He tasted the dry dust as he walked along the Historic Route 66 thoroughfare, the hot August winds bending the roadside weeds. After twenty years away, he had resolved to return to Turvey’s Corner to see what remained. What he hadn’t anticipated was his truck breaking down more than ten miles from the town he longed to see. Rounding yet another bend in the road and looking up at the weed-choked hill on his left, he felt his heart sink as he gazed upon what remained of the combination fireworks and souvenir shop. In the 1950’s, this established was one of the major draws for tourists crossing America via Route 66. Interstate 44 had managed to strangle and kill the few remaining businesses on old 66.
Pausing in silence, he felt a sense of loss as he gazed upon this relic barely peeking over the heads of the dancing weeds. But as he lingered, he slowly sensed a presence as he recalled the sounds that used to reverberate from this site. Station wagons would pull into the parking lot and children squealing with ecstasy would leap out of the car to rush inside and explore. Later they would re-emerge, their arms laden with moccasins, beaded necklaces and tomahawks.
During the Fourth of July season, he recalled the scenes of fathers pulling up in their cars on their way home from work. Though tired from their labors, they seemed to reignite with fresh energy as they went inside to fill grocery sacks with Roman candles, bottle rockets, firecrackers and sparklers to take home to anticipating children.
The conflicting emotions of loss and presence flooded the man’s soul as he trudged past this scene on his way to the town he once knew.
. . . . .
I am nearing completion of my fourth painting in the new series Turvey’s Corner 63050. For years I have looked for a vintage roadside fruit stand to include in my new project, but all I seem to find are new structures. Meanwhile I decided to go ahead and paint this derelict structure that I have passed by for years in southwest Missouri along Interstate 44 en route to St. Louis to visit my folks.
“Early Sunday Stroll” No. 3 of the Turvey’s Corner 63050 Series
There was no culture, you know, in Spoon River,
And I burned with shame and held my peace.
. . . and pray for another
Birth in the world, with all of Spoon River
Rooted out of my soul.
Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology
For the past week, I have spent every day chipping away at this watercolor of the view along Palestine’s N. Queen Street that passes between the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Redlands Hotel (the Gallery at Redlands is on the first floor of the historic hotel). Along with my painting has come a surge of reading and writing.
Earlier this year I purchased Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. This book encourages the recently retired to compose their memoirs. While working on mine, I decided to re-shape the narratives of my memories into fiction stories to accompany the paintings I am working on for my new project Turvey’s Corner 63050. This series is my own autobiography in paintings and reworked fiction narratives. The painting above is the third of this new series.
While working on my stories, and reading for inspiration, I struck gold this week, mostly from Rich Karlgaard’s Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement , Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology and Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond.
Karlgaard wrote that late bloomers are natural storytellers. He added: “In our personal lives, we think in stories, talk in stories, communicate in stories, and dream in stories.”
It’s safe to say that the default mode of human cognition is narrative. We instinctively make reason out of chaos and assign causality to all the random events that make up our lives. Stories help us do that. . . . We impose a narrative structure on otherwise random sequences of events until they cohere in a way that makes sense to us and that we can manage.
Reading these words set off a firestorm of creative eros within me and I found myself pouring out my memories on the pages of my journal and then reshaping them into fiction narratives. Opening the Spoon River Anthology, I began reading the lengthy Introduction by John E. Hallwas and found with delight the following testimony of the editor who discovered Masters and published his work in his own magazine:
But it was left to Edgar Lee Masters to take all this, or as much of it as suited his purposes, and fuse it and shape it into an artistic creation. . . . He saw and knew his Spoon River so well that when he came to write it out of himself, with his personality added to what he saw and knew, he wrote the life of man everywhere, or at least everywhere in America.
William Marion Reedy, Reedy’s Mirror, November 20, 1914
For the past twenty-four hours, I have found it difficult deciding between painting and reading Spoon River Anthology. So much of the testimony matches up with experiences I have known growing up in my part of the midwest. In the weeks ahead, I hope to continue adding stories and paintings to the blog as I probe this new venture. While working on this, I feel the presence of others looking over my shoulder and affirming my efforts, namely the great writers Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Garrison Keillor. Hazel also watches . . .
