This colorful painting is made with hopes for the future. We’ve all had our share of negative transformations over this past year, and I am reminding myself and you that not only is our current situation temporary, but everything is temporary. Seeking the best of every situation will keep us strong and help us persevere.
I recently went to the Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park and found a shocking patch of weeds where the Dahlia garden usually resides. The Puget Sound Dahlia Association, whose members have been planting the garden each year since 1984, didn’t get to plant this year due to Covid-19. I assumed the decision not to plant was to discourage people from congregating in close proximity. They were a favored feature of the park, and I have high hopes they will return next year.
Luckily for me, I also used dahlias in last October’s miniature and had taken dozens of reference photographs that I could use for this painting. I paired the blooms with a Korean vase from the Seattle Art Museum’s collection. I love the subtle colors and the design that reflects the joy of the flowers in full bloom. I want to celebrate and remember the beauty that we once so freely enjoyed and will enjoy again.
I was saddened to hear earlier this week that the Seattle Art Museum’s downtown building would need to close again due to wintertime’s rising Covid-19 numbers. It does make sense to close nonessential businesses to keep us safe. But my gosh, I’m just so happy that I decided to highlight works from the museum back in January. It reminds me how grateful I am to have these beautiful pieces on view to the public, and I hope it reminds you as well. Please think about your local art museum this holiday season. These closures make a huge financial impact, so if you can help them out, please do so.
Each painting in this “Flights of Fancy” still life series includes a piece from the Seattle Art Museum collection. Unlike all the other miniatures in this series that included bowls and vases from the collection, the piece featured in this miniature painting is another painting.
Albert Bierstadt was known for rendering these sweeping, romanticized scenes, this one of a place he had not yet been. In this piece, “Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast”, Bierstadt portrays Native Americans and the Pacific Northwest in a scene equally idyllic and dramatic.
The flowers in the painting are peace roses and love-in-a-mist nigella. I worked on this painting during the time when protests began to sweep across the world calling for justice against racial discrimination. My work is not political, but it is very personal. My response is subtle, but it is genuine. I wanted to bring something into the world that held these two ideals. That of peace and love, hence the flowers and the title.
The birds are a pair of house finches, common in the Pacific Northwest, that I found in my pear tree in the back yard. I heard a rustling noise and upon investigation, realized they were mating! Something I’d never actually seen before. I’m hoping that’s a good sign for things to come.
When I started this painting back at the beginning of May, Italy was often in my thoughts with its explosion of COVID-19 casualties. Having spent a little time in Italy, it felt especially devastating because it struck me as a place so full of life, beauty and passion. This painting became my homage to Italy during a time of so much suffering, to remember the Italy I had known and to wish for it’s speedy recovery.
I chose two porcelains that seemed to speak to one another, each made in the Capodimonte porcelain manufactory Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte, operating in Naples Italy, 1743 to 1759. One features the two men playing cards in the sunshine, and the other a playful figurine of Columbine, a saucy and clever character of comedic Italian theater.
At times I felt like I was going to make myself go blind with some of the tiny details in this piece, but my quilting magnifying glass was a life saver—I can almost see numbers on the cards! These two objects are part of the Seattle Art Museum’s collection, and both can be seen in the Porcelain Room when the museum reopens. Links to the objects on the SAM website can be found below.
I wanted the painting to burst with the same life and passion I felt in Italy. My son and I cut a rainbow of blossoms from the garden, including the beautiful namesakes of Columbine. I count my blessings every day, and am thankful for my little pocket of paradise I have been so fortunate to be able to build.
DISCOVERING THE CAPODIMONTE PORCELAIN MANUFACTORY
For over a year I helped create mounts for the Seattle Art Museum’s porcelain room and learned about how Europeans were obsessed with learning the secrets of how the “white gold” was produced. With over a thousand objects in the one room, I completely overlooked the Capodimonte pieces. It wasn’t until recently that I learned about porcelain from this region when SAM hosted the exhibition, Flesh and Blood, Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum. The exhibition had little to offer in the manner of porcelains, but it was a feast for the eyes for a painter. I studied many of the pieces in the exhibition while in college (I even wrote an essays on one of them!), and it was such a privilege to see them in person. This led me to research the Capodimonte collection, and as it turned out searches for Capodimonte turn up not paintings but porcelains.
