September has been a crazy month. As you may have noticed, my little garden gives me a lot of produce, and I’m a bit obsessed with not letting it go to waste. I feel like I jumped from a plum roller coaster right into an ocean of pears! I’ve canned 50 jars of pears (underestimate), eaten a million pears (overestimate) and baked a decadent French Pear Tart.
My mom gave me my pear tree 12 years ago, and it’s getting really big. Since our cherry tree came down, the pear is the new favorite for the birds. Our resident Steller’s Jays like to nip at the fruit on the top of the tree, so it felt perfectly natural to invite this Jay to the French Tart party.
Speaking of a crazy month, my own little bird (five your old son) started kindergarten, and talk about roller coasters. My emotions keep going up and down with excitement and fear. Except for a few school bus mishaps in the beginning, it’s been a pretty smooth transition. He is such a sweet little guy, and he really appreciates special homemade treats like this. He loved the tart, but he REALLY loves the canned pears. I have every faith that we’ll go through those 50 jars! The tart was incredible, but with a 21 step recipe, it’s a once-a-year occurrence.
I haven’t quite accepted that fall is already upon us and plan on staying in denial for as long as possible. I hope you enjoy the sunshine and warmth while it lasts and take some time to enjoy a special treat too.
Gifts of Summer, finding gratitude in difficult times
Sometimes inspiration comes from distant shores or precious objects, but for me, most comes from the world outside my window. In my backyard garden I find plants and creatures that add meaning to my life, remind me of my community, and inspire my work.
I just reached the fourteenth anniversary of moving to my house. It came with four fruit trees, a half dead lilac, and rhubarb plant. The rest was grass, weeds and more weeds. Now hundreds of plants grow in the garden where I designed and built 14 tons of slate walls and paths, with the help of some very kind friends.
Central to my garden’s design was a prolific cherry tree. Although it came with a forked trunk and showed some evidence of rot, we cared for it as best we could. It started to lean more this spring, yet it also produced more fruit this year than it has for many years past, which encouraged us. The cherries on this tree have always brought so many wonderful visitors to nibble on cherries, which are neither too sweet nor too tart. Each year brings a new surprise bird: last year a huge pileated woodpecker gorging on cherries, and this year several vibrant yellow and red Western Tanagers. I’ve never seen these timid birds in the yard before, and I was able to photograph them from my bedroom window.
Two days after the photos were taken however, we woke to find that overnight, the leaning tree had become the laying-on-the-ground tree. We didn’t hear a thing, but just like that it was gone! Luckily we had a cold spell and over the next two days, I went through the branches and saved all the cherries I could. It was a surprisingly huge amount, since I could easily reach all the branches!
Some of those cherries are here in my painting, beautifully paired with a vibrant yellow porcelain from the Seattle Art Museum. This bowl is one of a pair recently installed at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park (hopefully soon to reopen!). When I held these bowls during their installation, they immediately reminded me of a piece I got to know early in my career at SAM.
Many years ago, I made mounts for the Porcelain Room, and I handled hundreds of fine porcelains (just about everything had a custom mount for earthquake mitigation purposes). I would carefully pick up each object and take it to my work table to fit for its mount. I picked up a bowl that was one of a pair, remarkably similar to the yellow bowls but glazed blue. I stopped halfway to my table in surprise. I could feel it. After holding hundreds of pieces in my hands, I could feel absolute perfection. The yellow bowls have the same breathtaking feeling of quality, and are identical as far as I can tell, which is quite a feat for a handmade piece!
Every other detail of the painting is special to me in some way. The dragonfly visits me almost daily in my vegetable patch, flying in precise yet economical loops. The pink poppy I grew from seeds originally gathered almost 10 years ago from my neighbor’s yard. I grow poppies because my dad grew poppies, and his dad before him. The delicious orange orange raspberries come from plants given to me by the talented artist, Rachel Maxi. And last but not least, Isaac found a weed on a recent hike that he picked for me to put in my next painting. I treasure his involvement and interest, and his selection balanced out the yellow in the composition nicely. Plus, how could I resist his imploring little face!
In these times of social distance and other disconnection, I hope you can look around and enjoy your own personal gifts of summer. Please enjoy this month’s painting, keep well, and enjoy the sunshine!
1723-35, Porcelain with yellow overglaze height 2 5/16 in., diameter 4 in., Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.37.1 Photo: Paul Macapia
From the Seattle Art Museum website: Colored wares require a second firing at a lower temperature to fuse the enamels to the transparent porcelain glaze beneath. They distinctly reflect the imperial taste for exquisite design and potting. The combination of white interior and yellow exterior is a color code for wares made for the first-rank concubine, as specified in the Regulations of the Palace of the Qing Dynasty.
