Archive for May, 2019

Rolling Out a New Series

May 30, 2019

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Turvey’s Corner 63050 (First in a New Series)

Leaning into the polar winds that snapped through the narrow valley of the sleeping Missouri town, Denzil Tucker emerged from the Terra Lounge bar with his snow shovel. Frigid overnight winds had hardened the drifts across the walkway. As he bent to his task, the piercing cacophonous whistle from the Frisco Railroad F9 diesel signaled its approach to the crossing, half a block from the tavern, and Denzil felt beneath his boots the vibrations of the thundering freight cars as they rolled by.

Turning his head, he looked back up the empty street to regather his thoughts. It was a sixteen-degree December morning in Turvey’s Corner, and his mind was numb to the possibilities of anything memorable happening on this particular day. The Korean Conflict was two years behind him, the 38th parallel over 7,000 miles away. But his first-born son, not yet a year old, was slumbering in a dark bedroom on the second story above, and these thoughts offered him a measure of serenity in the face of the frozen morning. 

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My blog has been silent for several weeks, not due to writer’s or painter’s block, but because of days spent in the studio painting and at the desk researching and writing. Since the early 1990’s, I have had this compulsion to paint a series of watercolors illustrating the quintessential American town.  My inspiration has been the literary contributions of Garrison Keillor, Thornton Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Lee Masters, William Faulkner and others. In addition to the paintings, I have sought to develop a cast of characters with their own stories, hoping to come up with my own work combining painting and literature. This project has now spanned nearly three decades, with countless paintings done and just as many stories written. Now that I have begun chipping away at my memoir, I have decided to pull together these fragments from years gone by, and contribute new paintings and stories to the growing collection. Back in March, I held my first gallery talk on “Art in Small Town America” and announced to that audience my intentions for this project.

My town is named Turvey’s Corner, and the zip code falls between two Missouri towns that shaped my upbringing–High Ridge 63049 and House Springs 63051. The painting above is taken from a forgotten corner of lower House Springs, where Highway MM intersects with a recently altered old Highway 30. Over the years I have photographed this row of buildings in all seasons of the year and decided this time to focus on one of my winter compositions.

The narrative for this collection of paintings is loosely constructed from my personal life experience, the man shoveling snow above is my father (with a fake name). The Korean conflict is true, and I am the infant sleeping upstairs. The year is 1954. My father was never a tavern owner, but I thought that story would yield more character than his work as a mechanic for St. Louis car dealerships. I’m still fleshing out the details, and deeply enjoying the work as it unfolds.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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Serene Morning in a Railroad Town

May 13, 2019

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Watercolors Completed over the Weekend

The Gallery at Redlands always provides a quiet, serene Monday morning after a weekend of painting and keeping gallery hours. I just finished matting and pricing seven new watercolors completed over the weekend, then stepped out into the cool, sunswept Palestine morning to pick up a few office supplies, and of course, stop to pick up coffee somewhere, anywhere.

Choosing a local donut shop in the same shopping center as Kroger, I went inside, paid for coffee, and held the door open as I was leaving to let in a middle-aged couple. The man looked at me, smiling broadly, and I thought for a moment that he was someone I had encountered in the gallery or at some public function recently. I was stunned when he shouted:

I knew it! Soon as I saw ya comin’ out of that Jeep, I told my wife: “Now see, that there’s a man goin’ after coffee right now!”

I am still laughing as I type out this encounter. I grew up in a midwestern town where strangers never spoke, seldom even made eye contact. But here in Palestine, Texas I encounted a man that still has me laughing and feeling light and lively about the morning. I don’t know what his full-time occupation is, but I certainly hope his fellow workers experience that same light-hearted humor. He reminds me of Shorty Lee, a funny man I worked alongside on a maintenance crew during my graduate school years.  I’ll be thinking and smiling over this morning’s encounter for years, I am confident.

On Smooth Rock 93.5 FM we just shared for the first time a special event coming up soon. On Saturday, may 25, the Texas State Railroad will hold its “Celebration of Steam” event. The excursion train from Palestine to Rusk will run on that day, and ticketholders will get in free. For anyone not riding the train, a $10 gate fee will be charged. Three historic locomotives will be on display throughout the day for photographing. The steam locomotives will be #610 and 30. The refurbished diesel #125 will also be on view. I  have been invited to set up my tent and sell my train art from 8:00-11:00 with the option of staying open when the excursion train returns at 3:00. I am posting below the paintings I have done of the steam locomotives. I have also painted the diesel, but it has since changed its road colors and number.

