Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fox maidens, Owls and other social outcasts

I admit I'm fascinated with myth. Every time I paint I create a myth about what the story is behind the image. How can you not create a history for your artwork. This means that over my life I look for reasons that perhaps are not within the realm of probability but at times something more supernatural. This doesn't mean that I wholeheartedly grasp every fabulous story. I'm a skeptic about ghosts, fairies, elementals that haunt gardens and the Loch Ness Monsters. Having said that I also keep an open mind - who am I to say that things don't exist or aren't really here. Maybe there are fairies and I'm not lucky enough to have the perception of seeing them. I really wish I could.

In my life I have seen a few things that rationally I cannot explain. Mysterious things that now, after many years past the experience, I have made it into a legend or improvised a rational image to the improbable story. That super- rationale experience has caused me to gather as much information as I can in order to find out the myth or the truth of what I saw and dealt with. In keeping with this is the whole concept of synchronicity that tries to explain the phenomenon of unexplained connected items popping up. I get interested in some aspect and suddenly I find references springing up everywhere. Take for instance the recent interest in fox- maidens. So I start playing this game over the summer that has a sub race of women who are fox maidens. A friend sends me a card I receive in the mail of a fox dressed in a kimono. I get a recommendation to read a series of books by Christopher Golden in which one of the supporting characters is name Kitsune, the Japanese name for the fox-maiden in the mythology of Japan. I go through my hodgepodge of a library to find some information on coyotes and next to it is a book I bought and forgot on foxes.

All this leads me to start working on art that has to do with foxes and fox-maidens because they are such an odd point of Japanese myth. Here are animals that are able to become human in appearance, marry and bear children with humans, only to be treated as an embarrassment to the humans involved. In fact if a man marries a fox-maiden, he's treated with respect but his wife not so much. If she dies or goes back to being a fox, his village and townspeople just act like he never was married or his wife just didn't exist. Poor fox.

So this whole idea has started me on a mission to develop artwork based on fox-maidens and my own slowly developing mindset on them. I think they are much maligned. After all they are a cousin to Coyote, nothing less than an important trickster in north american myth. I really feel like perhaps, fox maidens want to fall in love with a human so that they can be loved and thereby get a soul.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Morning sky

Sometimes I get lucky with my beat up old digital and find a picture I really like. I've been exploring my neighborhood looking for shots of things I take for granted. One morning I remembered to bring the camera and while I was standing and waiting for the bus, I got a shot of clouds.

I did something I didn't think I'd do and that is I removed an entry because of someone's remarks. I' m not upset about the remarks, just the fact that the person missed the whole point of my note. I'll repost it after I tinker with it a bit.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Sitting on the bus this morning and was talking to the bus driver, Darleen. About this and that. I'd been taking a different bus from the one she drives so we spent the time catching up, an activity that allowed me to reflect on the fact that friends come in different shapes and sizes and every person you meet has the potential of being a friend - or not.

In thinking this, the word "profundity" came into my mind for no apparent reason. I certainly don't think of myself as profound, rather just an ordinary person. But then I realized that people aren't ordinary, each is capable of being interesting and of teaching you something about the world and about yourself. And that is when I thought of the word "profound". Each person in the world can simply be described as "profound".

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word, profundity, is a noun meaning, "1. a. The quality of being deep; great or vast depth. b. A very deep place, an abyss; the deepest part or parts of something. Also fig. Now rare. c. Downward or inward measurement or extension (esp. as one of the three dimensions of a body, opposed to longitude and latitude); = DEPTH n. 1a. Obs. 2. a. Great wisdom or knowledge; acuteness of insight. Also: an insightful observation or idea. b. In pl. Matters requiring great knowledge or wisdom to be understood; the essential truths, mysteries, or problems of a particular field of knowledge. 3. Great depth or extent of a state, quality, or emotion; intensity.

