Monday, May 30, 2016

Fechin, Bongart, Reese and The Link

There is a Link.....
.....that ties all these books (and more) together.  That joining began long ago in New Mexico when Mary Balcomb began volunteering to teach art to elementary students.  Mary's real job was as a very successful architect and designer who wanted to spend time giving back to the residents of Albuquerque.

In one of the classes a young student walked in to show Mary a portfolio of drawings done by her grandfather.  The drawings, which were kind of thrown into and sometimes falling out of a folder, took Mary's breath away.  A Chicago trained art student herself, she knew that what she was looking at represented genius.

I don't recall how long it took her to get to know the family of Nicholai Fechin, how much time was spent doing the research and gathering of materials or the extraordinary amount of time it took to find a publisher, put together a paste up demo, or how she got funding.  She was, after all, working and raising a family with her husband Robert 'Sam' Balcomb (a prominent photographer whom I have featured in another post).  Internet and email was still way in the future.  Everything had to be done with a stamp but the book was published and we all benefitted.

I first met Mary and Sam soon after she published her second book on another prominent artist, William F. Reese.  Years later, I would stop by their house where we would sit in their garden gazebo with a glass of wine and talk of the complexities of her book about Sergei Bongart.  These were enjoyable times with two remarkable people who, for some reason, accepted me as a friend.

The books above represent just a small portion of Mary's literary and artistic output.   She continued with her architectural design work, her oil and watercolor paintings, countless etchings and the creative talent it takes to raise two exceptional kids.

A wall of our home is full of etchings by Mary and Wm F. Reese.  At the center of them all is this exquisite piece about sunflowers shown as they approach Autumn.  Here are some others:

Mary taught me how to etch in one feverish weekend, but she remained the master.  Both she and Sam have always been generous to other artists.  Sam, an engineer, photographer and actor (although I should reverse that order) was always willing to model for Mary and her likeness of him is spot on.

As artists, I think we all owe Mary Balcomb a debt of gratitude for preserving the legacy of these other artists who would have been dusted over, their history, impact and imagery being lost to time and lack of attention.  Instead, they remain vibrant artists for all of us to study, enjoy and steal from like crazy.

Finally,  just so you know the power of her devotion to art, Mary did much of the work during the last decade of her life in constant pain.  The Bongart book, very lovingly done, was completed only through sheer grit and determination, somehow overcoming physical difficulties with the strength of her artistic spirit.   She continually did what she did to help others and for the love of her craft.

Thank you Mary.

PS.  Mary and Sam still had the original mockup of the Fechin book in their possession up until the time they sent it to the Cowboy Hall of Fame where there is a major installation of his work.  Before it got mailed off they allowed me to snap some photos of things that didn't get into the final book, including the small photos he used as sources for his drawings and paintings.  I have a few of those pics in a post HERE.

PPS.  Sam and I still go to lunch occasionally.  How lucky am I?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Shig's Place, 20x24

First, There Were Huge Trees.....
....but they were cut down and, at one time, Bainbridge Island had the largest sawmill in the world in one of its harbors.  Croatian, Scandinavian and Chinese saw work.  Japanese and Philipino immigrants saw the possibility of farms and, once the trees were gone, the island became home to lots and lots of strawberry plots.  That led to packing, processing and shipping plants.  Shig's place was one of those farms.

WWII came along and on a sad day the Japanese were rounded up and shipped to camps.  Their well tended farms went vacant and would have been destroyed but for those remaining immigrants to the island banding together to pay the taxes and mortgages until the Japanese residents could return.

Shig was one of those sent off and it was a wars worth of years before he could return to his family farm...and it is still here, a token left by a dedicated island family and rich historical past.  I hope it remains with us and not just fodder for more homes.

I don't think there is a painting I've done that wouldn't be changed if I could paint it over again.  This was my second attempt and probably there are several more in me, so we will see.   The grass in the foreground was a challenge but was a valiant attempt within the constraints of plein air....or my ability to do more.   I like the piece and the experience of painting it.  It's always the light.

It does capture the flavor of the place and hints at the long history it represents.  By the way, the trees have grown back.

Thanks for looking.  More is coming.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Breaking the Mold, 14x18

First She Broke Into...
Men's Minnesota Softball.  Then hockey.  Then football.  On top of that I learned she grew up just a few miles from where I did.  Awesome.  Kari is a delightful person and a terrific model.  It took her about 15 minutes to get into the humor of our group and begin dishing it back.  I, of course, was the model of civility.

She had some of the strongest facial colors I've seen which might be from her Norwegian background.  Good old Scandinavian Minnesota (and, yes, I used to drink beer and dance polka at many German halls also).

The portrait class asked for a demo so I did this one in about 90 minutes including breaks.  I got most of it done but during the remainder of class added some touches on her blouse and the chair.

My friend Nancy took shots of the process:


These beginnings look a little weird...maybe scary.  Most of the time I begin with strong color.... which usually gets a gasp from someone.  It eventually gets modified and painted over as the painting progresses.  I find it difficult to ever recover from a 'wimpy color beginning'.  Maybe that's a life lesson too.

Thanks for looking...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chief Steve LittleSalmon, 11x14, 9x11

The Montana Painter's Alliance....
....has invited me on their painting events a couple of times.  Lucky me.  One of those times was in the Flathead Valley and the National Bison Range....and there was a morning when Chief Steve LittleSalmon agreed to pose.

Chief LittleSalmon has an impressive presence about him, especially when he puts on his traditional garments.  If I remember correctly he sat for about 90 minutes assuming a few initial poses before settling on this one.  I chose a spot that emphasized all the shapes and colors in his headdress and played down his face a bit.  His profile is accurate but hardly noticed with all that color.

Here is one of the sketches I did before the painting.   It played up his face and would have been just as interesting.  The under drawing for my painting was also sketchy like this.

 I ran across this piece when pulling some things together for my last portrait class...had forgotten all about it.  At the same time I ran across some photos of the Chief from after the painting session when he put on other traditional costumes and let us photograph him.  How often does that happen in a lifetime?

I wanted to show what could be done from a photo and painted this one last Tuesday before class.  It is certainly 'tighter' than the one from life but I tried to keep the paint application lively and interesting.

And here is the reference photo:

And there you have it.  I searched for warms and cools wherever I could find them and pushed them around a bit.  Also lightened some shadows and darkened the lights.  The green band in the painting was inspired by the need of an abstract shape that would symbolize a man who was of the outdoors.

Thanks for looking.  Back soon....

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lost in the Vine Maple Forest, 8x16

This was Fun to Paint.... I was never quite sure where it was going.  The sun came through the branches but didn't really stay in one place very long so, like most forest paintings, it came down to what I could remember and what was important to say.  

Growing conditions make Vine Maples assume all sorts of shapes.  We have some outside our home that are long and tall.  Fighting for light inside a forest they stay fairly low and spread out.  Their branches reflect many hues and they grow in all directions.

I blocked in the background with broad areas of warm burnt sienna/orange or subdued greens, some areas warm, some cool.  Then I used a rubber scraper that a friend gave to me to make the major tree shapes.  After that it was just adding all those doodads that form the illusion of plants, bark colors and a few branches with leaves.

It was a nice day in the woods with friends and I am satisfied with the result.

Back soon with some portraits.

Marker Workshop this next Saturday, May 14th.  Get more info at the Winslow Art Center.

Thanks for looking.