Hazel, my favorite Jack Russell Terrier, overseeing the blog
The sight of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church tightened the heart of the young divinity student when he turned the corner onto Queen Street. The early Sunday morning stroll had been the first relaxing moment he felt since his return to Turvey’s Corner for a semester break visit. The looming façade brought into his memory a passage he had recently translated from his Greek New Testament:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
During his teenage years, the fellow had “surrendered to the ministry” (the congregation’s description of his decision). Under the close watch of the Divinity School, he pursued with delight the serious exposition of the scriptures, and when he came across this passage, he felt his entire life turning smoothly as if on a hinge. The first eighteen years of his life had been given to pursuit of the arts, because it was discovered that he had a talent for drawing as soon as he was old enough to hold a pencil. But at age eighteen, he departed from the arts and pursued theology, believing that he should live a life of service to others rather than the pursuit of beauty.
When he translated the Ephesians passage, he discovered that the word rendered “workmanship” was poiēma, from which we take our word “poem.” We are God’s poem, he mused. Pursuing the Greek construction, he discovered to his amazement that “poem” is better translated “work of art.” We are God’s work of art. The text urges that we are God’s work of art, and we have been created for the purpose of quality work, and God determined beforehand that we should pursue that work.
The goals of pastoral ministry evaporated like the fresh dew on a summer morning as the young man suddenly determined that his natural, inborn talent lay in making art. During this Sunday morning walk, his mind was flooded with ideas and questions revolving around how he could merge his inborn artistic gift with the recent years of theological scholarship.
Mass would be starting in about ten minutes. He decided he would continue to pursue his own worship as he sauntered around the sleepy town. A rich Sunday morning was dawning.
. . . . .
I have begun work on the next installment of my Turvey’s Corner 63050 series. The actual setting above is a view of The Redlands Hotel (The Gallery at Redlands is on the first floor just inside the entrance shown). Across the street is the historic Sacred Heart Catholic Church that I have already painted four times. I have decided to include this city block in my fictional Turvey’s Corner series, and with it I am introducing a new character. The above story is a first draft that I hope to polish considerably over time.
Thunderstorms are pounding east Texas as I write this, and the Palestine skies are extremely dark and heavy. I stepped out once to run an errand and regretted it as I got soaked to the skin. This is a perfect day for staying inside to paint and read.
I am also very proud to announce that a dear friend and artist/colleague I have know for over twenty years, Cindy Thomas, has decided to make a video documentary of my work. The Turvey’s Corner 63050 series will be included in the presentation, and we will be filming from my home studio, our Gallery at Redlands, and the remote country store location in east Texas where I escape from time to time to work on my art. This will be a long-term project, and we shall keep you posted as it progresses.
One Happy Cluster of Athletes!
For days I have debated over whether or not to include this in my blog. I try to present myself as artist, thinker, writer, etc., but I feel compelled now to reveal that I am a St. Louis native, and that the St. Louis Blues became a franchise fifty-two years ago, when I was a high school freshman. I watched them enter the Stanley Cup Finals their first three seasons in existence and not win a single game–swept all three times, Then, for forty-nine more seasons they seemed to be a team built for the playoffs but not a championship. They made the playoffs twenty-five consecutive seasons, only to be eliminated in the first or second round. But every year I continued to watch, and believe.
On January 3 this year, midway through the season, the Blues were dead last in the NHL–anchored solidly in thirty-first place. Their coach had been fired and an assistant coach promoted as interim head coach. After January 3, they began to win. They made the playoffs as the third seed in their division. And then they began the four rounds of playoffs, each one a best-of-seven series. Sixteen wins were required to bring a Stanley Cup to their city for the first time in their fifty-two year history.
