I’m giving myself some vacation time this month after all the craziness but am also working slowly on this new print. I sketched after sunset one evening during my opening week. The family all walked down to enjoy the beach, but I got there first with my sketchbook to wait for them. You can see from the sketch on top that I need to lighten the pink and purple both, by a lot, and I’m keeping on carving on the blue block. I’ll whittle down those large blue splotches to more pattern. But I’m pleased with where it’s (slowly) headed.
Here it is with the third block that has both black and blue on it.
I celebrated delivering my new show by sketching lots and also buying a new "I HAD A SHOW AT WAMA" tea set that will forever hold these happy memories for me. I had gone to Shearwater Pottery just looking for a cream pitcher, since I'd recently broken one of my favorites. But of course I ended up with a teapot too. Actually not "of course" -- teapots are hard to make, and they don't always have them in stock. This blue/green/grey glaze was so gorgeous I couldn't resist. In an added bonus, when I got it home, I found that my new favorite tea infuser fits EXACTLY into the hole with the lid going just inside it, so it's my easiest to use teapot of all the ones I now have. (Lots of them, sadly, are too narrow for my infuser, so I use them less than I used to, but I do still rotate through them for joy.).
Speaking of joy, they got my show up on the walls before I left, so I sat in the gallery and did a celebratory sketch of it. So much joy.
I also sketched this tall tree that I've been wanting to do a print of. It's good to have sketches as well as just photos to work from, though both are helpful in different ways, especially for more detailed subjects. And I'm adding in a second vertical that I did at my opening weekend to balance it out. My mom's three best friends have shown up for me at all the truly important passages of my life, acting as her proxies. They couldn't be at the museum in person, but they sent these gorgeous flowers to mark the occasion, and I couldn't be more grateful.
I could not be more happy this week. I just got home from five days in Ocean Springs. My family came and stayed Wednesday to Sunday/Monday, thirty-three freaking friends showed up from out of town for the reception (most of them 6 hours away and some more than that). Several other friends saw the show the same weekend or came to one of the artist talks. I’m stunned and touched that so very many people showed up.
Very beautifully, three of Walter Anderson’s children came to the opening as well, sought me out, talked to me about my work, and told me that the movement and pattern and nature focus in my work was a great fit in this space and with their father’s work. Their father is one of my premiere art heroes, and that kindness from them meant more than I can put in words. Sarah Dutton from WAMA captured me talking to Mary with John in the background, and I was delighted that she caught the warmth and radiance of Mary’s kindness to me. John has been gracious over several meetings and always takes time to come talk to the children in the museum. The first time I saw my show on the walls two weeks ago, he was there talking to the kids, and I got to spend some time with him after talking art and hearing stories about his dad.
Melissa Bridgman took this photo of me and Leif, the other daughter, a dancer and dog lover and gently glowing person. I was delighted to meet her and her daughter as well.
I’ve mostly forgotten how to dress up and go out in public, but Kaleigh Donnelly took this photo of me in my favorite dress that made me feel exactly how I wanted to for this occasion, and I’m grateful.
Here are a few more shots by Sarah Dutton that I loved from the opening. The Old Ways from Oxford, Mississippi, played wonderful music that was just right for both St. Patrick’s Day and this traditional music loving woman. The whole night exceeded all my dreams, and I could not feel more lucky. It’s rare you get to say that. I finally went home, sat under the stars for a while, and wrote in my journal to help me remember in times to come.
Darel Snodgrass of WKNO fm kindly hosted me again to talk about my show at WAMA, sketching (always), the new catalog for that show, and my graphic essay about Mr. Darcy. With all that, he also kindly let me go on longer than usual. I'm so grateful for this daily show about the arts in Memphis. It gives musicians, theaters, dancers, artists, and other creatives a way to get the word out about the things we're doing, and I always learn a ton when I listen.
Y’all. I got this email from WAMA, and seeing my work side by side with Anderson’s made me tear up. I finished putting hardware on the very last framed piece today, and it’s all feeling very real and a little bit overwhelming in the best possible way.
I ran the press yesterday to print cards for WAMA, and I decided to do a short video to introduce myself to their folks who haven’t followed my work before. It’s always fun to show off the press. It’s such a superstar. And beautifully, the set up yesterday (getting a solidly good print across the whole frame) was easier than usual, so printing was a lot of fun. I was tired last night (I ended up doing almost 700 cards, since I’ll need a lot for a six month show run), but it went really well.
Y'all, WAMA has made a gorgeous website for my exhibition! I couldn't be more pleased. Above is a screenshot of the top of it, but to navigate the images and read all the text about the show and see photos of me working, click here. They are doing a beautiful job on every aspect of this show, and I can't wait to see it hanging in their space. I deliver art on Feb. 28th, and I have 20 of 21 prints framed.
