Once again Punxsutawney Phil, "prognosticator of all prognosticators," saw his shadow on Groundhog Day. So we're in for six more weeks of winter.
Saint Cecilia with an Angel
Orazio Gentileschi, around 1618 - 1621
A juvenile House Sparrow or English Sparrow is begging to be fed. Their chirps are heard all over city streets at this time of year.
In 1936 Robert Frost published his poem "Two Tramps in Mud Time." Here is stanza 3 of that poem.
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off the frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.
Robert Frost, 1936
Rosa Bonheur was born on March 16, 1822. Her parents were followers of a movement that favored the education of girls alongside boys. Rosa's father was a painter and her mother taught piano. Rosa was taught to paint by her father and by the age of 14 she was making copies of paintings in the Louvre; this was a traditional way of study for artists over the centuries. Before setting out on her path as an artist and sculptor she copied the works of many artists she admired including Nicolas Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens.
Today Rosa Bonheur is regarded as an 'animalière,' an artist whose primary vision is the representation of animal forms in paintings and sculpture. Critics of her work complain that she did nothing to expand the boundaries of art; essayists seem more interested in her non-conformist clothing than in her painting.
I see in her work a a traditional and sensitive understanding of the intertwined lives of animals and humans; she represented animals as she saw them in the surrounding countryside. her work is skillfully executed and approaches an understanding of the animals themselves. Her representation of beauty lives on in the twenty-first century.
In 1921 Robert Frost published his poem "A Drumlin Woodchuck."
A Drumlin Woodchuck
One thing has a shelving bank,
Another a rotting plank,
To give it cosier skies
And make up for its lack of size.
My own strategic retreat
Is where two rocks meet,
And still more secure and snug,
A two-door burrow I dug.
With those in mind at my back
I can sit forth exposed to attack
As one who shrewdly pretends
That he and the world are friends.
All we who prefer to live,
Have a little whistle to give,
And flash, at the least alarm
We dive down under the farm.
We allow some time for guile
And don't come out for a while
Either to eat or drink
We take occasion to think.
And if after the hunt goes past
And the double-barreled blast
(Like war and pestilence
And the loss of common sense),
If I can with confidence say
That still for another day,
Or even another year,
I will be there for you, my dear,
t will be because though small
As measured against All,
I have been so instinctively thorough
About my crevice and burrow.
Robert Frost 1874 - 1963
A winter landscape can look bleak and barren but it may contain the promise of plenty in the year to come.
Much has been written (and refuted) about the benefits of talking to your plants, singing to them, and even playing music to promote their healthy growth.
An old English custom involved wassailing the apple trees on the Eve of Epiphany. Workmen went from farm to farm with pitchers of cider. Following the farmer into the fields and orchards, they encircled the apple trees and sang toasts to them.
"Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mays't bud, and whence thou mays't blow!
And whence thou mays't bear apples enow!"
"So well they might bloom, so well they might bear
That we may have apples and cider this year!"
A new field of scientific study is called 'plant neurobiology.' It seeks to answer questions of plant intelligence. Are plants capable of cognition, learning, communication with other plants, memory, response to environmental input, and information processing? The wassailers would answer with a definitive 'yes!'
Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:
"Pipe a song about a Lamb."
So I piped with merry cheer;
"Piper, pipe that song again."
So I piped; he wept to hear.
Songs of Innocence, [1789 - 1790]
Introduction, st. 1, 2
William Blake 1757 - 1827
To all my classmates, teachers, friends, and family who were together on that Friday afternoon and the days that followed: fifty years on and I still see you as though it were now.
We know that three hundred years before that day Shakespeare expressed our thoughts most clearly.
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no heed to the garish sun.
Romeo and Juliet, III, ii, 21
Today, October 15th, is celebrated as the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila. This portrait of her was painted by Peter Paul Rubens many years after her death.
Teresa died at Alba de Tormes in 1582. She died either shortly before midnight on October 4th or very early in the morning of October 15th. This was the time when much of Europe was switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and the transition required the removal of October 5 - 14 for that year.
In the twentieth century many women of intellect, including Beauvoir, tried to place Teresa in a pantheon of postmodern "subversives" within patriarchal power structures. For her daughters in Carmel, and her thousands of followers over nearly five centuries, Teresa's wit, courage, tenacity, and lively intelligence can't be confined or defined by academic theories.