What I watched this time was the most amazing playoff series in my entire life. From my perspective, the Blues were less skilled than all four opponents they faced–Winnepeg, Dallas, San Jose and Boston. In every matchup, the Blues were slower and possessed fewer quality goal scorers. Some of their losses were the most humiliating lop-sided blow-outs on the scoreboard. Yet they proved resilient, almost never losing two consecutive games. After every loss, they regrouped and returned, eliminating Winnipeg in six games, Dallas in seven, San Jose in six, and ultimately Boston in seven. In every best-of-seven series, the Blues played hard-nosed, blue-collar style hockey, their MVP and leading scorer revealing after it was all over that he was playing with fractured ribs from the very first series.
I have enjoyed every St. Louis Cardinals World Series championship. And I felt something special when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl (but that team, especially its owner, can rot in hell now, as far as I am concerned). What I am feeling this morning with this St. Louis Blues championship I will never be able to describe. Fifty-two years the city languished as the team pushed for that accomplishment. And now they raise the Cup. And though several days have passed since that historic night, I am still vibrating from the memories.
Thanks for reading.
I make art in order to discover.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself I am not alone.
. . . and the Blues are the Stanley Cup Champions!!!!!
Summer Rapture, 8 x 10, in 11 x 14″ white mat, $100
Summer Rapture II, 8 x 10, in 11 x 14″ white mat, $100
. . . even the brightest and most creative aren’t immune to this nagging sense of dread–a feeling that, eventually, someone will pull back the curtain and reveal just how untalented and unworthy they truly are. Maya Angelou once confessed, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”
Rich Karlgaard, Late Bloomers
Quality sleep eluded me last night. I retired to bed around 1 a.m., and then REM activity aroused me at 4:50. Wishing to hold on to these details, I turned on the light, retrieved my journal, and recorded the dream for over thirty minutes. The time was well-spent, I believe. Turning the light out, I tried to return to sleep, but realized thirty minutes later that it wasn’t going to happen. So . . .
My morning in the Gallery at Redlands has been quiet and very satisfying. I have nearly finished reading Late Bloomers, and am so enriched by it. I used the quote above for a portion of my “talking points” that opened the weekend’s watercolor workshop in Flint, Texas. I shared with the group my embarrassment when introduced with glowing words such as my host had just used. After all these years of painting and workshops, I still feel that Toto from the Wizard of Oz is going to pull back the curtain, and the workshop participants will see that the “artist” is just a bent old man pulling levers, not accomplishing anything of value.
The format for this workshop was a first for me. I pre-planned every step of the painting process, and thought through how I could present this one-day session without making the participants think they were merely taking a “Painting with a Twist” class. The image sent me was taken from an Italian setting:
I received the image via email, and as I painted it ahead of time, I recorded in my journal the steps I took from start to finish. I emailed the line drawing, encouraging the participants to trace it onto their watercolor paper before coming to the workshop.
Next, I determined that I wished to render the top portion with Winsor & Newton Transparent Yellow, the bottom with Winsor Violet and a touch of Transparent Yellow, and the center with an even blend of the two colors.
From this point forward, I would take the students from the top of the composition to the bottom, demonstrating various techniques for rendering details.
I took my finished painting to the workshop for them to see as a reference painting, then began a second one from the initial line drawing, and demonstrated the stages in the same order as I had done just a few days earlier. I was astounded at the quality of all the paintings that emerged, and the enthusiasm of the participants still has me feeling warm inside.
All of this is just to say–this is not the way I paint. I have always disdained a formulaic approach to making art, and so have struggled with the pedagogical aspects of the artistic enterprise. Reading Late Bloomers has brought many of my feelings to the surface and I am attempting to get them out in the open. Because I didn’t learn the way I was expected to from my youth, I always harbored self-doubt about my abilities. And as a public school teacher, I always loathed the formulaic approaches handed me–lesson plans, teaching students the “steps” to the process, data analysis, grade distribution, ad infinausea. I still believe curiosity is the student’s greatest resource, and if s/he has the drive and courage to explore the frontiers of knowledge, this student should not be confined to “steps” of a process.
