Girl With Beaded Hair

My husband Ramine and I just returned from a wonderful arts conference called “Wings to the Spirit” in Pensacola, Florida—it is sponsored by members of the Bahá’í community in that area, and it featured amazing artists from all around the country.  Themes revolved around bringing beauty and spirit into the world through many different art forms—singing, drama, poetry, painting, sculpture, etc.—and using the arts to help create social discourse about topics like community building, appreciating diversity, and empowering women.

I had been to this biannual conference before, but Ramine had never gone; this trip was an early celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary, and we had planned beforehand to buy a special piece of art to celebrate our marriage.  There were quite a few talented artists with booths of beautiful art at the conference, but one piece caught our eyes from the beginning, and over the course of the weekend we fell in love with it.  I actually had insomnia one night and couldn’t stop thinking about the hauntingly beautiful expression of the little girl in the mosaic; I rarely respond so strongly to a piece of art!  Eyes are one of the most challenging elements of any portrait, and they are difficult enough to depict in paint.  I can’t imagine constructing them out of minuscule shards of glass, but in this piece they are done so masterfully that they truly feel like a “window to the soul.”

Here is a picture of the artist, Enid Probst, with her masterful mosaic titled “Girl With Beaded Hair”:

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Mosaic artist Enid Probst

I really enjoyed getting to know Enid at the conference, and I greatly appreciate the high skill level behind this piece, which is partly derived from her study of mosaic portraiture with a master artist in Mexico.  I thought others might find it interesting to read about Enid’s inspiration and her artistic process, so I am including her description:

“About 5 years ago I began working with a group of people that wanted to improve their community.  The city had cleared a lot, and their plan was to construct a community garden that would include art.  At one end of the garden we constructed a wall, and I have facilitated the fabrication of a mosaic mural. There have been perhaps 100 people that have helped put tile on the wall; this little girl was one of them.  The first summer, which was about 3 years ago, she would come almost every Saturday morning to help.  I generally take pictures of the people helping me; the mosaic was inspired by one of these pictures.  The lighting was just perfect.

“The materials are a tile called smalti and glass beads.  The “earring” is mille fiori.  Smalti is a very old and traditional mosaic glass tile.  It was primarily made in Venice, but the Perdomo family in Mexico developed their own smalti, which is what I used.  I also used a traditional technique called double direct.  I prepared a bed of lime paste, transferred my design to the surface, and fabricated the mosaic by pushing cut pieces into the lime paste.  This technique allows for a lot of flexibility, since it is easy to pull a piece out of the paste and make necessary adjustments.

In the workshop

In the workshop

“I decide on my tile palette, which covers the range of tones from lightest to darkest.  Then I work primarily from a black and white copy that has good tonal contrasts.  I also look at pictures in B&W so I know if I am on the right track with regard to tonal contrasts.  I simplify the facial contours and make changes to the face, such as changing the shadow shapes, which helps the face “read” better.  I frequently step back about 7 feet from the piece to check color and the line of the tiles.”

Enid was kind enough to share with me a few pictures of the work as it evolved:

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Beginning with the eyes

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Already the expression is captured

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The braids in progress

And here is the piece now, having been safely transported across the country to our home in Oregon and hung in a prominent spot in our living room:

Girl With Beaded Hair

Girl With Beaded Hair

To read more about Enid and her beautiful work, you can connect to her website here.

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Mountain Park Art Show

I am fortunate to have a solo show of my work currently on display at the Mountain Park Clubhouse in my neighborhood—the space is wonderful, and I have gotten a lot of great feedback as a result of this exhibit.

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Wonderful friends attending the reception

There was a nice reception a few weeks ago, and I was thrilled to see family and friends and to meet new art lovers, as well—it is always so enjoyable to have opportunities to speak about my favorite themes of honoring women’s work and of bringing different artistic traditions together in multicultural beaded paintings.

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More mingling

One of the pieces that was sold will be moving with its new owners to the Ivory Coast—it’s so cool to have my paintings living in different countries!

Tribal Warmth

Tribal Warmth

The show will be up for a few more weeks—if you are in the area and would like to check it out, directions to the Mountain Park Clubhouse can be found here.

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Happy New Year!

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December 31, 2013 · 5:33 pm

A Wonderful Vintage Find

I often embroider vintage beads and buttons into my paintings, and I was thrilled to come across some incredibly gorgeous antique glass buttons from Germany last week.  The seller (on eBay, one of my best sources for vintage materials from around the world) recently bought out the entire remaining inventory of a defunct button factory that was owned by a Czech German button maker.  The buttons were produced between 1947 and the 1960s; the factory closed in 1969.  All of the buttons are exquisite, but I was particularly excited to find some nine-pointed stars in different colors:

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Vintage buttons with nine-pointed stars

I am always on the lookout for nine-pointed brooches, doilies, beaded medallions, buttons, etc. to use in my pieces, because the number nine holds significance for me.  The nine-pointed star is often used as a symbol of completeness and perfection in the Bahá’í Faith because nine is both the highest single digit and the numerical value of the word “Bahá” in Arabic, which means “glory” or “splendor”.  All Bahá’í temples have nine sides for this reason.  Here is an aerial photo of the amazing Bahá’í Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India—I dream of visiting it one day!