Wow, so much for a word I thought about on the way to work. Friendship is profound and I do think that people have those "great depths" should they choose to delve into them and explore them fully. Sometimes you choose to embrace the depths of a relationship and sometimes you don't.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Rosalind Dearborn Northrop Armstrong was my grandmother. She was born in San Antonio, Texas on September 6, 1895. She was the youngest of three although my great grandmother is supposed to have had 1 or 2 others. (Nothing is clear in family mysteries.) She lived in San Antonio and California most of her life though she traveled between them a great deal and told me she went to Illinois a few times. Of all the people in my family, I feel closest to her, and I think I take after her to a degree. I admire her a great deal because of her spirit and her independence.

When she was small, her mother, Sarah Short Dearborn, gave her away to a client who wanted a baby. I used to think this was pretty horrible but in truth after doing a little research found it to be quite common. Sarah was a dressmaker and had been left with her children by her husband - a railroad man. She had two older living children, May and Homer and I think just couldn't afford another mouth to feed. The clients name was Jennie Van Houten Northrop - called Mem-mee by my grandmother. I found record of Mem-mee and her adopted daughter Rosalind M. in the census for Bexar County. She named my mother after Jennie. She kept in contact with both of her siblings even though she hadn't grown up with them. I knew my Great Aunt May who lived most of her life int the Texas Hill Country.

My grandmother told me she quit school when she got to the 6th grade and went to work at Joske's, a very posh department store downtown. It was there when I first moved to San Antonio but I think it has gone away. She told me that she was a hostess in their tea room and they let her arrange flowers because she had nice hands. I don't know how she met my grandfather Harry, if she told me I've forgotten. I did find out that she married him when she was 16 and I think they married in El Paso, Texas. He served in the Philippines and was older than her by a few years. Eventually they moved back to San Antonio.

I have two pictures of her about the time they married. On the back of one Harry wrote on the back - "My sweet wife".

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mornings lost

I found my old digital which while I really like has some problems. For one thing, I have to dig out this really old laptop to transfer the pictures. I have to admit, basically I'm a Luddite though I have gotten much better the older I've gotten. I need to get a cable for the camera so I can connect with my somewhat newer Laptop a friend gave me. (Thinking about it the camera was from the same person). I don't think I've ever bought myself any technological advancement - I basically inherit them from others. Machines are a bit off putting to me. Earlier this year I discovered the whole Steampunk phenomenon which i think I could accept wholeheartedly. Perhaps that is my problem... I belong to a culture that embraces the new in a fantastic way.

Anyway, amongst the photos I took of this year's Steameroller event I went to, I found this picture from earlier this year. A memento of a morning that I thought lost and is now found. It was sometime this year, and when it was chilly.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Virgin of Guadalupe

Living in the Southwest one encounters the Virgin of Guadalupe pretty much everywhere. It makes perfect sense since she is from Mexico and her story is so very beautiful. You find her in all sorts of places and times.

When I was in Santa Fe a couple of years ago I visited a large
cemetery called the Santa Rita Cemetery where I found this lovely inlaid marker marker. I apologise to whomever it belongs to but it was so very striking. It so fits in with the character of this New Mexico town.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine asked me to paint a retablo for a exhibit in a the museum at which he worked. The museum is the Dallas Heritage Village which is a first person interpretive museum with many homes and buidings reflecting the diversity of Dallas history between 1860 through 1880. Since they were developing a building to point out Hispanic culture in Dallas, and since many of the earlier Hispanic families were deeply religious they would have had a small private altar at home. So I'm lucky enough to paint the retablo of La Virgen de Guadalupe for the house. It was to look primitive and I had a lot of fun doing it. I don't know if it's still up but I do like saying that I have a painting in a museum.
Guadalupe shows up in a wide variety of places. You see her on t-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and buttons.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Sometimes a mistake can wind up looking better than what you planned. I bought a calla lily to paint and then never got around to painting it. It looked lost and forlorn and then started to die. Rather than throw it away, I decided to take a photo of it. Pulling out my incredibly old digital camera that my friend Hal gave me, I took a shot only to discover the flash hadn't gone off. But I really like the way the picture came out. Very faded and grainy. It looked somehow older and more atmospheric that if the flash had gone off. I think sometimes things you don't plan work out better than the planned action - there's a spontaneity that you miss if you are too exact.