The factory was founded by King Charles and his wife Queen Maria Amalia Valpurga, who was the granddaughter of Augustus the Strong, the founder of the Meissen factory and one of the earliest champions of European porcelain. They recruited chemists, painters and sculptors to work at the factory. One of the biggest challenges in creating porcelains in southern Italy was that kaolin, a type of clay considered essential to porcelain, was in short supply. By experimenting with different combinations of clay, they developed a unique recipe that resulted in a warm white tone, bringing a distinctive appearance to the works from the Capodimonte factory. The factory was in operation a short time, between 1743 and 1759. In 1759 Charles inherited the Spanish throne, and when he left, the entire factory went with him to Madrid, becoming the Real Fábrica del Buen Retiro.
Though the Capodimonte manufactory did create pieces in a chinoiserie style (the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions), I was struck at how very Itallian these two pieces felt to me. The attire, setting and even the poses of the figures were likely taken from direct studies taken from life in the region. I remember when I was making mounts many years ago and being particularly fascinated by the chinoiserie style. It felt a bit clumsy and seemed just a bit off in what I found to be a very interesting way. These clearly European pieces felt too fussy in contrast. Now here I am, years later, learning everything I can about Capodimonte porcelain.
URN-SHAPED JAR 1750-57 CAPODIMONTE MANUFACTORY, ITALIAN Soft paste porcelain, 6 1/4 in. (16 cm), height, Dorothy Condon Falknor Collection of European Ceramics Photo: Paul Macapia
COLUMBINE 1750 CAPODIMONTE MANUFACTORY, ITALIANThis figure represents a character from Commedia dell’arte, the farcical Italian theatre. The character of the servant Columbine is witty, bright, and full of intrigue. She is often depicted dancing.
Soft paste porcelain, 6 in. (15.2 cm), height, Dorothy Condon Falknor Collection of European Ceramics Photo: Paul Macapia
More Images of “Capodimonte“, oil on aluminum, 4.5″ x 5.5”
Taking the time to smell the roses (or peach blossoms) is making a big comeback this year. One of the unexpected benefits of our isolation is finding time to connect with what’s growing and living outside our front doors. I have five fruit trees in my garden that I spend time with every year while I prune, mulch, and harvest the delicious bounty they finally bring me. Yet I rarely get the opportunity to marvel at the beauty they bring me each spring, when they are covered in a plethora of delicate fluttering blossoms. This year, I’ve been able to take that time. There’s are so many things still to be done, but now simple enjoyment is on that list.
My fruit trees were the first inspiration for this painting, and since the Seattle Art Museum is now closed, I searched their online database for my SAM inspiration. I choose this lovely piece, one of my favorite treasures of the porcelain room. It’s just as much a sculpture as it is a vase, and the masterful painting recalls the delicacy of the garden. Filling it with the branches from a fruit was an idea that came from a recent commission (pictured below) for Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art at the Seattle Art Museum.
The violet-green swallow can be found all over the western coast of North America, but you’ll most likely find them near open evergreen and deciduous woodlands. In the Seattle area, keep an eye out from March to September to spot one!
Wishing you all warm, healthy regards and some time to smell the roses.
JINGDEZHEN WARE VASE
1736 – 1795, Qinglong period, Qing dynasty (1644-1912) Chinese Hard paste porcelain 8 1/4″ x 13 1/2″ stamped Qinglong reign mark in seal script Seal mark of Ch’ien-lung on base Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection Photo: Paul MacapiaCollection of the Seattle Art Museum
The Qianlong emperor’s love of antiques inspired porcelain imitations of ancient lacquerworks and bronze vessels. The burnished dark green appearance of this vase recalls an ancient bronze.