Wednesday, August 28, 2013

bbq, awards and doughnuts

Last Saturday evening was the reception and awards presentation for the 1st Annual Juried Exhibit at the Spartanburg County Public Library.  As the name implies, this is a new event created by Miranda Sawyer, the graphic artist at the Spartanburg Library main branch.  Miranda is also responsible for coming up with the Collegiate Art Exhibit hosted by the Library each spring.  She's to be commended for linking the public library with art exhibits and creating new venues for people to experience art in their everyday lives.  

Since we were making the drive into civilization, we decided to make the most of it.  We buckled the kids in and headed to Sparkle City and made our way to one of our favorite BBQ restaurants, Southern BBQ.  This place is located about 30 seconds from our old house.  Talk about convenience.  

The kids have always called it "The Pig Place".  In fact, they call almost all BBQ places "The Pig Place".  You know, they're always decorated with pig characters and pig paraphernalia inside.  We have yet to explain to the 4 and 7 year olds why the pig is used for BBQ decor.  

Being 30 seconds from our old house also required that we drive through the old neighborhood.  We lived there for 16 years so I guess we got pretty attached.  All the old neighbors are still there, the house is still red, and our flowers are doing quite well, if you were wondering.

Soon after that we were downtown.  We drove past Krispy Kreme where we were taunted by the "hot now" sign.  For the poor souls who do not speak Krispy kreme, the "hot now" neon sign lights up when there's a fresh hot batch of glazed doughnuts coming off the rollers.  The hot doughnuts melt in your mouth at this elevated temperature and it's possible for one human to ingest exponentially more doughnuts when they are hot than when they are at cooler temperatures.  G and I have been trying to eat healthier this summer so we tried not to notice the bright orange neon sign.  Silently each of us vowed that if the sign was on when we left, we would stop.

With the doughnut close call behind us, we walked through the exhibit and viewed the art.  Keeping energetic kids well behaved at events like this can be a challenge.  And since we do this a lot, we've developed some activities to help pass the time.

We make faces and act goofy (as you see in the image above), we walk around and pick our favorite pieces in the show, and we people watch.  "People-watching" sounds so much better than spying or creeping, doesn't it?  It's my favorite thing to do at these events.  And if there are no artist name tags involved, I love to stake out a position near my art and watch people as they view it and talk about it to other people.  So I picked up my sticky name tag at the front and promptly stuck it on Blue's shirt.  Problem solved.

There are only so many photos you can take of strangers before you're escorted out by security, but here are a couple.  The image above shows a guy viewing my drawing "Dog" with a friend.  He leaned in close, cocked his head sideways and started laughing.  He said something to the friend but I couldn't make out what it was.  

I would love to know what these nice ladies thought about it but they spoke in whispers.  They seemed genuinely perplexed, but they gave it a respectable amount of their time before moving on.  Well done, ladies, well done.

And the night got even better as it went on.  During the awards presentation upstairs, each of my two drawings received awards.

"The Green Grabber" was given the Library Purchase Award and will go into the Library's collection.  

And "Dog" was given the Friends of the Library award.  

The juror for the exhibit, Will South, is the Chief Curator of Art at the Columbia Museum of Art.  In his video juror's statement, he was kind enough to mention my work and to call it "hysterical".  I take this as a huge compliment as one of my goals with my work is always to make people smile. I will attempt to either post the video or at least a link to it below.

OK, you'll have to settle for the link.  Sorry.  

On the drive home we may have driven a block out of the way to drive by Krispy Kreme again.  Why we did this is not important.  The important thing is that as fate would have it, the "hot now" sign was on.

Friday, August 23, 2013

the art department annual retreat

It's good to be here.

Last weekend was the annual art department retreat at Lake Greenwood.  Our dear friend and professor of photography, jon holloway invites us down to his family's lake home just before the start of the fall semester each year.  The house is beautiful and it sits on a very pleasant part of the lake.  This was our view:

We arrived and got down to business with our first meeting of the semester.  In that first meeting there's a year's worth of stuff to cover.  Jim, our fearless leader, had everything organized and ready so we covered the important things quickly.  Our department is an amazing thing.  Really, I could tell you how well we work together, how well we support one another and how great each individual is, but you wouldn't believe me.  So you'll have to trust me when I say it's a great group and the fluidity we have in the department helps make problem solving quick and easy.  

