Saturday, November 26, 2011

The art of being grateful

A big bunch of holly from the lovely big tree in our garden
It's just past the Thanksgiving celebration here in the USA. This is a holiday I adopted happily, and I cook up Lee's favourite's because he loves the holiday. We've had some interesting Thanksgivings over the years in various countries, making do with what we could find for the meal. Each one special, I should do a blog on that alone! Part of the tradition is to reel off a long list of things to be grateful for.
I have much to be thankful for - like this morning I Skype'd with my family in South Africa. My eldest nephew just had an operation, a success, but it was a relief to see his face and his lovely big smile and hear his delightful sly humour. Isn't technology a boon sometimes? But I don't understand how people can't get away from their electronic devices - they're connected 24/7/365. Ugh. I turn my phone off, my computer off. I think that's why voicemail and e-mail and facebook were invented - to walk away, and then walk back and check whenever you want to do so. I turned off my computer last Wednesday and didn't turn it back on until today, Saturday. Guess what? My e-mails were waiting for me, my facebook page gave me all the updates. My voicemail gave me my messages. The earth kept turning!
So, I am grateful for family, love, friends, health, cats and dogs who keep you grounded, and technology because it keeps me connected when I want to be connected. Oh, and VERY grateful for a glass of wine and good food.
I've been decorating the gallery for the Christmas season, it's early I think. However, it might be an art gallery but it's still retail. I'm also grateful for my gallery and the gift I have to make art. And the joy of making a living doing something I love. We've got big holly trees just outside our window in the garden - I walked past on my way to the gallery this morning, snipped off some and voila! I have an instant bunch of holiday cheer in a nice pottery vase.
And, I'm grateful for my dear Scots mother who taught me, "It' a great life, if you don't weaken!"

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Art of the Muse

My Africa, acrylic, burlap, canvas - ©2006 Anne Jenkins

When I was a small child in Africa I had an imaginary friend. I used to potter around having these very earnest conversations with her. I have no idea what her name was or if she even had one.
My godmother, a tough, funny lady from Yorkshire, was fascinated by this invisible friend. I would toddle around our two acres of garden and then off in to the woods chatting away to my imaginary friend and hardly aware of the entourage traipsing along behind me. Close to my heels was my dog, and whenever she visited, my godmother tiptoed close by, chortling happily. Ambrose, our night watchman, who had a special place in his heart for me, followed behind. He wasn’t instructed to, he just guarded me fiercely, nothing untoward would ever happen to his “nkosianne.”
When I grew older my family slowly forgot about my imaginary friend. Ambrose never wavered in his devotion. When I announced I was to be married, he traveled miles to come and inspect the husband to be while I visited home one weekend. He didn’t wax lyrical with enthusiasm. Perhaps I should have taken note, the marriage didn’t last.
Ambrose is no longer with us, hamba kahle my faithful Ambrose, but I am sure he is still guarding me in spirit, and no doubt shaking his head often.
But, I still talk to my imaginary friend. Only now I realize she is my muse. And I suppose she always was - she gave me more than fellowship as a tiny tot. She offered advice when I was going to be the world’s greatest ballerina at age eight, “why not?” and then as I kept growing taller and taller, She muttered, “Well, perhaps not.” She encouraged me to draw and experiment with colour, and slyly “do not keep inside the lines.” She practically held the pen and said “Write, damn it!” as I dithered over whether I could weave words together.
Muses are different things to different people. Some have real people or countries or cities. I have a non-existent friend/muse in my head. Thank goodness. It’s good to have someone else to argue with in your head, than just yourself. Maybe sometimes we have the good angel/bad angel thing going. Note to self, let the good angel win more often.
I don’t know if all creative people do this, but I can have long periods of what looks like inertia. I look as though I am doing nothing. But I am actually thinking a process through, or trying to work out how to do something, or what to do. Or I disappear in to fantasy land to see how it will all end up, or how I’d like it to end up.
All this in the mind experimentation is too much for one person, so an imaginary friend/muse is just what is needed. I’m glad I have had mine for so long.