My former Watercolor instructor, William Kolbe, often based his paintings on accidents (though he really didn't say they were). He called them treatments or experiments. He'd lay some color down in a wash and cover it with plastic or wax paper and then develop the paintings from that. It made the painting more alive in many ways. I still do that when I paint. It does make the backgrounds more interesting. Terri, my printmaking instructor often says that in printmaking you accept the flaws on the plates or the chip in woodblock, because it adds character and depth. I think that's probably true in real life as well. It's how you respond to the accident and incorporate it is how well you do in life.

My grandmother was a believer in unplanned activities or accidents. She'd get in her car and just drive, finding something of value every time she looked. Going along a familiar path, she'd take a left turn instead of a right one and find a wonderfully charming house or a cemetery that someone she knew was buried in and had forgotten about. She'd make a normal drive to the post office an adventure and I loved going with her but her daughters fretted especially when she was older and her driving had deteriorated. I to think that I am similar to her in this. Certainly I've had a great deal of 'accidents' that turn out better because I accepted them in a spirit of adventure.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eliza Jane Barnett

I love old family photos. I love staring at them trying to figure out who those people were - what they were like. The splendid lady above is Eliza Jane Barnett Armstrong sometime around 1928 when she was 68 years old. The back of the photo says something like, "not too bad for 68". Eliza Jane is my great grandmother and was born in Springfield, Illinois around 1860. She and John Henry Armstrong, her husband, had 13 children (among them a girl named Bertie Susan and a boy named Hazel.) John Harrison, their eldest son, was my grandfather.
I don't know much about her and I asked my grandmother (Harry's wife) what she had been like. She thought Eliza was been" Irish" though she could only remember her first name and "she was a mean woman". She didn't say much else about her. My grandfather had died much earlier so I couldn't ask anything about her to him.
When I started doing research I found out her last name was Barnett but she wasn't a fresh off the boat Irish. (I still don't know if she was Irish). Her father was William C. Barnett, who born in Tennessee but had moved to Illinois around 1830 or 40 with his parents. He married an Amy C. Jones and they had a number of children.
I find my grandmothers stories often contain an element of truth as well as some "let's make it better" . She didn't get along with Eliza, and from what I can tell Eliza was a strong willed woman. She separated from her husband at some point, because I find her living with her youngest son in the census. She moved her family to El Paso, Texas for awhile after they were all adults but then seemed to have moved back to Illinois. She died in 1942 and is buried up there in Union County. Some day, I might go look her up and see where's she's buried.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Fridays should be shorter.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Steamroller this past weekend

In and amongst lunch, I'm finishing up my homework for speech and trying to publish my Streamroller Madness photos. I have about half here at work and the other half is at home still and haven't done much more than look at them. It was a lot of fun this year even though I didn't print anything. Mostly I took pictures, visited and ran errands. I have included a couple this morning with more to come.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Steamroller Madness 2008

This Saturday, my printmaking group is working with UT's Printmaking section of their Art Department as part of Explore UT. I told Terri, my instructor, that I'd go take pictures of the event. I went last year and got completely worn out (not a hard thing since I'm pretty out of shape) but it was really fun. At any rate, people make these huge wood blocks, lay them on the ground after they have been inked and then print them with a steamroller. The blocks are fairly large -- mine was about 2' x 4' but some are much larger.

Explore UT is part of the community outreach that UT does every year. It's tremendous fun for anyone but especially for the kids. Part of the Art Department's events is Steamroller Madness where students do these prints and they always invite some of the other colleges to participate. Last year our four printmaking classes from Austin Community College as well as Texas State University from San Marcos showed up. It was a huge affair! Hopefully I will post more photos next week.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Depression and the grey moods

I hate depression. It's one of those things that are unavoidable for some people. I've had to deal with it for years, not the bi-polar kind (thankfully) just the low grade grey cloud type of depression. I have noticed that I get like this when I don't do artwork. If I'm not being creative then I get the blahs. So it would be easy to just go out there and do something except often I get depressed because I'm not being creative. (What a circle!)

Over the years I've developed rules about depression and how to cope with it.