Finally! My March spring flowers still-life painting was a bit late. After we suffered nasty bout of illness in early March, followed by the challenging transition to working-and-schooling from home, we’ve finally figured out my new painting schedule.
Being sick while caring for a 4-year-old was really difficult. My husband and I were both sick for most of March, and we took turns resting while we did our best to keep Isaac fed and out of trouble. I have never been so thankful for the sunshine and spring flowers.
The flowers for this spring flower still-life painting came straight from my backyard garden. I had to include daffodils, since they are the subject of my favorite poem (included below) and one of the first of my flowers to come in bloom. I have always told Isaac that daffodils are his special flower, since they were in bloom when he was born.
I wanted bold, bright colors to remind me that despite the unsettling news and unknowns in the world, spring is here, just like it is every year. The smaller blooms felt like the perfect companions for the strong and dramatic daffodils. These red and blue flowers come from my red flowering currant and Jack Frost plant. The red-breasted Nuthatch seemed to follow me around as I gathered my bouquet, and I decided he was as thankful for spring as I am.
The beautiful glass vase in the Seattle Art Museum collection is just the same bold yellow of a daffodil. It looks as if it could have been made by a contemporary Seattle glass artist, but it was was actually made in China sometime the 1700’s! Read below for more information on this piece featured from the SAM collection.
I hope you’re all staying healthy out there. If you feel sick, reach out and don’t be afraid. Despite the isolation, it’s been incredible to see how people have been coming together and supporting each other in unexpected new ways. Thank you to everyone who brought us groceries when were were quarantined, and for all the well wishes. Now if you can, go enjoy the sunshine, the flowers, and your own lovely company!
Got to my Monthly Miniatures page to see all of the paintings I’ve made for the series. And sign up for my newsletter for a first glimpse of the newest painting and for updates from the studio.
Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view) 1736-1795 Chinese Glass, 6 × 2 1/8 in. (15.2 × 5.4cm), Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields Photo: Elizabeth Mann
From the SeattleArt Museum website:
“This fluted yellow vase inscribed with the Qianlong emperor reign mark characterizes high-quality glassware of the imperial workshop in the Forbidden City during the 18th century.
Although glass was used in China as early as the Western Zhou period (ca. 1046-1771 B.C.), the technology developed slowly and intermittently. It was used primarily in accessories, e.g. beads or imitations of jades. As a medium, it was overshadowed by (and often imitated) porcelains: a 12th century glass dish from the Thomas D. Stimson Collection (47.152) is one such example. To some extent, this current piece was also inspired by a ceramic form (Song-dynasty vases of Ge/Guan ware), although the main catalyst for glass production in the Qing palace came from the Jesuits, who also served as artists and scientists in the court. It was through them that the Qing court re-discovered the beauty of glass. Octagonal, fluted glass vases featuring diverse colors were a common form. This type of vases was first made during the Yongzheng period (1723-35), and became popular – and thicker – during the Qianlong period, when this piece was made. According to the Archives of the Department of Imperial Household, this type of glass was given to high-ranking Tibetan monks. As such, their function extended beyond to serving as imperial playthings.
Robert Shields may have been known as “one of the Grand Old Men in Northwest architecture” (Pacific Northwest Magazine), but it is his enduring passion for art that leaves a lasting legacy at SAM. When Mr Shields passed away in the summer of 2012, he left his entire estate to the Seattle Art Museum, its value to be used in support of the Asian art program.”
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way, They stretched in never-ending line along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought what wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
This February I wanted some romantic imagery. This 18th century bowl with its imagery of lovers in a moonlit garden was just what I was looking for. You see a poor scholar, beckoning the aristocratic beauty he has fallen in love with, who is just behind a high wall with her maid. This story, “[Romance of] The Western Chamber,” was originally written as a tragedy, but was later altered to have a happy ending. The happy version seems to dominate and there’s no hint of tragedy in the synopsis written by the Beijing Tourism Bureau.
These little oranges are currently in season, and I loved the eye catching combination of the contrasting orange and blue. As I dreamed up this painting, I always imagined it with a parrot, never any other bird. I’ve had a fondness for parrots ever since my dad came back from Florida with a parrot named Charlie, when I was around 8 years old. I don’t know how my mom felt about it, but that was my dad. (My sister could tell you stories about bringing a baby cow home in the back of our station wagon.) Scroll down for a picture of little Rebecca petting Charlie.