Lotus Temple

Bahá’í Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India

A relatively large beaded painting of mine called “Victorian Collaboration” has a nine-pointed star in the center.  I collaged an antique silk table runner with exquisitely embroidered roses and yellow fringe onto the canvas and painted a green-gold over its cream background in order to harmonize it with the canvas.  I also added silk fabric transfers of photographs of roses and architectural details that I took at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois—this beautiful spiritual place is a historic Chicago landmark and also the location of my wedding.  “Victorian Collaboration” is special to me because it is the first large-scale beaded painting I created; I spent 180 hours on this 36″ x 48” canvas.  I also love the fact that I was able to rescue and highlight a beautiful piece of Victorian-era needlework; I wish I knew something about its original creator, whom I consider my Victorian “collaborator”!

Victorian Collaboration

Victorian Collaboration

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Portland Open Studios

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Artwork in the studio

I had a wonderful opportunity to invite many art-loving guests into my home over the course of two weekends this October.  For the first time, I applied to be one of the artists featured as a part of Portland Open Studios, which is an annual self-guided tour to visit the studios of nearly 100 artists throughout the Portland metro area.  I was so pleased to be accepted, and my experience definitely resonated with the mission statement of the event, which strives to “offer a unique and inspiring way of experiencing the creative process: interacting with local artists at work within the context of their studios.”

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One of my creative new friends!

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A busy corner of the studio

While I love having a wonderful home studio space to work in, working as an artist can be a solitary pursuit.  My main purpose in participating in this event was to have an opportunity to meet and connect with other local people who are passionate about art and the creative process.  Over the course of the two weekends, during which I opened my studio from 10-5 on Saturday and Sunday, nearly 200 individuals came into my studio and interacted with my work–I felt so honored and inspired!  It felt deeply meaningful to be able to engage with others about the themes of my work: elevating the status of women, honoring and purposefully bringing together diverse needlework and design motifs of cultures around the world, and creating harmony and beauty out of bits and pieces.

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More wonderful friends stopping by

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Cards and pillows greeting visitors

Some of my most rewarding interactions were conversations that either inspired others to unleash their own creativity or to find a way to honor heirloom textiles they have in their homes.  Several guests expressed interest in taking classes, so while I have only taught my techniques on a more informal basis up to this point, I am now considering offering some Saturday workshops to help others recycle some of their own family textiles.  A great many visitors told me that they have pieces of vintage lace, doilies, or lovely embroidery languishing in drawers; I was honored when one couple asked if I would create a piece for them in honor of their 30th wedding anniversary, with the possible incorporation of some of their family textiles in it.

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“Honoring the Fashioner” on display

I am also excited at the prospect of creating ongoing relationships with other artists and creative souls whom I met during the tour.  There are so many talented individuals living in this area, and I have already received lots of helpful and generous feedback from many of them.  While I was somewhat worn out by the end of the second weekend, I am now recovered enough to be excited by all the followup there is to be done–meeting other artists in their studios, offering classes to interested friends, and creating artwork in response to requests.  I will definitely try to recreate this worthwhile experience in the future, and I would encourage others to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to experience creativity that Portland Open Studios offers to our community every October!

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Friends in Taiwan

A couple of weeks ago, I was happy to receive an email from friends who recently moved back to Taiwan after living in Portland for a year.  Roger and Lily brought their daughters Vickie and Angela to live here while Roger received specialized training in eye surgery at OHSU from a mutual friend, and we were fortunate to get to know them during that period.  We had several opportunities to talk about the importance of bringing beauty and spirit into the world through the arts, and they gave me very insightful feedback about my work.  As a mark of their friendship and support, they asked me if they could purchase a painting of mine that had caught their eye, and of course I was honored at the idea of my work going to live with them in Taiwan!  Here is their family standing with the piece before we packaged it up to go on the plane:

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Our good friends the Bee Family.

Here is a detail of the piece, which consists of a delicate vintage Chinese silk painting mounted onto a canvas and embellished with stencilling and collaged fabrics.  It was such a charming little painting that I was moved to rescue it from the old, spotted silk that it was mounted on and honor it by creating a painted background that would complement and frame it for the viewer.