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After a busy weekend, it feels good to relax in the Gallery for awhile this morning. The watercolors are packaged, priced between $75 and $125 each, and are in the bin. Now, I catch up on some quality reading and reflection.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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Perusing Old Journals and Creating New Paintings

May 12, 2019

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Mother’s Day Morning in the Gallery at Redlands

The daemon knows how it is done.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (journal entry)

There are large modulations of tone throughout fifty-seven years of musing in the journals, yet Emerson seems perpetually in quest to hear his daemon speak to him.

Harold Bloom, The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime

Waking early on Mother’s Day in the Redlands Hotel, my first thoughts surrounded the question over whether or not I would have a second prolific day of painting. Yesterday, I completed four watercolors that had been started en plein air while I was traveling in El Paso and the surrounding areas. Often when I spend an entire day of painting, I feel somewhat emptied and wasted on the following day and resort to reading and journaling. I don’t expect every day to yield fertile thoughts and visions. Our great American poet Wallace Stevens stated it eloquently:

It is not every day that the world arranges itself into a poem.

Wallace Stevens

Harold Bloom, citing examples from Walt Whitman’s experiences while trying to push out the great body of poetry titled under the umbrella Leaves of Grass nailed the phenomena with these words:

No man, no woman, can live in a continuous secular ephiphany.

Throughout my creative years, I have learned the lesson that there are bursts of creative energy, often followed by moments of quiet restoration. Looking back over the decades, I find a measure of satisfaction that a large body of work has been created, and I am more aware of the prolific periods than I am of the fallow ones. I spent some time this morning reading from my old journals, and came across extensive notes I recorded four years ago from reading the published works of the painter Robert Motherwell, and came across this:

An artist has to be a long-distance runner, and the thing I’m most proud of is my most recent work is as fresh as the first.

As the morning hours passed in the quiet Gallery at Redlands, I felt my urge to create beginning to build, thanks to Harold Bloom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wallace Stevens and Robert Motherwell. Suddenly, I knew what I was going to approach next.

As always, the studio was the space of revelation.

Bernard Jacobson, Robert Motherwell: the Making of an American Giant

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Several weeks ago, I was surprised by the colors falling across some vacant undeveloped land adjacent to a new Kroger store built near the neighborhood where I live in Arlington. On this particular late afternoon, with the weather being pleasantly temperate, I chose to drive to the Kroger store and take a seat in the patio area on the southwest corner of the complex. No one else was seated out there, and I anticipated some quality reading and journaling time with coffee. But as I looked up, I was astonished at the quality of colors the late afternoon sun cast down over the field with the dark horizon of trees in back. I took several reference photos, and next time I was at The Gallery at Redlands, I began three 8 x 10″ studies of this composition. I found none of the three satisfying, and abandoned them.

When I traveled to west Texas and New Mexico last week, I brought the three watercolor sketches with me, and took them out once during the trip to take a closer look. I still felt nothing as I looked at them. Yesterday, I spent the day in the Gallery working on the four mountain sketches I had begun during my travels. This morning, I went out to the Jeep and retrieved the three “Kroger” paintings, and after about an hour of reading my old journals along with some new reading from Bloom, Emerson, Stevens and Motherwell, I suddenly had an idea for the three discarded paintings. They are wildly experimental, but I have posted them above and believe I will go ahead and put mats and plastic sleeves on them, and maybe even frame one of them, it’s still too soon for me to decide.

At any rate, I’ve had a great Mother’s Day in the gallery/studio and feel like quality time has been enjoyed.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Rainy Saturday in the Gallery at Redlands

May 11, 2019

Follow your genius closely enough and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect at every hour.

Henry David Thoreau

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Signal Peak, Guadalupe Mountains

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Franklin Mountains, El Paso

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Franklin Mountains, El Paso

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Valley of Fires, Carrizozo, New Mexico

I have chosen to ensconce myself in The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas for Mother’s Day weekend. A recent trip through Cloudcroft, Corrizzozo and El Paso still floods my imagination, and I wanted to have some quiet time in the gallery to complete some plein air watercolor sketches I attempted this past week. It has been pouring down rain most of the day today, so foot traffic through the Redlands Hotel has been quite sparse, allowing me hours of uninterrupted time working at the watercolors. In my hometown neighborhood, an art festival is in progress, and I made the decision after nine straight years not to participate this time. I think I made a good call, considering the heavy rains and soaked parks in this part of Texas.