Part of the fun of making still life paintings is to research historical symbolism and dream up my own hidden stories. Many objects have several meanings so the story can differ depending on who’s doing the dreaming. In this case, an uncaged bird symbolizes sexual freedom, and parrots specifically represent nobility, richness and self confidence. Oranges can represent abundance, longevity and beauty.
Everything was becoming a bit too sweet and easy for the lovers, so I added a fly to bring them back down to reality. I appreciate the description by Steven Connor in his article “The Painter and the Fly”, describing flies in art as the “embodiments of accident, of what just happens to happen”. And if you want to see how symbolism can be scrutinized by scholars, take a look his article which discusses the fly in art over the course of 500 years.
Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view) Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722) Porcelain with underglaze-blue decoration, 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm), height 8 1/4 in. (21 cm), diameter, Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.42 Photo: Paul Macapia
“The fourteenth-century drama The West Chamber tells of a poor scholar, Zhang Sheng, seen here holding a fan, who falls passionately in love with Oriole, an aristocratic beauty. In this night scene, from behind a high wall and accompanied by her clever maid, Crimson, Oriole smiles at scholar Zhang, her hands raised in delight. Shining above them are constellations thought to determine the lovers’ fate. The scene appears to represent the two lovers by moonlight in the secrecy of the monastery garden.” Mimi Gardner Gates, “Porcelain Stories,” p. 118
The perfecting of the underglaze-blue technique made possible richer gradations of the blue color, seen particularly on wares from around the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century, and expanded the repertoire of design. Narrative scenes taken from lyrics, plays, and popular novels (like The West Chamber depicted on the bowl) became fashionable around this time, catering to the interests of the rising merchant class and the scholar gentry alike. These interpretive blue paintings told intimate stories to the viewer, and enriched the surface of the blue-and-white porcelain.
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I’m excited to share my first 2020 Monthly Miniature and announce the new “Flight of Fancy” series. I hadn’t done a still life painting for more than 15 years until last year’s series, so studying the Dutch masters for insight into the genre was crucial to that project’s success. This year I will continue in the spirit of Dutch still life and featuring birds together with items from the Seattle Art Museum collection, with which I’ve worked for the last 13 years. It’s too early for me to understand how the two relate to each other over a series of twelve, but that is the fun of the monthly miniature, to see where the journey takes me.
Inspiration From SAM
The first featured Seattle Art Museum object is a Square Serving Dish. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the collection, and I feel it’s the perfect piece to open the New Year and the new body of work. The piece gives me contrasting feelings of chaos and grace, yet feels so perfectly balanced. I have installed this piece numerous times, including twice in Japan. Most recently, I helped install it at the Asian Art Museum, scheduled to reopen February 8th after a recent renovation and expansion.
Pacific Northwest Gardens and Birds
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you are likely familiar with the Anna’s Hummingbird. I used to have 6 hummingbird feeders all around my house, and at any time of day I could see an Anna’s feeding from some window or another. Once feeders are up in winter, though, Hummingbirds become dependent on the feeders for the season; after one very cold winter of continually defrosting a feeder for several weeks, I have given up the practice. Instead, I have filled the garden with plants that will feed them through the winter, including an Oregon grape outside my bedroom. I love waking and going to the window to watch these territorial birds feed from the yellow blossoms. My Oregon grape has become huge over the years, but that doesn’t mean anyone is willing to share.
Along with a sprig of Oregon grape in this month’s painting are Yuzu lemons my friend Hiromi let me pick from her tree in Seattle. (I also used these fragrant lemons in last month’s painting.) The beauty of these two plants comes at a price though. Both the Yuzu and the Oregon grape demand careful attention when you’re near them as they hide painful spikes. And yes, both these plants are also in season, a theme I enjoyed from the last series and will continue.
SQUARE SERVING DISH
Edo period (1603–1868), Japanese, Stoneware with underglaze decoration, 1 7/8 x 7 3/4 in.
Collection of The Seattle Art Museum Photo: Paul Macapia
Written by Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art:
“Employing vivid colors and energetic, abstract designs, Oribe ware is the most dynamic type of Japanese tea ware. The style takes its name from Furuta Oribe, 1591-1615, the great tea master of his age. Designed for use in the meal accompanying the tea ceremony, a square dish like this would be used to serve fish, slowly revealing the image beneath as the meal was eaten. Oribe ware, as this tray excellently represents, broke with a tradition of elegant restraint to embrace an unprecedented level of vivacity. This tray is meant to depict water, earth, and sky. We read it from bottom to top: Starting in the lower left corner, the tray was dipped into a green glaze which visibly pooled during the firing process, evoking water.
