I'm still dreaming of our overnight on Dean Island and trying desperately to figure out how we'll get the time to go back and let me paint before it gets too cold. It was a beautiful place, and it felt like we just stepped out of time. We lay on our backs by the campfire and looked up at the whole dome of the sky above us, watching the Milky Way and one perfect falling star.
The island was pristine when we got there, but I loved painting Elmore's footprints that he made hunting firewood for us. Looking at these paintings in retrospect, I want to just jump right back into the footprints and walk into Dean Island again.
Memphis gets slammed (usually by those living here) for not having mountains or beaches or "natural beauty", but I think the carpers are missing out. What we have is the biggest, most magnificent river in North America, and it is a wilderness adventure of its own. I've been lucky that Elmore has introduced me to the world of kayaking. It's a intimate and powerful way to explore the world.
Monday (since Elmore and I work for ourselves, we usually work through weekends and then take small trips when the weather is right) my dad drove us up to Drummonds, TN, about 36 miles north of Memphis, and dropped us at the boat ramp there. A friend had told us about Dean Island, and we decided to camp there instead of the more usual stop by Shelby Forest Park. It was stunning. I'm a huge fan of Walter Anderson, the coastal Mississippi painter who made numerous trips to paint on Horn Island. I now understand the draw. I can't wait to get back to Dean Island.
It was absolutely pristine, peaceful, and remote (except for occasional barges). The sandy beaches with twisted driftwood reminded me just a little of my friend Matt Matthew's stunning southwest photography, but with our river and greenery mixed in. We got there in that golden, late afternoon light, and I wanted to just paint for days.
I started with some sketchbook pages (this blog entry), but I finally switched over to doing just one painting per page. I so admire artists like Elizabeth Alley who come up with these sketchbooks that are works of art in themselves, but I find that I invariably wish I had such-and-such a drawing on a separate sheet so it could go in a show or be otherwise independent. Here are my three sketchbook pages before I switched over to doing one-to-a-sheet watercolors, which I'll post soon.
I had a lovely, nostalgic day drawing downtown recently. My dad used to take me down to the office with him pretty regularly. I'd draw on the legal pads, watch the fish in the waiting room, and play with the staplers. Then we'd walk to Court Square, visit a magical second-hand bookshop, and buy popcorn at the Kress drug store to feed the squirrels and pigeons.
Kress's isn't there anymore, but the lovely old building with the intricate terra-cotta tiling is. And I found I could buy a small paper bag of "squirrel food" at the also venerable Peanut Shop. So I had caramel corn while I drew and fed the squirrels afterwards.
Then I headed over to Front Street, right by Dad's old office, and did another piece.
(And on a more recent nostalgic note, you can see the rooftop of the Madison, where Elmore and I were married five years ago, peeking over the top of Kress's.)
Part of my personal landscape, unfortunately, is the zoo overflow parking on the Greensward, the one big picnic field in Overton Park. Every nice weekend, plus a good many other days, the zoo parks hundreds of cars right on the most used part of the park. This weekend, they not only parked as usual, but they crossed the "line of demarcation" which they are not supposed to cross -- marked by their own workers, ironically, in bright orange cones. They're supposed to leave the rest of the field for people (having completely spoiled the view and restful nature of it with their hulking SUV's). Saturday they blatantly crossed the line. I'm not doing a lot of overt social commentary in this series, but this is one issue that continues to burn at me.
A fellow artist lives on the block, and we decided to go out drawing together. It's always fun to see what someone else makes of the same area and to have a little company. We headed down to Victorian Village because my Park Friends group was having a clean up on Saturday, and I needed to pick up bags and gloves from Memphis City Beautiful (bless them for their long legacy of work in Memphis).
It was fun to just wander around the gardens in the shadows of these lovely houses. I painted the Woodruff-Fontaine house first and then joined Stuart at her overlook of St. Mary's Cathedral.
St. Mary's had been on my list to paint anyway, as one of my special places. It's the Episcopal cathedral in town, and I grew up going often with my grandparents. I still miss the prayer book and beautiful liturgy, even though my home church of Idlewild has a great community of people.
I had a good day yesterday, working around home. First I took another swing at the little strip above. My color use has changed since I tried it before, and I cropped it a little differently this time. I'm really drawn to this area.
Then, there was a day baseball game, but the local Cardinals affiliate pre-empted it for talk shows instead (urgh!), so I stayed close to the house where I could stream it over my computer instead. I love listening to baseball while I work. So I painted the row of houses across the street from me.
And then I painted my set-up, having stepped back from it to take a phone call and gotten the idea. This is the corner of the sidewalk I can see from my childhood bedroom in this house (I stayed often with my grand-parents as a kid), and the "Autumn and Hawthorne" street sign has meant home to me for a long time.
And finally I moved to the back porch and painted my husband's workshop, formerly the garage. Elmore builds his beautiful chairs and tables out back and worked for almost a year to convert the old garage into his workplace. I love looking out back and thinking how happily I share this place with him.
The restored old band shell in Overton Park (where my great-grandmother did costumes for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in the 1930's) is once again having concerts for the neighborhood. It's been lovely to be able to walk over, see neighbors, and hear free music ten weeks out of the year. Monday night was the Jim Dickinson Folk Festival, in honor of one of our local, legendary musicians and producers. I loved hearing Sid Selvidge, the Dickinson boys, and Jimmy Crosthwait perform as the Sons of Mudboy. It was great also to be able to sit and draw friends sitting nearby, who are in the foreground of this piece.
I love painting places in my everyday life, and this house is on my morning walk. The porch and winding walk always look so inviting to me, and their garden is gorgeous. It also is a daily happy blast back to my childhood, since they grow impatiens, which make me think of my grandmother, and a huge cloud of daisies that remind my of my awesome great-aunt. So I had to include this place in my personal landscape that I've been constructing through this series of watercolors.
Yesterday was one of the best kinds of Sundays. I walked to early church with my art pack and stopped and sketched on the way home. Then I had a much-needed nap after the long day at Cooper Young fest the day before, and then Di Anne Price and her Boyfriends (my favorite band ever) were playing at Midtown Hueys. I love it when they're in Midtown, because I can walk over, and also that means they're playing the 4-7 pm slot instead of the late evening. I went early and drew the bar, which I love for all the bottles and the big mirror on top. We hung out with friends and my dad and had a thoroughly good time, and then the Cardinals won their game last night. Perfect day.
I did my first big fair yesterday. For years I created gallery-sized and -priced oil paintings, and they didn't seem as though they were in the right price range to try any art or craft fairs. Then a couple of years ago, I got into printmaking, and now with the letterpress, I can offer card packs for $10. Last year I piggy-backed on Elmore's booth at the Pink Palace Crafts Fair, but this was my first time to set up my own tent and display of my work. It was fun to be out there all day, seeing friends as they came through, and feeling a part of the festivities. I'm looking forward to a little expanded presence at Pink Palace this fall, and while I don't want to travel to tons of these shows, I'll be looking for a few places I can go and enjoy showing my work while being somewhere I like to be anyway.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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