So. For the first time, I took my students through “steps” to a painting, but tried all along to convince them that following the steps wasn’t what made them an artist–each one had her own vision, and that vision is sacred. I didn’t expect identical paintings from them, and I didn’t get them. What I did get was an amazing array of paintings of an Italian scene. And each student seemed satisfied that she had created a quality piece of art and not a cookie-cutter reproduction of the teacher’s work.
I believe that all legitimate art is a synthesis of Apollo and Dionysus, the two competing gods behind Greek drama. Apollo represents the steps, the discipline, the rules of the craft. Dionysus represents the spontaneity, the passion, the individual’s creative eros. Last weekend, I brought Apollo to the session, but the students allowed their own Dionysus to enter the arena of creativity. And I still smile at the memories of that day.
Over-worked and under-rested, the aging men of Turvey’s Corner began their early-morning drive to St. Louis, twenty-seven miles east on Highway 30. Around the first bend of the highway out of town, they found a welcoming stop at Jerry’s Texaco. The bell cables clanged as the sedans rolled up to the gas pumps, and Steve, the young attendant, pushed aside his college books to hustle out and service the customers. The aroma of coffee brewing inside usually lured the men out of their cars and inside for caffeine stimulation and the exchange of local news stories. Visits here always seemed to make the workday go a little better.
Six Subjects in Search of a Painter
Steve was up late again, bedding down in the storeroom of the old filling station. He had closed the place at dusk after the last of the Turvey’s Corner work force drifted in and out, their work in the city done for another day. Steve himself could have called it a day but was too engrossed in his college studies to pack up the books and head for his garage apartment in the next county. So, with the owner’s permission, he would spend another night in the back storeroom where he kept his cot, amidst the smells of gasoline, oil, pit grease and the grime that had built up over two generations. The Texaco station was anchored on the first bend of the highway out of Turvey’s Corner. Interstate commerce had all but obliterated this sleepy town, and as soon as this young man graduated from the community college, he would depart as well. The local townspeople and patrons had no knowledge or regard for the things that stirred the soul of Steve. In their eyes, his purpose in life was to pump the gas, check the oil and keep the coffee pouring. But beyond the daily work of the station, Steve’s volumes of Thoreau, Frost, Whitman and Twain had opened to him worlds beyond this community. And his few camping possessions stored in this back room (Griswold frying pan, stove top percolator, kerosene lantern, Maxwell House tin) were the tether that kept him bound to the wild. He would be packing up his gear in a week and leaving without notice. It was time to emerge from this cocoon and embrace the world that was calling out to him.
. . . . .
Unable to sleep tonight, I decided to write a piece to go with my recent gas station painting, then revise the earlier segment I had written to accompany the still life painting. I’m in the mood tonight to put some more pieces in place for my Turvey’s Corner series.
We have learned things which are not in the scripts. . . . We have come to see how great is the unexplored, and many life-times will not bring us to the end of our quest. But we wish no end to our quest. We wish nothing, save to be alone and to learn, and to feel as if with each day our sight were growing sharper than the hawk’s and clearer than rock crystal.
Ayn Rand, Anthem
Working Sunday Morning in the Gallery at Redlands
In 2016, a year after my Artist-in-Residency at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, a group of artists from east Texas signed up for a three-day watercolor workshop with me on a spoil island in the Texas Laguna Madre. I had no idea then what a wonderful relationship would develop with them. This weekend I was invited to conduct another workshop with this core group in Flint, Texas. This morning finds me back in Palestine’s Redlands Hotel, ruminating over all the new insights that were exchanged among us the past couple of days. I posted the Ayn Rand quote above because I am reading Anthem for the first time, and the passage I read during this quiet reflective morning reminded me instantly of what was so precious this past couple of days.
Saturday Workshop in Flint, Texas
My workshop group was composed of beginning watercolor students along with well-seasoned artists in watercolor and other media as well. I had the privilege of gaining new insights from a photographer, an oil painter and a colored pencil artist, along with many other kindred spirits. And the joy I felt from the weekend of conversations did not stop with art, but also included great books and ideas related to religion. Most of this morning has been spent scribbling these memories in my journal so I can develop them further at my own leisure. Though a day has passed since I was with them, I can still hear their eager voices in my head and the atmosphere about me right now seems to crackle with intensity and approval.