Moving upward, a pink-tan band provides a bed for two semi-circles with radiating patterns. This common decorative motif represents ox cart wheels soaking in water—wooden cart wheels needed to be soaked regularly to prevent warping. Between the two wheels, the pattern of squares and dots could represent a piece of dyed fabric. These are colors, images and activities associated with the earth.
The upper-most, tan portion encompasses a single large star, surrounded by three circles with trailing tails, likely comets. In the upper right corner, three arcing stripes abstractly render the long trailing clouds popular in Japanese painting. This band depicts the sky.
The ebullience that makes Oribe ware stand out amid tea ceramics reflects both the power and dynamism of the Momoyama Era (1573-1615), and, amidst political and social upheaval, a move to rebel against previous aesthetic rules, and the power structures they represented.”
I hope you enjoy the new Flight of Fancy series!
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Breakfast takes center stage in November’s miniature still life painting featuring waffles, apples, small floral arrangement and red dragonfly. I love breakfast. I believe starting every day with a nice leisurely breakfast is absolute perfection. I’ve spoiled my three year old son to believe the same. When asked what he wants for breakfast his reply is usually, “scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon”. And that’s usually what he gets. Special occasions substitutes the pancakes for waffles.
Dutch still life paintings of breakfast are nothing like the photos of food you see online. Photos of food never seem that appealing to me, but the paintings are delicious. Antoine Vollon’s painting of “Mound of Butter” from the 1800’s was on view at the Seattle Art Museum a few years and it was a feast for the eyes. If they could make a small mountain of butter look delicious, you have to see paintings of eggs and waffles.
Finding My Models: Waffles, Blooms and Insects
I knew I wanted the waffles to sit on one of the Dutch silver plates used in so many of my favorite paintings and my own waffle iron is very special to me. It’s an antique cast iron waffle maker from the 1800’s that my sister gave to my years ago, but my circular waffles just weren’t working. It had to happen, but it felt so wrong to buy rectangular frozen waffles to pose for the paintings when I love my own waffle maker so much. But for art, we suffer. I’m kidding, the waffles were delicious. 🙂
I was having a hard time finding flowers in bloom in November and was about to give up. I take ballet classes from The Ballet Studio in the University district in Seattle and I looked out the window while at the barre to see a flower box in full bloom. Kristen, my teacher gave me a pair of scissors after class and let me bring home some of her last remaining blooms for the painting. I’m amazed I found roses blooming in November, but Seattle is a pretty special place.
The red dragonfly is a frequent visitor to my backyard. I live near several likes north of Seattle in Lynnwood. One summer my husband wore red swim trunks while going for a swim and he was surrounded by dozens of them as he floated.
Hope you enjoy the painting and hope you have a happy holiday season!
As the flowers and trees fade and die back, fall is the perfect time for a miniature vanitas painting. Vanitas paintings were created long before and after they became a common genre in Netherlandish art of the 16th and 17th centuries. They are symbolic and are meant to remind us of the inevitability of death or change.
My grand show of color and life punctuates the shift toward winter, one last “Hurrah!” from the warmer seasons. The hint of the coming winter is found in the tiny, almost hidden hummingbird skeleton. But if you dig into the meaning of the items in the painting, you’ll find that both the cut flowers and skeleton symbolize the same things – death or transience. The cut flowers are preserved my painting in full bloom glory, but they began to fade even before I’d finished the paintings. But don’t worry, the butterflies are a symbol of regeneration, resurrection and the cycle of life. Everything’s going to be fine.
Hope you enjoy my newest miniature vanitas and I hope you’re keeping warm and healthy. Thanks to the flowers of my garden, to the dahlia garden at Volunteer Park, and to my sister-in-law for the hummingbird skeleton and the biggest dahlia I’ve ever seen. And a big thank you to you for your continued support.
Still life paintings, both universal and highly individualized
For my Into the Country monthly miniature series from a few years ago, I included one still life with plums and bees (pictured below) in the mix of portraits of animals. This was the first still life painting I’d done since art school, and it helped direct the focus for this years series, “In Season”. This is my eighth painting of this years still life series. I find the still life to be one of the most universally accessible genres of painting. I was amazed to find that still life paintings are also quite personal. Each item I place in my composition is carefully chosen and has personal meaning to me and I hope to my viewers as well.
From the Garden
My Japanese plum tree is the star of my little quarter-acre garden. Almost every August, I get around 2,000 plums from my one tree. Over the years my incredibly juicy plums have been eaten as is (watch out for juice going everywhere!), been made into jam, wine, sweet bread, liqueur, filled up my freezer for winter enjoyment and now they’re models for paintings.
