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NEWSLETTER January 2011
Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!
Like old Janus, I will do some looking back and some looking forward with you here.
Looking forward, the Moments of Transcendence book is in the final proofing stage now, almost ready for publishing. Hopefully by the time you hear from me in February, it will be in print. It has been a thoroughly satisfying project. My aim was to create a book that approximated the experience of seeing the collection in a gallery, just as close as I could get it, and I think that I have succeeded.
Looking back, I had a wonderful time with my family in Ohio in December. We baked paintbrush cookies, played games, and talked for hours. And we dug into the archives where my grandfather's art is stored, so here is some family history for you, with a glimpse into the art that shaped mine.
My grandfather, Arthur S. Gray, was an artist, photographer, poet, and philosopher, and my mentor. During our visit in Ohio we had an incredible time looking at boxfuls of his photos, letters, and drawings. Here on my blog I have posted an article written by one of his friends about him many years ago, entitled "Photographer Extraordinary."
Part of his art has made its way into my own art in the word stephanogram, the name I gave the little round paintings in my Moments of Transcendence collection. I can remember watching him make what he called an episodagram, using a soft black lithograph crayon and a large white sheet of paper. As far as I know he coined the word himself. I have never heard anyone else use it.
Gramp took the crayon and laid it on its side at the bottom of the page of paper. He stood there for a moment absolutely still, and suddenly he began to move the crayon decisively up the page, leaving a black trail of curving, swooping black shapes that were the width of the crayon's length. Without lifting the crayon from the paper he took it all the way to the top and back down in just a few seconds. And just like magic there was a graceful, fascinating abstract image on the paper. The photo shown here is an example, done on yellow-toned paper. You will see that it is signed with his trademark "Gee Whiz" figure, a lower case "g" for Gray, with legs on it.
What was he thinking about when he was standing there motionless, or when he was making the magic? I did not know then and I do not know now. All I know is that it enthralled me to watch him do it. He called them episodagrams because they were brief episodes of time, never to be repeated. No two episodagrams were ever alike. I have tried my hand at making episodagrams, too, and they seem to come out as individual as handwriting.
Stephanos is the New Testament Greek word for "crown." So when I was searching for a name for my miniature paintings, I called them stephanograms because of my grandfather's episodagrams. Since the paintings are circular like a crown, it seemed appropriate. Just like the episodagrams, they are about small episodes of time, individual moments of beauty captured in art, never to be repeated.
The family is talking about putting some of Gramp's work into print, on the internet and in book form. He was a prolifically creative man, so that would be a huge undertaking. His sonnets alone would fill a large book. I am thankful for my family heritage, and for my grandfather's encouragement, so it seems the least we can do.
For those of you who are local, I will be teaching classes on drawing, painting, and open studio (your choice of projects) this spring. The River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition and the Maine Community Foundation have teamed up with Pennacook Art Center to offer scholarships to art students in our area, so if you or anyone you know would like art classes, let me know.
The Pennacook Art Center artists will open a new show Friday, February 4th at our gallery in the River Valley Technology Center in Rumford (60 Lowell St,. on the Island). The opening reception is from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. You are all welcome to come and look at the art, meet the artists, and share some good conversation and good food.
For more information on Swift River Treasures, my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America's great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.
My gift to you this month is one of Gramp's episodagrams. You are welcome to print it or do whatever you would like to with it. And maybe you would like to try making one yourself. You can do it with a peeled piece of crayon if you don't have a lithograph crayon.
There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you ..... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself. (Ruth Stout)
Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.