This year is the tenth anniversary of Memphis' stunning new main library. While I miss having one I can walk to in Midtown (I would use the library system much more if that were possible), I think the new building is marvelous. Since I love being surrounded by books, I've been enjoying going and painting there. I did several more over the last few days, including one of the children's area with fantasy trees designed by local artist Nancy Cheairs.
We lost our neighborhood bookstore at about the same time that we gained, in a small karmic payback, a walkable bakery and coffee shop. I've been grateful most of all to have somewhere to buy fabulous bread (I love walking home with it wafting scent from my daypack), but also to meet friends and occasionally have meetings. Pretty much, I love anywhere I can walk to, and Cafe Eclectic has been a great addition to the neighborhood.
We were too busy doing a variety of fabulous things for me to do as much drawing in St. Louis as I would have liked. In fact, I'm dreaming of a painting trip back for the Botanical Gardens and Tower Grove Park -- two lovely tracts of gardens created by the same benefactor. They both house multiple, charming 1870's era buildings and are beautifully maintained. I was lucky enough to dance my way through the Botanic Gardens after hours with the local contra dance group, and I've been dreaming of waltzing in herb gardens and fountains ever since.
We did get to another Cardinals game at Bush, and I got there early enough to draw the stadium before the game started. I also went to Tower Grove park the next morning and drew a gorgeous sycamore tree there that I had completely fallen in love with the day before. It seemed to call out for pencil instead of pen.
I also did a watercolor of the lily pond at Tower Grove (planted to replicate Victorian photos of the garden).
And we stopped for a little (more) Ted Drewes frozen custard on the way out of town, and I drew the funky old sign that had captivated me the first time we were there. This is a St. Louis institution that is well worth a stop for anyone passing through town.
Since I wasn't working towards my Memphis urban sketching show, I decided to keep a little bit looser sketchbook to document our trip through the Midwest. I did a couple of pages' worth of sketches from the passenger seat of the car as we drove through corn country on our way to Chicago.
We stopped for dinner on the way in Morris, Illinois, and I was charmed by the old houses and nice old downtown. I fell in love with the "good food" sign, and I wish I'd had time to do a full color watercolor of it, but we were running pretty late.
We decided for sure on the trip when we discovered that the Cardinals were playing that weekend at Busch. It was a day game, which is the right way to see Wrigley, and I was thrilled to be there for the first time. Our hosts had wonderful tickets, and it was a great afternoon, in spite of a late fold by the Cards' bullpen.
The next day was Elmore's race, and since it had been twenty years since I'd been there, I decided to spend the day in the Art Institute. They only allow pencil drawings inside the museum, and here are my few pages from the galleries. I mostly just looked, but I drew a few that I was unfamiliar with and wanted to remember (esp. ones with interesting composition, since that's what you can capture in pencil).
I was again short on time, so I didn't do any full color sketches downtown (I decided I'd rather look at other people's masterpieces for the day), but here are a couple of sketches I did waiting for the Art Institute to open.
Our last morning I walked out the back of the suburb we were staying in into the corn fields of the Midwest. There was a lovely horse farm, and I settled in long enough to draw it in color.
I've been painting lots of my favorite places and views around Memphis (or, at least, the sections I visit regularly, which my friends will tell you are fairly limited). However, I don't want to put a gloss on the city and am trying to find a range of views, from pretty to gritty, if you will, even though I realize that my style makes everything seem a bit more cheerful than normal.
In the interests of balance and reality, this is the alley behind my house, complete with the patch from our recent sinkhole repair.
I grew up in this lovely, gothic church, right in the middle of the old part of Memphis. It is imposing in its own right, but it is also hung inside with exquisite, lovely, beautifully-executed watercolors done by a former minister with a strong artistic streak running in his family. So I've been a little intimidated thinking about also trying to capture the church in watercolor, but it's such a part of my life that it has to be a part of this series about my personal landscape.
Even though my pen and ink style is quite different from Paul Tudor Jones' delicate watercolors, I also deliberately chose a non-traditional view, from way across the parking lot and the alleyway behind adjoining businesses. I plan to do some close-ups of the church as well (probably interiors or bits of the garth), but the urban setting of this view appealed to me. As a church, Idlewild has made a commitment to staying in and being involved with its urban neighborhood instead of fleeing to the suburbs. I'm grateful for such a community-oriented church, and I'm grateful that I can walk there every Sunday from my home.
I combined urban hiking with urban sketching this morning and walked through the park to Overton Square. This is a great walk, and I miss the square housing more businesses that I want to patronize. Hopefully Loeb can get it back on track after years of absentee landlords driving it into the ground. I love restaurants, theaters, and stores that I can walk to without having to get the car out.
Fortunately there are still some thriving businesses. Playhouse on the Square (actually the above is now the Circuit Theater in the same theater family, and I can't quite get used to its new name) is a wonderful organization. They not only put on great shows but support other local arts groups and individual artists. My show of these Memphis sketches will be in their lobby this November and December.
While this row is largely empty, I'm thrilled that Golden India is still hanging on. They are the site of Elmore's and my first date, and they're a wonderful family run restaurant. I'm looking forward to the cooler weather that will let Elmore and me happily walk through the park for dinner. A rejuvenation of the square should be great for them as well as for all of us.
I had a perfectly lovely afternoon. The weather is much cooler, so I spent four and a half hours walking around Midtown, stopping to sketch, and taking a break at Yo-Lo, where I saw a number of friends. I love living in a walkable neighborhood and running into people I care about when I'm out and about.
I also drew yesterday morning between my early morning at the farmers' market and meeting Elmore at the marina (he waited 'til later to run my dad to the car rental place). Miss Cordelia's always has an inviting-looking patio, though to draw it I was hunkered down on the sidewalk instead enjoying its comforts. Thank goodness for my inflatable pillow. I am never going on another art trip without it.
I've always loved the broad vista of Poplar Avenue, how you can see all the way downtown from the middle of it. I've also always loved the spinning "Sputnik" sign at Joe's Liquor, the unofficial neighborhood mascot. When the sun came out, this double whammy of images drew me today.
Since everyone does art of the Sputnik sign, though, I decided to try an inside view of Joe's as well. Fortunately they're great people in there and were not at all fazed when I asked to hunker down in the floor and draw for a while. They recently did a whimsically mod renovation, and I had a great time drawing the interior.
I painted in my neighbors' garden today, and it's lovely not to have to get in the car to go work. The naked lady lilies have been blooming this month, and they always feel very old south to me. I decided I wanted them in my show about Memphis. Besides, I love their birdhouses as well.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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