The Thoreau quote posted above I have engraved on a wooden desktop ornament that my friends the Darrs surprised me with last summer in Crested Butte, Colorado. I chose this weekend to pack it in my bag to keep on the gallery desk for inspiration. Looking up at it throughout the day, I mused over this motto that has shaped a large part of my adult life. I always hesitate to use the word “genius” because people today often equate the word with I.Q. and think of Einstein-type personalities. The word had different connotations with Emerson, Thoreau and their fellow New England Transcendentalists. They regarded genius as that independent, inner voice that introverts know all-too-well, that compulsion that Thoreau described as “marching to the beat of a different drummer.”

In the quiet of the gallery, I have delighted in this opportunity to gaze at reference photos I took of the locations I visited to paint. I have so much to learn when it comes to painting mountains in watercolor, and I am enthusiastic to pursue this for awhile. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I will keep the gallery open throughout the day. But if the weather is anything like it was today, then I may find myself dashing out several more watercolor sketches. I am grateful for quality times such as these.

Thanks for reading

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Cold Winds Over West Texas

May 9, 2019

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Signal Peak, Guadalupe Mountains

The power depends on the depth of the artist’s insight of that object he contemplates.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

Forty-seven degree temperatures and a stiff wind greeted me as I stepped out this morning. I found a cafe with available Wi-fii and coffee. Pulling up photos I took of Signal Peak (8751 ft.), the highest summit in Texas, as I drove past the Guadalupe range recently, I decided I would later today attempt some sketches of this magnificent site, using my photos as a reference.

I regret resorting to reference photos when I watercolor; I have had this reticence since discovering the dynamic of painting en plein air. For several years now, I have endured a seething compulsion to paint mountains, but alas they are nowhere near my residence. Two or three times a year, I manage to visit mountain ranges, yet standing in their eternal presence, I always feel like a mere bird flitting past their exterior, then quickly returning home. This morning, Emerson’s quote above has my full attention; I believe that an artist needs to spend time in the presence of his/her subject, allowing the subject matter to compost in the consciousness in order to paint it authentically.

Emerson’s magnificent meditation from “The American Scholar” I have read and recited to students for decades. I post it below, now rendering in bold print the same sentiment from his statement in “Art” that I posted at the top:

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him business; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact; now it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in  proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

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My sketchbook journals are replete with pencil studies of trees that are improving because I have paid my dues, sitting in the presence of them, working diligently to render their unique figures and portraits as I gaze upon them. Trees are everywhere I live and work. But mountains–how I wish I could sit in their company with the ease that I find in trees. Perhaps one day I could move to an environment where I could gaze upon them and know more fully what Emerson professes, that depth of artistic expression comes with time and familiarity.

The theologian Paul Tillich, when addressing an audience celebrating an anniversary of Time magazine, mused that the American public of his day was driven by a horizontal force to produce quantities in faster time, and that the results were a shallow product. He observed that it takes time to develop a vertical dimension, one of depth and profundity. I am going to take that to heart, and see if I cannot produce better renderings of mountain ranges in watercolor as I continue to study them. This summer I have made some serious plans to vacation among mountains and canyons. But in the meantime, I will continue to study my plein air sketches and photographs, and continue my practice of painting these subjects.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

Southwest Wanderings

May 8, 2019

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Standing Atop Upper Sunset Trail, Franklin Mountains State Park

One must strain off what was personal and accidental in all these impressions and so reach the pure fluid, the essential oil of truth.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

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My View from the Upper Sunset Trail

The past several days seem a blur as I attempt to record punctuations from a road trip that included Cloudcroft, Carrizozo and White Oak, New Mexico, along with El Paso, Texas. My literary companions of Emerson, Woolf, Mann and Hesse also fed me with stories and immortal words. Woolf’s quest for “the essential oil of truth” has touched a deep chord within me, and during these excursions I found immeasurable solace in the vast expanses of nature as well as the printed word. On the other hand, my few forays online to sound the depths (or lack of) from podcasts and blogs were not so fruitful. In fact, Woolf’s words better describe those encounters:

Some of these books were, on the face of it, frivolous and facetious; but many, on the other hand, were serious and  prophetic, moral and hortatory. Merely to read the titles suggested innumerable schoolmasters, innumerable clergymen mounting their platforms and pulpits and holding forth with a loquacity which far exceeded the hour usually allotted to such discourse on this one subject.

