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.