We took an intermission after the first half of the meeting to celebrate Jim's birthday.

At the end of the second half of the meeting, it was time to begin cooking our potluck dinner. We all brought whatever we thought we would want to cook and as if to prove what I just said about our group, we had an excellent meal complete with appetizers, salads, entrees, bread and desserts.  And since bacon is our department mascot, Jim's rosemary, molasses and black pepper grilled bacon sticks are pictured here for your enjoyment.

After dinner we goofed around, shared photos of our summer adventures and stayed up late telling stories.  The next morning we were up for breakfast featuring bacon, of course, and coffee.  There were also pancakes and eggs.  As has been the case most of this summer, it rained a few inches during the morning, delaying our planned river excursion for a few hours. 

We used the time to finalize some decisions and to continue discussion on some topics from our meeting.  As soon as the rain tapered off Jim, jon and I drove way down a muddy road to drop off jon's truck at the designated river take out point at the river cabin seen here.

The cabin and the long muddy road are both on jon's family farmland.  At that particular time, though, it was jon's flooded family farmland.  There was mud and water everywhere and there were a couple of hairy moments as we drove in and drove out.  

Once we were back at the lake, we gathered up some food and water and tossed the boats into the lake.  Here's the "before" group photo.

From the dock we paddled across the lake to the dam and portaged over down into the Saluda river.  As I said, it's been raining pretty much all summer so the river was several feet up and it was racing along very quickly.  The water wasn't rough, just fast, shaving about an hour off the length of our trip.  Here's jon and me right before we got back in the boats to start the river run.

If you're paying attention you'll notice that there are no photos from the river here.  We all spend way too much time on our iphones and sometimes I think I can feel my soul being sucked down into that tiny little screen.  For our outdoor adventure, I chose to leave my iphone at the lake house to ensure that I would be focused on being outside and living in the beauty of my surroundings.  Too often I view nature through the filter of that screen as I'm trying to take a photo.  It was nice to see something amazing and beautiful and to not be tempted to grab my phone for a photo.  

The river was lovely.  We saw herons, osprey, otters and fish.  We saw the clear lake water clash with the red muddy runoff creeks downstream where the water mixed in small explosions under the water.  There was sun and clouds and 14,000 different greens along the way.  And after about 3 hours we rowed our boats up on the grass near the cabin.  

Here's the "after" photo:

It was interesting driving all three boats out on jon's truck.  We tied the canoes to the top and crammed my kayak and all our gear into the back.  And then we threw mud everywhere as we climbed back out to civilization.

 By the time we got the boats unloaded and tied back to their respective vehicles, it was once again time to eat.  Our department takes food very seriously and we tend to eat a lot.  Singletary and Esnipes handled breakfast, so Jim, jon and me were responsible for dinner.  We grilled steaks and chicken and had baked potatoes and a few vegetables.  Oh and we found an old rotten baseball floating down the river and we dried him out and he was our guest of honor at dinner.

After dinner we headed down to the dock for a moonlight cruise up the lake.  jon took us upstream a while where we stopped under the almost full moon and broke out jim's homemade ice cream and some cookies.  

There were a few ghost stories and other fun tales before we docked again and called it a night.

The next morning we were up early to clean up and pack.  Once everything was in order, we drove back down to the family farm for a little target practice.  A few of us brought some rifles and pistols for a fun shooting session.  Here's our department chair blasting some plastic bottles:

And we couldn't resist taking some funny photos at the hunting lodge.  In the photo below Singletary is telling you to "git" off her property.

It's great to have a photographer around.  He can take the goofiest, happiest, nicest bunch of people and somehow make them look like mean, gun-toting country folk.  

And with some convincing and the help of technology, the photographer was able to get in on the fun.  