My deeply-held sentiments are similar to those of Emerson and Thoreau. When Emerson boasted that Harvard taught all the branches of learning, Thoreau retorted: “Yes, but none of the roots.” I will always be grateful for my education. Yet, the decades devoted to thousands of hours poring over texts, I believe, have driven me ever more closely toward the primary source that fed the great cloud of geniuses: Nature. My belief holds that nature offers that “essential oil of truth.” These past few days have offered me a boundless quality of space and time to explore this intriguing world in its manifold beauty and grandeur. I could feel Whitman’s words from “Song of the Open Road” stirring from within my being:

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d

of limits and imaginary lines,

Going where I list, my own master, total

and absolute,

Listening to others, and considering well

what they say,

Pausing, searching, receiving,

contemplating,

Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting

myself of the holds that would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of space,

The east and the west are mine, and the 

north and the south are mine.

I seem to recall that I posted these quick sketches from my phone on the morning that I was making preparations for the road. The image I copied made me think of my friend Wayne White (https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/double-d-acres-llc/), a genuine cowboy and outdoorsman who has been my friend since second grade. No one to this day has made better coffee for me, using an old urn over an open campfire. By the way, Happy Birthday, Wayne!

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A Pair of Pages from the Journal

For several decades I have felt like a hypocrite in one major area of artistic endeavor: the sketchbook. Since high school I have believed that the “real” artist devotedly keeps a sketchbook. As an art teacher in the publc schools, I preached that doctrine. And throughout the decades, I have purchased and accumulated stacks of sketcbbooks. But I have never consistently maintained one. Every time I tried a “sketch”, I kept at it till it developed into a finished drawing, tore it out of the book, matted, framed and sold it. I have no lasting sketchbooks of any value for retrospective study and reflection. And throughout my years of teaching humanities and art history, I lifted up Leonardo da Vinci as the quintessential “Sketchbook/Journal-Artist/Thinker”. Personally, I have maintained a journal since 1985, with well over a hundred volumes on my bookshelves. These pages comprise approximately 99.5% words, with the very occasional sketch appearing.

On this excursion, I forced myself to alternate between sketching and writing, hoping, believing that I just might turn the corner and turn into a “Sketchbook/Journal-Artist/Thinker”. We’ll see. At any rate, I posted above a couple of my attempts.

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Looking East from the Valley of Fire to the Lincoln National Forest

After a lovely day spent in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where I took a number of reference photos but never painted, I stopped at the Valley of Fire where I surveyed in wonder acres of black volcanic rock, and looking out toward the Lincoln National Forest, decided to work up a quick sketch of the Sierra Blanca. This was my first time in awhile to look at a distant mountain and attempt a plein air watercolor sketch.

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Franklin Mountains State Park

Ultimately settling in El Paso, I decided I wanted to paint mountain ranges en plein air. Going online, I discovered  a local plein air group that goes out every Tuesday morning to paint. On their website was an entry for anyone wishing to connect with the group. Twice I entered my name, email, phone number and message, expressing my interest. No response. When Tuesday arrived, I decided to set out alone, and came across the Franklin Mountains State Park. Driving to the end of the road, I parked and hiked up a hill to set up and paint the vista. Halfway through my first painting, my phone rang. I continued to paint, letting it pick up the voice message. As it turned out, the plein air group was finally returning my messages and announcing that they were not going out to paint today. Better that I just left the call unanswered; I found what I was seeking.

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First Attempt

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Second Attempt

I marveled at the subject rising high before me, its colors and textures continually shifting as the sun emerged and withdrew among the clouds. I recall the testimony of French Impressionist painter Claude Monet daring anyone to tell him nature never changes when he witnessed the continual changes with his own eye. I attempted two watercolor sketches because I saw at least half a dozen shifts in the mountain’s colors, textures and shadows. The encounter was invigorating and I chide myself for not engaging in plein air activity more than I do.

Today I find myself fatigued from all the travel, sketching and painting, and have given myself to reading and reflection. But I wanted to take these moments and send a blog up the flagpole in case anyone out there is interested in looking at what I’ve experienced.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

On the Road

May 4, 2019

A friend sent me this Facebook image that I love–a cowboy pouring coffee with the caption: “I’m not antisocial. I just like my own company more than I like yours.” I sketched it repeatedly this morning while having my oil changed. The solitary figure reminds me of my friend and fellow blogger Wayne White, who always hacks a solitary path through his daily life.