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Detail

In Roger’s email, he told us that they chose to put it in the middle hallway of the home so they could see it from anywhere.  I am truly honored to have my painting “living” in the home of such lovely people, and it is very exciting to have a piece of mine in a collection 6000 miles away!

Piece in Bee home

A new home in Taiwan!

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Road Trip Reflections

My family and I returned a few weeks ago from an amazing 26-day road trip from Portland, OR to Chicago!  We hit six different national parks along the way–Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Moab, Utah; Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks in South Dakota; and portions of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, primarily in Montana.

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Silhouettes of my family and other tourists at Arches National Park.

We also had the opportunity to see other inspiring sites along the way–Mt. Rushmore was definitely a highlight, and I personally found visits to the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, IL, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO and the Art Institute of Chicago very meaningful.  I took many hundreds of photographs of both the exquisite natural beauty in the parks and some of my favorite architectural details and paintings as I visited these historic places, and I thought I would share a few of my favorites here.

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Detail of the exquisite, lacy architecture of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.

The overall artistic theme I was struck by on this trip is the power of light, particularly in the case of extreme contrasts between light and dark.  The most powerful example of this was in Wind Cave National Park, which is an amazing place that I had never heard of prior to this trip.  American Indians of the area have known about the opening to Wind Cave and the winds that move in and out of it for centuries, and it is a sacred place for many tribes, as it seems to be breathing, like a Great Spirit.  I was blown away by a rare cave formation called “boxwork”; the dry conditions in the cave allow this unusual, extremely complex and delicate formation to survive.

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Example of boxwork

I was also thrilled by the eerie underground “landscapes” that were created by shadows thrown by the cave’s sophisticated lighting system, which was modernized a few years ago.  I was not the only tourist compulsively snapping pictures, as every twist and turn brought an incredible new visual experience.

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Wind Cave National Park

I can only imagine navigating that cave aided only by a candle in a bucket, as the first explorers did; at one point, our guide turned off all the lights so that we could experience total darkness–a rare experience!  The many intrepid souls who created this national treasure–the Wind Cave area has been protected since 1903, when it became our eighth national park–left an exciting work of art to future generations.  The art lesson I took from the caves was the incredible power of a light source to both reveal hidden treasures and to create drama.

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Illuminated area of the cave

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More striking cave formations

We spent a couple of nights in Kansas City along the way, and I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art there.  There was a great exhibit of contemporary Mexican Art that included several masterpieces by Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and there was also this interesting piece by contemporary Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero, who carves intricate designs in used tires and then rolls them in fine sand to create ephemeral works of art.

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Betsabeé Romero

She believes that “the car is, by far, the object that attracts the greatest aesthetic attention among people of all ages and social classes”–an interesting thought!

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Intricate tire designs

Here is a detail of a gorgeous, large painting at the same museum: it was intended to be the right-hand segment of a set of three in one of Monet’s “Water Lilies” tryptychs. I love the abstractness of these late pieces of his; because of their unusual scale, elimination of any spatial context and increasingly bold brushwork, they have sometimes been described as precursors of Abstract Expressionism.  The use of color is absolutely masterful!

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Monet detail

Another highlight of this summer’s trip was visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, where I had the pleasure of earning my BFA in 1998.  I was reminded of a formative and hugely popular Monet Exhibit that I saw as a student there in 1995 when I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a special exhibit on Impressionism and Fashion.

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My old home!

There were exquisite displays of Impressionist masterpieces from many different museums, juxtaposed with antique dresses and accessories identical to those worn by models in the paintings.  I couldn’t take photos inside, unlike in the rest of the museum, but I did buy the marvelous exhibition catalogue, and I also took pictures of many pieces in the museum’s permanent collection.  Here are a few of my favorites, which really highlight how the Impressionist movement was about a whole new way of seeing, of expressing solid objects as energy and light.

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Detail of Van Gogh’s “Grapes, Lemons, Pears and Apples,” 1887

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Detail of Van Gogh’s “Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy (Asnières),” 1887

In 1884, Monet stayed for nearly three months in Bordighera, a town on the Italian Riviera close to the border of Italy and France.  In a letter to sculptor Auguste Rodin describing his efforts to translate into paint the brilliant Mediterranean light, Monet declared he was “fencing, wrestling, with the sun.”

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Detail of Monet’s “Bordighera,” 1884

I’ll end this post with a few of my favorite architectural details from the Art Institute’s collection–I was always inspired by the wonderful ornamentation in the Chicago Stock Exchange room, and I remember sketching these elevator grilles  as a student.

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By Adler and Sullivan, from the Chicago Stock Exchange, 1893-94

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I love this “Elevator Enclosure Grille from the Rookery Building, 1907” by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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People rode in some fancy elevators back in the day!

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One last ornate elevator grille, from the Manhattan Building, 1889-91, by Jenney and Mundie

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