I'm partway through mounting all the pieces (20 watercolors plus text bits) for the separate graphic essay about Mr. Darcy that will hang in a separate space. It's their first time hanging just mounted art instead of framed, their first graphic essay, and their first time hanging in a salon style (a more informal, collage style grouping). I'm so grateful they're trusting me to do this new thing for them. Mattie Codling, the curator, had asked me if I wanted to write a bit of story about Mr. Darcy to go with his print in the show, knowing what a large part of my art making he had been to me. I told her I would love to and that I also had this graphic essay about his last couple of months called Daffodil Season. It doesn't go with the formal print exhibition, but she found a separate space for it in the museum and is diving into this new thing. I have so appreciated her enthusiasm and support in the two years preparing for this show. It will be special to honor Mr. Darcy in this way, and I think anyone who loves and loses a beloved companion will resonate with it. Anderson had a number of animals he spent time with and painted and called familiars, so it's appropriate for his museum to honor these muses.
I’ve been working to get my catalog for the WAMA show in to the printer, and yesterday I picked up the hard copy proof. The reproductions look great, so I’m really excited. I’ve got a few small things to fix over the weekend — it’s always easier for me to see mistakes on paper than on multiple pages on a screen, but I’m really pleased and so glad I decided to put the time in to do this. It’s 32 pages, so the length of a children’s picture book. It won’t be a hefty art book, but it’s a nice size at 10” square, and the plates of the art printed beautifully. It will mean a lot to have a book to remember this show.
My summer project for fun was to do several prints of my art heroes, kind of a household gods series. One of them, of course, was Walter Anderson. The tricky bit, though, was that I was away from my home library, so I googled images of him instead of looking in my books the way I would have done at home. He looked, at least when they were young, strongly like his brother Mac, and Google lied to me and told me a photo of Mac was actually Walter. I did the print on the left, using images from his community center murals to surround the figure, and I was really pleased with the print. Sadly, later the very kind curator at WAMA told me regretfully that I had used the wrong photo from that day. Walter was wearing a pullover instead of a cardigan, and his hair was a little different. Since the family will see the show at the museum, I needed to be more historically accurate. So I carved away the buttons and managed to add some ribbing at the bottom of the sweater in places where the shadows were reaching up. The thing about printmaking is that you can keep taking things away all day. You cut away for the white in the print, and you leave the dark bits. Once you’ve cut away the dark bits, though, you really can’t put them back. I would have handled the throat and neckline differently if I had been starting from scratch. It’s a smallish issue, and likely no one but me will really look at it, but I’m left with a print that is less satisfying to me than the original.
So I’ve done two editions. Once you make noticeable changes to a block you can re-edition it and call it a new print. I printed what turned out to bee 44 good ones of the one on the left with the buttons and wavier hair before I cut more away. The pelican eyes fill up with ink easily (I try to clear them out between each printing), so I threw a few out (which happens with most prints). I’ve set an edition of 100 of the newer one, because it will be for sale in the museum store, and I’ve printed a first good batch of them. But I still think of the first one as Walter too, and if I have one out at home, that’s the one I’ll choose for myself.
I’ve been trimming, signing, and numbering the final prints for the show. I have a first batch of everything even if I haven’t printed the whole number of ones allowed. And I’m starting the long framing process. I’ve never done 21 for a show before, and I’m having to be way more organized than if I’m only doing a few. It would be easy to get confused and cut too many of one board size and not enough of another. So I’ve made myself a checklist. The categories are having the finished print signed and ready (almost all there), having the mat board cut (today’s project, and mostly there), the prints mounted on the mat board, having the Foam core backing cut, having the glass and frame assembled together (held together with a glued in spacer), and having the final framing finished for each piece. It’s going to be a marathon, and my intention is to chip away at it methodically while still holding some time for me to do creative work as well. I don’t turn the show in till late February, so hopefully that will go well. Next I have to clean out some storage racks to hold safely the pieces I’ve framed, because I have an occasionally hyper golden retriever teenager in the house, so my usual method of lining them all up leaning against cabinets in my butler’s pantry is out.
I drove down to Ocean Springs last week to meet with the curator, decide on the final pieces, and lay out my exhibition that opens in March. The nice thing about prints instead of large canvases is that I can take proofs of everything. We dumped them all out on the floor, laid them out, and moved them around in the actual exhibition space. It was thrilling to see it come together in a space with four doorways through to Anderson’s own work, visible in all directions. And it was deeply satisfying to see the whole body of work as a set after two full years of work on it. I had just the right number of pieces, which is a great feeling. The space was bigger than I remember (which is always how it happens). Prints are so detailed and take so much time for each piece that I had been wondering halfway through if I would have enough work. It was great to have the long lead time to make this show the best work I can muster for such a special place.
Now I have a nice couple of months for framing, which is good, because I’ve got 21 pieces to frame, easily double the number I’ve done before for any show. I have three more commissions to finish, and then I’m going to give myself some actual time off during the holidays before I start framing. I’ve done that successfully the last couple of years after several years of scrambling right up to Christmas. I’m looking forward to some down time after all the deadlines, but I’m so grateful for the work I’m doing these days.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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