My current reading is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. The second chapter opens with her fervent quest, notebook & pencil in hand, to find the unvarnished truth:

One must strain off what was personal and accidental in all these impressions and so reach the pure fluid, the essential oil of truth.

I sense frustration in the writer as she moves through the British Museum, feeling that what she gathers in her notes is inadequate. I myself have endured that frustration in my past, when I was seeking to complete assignments and meet deadlines. But now, with retirement, things are much different. There is much time for reflection, and no deadlines to find the truth. And at this stage of my age, I find the journey, the quest, just as fascinating as any perceived destination.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in search of the truth.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Ichabod–Where is the Glory?

May 3, 2019

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight

                 To me did seem

            Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;—

             Turn wheresoe’er I may,

              By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

William Wordsworth, “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

At the time of this writing, I find myself seated in a crowded but congenial cafe, sipping coffee and using my journal as a net to capture the butterflies of flitting thoughts. I find myself yet again drinking great draughts from a life on the move, and while sitting here scribbling, these words from Wordsworth drifted through my mind.

I am saddened when I recall these words from the poem, because in them I hear abyssmal sighs of regret from a man in his thirties, convinced that his best years are behind him–those years of youth, alertness and innocence. And it appears that he was correct. As I recall, Wordsworth had emerged successful in his writing by the time he reached his thirties, and though later honored as Poet Laureate, had already plateaued yet would live another forty or more years. Throughout my life, I have heard on many occasions those regretful words of creative souls who felt they had lost their creative edge.

I learned long ago that the Hebrew word “Ichabod” is translated “Where is the glory?” The damning implication is that it has departed. That was the sentiment of the original reference in the Jewish scriptures, and in the nineteenth century with John Greenleaf Whittier’s  poem “Ichabod.” Both pieces of literature are chilling as they lament a glory that has drifted away from youthful Israel and from youthful America.

Emerson and Thoreau also had much to write about the ways in which aging people experience the evaporation of childlike curiosity, flexibility and openness to the mysteries of the world around. With all honesty, I testify that I am not suffering from that at all; I feel the glory still radiating around me as I move through this marvel of a life on earth. If anything has dulled for me, it is the ability to capture these sensations in words or paint, if indeed I ever possessed those abilities at all. I still find myself chasing the means for capturing and sharing this glory.

Since last weekend, I have found myself bathed in beauty. I savored the hours seated in my booth at Artscape in the Dallas Arboretum, soaking up conversations with countless patrons and chatting it up with new artist acquaintances. I have serenely rearranged my work in The Gallery at Redlands and experienced yet another relaxing stay in the Redlands Hotel. I laughed through a morning slot with the broadcast team on Smooth Rock 93.5 FM. I returned to Dallas to deliver a work of art to a patron at White Rock Lake. Over the past several days, I have spent over fourteen hours gliding along Texas highways, watching the landscape unroll before me like an endless manuscript open to renewed translation and intrepretation.

Times like these leave me feeling like a wandering mendicant. But at Artscape I met a true wandering mendicant, a genuine itinerant artist:

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Jim Tunell, photographer, in a booth across from mine

April 1 of this year marked the twelfth year Jim Tunnell has lived on the road, travelling in his RV from the Mississippi River to the West Coast, from Canada to Mexico, criscrossing the expansive West. Visiting with him in his booth was probably the closest I will ever get to experiencing an extended conversation with Jack Kerouac. Jim is a photographer working on the publication of his first book. The website posted below will provide information for anyone wishing to know how to purchase that work, or any of his other pieces.

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I enjoyed the freshness and vitality of Jim’s stories of life on the road just as much as I have enjoyed those extended times visiting wih my other mendicant friend Dave Shultz who is probably traversing and photographing New Mexico as I write this.

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Photograph by Dave Shultz

And my former art history student, Katie Dillow, now a museum curator, is exploring national parks in Utah and posting her photos and memories online.

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Photograph by Katie Dillow

As I think over what my fellow creative spirits are accomplishing in their travels, I myself am now laying out plans to do some exploring as well, hoping to capture some of that splendor on paper with watercolors and the printed word.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to capture the Glory.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.