Now the guns and boats are put away and we have another week to get our studios in order before the students return.  It's going to be a very good semester.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The One About David Freeman

I met David Freeman unofficially in the fall of 1990.  I was a freshman (with hair) at Winthrop and I would pass him in the halls of McLaurin from time to time.  Like all the professors there, I held him in some sort of mystical, intriguing position in my head.  Back then we felt it was important to show respect to our professors so we refrained from calling them by their first names.  Mr. Freeman was always "Mr. Freeman" to me, even after I got to know him better.  

Mr. Freeman began teaching at Winthrop in 1972 - the same year I was born.  He retired from full time teaching a couple of years ago, spending all that time as a fixture in the Department of Fine Arts at Winthrop.  In the hours he was not teaching next door in Rutledge, he held down the front corner of McLaurin.  Like many other professors, he always seemed to be in his office studio creating.  

During my sophomore year I officially met him as my professor in Painting I and what little I know about painting, I owe to him.  (This is no reflection on him as a teacher, I'm just not a painter.)  You know how you can remember seemingly random, specific things a teacher says for the rest of your life?  At midterm in Painting I he lined up my work and said, "You have a way of working well with color relationships.  I'm not sure you know you're doing it, but it's in there."  He was right about the not knowing part.  I was clueless and perhaps this is why the feedback stuck with me all these years.  

Mr. Freeman had a way with color as well.  The above painting is his from 2001 and I borrowed it from an old online edition of Carolina Arts (  The title is "Shelf Life" and after seeing him always working on a painting just like this in my undergrad years I was sure he worked nonrepresentational.  From an interview printed in Carolina Arts (, Mr. Freeman indicated that he did, in fact, work from representational imagery.  He loved plants and music and taking photographs and apparently all three of these things played important roles in his creative process.  I remember the photos tacked beside his large canvases, the classical music slipping out of his propped open door and his potted plants spilling out from his office into the hall.

If you saw Mr. Freeman outside of class and not in his studio, you saw Mary Mintich.  They were peas and carrots when they were not working.  Always going to lunch together or one always seeking the other out for some feedback.  Their friendship was a great one.  When I started getting serious about going back to school for my MFA I contacted Ms. Mintich, my first sculpture professor and set up a time to talk with her.  She said we'd go have dinner and chat.  It went without saying that Mr. Freeman would also go with us.  And he did.

When I went back to Winthrop for my MFA in 2000 I minored in Drawing.  Merely by chance, the drawing class I could fit in my schedule was taught by Mr. Freeman that semester.  I got his permission and ended up taking all my graduate drawing courses with him.  His approach was old fashioned and effective.  In class you would work, work, work because practice is how you got better.  Outside of class he expected you to work, work, work because practice is how you got better.  Drawing in a darkened room for 3 hours straight is not what I would call exciting, but it's a big part of the reason I'm still drawing today.  Mr. Freeman was right and I did get better.

When the time came for me to choose my graduate committee, I chose Mr. Freeman to be a member.  It was a decision I gave little thought to, honestly.  It made sense to me for him to be in the group who would eventually decide if I was good enough to be released back into the wild.  And it was kind of him to agree to be on the committee since it meant he would have to read several drafts of a boring thesis.  A thesis that turned out to be about color - almost as if he could see it coming years earlier.

Mr. Freeman eventually gave his consent to me receiving my MFA and I have his signature on my copy of my thesis.  I'm not sure exactly why yet, but for some reason that signature is what came to mind when I learned that Mr. Freeman passed away earlier this week.  I wasn't wealthy enough to own any of his paintings but I have that signature.  Maybe the signature is a tangible reminder of the intangible gift he gave to me as a teacher.  

You see, there were students who thought Mr. Freeman was too positive.  Critiques at Winthrop could be brutal and there were plenty of professors who were known for bringing tears regularly in critiques, so much so, that students came to expect it.  Mr. Freeman provided balance to that extreme.  Trust me, he brought up plenty of things I needed to work on both in Painting and in the Advanced Drawing courses.  But his delivery was such that I didn't feel like I needed to take my own life after the critique.  He was honest and straightforward but when there were positive aspects to point out, he was sure to point those out.  Mr. Freeman was encouraging both in class and in one-on-one critiques.  He said some very kind things to me as I finished up grad school and I remember those things just as well as I remember what he said years earlier about color.