The yellow of the plums make them the perfect companions to the equally golden and plentiful swallowtail butterfly. Swallowtails are found all over the world, and the Western Tiger Swallowtail I’ve featured in my painting makes its dazzling appearance in the Seattle area. And swallowtail butterflies are always fluttering around the garden. One friend said he’s never visited my garden without seeing at least one. This painting feels like distilling some of the beauty and magic of my garden.
In art school I was known as the “bug girl” because almost all of my painting had insects in them. Insects were a huge inspiration, and though they are no longer the primary focus on my work, they have continued to appear in my paintings throughout the years. I find that the closer that I look at the insect I’m painting, the more I feel a sense of empathy for it. I imagine a personality in there, and wonder about the history of it’s life.
My insect collection has been with me since my art school days. Some of my insects were gifts from Cincinnati Zoo entomologists, while others I sought out myself. I learned to pin insects from a friend I met at the frame shop where I used to work.
The insect specimens in this painting are from a very special part of my collection. These creatures came from three prized boxes put together by photographer Anita Douthat when she was a girl in Northern Kentucky. I knew Anita through her husband Cal Kowal, who was my photography teacher at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Still life paintings can tell a secret story through the symbolism of their elements. These pale raspberries grow in my garden and are symbols of kindness. The shell came from my husband’s pocket (he’s always collecting shells and rocks on his adventures) and are a symbol of birth and fortune. Insects are all around us, yet their forms, life cycles, and social structures couldn’t be more different than our own. Dragonflies symbolize change, and grasshoppers luck. Bees have had close ties with humanity and throughout the ages have variously stood for power, love, and industry. All of these types of insects can be found in the Northern Kentucky region where my models were originally collected over forty years ago (I exaggerated the blue in the dragonfly which was quite faded).
This painting is 5″ x 5″, oil on copper. Go to the Monthly Miniature page to see more of the paintings from the series, In Season.
Jan van Kessel the Elder, Flemish still life master that inspired this months painting
Jan van Kessel the Elder had big shoes to fit into. He was the great-grandson of Pieter Bruegel, who is cited as the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. His grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, was a close friend and collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens and the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century. Not to mention his uncles and great uncles… Let’s just say, he came from a family that made a big and lasting impact on the art scene.
Starting his training at the age of nine, he was particularly influenced by the work of his grandfather and was quite versatile. He worked in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes.
I was drawn to his insect still life paintings by his playful compositions that fill every section of the page, while carefully balancing color and shape in a seemingly effortless manner. The results of his carefully painted tiny subjects do not come across as cold scientific illustrations, but instead are warm and lively portraits. And if that weren’t enough, he also painted these miniature still lifes on copper (my hero!).
When I was starting my Monthly Miniature still life paintings last January, I got a serendipitous invitation from curator Jeremy Buben. He operates The FoodArt Collection and was putting together a show of still life’s and tuliperies inspired by still life’s of the Dutch tradition and tuliperies made in the 1600’s. I happily accepted the invitation to be one of the artists.
The show hosts a great mix of styles and mediums, each artist creating lush, elegant pieces. And you don’t often get to see tulipieres! A tuliperie or tulip-holder is an ornate vessel made specifically to display tulips. They were common during the 17th c and were often designed to grow the bulbs right in the vase. I hope you’ll get the chance to stop by the gallery to see all of the pieces in person. If you can’t make it, you can go to the gallery website and see all of the pieces from the exhibit online.
Flowers, Bird’s Nest and Insects, oil on copper 5″ x 5″
Opening Reception: Sunday April 28, 2-5pm
Shows up through the month of May, with Sunday hours and by appointment.
From the gallery:
“The FoodArt Collection is thrilled to present a group art show of tulipieres (tulip vases) and Dutch Golden Age inspired still lifes from seven local artists.
A brief explanation: upon returning from a holiday in Holland I became obsessed with the tulipiere, a strange and fantastical vase designed specifically for tulips. To my delight I learned that local ceramic artist Carol Gouthro shared the same interest and had even curated a tulipiere show just a few years earlier at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) in La Conner. When the chance to put together this show came about I reached back out to Carol and asked her if she’d like to make her first tulipiere and show it alongside art inspired by the Dutch Golden Age. A few more invites went out and thus Going Dutch was created.
I’m excited to share my passion for tulipieres, a very useful vase in my opinion, and gorgeous classical inspired art from some extremely talented local artists! Please join us for the opening this Sunday and see these tulipieres for yourself. There will also be a healthy amount of Samish Bay cheese to eat.”