1. Let it be. Sometimes depression is good for you. It gives you time to reflect. The trouble with depression-prone people is that you get stuck in it and don't end it. Always tell yourself it will end, even if you don't believe it will end. It does. Knowing it has an end is very helpful.

2. DO something. Smell a rosemary plant. I find pulling weeds helps a lot and looking at plants and listening to the birds. Last night the neighborhood owl was out so I lay in bed and listened to him while awake. (I'm pretty sure it's a he). I listen to music a lot which helps me. Nothing like joyous music to make everything a little more livable.

3. Walk and make sure you eat. Not eating lowers your blood sugar and you get more depressed.

4. Stay away from people who walk around with tiny thunderclouds over their heads. We have a couple at work and they are annoying. If you are going to be negative that's okay just stay away from a depressed person. Or better yet you as the depressed person stay away from them.

5. Be kind to someone and go out of your way to do something nice.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Almost every morning I stand out on the corner of my street waiting for the Number 5 bus to take me to work. I really enjoy standing there because I face east so can watch the sunrise. I get to the corner about 6:50 in order to catch the early bus mostly to avoid the crowd of students on the later one. Across the street from the stop is a sycamore tree which I have come to think of as a friend. It's a beautiful tree... very tall and very friendly. Over the winter I became very fascinated with the seed pods which festoon it like tree ornaments. When it's breezy you can hear the branches clatter against each other. Sometimes, before daylight savings kicks in, you can see stars and the late rising moon through it's branches. Since we're slowly creeping towards spring (who will no doubt be over before I can realize it), I imagine the tree will be breaking out in a haze of fresh new leaves. As far as I can tell, it's the only sycamore in our neighborhood.

It's a very different population that takes to the streets at 6:50 in the morning. People half asleep walking their dogs. Bicyclists with flashing lights whizzing by you. Occasionally some of the neighbors who are also waiting for the bus stand with me. When the mornings start earlier, the birds are out in the trees or flying overhead. If you are very lucky some of the parrots who have started making Austin home will fly above you.

I've grown fond of my mornings at the stop. It's a thoughtful way to wake up and gather myself to the new day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Opuntia cactus found around my office building. Most people call it prickly pear but this is the spineless variety so no prickles. I've tried to figure out the Latin name for it but it could be several different varieties. This particular spineless variety grows a lot as a landscape plant in Austin. It has yellow blooms.

I love plants and have been interested in them since I was a little girl. My father gardened a great deal and my brother and I were always drafted as manual labor. I have memories of sifting dirt through screens to get the particles in uniform pieces and weeding the vegetable garden when we had one. My grandmother grew geraniums in the back yard and they loved the California weather, growing to huge shrubby borders. I was often drafted to pull some and help her tame the pile. The smell of geranium plants are a pleasant childhood memory for me. I am guilty of going to nurseries and plant shops and squeezing the random leaf just to get a whiff of childhood.

As an adult, I have far less inclination to have a perfect yard though I do dream of it. Every spring I get out there and dig for an hour or two, plop in a stray rosemary or lavender bush and hope for the best. Last year we had a terrible drought (we're actually still in it) so most everything died because I refuse to water more than the suggested watering schedule says.

I have three fairly happy rosemary bushes and a few lavender which have managed to survive. I have a couple of oregano and a stray sage or two but nothing really happy and full and as green as the plants I remember from childhood. The yard is a giant patch of dry weed stalks. I feel that I have betrayed my heritage of gentleman farmers.

But things do grow here and there. I have taken to painting plants or taking photos of other people to compensate the lack of my own green thumb.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

my mysterious grandmother

My family is full of mystery which is very frustrating because most of them are going to remain unsolved. This is hard because I'm pretty curious and can't stand mysteries which is why I generally read the endings to books about three chapters into the story. At any rate, my family has stories that have no endings which really can be maddening.