In art school encouragement can be a rare and precious commodity.  Mr. Freeman knew that and I, and countless other students over the years, were lucky to Mr. Freeman as a professor.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

running problems

It's been a great summer for running.  The streak is still alive and I've been able to run at home, at the beach and in Nashville.  When I glanced at the iphone one day last week after a run I saw that I'd hit a milestone.
My brother pointed out that at 2,500 miles I could have ran across the country.  Of course, at 3 miles per day it would have taken a few years, but I guess that's OK.  

During the summer break I have the luxury of running in the "cooler" mornings.  Don't get me wrong, it's still very hot, but it feels much better than running in the heat of the day or even in the late afternoons.  Some days that's meant getting up at unnatural hours just to get the run in before going to do other important morning things but it's still better than running in the blazing sun.  

I've burned through another pair of running shoes this summer.  I put more miles on my shoes than most of the running authorities tell you to, but I figure my feet will let me know when the shoes have nothing left to give.  I picked up these blue beauties several months ago knowing I'd need to change shoes this summer.  I'm sure they were on sale because of how bright and blue they are, but since I have no shame with my tall black socks, why not throw some crazy shoes in there too?  Regardless of how silly they look, they feel great.  And the socks are keeping the chiggers and mosquitoes off my legs.  

The heat is not the only bad part about running in the summer.  My shoes almost never dry out completely.  The grass stays wet here until afternoon so the first lap in the morning my shoes soak up as much water weight as they can hold.  This is a minor irritation though compared to the bugs.  Once the chiggers and mosquitoes figure out my running schedule, they lie in wait for my lower legs every morning.  The mosquitoes are particularly bad this year and they swarm me as soon as I walk outside each day.  I figured out the sock solution for that, so while my neighbors think I have a fashion sickness, my legs stay bite free.  The worst part, the absolute worst part is this:


I am not a fan of spiders.  I don't have a debilitating form of arachnophobia, I just hate spiders.  They creep me out.  When they stay in their world and I stay in mine, we get along just fine.  More often than not, we clash when they invade my space.  They'll crawl under the door or find their way into a corner and we'll have to throw down.  But beginning in August I find myself literally running into their space.  My running track loops around our acreage and on three sides of the almost rectangle there are trees.  When the calendar flips to August 1, the giant webs begin to drop down at angles from the treeline.  This puts the business end of the webs about face-high right in the middle of my trail.  

In our time here on the plantation I've almost stepped on a snake while running.  A couple of times I've startled deer the size of small horses and in their panic to get into the woods they've almost skewered me with the giant hardware on their heads.  None of this can compare to running full speed into a huge web when the last thing your eyes focus on before hitting the web is an angry, hairy spider the size of your hand.  The web flattens against your face and the supporting strands cause the web to wrap completely around your head.  The mad flailing about of arms and legs that comes next is a horrific sight that no one should have to witness.  

This usually happens on the first lap, leaving me to feel the angry spider crawling around my bare head, neck or back for the next 20 minutes.  This is unnerving to say the least.  The webs are so predictable I'm forced to carry a web clearing stick with me for the entire first lap.  This, of course, adds to the fashion show I'm already putting on.  And even with the stick, pretty much everyday I face-plant into a spider's house and have to do some unplanned cardio for the next several minutes.  

So for now I'm waiting on Nike to invent some contraption to wear on your head while running to prevent such spidery encounters.  Until then if you drive through the middle of nowhere you'll see me with my socks and neon shoes swinging a stick and doing the spider dance every morning.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Tetanus Studios

It took us all summer, but with G's help we finally got an Esty shop open.  If you were not able to make it to the open studio sale at the start of summer, this is your opportunity to view and purchase some of the decorative art things I've made.  There are flowers and bowls and soon there will a few drawings too.  

Its never too soon to begin your Christmas shopping, so go on over and buy something before everything gets gone.