Friday, November 11, 2011

the Art of doing good

Helping someone in need boosts the spirit. Helping lots of people in need really gives you a kick. It’s especially sweet when they are helping themselves and all you are doing is giving them a hand, or acting as cheerleader. I am hardly in a position to hand out largesse, financially or of the great wisdom variety. I’m pretty much living hand to mouth - albeit happily - I may not have much materially but that doesn‘t bother me at all. I am very rich in love, family and friends.
But what I am doing feels extra special. I am talking about The Bag of Hope project. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet here - I’m not doing this on my own. Lee, my sister, Ruth, and her friend, Maurean, are involved and all the wonderful, cheerful characters that make up the Amandwe Support Group in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. We are truly a grassroots organization.
It’s primarily women helping women. We are nearly all women - except for Lee and a couple of other males involved. The story behind the project is this:
A group of unskilled women in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal, formed a support group for those living with HIV/AIDS, especially the orphaned children. But with a lack of skills, their problem was how to make some money. They lack skills but not determination. They believe in “Vukuzakhe“, Zulu for “Wake up and do it for yourself.“ They formed the Amandwe Support Group - Amandawe is the area they live in.
They are learning to sew and embroider, tutored by Ruth. They produce little fabric landscapes or pictures made from donated handmade and dyed fabric and thread. Ruth’s friend, Glenda of Amafu Fabrics, donates this glorious mountain of colour. Each picture is different and charmingly simple. Some depict African life, some are whimsical, others are embroidered over the hand-dyed fabric. They send the landscapes to me. Once here, Lee irons them on to canvas tote bags. I set up a website, face book page and the bags sell for $30 at my gallery. All profits go to the group.
The group think big - they participated in a community center to provide education, support and material help for the needy. They run a soup kitchen and feeding program for the little ones, a portion of the money from these bags goes directly to the soup kitchen. This is a safe zone for the children.
It is very heartwarming. But the thing that really amazes and enthralls me is to see how the ladies in the group have grown in confidence and artistic ability. When they started they made these little simple landscapes. We sold them. They made bigger and better landscapes - we sold more. They blossomed. Now the landscapes are more complex. They are still charming, emotional, funny and beautiful. The ladies quite rightly take great pride in their achievements. They are making money, “with my own hands,” and this modest sum means an enormous amount to each and every one of them. Not to mention the children they care for.
There are now similar projects in the U.K., Canada and Australia working with the group. A couple of the ladies have made and sold their own bags. They are fighting the odds and making progress and are more successful ever year. Go to the website and face book page (click LIKE of course) and see what we’re doing.
One of the latest landscapes for The LadyBug Shop here in Milford. Landscape by Elsie.
Art has lifted them up and at the same time, lifted us all. My small part in all this makes me feel very good. How sweet it is when this happens. And what a pleasure!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The art of a good week that was...

What a great week! I sniffle with cold … my nose runs and my throat crackles with coughs, so why do I think I just had a great week? Well, because it was:  1. I sold a painting. 2. The sun sparkles in a crisp, cold sky. 3. I made a good start on two commissions that have been waiting patiently for me. Perhaps the buyers who commissioned me are less patient, but they have been understanding. 4. Lee brought home some yummy Jamaican curried goat from a small stand in Dover for dinner. And, the big good news story: 5. I was amoung a small group of artists invited to participate in an Artist Roster Focus Group by the Delaware Division of the Arts.
It was a lively group with lots of ideas and opinions thrown out all the time. As a staff member of the DDOA said afterwards, “The atmosphere was electric.” It was informative, it was fun and we laughed a lot. I met some cool new friends, heard interesting new ideas and got a big buzz out of it. An updated and exciting roster of Delaware artists will be the result. They also served excellent cookies.
I might sound all ditzy as though I’ve been imbibing their pixie dust - but I am just constantly amazed by my new home, this wee State of Delaware. The support the state gives it’s artists is nothing short of exceptional. There are states that can barely spell art - and there are dreadful politicians who want to cut funding to the arts in states and nationally. By lucky happenstance I plonk myself down in a state that nurtures the arts and understands the importance of the arts - for children, for education, for adults, for the state and the country. But, very importantly, for the artists themselves.
Delaware also understands artists actually can make a living from their art - just like the guy on the road construction crew, the bank manager or shop assistant. They understand when I sell my paintings that money goes back in to the local economy. They also understand a rich diverse arts community brings tourists, and the accompanying tourist dollars, to the state. They understand art is good for the soul and the state needs to retain it’s artistic talent.
I wax lyrical but it is just so damn refreshing to have supportive government behind your back as an artist. It doesn’t guarantee people will like my art, or buy my art, but it gives me encouragement and support. That is priceless.
Fun in the sun .... it's the small things in life
And I have a nice apartment with lots of light and my cats played happily in the sun, we ate good food and drank nice wine. All is well with the world. Who cares about a flu sniffle or two - that will pass.
So, you can see why I had a good week. Here’s hoping for many more…