One of Two Glorious Fishing Retreats
Amazing Colors in the Late Afternoon Light
The wonderful family that lodged me during this weekend also took me fishing three times. I am way behind in my fishing quota this year, but thanks to them, I am catching up. We spent a pair of evenings on this beautiful pond, enabling me to fly fish from a boat, working the lily pads and landing quite a load of bluegill. Later last night, we went to Lake Palestine, and I managed to pull in half-a-dozen catfish with the fly rod. That was an experience!
Possibly Finished with this One
This gas station painting I began recently after finishing the first of my new series titled “Turvey’s Corner 63050”. Years ago, I composed a short prose piece of a young man working in the old station, and have now decided to insert him (and the station) into the narrative of my new series. I haven’t yet come up with a title for this painting, but I have decided to include it, along with the still life below, to my new series. The still life was painted in my garage “man cave” a few winters ago. Here is my story:
The young man was up late again, bedding down in the store room of the old filling station. He had closed the place at dark, but was too engrossed in his college studies to pack up the books and head for his garage apartment in the next county. So, with the owner’s permission, he would spend another night in this station store room, amidst the smells of gasoline, oil, pit grease and the grime that had built up over two generations. The Texaco station was anchored on historic Route 66 in an obscure town east of Amarillo, Texas. Interstate commerce had all but obliterated the sleepy town, and as soon as this fellow graduated from the community college, he would depart as well. The local townspeople and patrons had no knowledge or regard for the things that stirred the soul of this young man. His volumes of Thoreau, Frost, Whitman and Twain had opened to him worlds beyond this community. And his few camping possessions stored in this room (Griswold frying pan, stove top percolator, kerosene lantern, Maxwell House tin) were the tether that kept him bound to the wild. He would be packing up his gear in a week and leaving without notice. It was time to emerge from this cocoon and embrace the world that was calling out to him.
Six Subjects in Search of a Painter
I am very happy today to announce that the inaugural painting of “Turvey’s Corner 63050” found a home this weekend. One of my workshop participants, a very accomplished photographer and oil painter, fell in love with it and purchased it on the spot. So I will post it once more as I say goodbye to another piece that meant a great deal to me while creating it.
Creativity is not the sole province of the young. Some of us simply need more time, experience, and experimentation to develop a path and realize our talents. Life is often defined by snags and setbacks, by detours and disappointments. Purpose and wisdom, strengths of the late bloomer, come from a portfolio of these experiences, making late bloomers more reflective, more considerate, and more patient.
Rich Karlgaard, Late Bloomers
Today has been a rich day for me. The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas has been nice and quiet, offering me plenty of time for reflection and painting. I finally finished the preliminary sketch I will use as a sample during Saturday’s watercolor workshop in east Texas.
View from the Gallery Desk
I have several more watercolors in progress that are waiting for my attention, so . . . Thanks for reading!
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
This coming weekend, I will be working with some of my favorite artists in east Texas. Every time they invite me to judge an event or conduct a workshop, I count the days till I get to see them again. They recently sent me a reference photo of a location in Italy that they wish paint. Before settling on the composition, they had already decided that they wanted to be instructed in architecture and foliage. I began work on this yesterday and poked around with it for a few hours, then returned to it today, spending more time looking at the reference photo than actually painting the composition. I felt like the carpenter who followed the dictum: Cut once. Measure twice. I always feel dissatisfied when my brush goes on automatic pilot because I am painting something I had attempted many, many times before. With this particular subject, I encountered many first-time objects and surfaces and had to concentrate on how to render them on paper. I always receive so much more enjoyment when engaged this way, constantly questioning, second-guessing. I am reminded of the sentiment of T. S. Eliot–the shadow falls between the conception and act of creation. And I feel something deeply satisfying when I linger in that shadow.
I am preparing to go on the road again, so I am not sure when I will post the next blog. But I always appreciate knowing there are people who look forward to the next installment. Thank you always for reading.