One of the big ones is who is my grandmother on my dad's side and what was she like? I know very little about her. I know her name was Frieda Angermeier (though I have seen it spelt Angomier, Angirmeier, and Angermeier) and that she was probably Jewish. She was married to my grandfather sometime around 1914 (when my dad was born) and they had three boys. In 1920,Frieda and Randy (as he seemed to have been called back then) lived in Dallas (according to the US Census) but later that year had deposited the three boys in an orphanage and disappeared after separating. Who was she? What happened to her? Where did she go? No one ever spoke about her. I did a lot of digging and found her entry to the United States through Ellis Island. I found small clues on the ship's passenger manifesto.... that she had a sister name Kathi Hauerwas who in 1910 lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico (before it was a state!) and that Frieda originally was from the Augsburg area in Germany. Her father's name was Frederich (who my father was named after) and the street that he lived on there was listed. She was 17 when she came to the US and it appears from the manifesto she might have traveled by herself. (No one else on the list is from the area she is.) and she was visiting - not immigrating.
I also found an earlier ship's list that included a Julia Angermeier also from the same area and was slightly older, who was a maid so I have conjectured that she is a relative as well. But nothing else. Vague rumors from and old conversation with one of my aunts (from my mom's side) that Frieda lived in El Paso Texas in the '60's.

One of my cousins I met when I started doing this research sent me a xerox of a photo of her. He doesn't know anything either. We think it's Frieda and her mother and it's dated 1906. Was this the young Frieda? Very faintly written in pencil (among others in Swabish) is Mrs. R. Wederstrandt. My grandmother.

Monday, February 2, 2009

This is the Wederstrandt cemetery in Saint Francisville. It's behind a baseball diamond. Most of the people buried here died from a yellow fever epidemic in the mid 1850's. It's pretty overgrown and the faces of the markers are pretty worn. Some no longer have markers.

Baton Rouge

I've been trying to move things around on my old lap top to my new lap top and ran across these photos I've taken on my trips with Hal. He's a curator of a museum and used to go to these conferences. I went along with him to two different ones - and while I didn't really get to do the whole conference, ran around and took a vacation. The first one was in Baton Rouge a couple of years ago, near where part of my family lived from the 19th century until the 1940's when my dad moved to California. I still have family that live nearby Baton Rouge but I've never met them. My family moved there from Maryland where they had lived from the 1700's. My big dream is to go to Maryland and find where they lived there. Genealogy is a wonderful way to learn history.

These trips are wonderful. I have the freedom of just looking and seeing things. I generally wind up doing normal day to day stuff, going to the store and getting lunch - I generally vacation on a shoestring. I sit in parks and eat and people watch. I found ruined plantations, full of cows, gravestones of relatives in nearby St. Francisville and part of Louisiana State University's Rural Life Museum. Baton Rouge is a great city to visit - I felt really at home..

Friday, January 16, 2009

I'm up in chilly Dallas where it is a brisk 35 degrees. No snow, no ice, just grey and over cast. It's quiet in the house. My friend is taking a nap with his dog after his treatment this morning he gets really tired. They are comfy cozy under blankets and I am updating things on the computer. I'm off to make a cup of hot tea (something minty sounds good) and then find my book and read.

It's a perfect day for being warm and reading. I miss my cats and my fellow. They are in Austin along with my current art project. Currently I'm reading quite a bit about northern European prints during the 15th and 16th centuries. Really interesting about what they know and how they did things. (more later).

Monday, January 5, 2009

The New Year

Back at work after being off for two weeks for Christmas holidays. Yesterday, I awoke to rain and slightly chilly weather for us in Austin. It looked like rain most of yesterday but today it's pretty sunny . I had to use my trusty green umbrella while waiting for the bus. I love using umbrellas - maybe it's because we use them so seldom here.

I started working on a new art piece over the holidays. It's a slightly assemblage-type altar that I am trying new tools and some new techniques. So far it's a hole with some thin wooden feathers that are going to be attached around the hole. I also am planning on using a milagros for part of the inner altar. I'm slowly discovering several things about how to construct things since I generally don't do constructions or sculptural forms so I've been enjoying it. I will try to take a photo and do a work in progress. I also thought of another altar while doing this one. We get the cigar boxes from a tobacconist that has a private cigar sampling place. Most are made of wood, generally something like mahogany or teak. It's pretty dry wood, when I was sawing the wood chipped easily. I'm using hand tools as opposed to power tools. I'm going to try to work on it some tonight when I get home.