It's almost Halloween and so it's time for the annual "guess how much this pumpkin weighs" contests. You find them all over the country - in stores and farmers' markets and parking lots. Sometimes it's just a large pumpkin sitting in the back of a pickup truck. This one, like so many enormous pumpkins, seems to have almost collapsed under its own weight. I wonder if this is the one that cartoon character Charlie Brown is always waiting for - The Great Pumpkin! Wait a minute! I think that Cinderella didn't make it home on time and the glitzy golden coach was turned back into a splendid and real orange pumpkin. A pumpkin like this one will make many pies and custards and make many people happy.
The urban birds of my neighborhood seem to raise their families year round. I shouldn't have been surprised to see such a young mourning dove outside the window yesterday afternoon, under the watchful eyes of an adult.
I stopped reading the book in my hands and flipped the pages back to a most appropriate line of writing.
" . . . one listens to the mourning dove terracing its sweet calls . . ."
From " On Beauty and Being Just " by Elaine Scarry
This painting by Lilly Martin Spencer is in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. It is oil on canvas and is assumed to have been painted around the year 1860. I love the balance of rich colors, the detail of texture given to the surface on which the fruit rests, and the top of the watermelon which appears to have been bitten in enjoyment.
I need to make a correction to my post of February 15th. It's true that Lilly was painting right up until the time of her death, at her easel, but she died in New York City, not in Highland, New York. She is buried next to her husband, Benjamin Rush Spencer, in Highland.
Nearly every day of the year is a national food holiday here in the United States. August 3 is National Watermelon Day. Foods from apples to popcorn to zucchini all have their own commemorative day - sometimes a whole month will be dedicated to a particular food. For some reason that I don't understand, National Watermelon Day is celebrated in August but July is National Watermelon Month.
When I tell people that I use strawberry sepals in my collages they always ask "What's a sepal"?
If you aren't ready to search the dictionary I can tell you that it's part of the structure of a flower. They're the leafy green parts that add to the form of the calyx. Look up 'flower' and you will usually find a simple illustration of the parts of a flower.
I cut the sepals from the strawberries and then use a process to clean and preserve them. Here they are right after being cut from the strawberry.
This painting by Lilly Martin Spencer can be seen at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. It was painted around the year 1864 and depicts a scene of relaxation, frivolity, and enjoyment as friends and family gather to celebrate Independence Day.
At the center of the picture is the artist's husband, Benjamin. Apparently his weight has been too much for the tree swing and he lies on the ground. The artist depicts herself with arms outstretched going to his aid. A child is trying to help him.
There are at least two people in this painting who appear to be African-American. While one of them is dispensing a refreshment of some sort, the other appears to be enjoying the day's festivitivies. The painting is oil on canvas and measures 49 1/2" x 63."
April is National Poetry Month and April 18th is Poem in Your Pocket Day. It's a day to carry a poem with you and share it with friends, family, classmates, and co-workers. Here's my pick for 2013.
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night ?
What but design of darkness to appall? --
If design governs in a thing so small.
Robert Frost 1874 - 1963
Paul Revere was the third child of Apollos Rivoire and his wife Deborah Hitchborn. The French-born and Huguenot Rivoire anglicized his surname to Revere. Paul was apprenticed in the family silversmithing business at a very young age.
Paul Revere is most widely remembered for his midnight ride warning the American colonists of advancing British troops before the battles of Lexington and Concord. We commemorate that day tomorrow - the eighteenth of April. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem contains numerous inaccuracies but we all learned it as school children. Here are stanzas 1 and 2 from Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn, The Landlord's Tale: Paul Revere's Ride
"Listen, my children and you shall hear,
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five,
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
One if by land, and two if by sea,
And I on the opposite shore shall be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm."
Paul Revere went on to further service in the American Revolution. He was involved in the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition of 1779: at that time Maine was considered to be part of Massachusetts.
After the war Paul Revere expanded his prosperous metalworking business to include cast iron and the use of rolling mills in the production of sheets of copper. His workshop also manufactured cannons and church bells. Revere remained politically active up until his death in 1818.
John Singleton Copley painted a portrait of Paul Revere in the years before the American Revolution. He often painted his subjects with an artifact from their life. In this case Paul Revere is holding a teapot. Tea was a hot-button issue in the colonies at this time and Revere seems to be giving serious consideration to the work of his craftsmanship.