worship space. I love the Gothic idea of every craftsman in the village building the cathedral bringing their best work to be part of the house of God. I'm incredibly honored to be able to do that in my own way, and I hope the painting will be a help instead of a hindrance to people's worship.
We went to Ocean Springs this past weekend for Elmore's kayak race, but I enjoyed the art most of all, along with all the friends we saw while we were there. I spent Saturday morning (cloudy and rainy) in the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. He's one of my favorite artists, and they've recently restored the murals in the community center and done a wonderful job.
Sunday was sunnier, if still chilly, so I painted while Elmore went back out on the bay. It was fun to sit in one place and do three quick watercolors in succession. Both the setting and the rapid watercolors reminded me of painting on the sandbar on the Mississippi last fall. I'm hoping to get back out in my boat and paint more water as the weather gets warmer.
Elmore and I went down to the Battle on the Bayou kayak race that's now in its third year. It's a weekend I really look forward to -- good friends, a beautiful place, and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. It's early in the season for me to do an almost ten mile race (read "I haven't even gotten in my boat all winter"), so I drew the put in, headed for a morning in the art museum, and then sketched again at the take out.
The end of the race is at "The Shed", a bar-b-cue, blues, and biker joint right on the river. It's some surprisingly good bar-b-cue for being that far from Memphis, and it's also fun to hang out with friends we see only a few times a year. It was colder this year than previous times, but I still managed to draw before getting too cold.
I walked over to Rhodes today to spend a perfectly lovely afternoon painting outside. I've been meaning to get over there but hadn't yet, and now I'm wondering what took me so long. I'll definitely be going back, and I love painting destinations that are in walking distance for me.
I spent the afternoon and evening there, since my new Meeman Center class started this evening as well. I love their adult education classes. The profs are great, teaching things that really interest them but that they may not get to teach to undergrads, and the whole group of folks who take classes are so widely read and intelligent that the discussions are great. Meeman is a great verbal offset to my largely visual work.
(I posted just the first sketch I did. The second one needs just a couple of small adjustments that I don't have time to make tonight, so I'll post it later.)
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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