I had an absolutely marvelous experience last week. I have a show of my girlhood and womanhood prints up at Memphis Theological Seminary, and I was invited to give a lunchtime convocation and conversation on women, their bodies, and gender roles in the church. It was powerful to me to grow up in a church with a woman in the pulpit, Louise Lawson Johnson, who has been a huge influence on both my faith and my art career. She not only modeled a woman with full agency leading worship (essential for me at any church I might attend), but she enlisted me to illustrate a national Bible study of Revelation for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., my first major illustration job.
My womanhood series celebrates women with full agency in several venues, clerical, sexual, and, more traditionally but important to many women, parental.
Matt Matthews, a teacher there and also a photographer whose work I admire greatly, gave me a touching introduction and kicked things off talking about the images of girlhood that Barbie locks us into and suggested that my girlhood prints in the same series offered alternative roles for girls, emphasizing imagination and delight and confidence.
I ended the slide show with a temporary mural I had done for Idlewild Presbyterian when I was artist-in-residence there. One of our huge doors went out for repair, and I painted on the plywood replacement that graced the hall for a few months. I painted a vision of God as a nursing mother, based on Isaiah 66. God speaking to Jerusalem says, "Behold, I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like an overflowing stream; you shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees. As one whom a mother comforts, so I will comfort you."
The room was full of students who showed up for an arts conversation on their lunch hour. They had powerful comments, questions, and personal experiences to share. I was honored to be able to talk about a range of subjects with such engaged and interesting people.
They were especially excited about the image of God as a nurturing mother. One man told me it was liberating to him as a man, which was beautiful to hear from my female end of things. A number of people stayed after to talk more, two students had emailed me before I even made it home, and four theology students with student loans and tuition payments were moved enough by the art to buy a print. It was an amazing day, and I felt so honored to be a part of a conversation like that. I'm still thinking about it a week or more later. And I think I need to do a new print of Isaiah 66, seeing how much the text spoke to people. The plywood door was such a temporary piece of work. I'd really like to revisit that idea in my newer medium. I'm grateful for the room of people who came and shared those ideas with me and sent me home inspired and excited all over again about the work I'm lucky enough to do.
I have been quiet here this week because of a pretty loud and chaotic week in my real life. In the best possible way. It was Memphis's annual contra dance weekend (a lively form of American folk dancing), and I put up eight house guests and hosted the late night swing party in addition to dancing all weekend
I saw tons of friends, celebrated my birthday by dancing with some of my favorite partners, and I got I to do lots of this:
Thanks to Kevin Riggs for the happy photo to remember the weekend by, and to Dennis Wise for some great dances.
I've been getting back to work this week, sketching outside some to enjoy the weather and giving a presentation at Memphis Theological Seminary in conjunction with my show there. (More on that later.)
I'm also doing a lot of carving. My latest print is a diptych for my show at Dixon Gallery and Gardens this fall. I want to do something special for a museum show, and I'd also like to vary the size of my prints for it. I've never tried a two part print, but it's fun to stretch myself. A diptych also doubles the size I can work in, since I'm already using about the maximum bed size of my modest sized press.
Here's the first proof of both halves.
This print is based on one of my favorite pairings. I enjoy revisiting favorite images in a new medium to see how the look changes over time and with different materials.
It's finally warm enough to sketch outside again. Cloudy, but warmish. I ran down to Elmwood Cemetery today to drop off some prints for their gift shop, and I also sketched this gorgeous magnolia while I was there.
I've been having fun with the fountain and brush pens. I got a new bold tip Lamy fountain pen, and I tested it out last night. I was mostly carving a new print block, but I took a couple of breaks and sketched Mr. Darcy while he lay beside my chair.
Mr. Darcy also accompanied me to the farm today. The daffodils are blooming on a hilltop out there. Every year I try to sketch the beauty, and every year I fall short, but here is this year's effort.
It feels good to be out in the world sketching again. I hope spring has really come.
Here's a new block I've almost got done this week. It's a scene from Country Workshops, a grove of trees I've painted several times over the years. I intend this print for my fall show at Dixon Gallery and Gardens.
This is the first color proof, but it's close to what I want. I'll do a little clean up carving, and I think I'll hand paint a blue sky, just to see what that would look like. I'm really trying to keep a lot of these prints to just two blocks, though. It's a huge addition of labor each time you have to mix ink, hand roll each one, line it up, and print it on the proof press. Two times is way better than three, but the blue sky in the original sketch is pretty integral, so I'm going to try it.
Here's the underneath block. I roll the green and yellow at the same time, using one block there instead of separate printings.
Here are the two blocks together along with the original sketch.
Memphis is on the ice line, so if there's winter weather, it's usually sleet, freezing rain, or the occasional truly debilitating ice storm. Today we got 4-5" of lovely, actual snow. I'm totally ready for spring, but this is the best option if there has to be frozen stuff on the ground. It's in the 20's, but I took my tiny watercolor set and waterproof inflatable cushion and did two very quick sketches on my dog walk today. It was too rare an opportunity to completely pass up.
In other news, I'm working on a new print today while listening to the very first game of spring training, and I could not be more delighted that the boys of summer are getting started back. Hopefully the weather will soon follow.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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