Filed under: Al Need, Confessions, Political, seascapes | Tags: 1965 peace march, al need, california coast, Mendocino, mendocino california, new perspectives, ocean and forests, san francisco
Also in the old brown portfolio of photos that I mentioned in last week’s Post, I discovered this 1972 letter written by my father Alvin W. Need. It is to the editor of the Mendocino Beacon, the local newspaper. It surprised me when I read it. I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. I laughed out loud!
Click on this image to be able to read full-sized printed material.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult, after we began to write letters to each other, when I realized that he was spiritual, but not religious. He was a constant seeker of peace, non-violence, and serenity. Although a student of all shapes and forms of spiritual beliefs, he never used the word God when speaking of his spiritual life (except for when he was near the end of his life). He referred to god as the a priori, an invisible force, or the universal consciousness. He talked about synchronistic events as palpable representations or communications of the greater force around and within us.
As a kid, I never knew him to be political. He seemed more concerned about his reputation than anything else. I never thought of him as an activist until he decided to join me in the San Francisco Peace March in the mid 1960′s with thousands of people marching along Market Street. He loved the experience. He went home an excited and different person. He became more tolerant and less negative and critical about people of difference. He became aggravated by things like the Point Arena Nuclear Power Plant proposal in the early 1970’s or the Vietnam War or other political events, but for most of my adult life I didn’t see that side of him. I was married, too self-absorbed, narcissistic, and immersed in my own neurotic fears and struggles to be concerned about anything else.
Thus my amazement when I read this 1972 letter to the editor of the Beacon. His writing was funny, at times downright silly, at other times, sarcastic and self-deprecating, but all the while referring to his spiritual beliefs and his search for inner peace through personal reflections and his creative relationship with the ocean and forests on the northern California coast. For him that was the clear answer—the most important thing. I’d seen that in him before, but had not understood it fully.
I loved reading this letter. It made him more real and more human for me. It gives me a greater perspective on who he was, all that he was.
© 1972 All Rights Reserved. Alvin W. Need. 1972 Letter to the Editor, Mendocino Beacon.
© 2013 All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.
Filed under: art, Confessions, fragments | Tags: 1964-1966, Boys from berkeley, california, Chico, florence, Fort Bragg, long lost loves, memories, Mendocino, Monterey Peninsula artist, oregon, susan canavarro
This week I received a meaningful and thoughtful gift from my stepmother Lois. The treasure box was full of old photos of my father’s paintings, a few 8×10 photos of me, a 1972 letter to the editor written by Dad concerning the construction of a nuclear power plant in Point Arena on the California Coast, and a small booklet of pen and ink and watercolor sketches by my sister Veneé. After discovering the gifts inside this box, tears rolled down my blotchy-rosacea cheeks for thirty minutes or more.
You may ask why this gift moved me so strongly, but perhaps first, before telling the story of the package and its contents, I need to tell you a bit about my life prior to this point—specifically, my kinetic life after my marriage dissolved.
In the summer of 1987 I packed my car with as many of my “things” as I could stuff into it, said a tearful goodbye to my husband and drove off. Caught the ferry to Anacortes and drove all the way to Monterey. This break-up was not the first. I had left several times before but always came back. Ultimately, I felt like I was going crazy and that leaving was the only solution. If I were on my own, I could finally be myself, not a wife and not an emotionally distraught step-mother. To some degree, that came about when I left this last time, especially after I reentered college.
With only what I could carry in my car, I left everything behind. I had to start anew. Get an apartment, get a job, and buy all new bed and blankets, and chairs and kitchen equipment. I virtually lived on the floor of my apartment in Monterey for months.
Along the way, after leaving my husband and after a half-assed attempt to get back together again, I moved several times, each time having to give up more of my belongings. I moved to Chico to go to school, from there to San Jose for graduate school, then on the Monterey to be close to my demented mother who died one week after I moved, and then I moved north to Fort Bragg. From Fort Bragg I moved east to Sacramento, and then finally on up to Florence, Oregon. With each move I gave away more of my possessions and wound up buying more items, like beds and chairs and computers, etc., only to have to give them away too. Here in Florence I had to move out of my first good apartment and into a small, narrow, cold, and moldy old travel trailer. Out of necessity, I got rid of more things and bought lots of plastic to cover all the non-thermal-pane windows. Finally after 3 years in the funky trailer, I was old enough to get into low-income senior housing, where I’ve been since early 2010, with only one move to a downstairs unit, and in the process of that last move and all its attending frustrations, I tossed many more things into the dumpster.
Before moving to Florence, planning for the very real possibility that I might actually become homeless and have to live in my car behind some lonely and/or isolated gas station, I gave my brand new bed and other furnishings to Salvation Army; I gave several framed paintings and a Futon sofa/bed to my good friends in Merced—I should say they were gracious to take my paintings off my hands. I gave away my top-notch stereo system to the son of a friend who had done some work repairing my PC. I gave my desktop PC to him also. I gave away my smaller portable record player used for folk dancing sessions. All of my precious art books, collected and well-used for over 27 years, I donated to the Sacramento Fine Arts Center to do with what they pleased. I gave away my drawing table and stool, purchased when I had finally gotten my first dedicated artist studio in our 2500 square foot house on Orcas Island, which helped to relieve my migraine headaches. I gave away all the large and heavy items I knew I could not carry in my car and then hauled what I could in three car-loads to Florence, Oregon.
I entrusted into the care of my sister our family photo album, consisting of pictures of our childhood years with photos representing us through all the grades on into high school and in all the front yards of our many lived-in houses; photos of our parents when they were younger and celebrating their marriage with a photo taken at a Hollywood lounge; pictures of our automobiles, pictures of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and pictures of our family dogs and cats and chickens and roosters and ducks and nasty angry geese that we had cared for over the years; images of my mother’s garden before it and she became ravaged by dementia. Images, each representing a miniscule part of who I was and who I’ve become, given away when I gave custody of those items to my sister in 2003 just before my final trip north. I also entrusted to her my wedding album which not only included pictures of our wedding in one of Dad’s unfinished houses, but also pictures of the husband’s family, all our Christmases spent with his brothers and sisters, his mother, pictures of our stepson, and his growing years; Christmases on Carmel beach at the mouth of the Carmel River on cool, blue-sky sunny days.
I knew Veneé would take care of these photo albums. She had done an extensive genealogical study of our family and had been tacitly elected as the family archivist. Memories come flooding back to me. Little did I know at the time that she would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. Dreams gone, lost, dead, buried in the dark depths of my sister’s subsequent struggle with Alzheimer’s. I have no idea what happened to all of her things, to the family albums and to the book she had created about our family history.
I loaded my car up with a new laptop so I could stay in touch with people, my clothing, a few kitchen items, a small TV, paintings and art supplies, and drove to Florence. I shipped six boxes of books via UPS, so they could haul them up the stairs for me! I made three trips with my car loaded with small items. Again, I lived off the floor in my new Oregon apartment. I slept on an air mattress, ate and worked at my simple portable table. I bought an unfinished door and placed it across two plastic light-weight saw horses and this became my new painting table with an art stool.
Along each step of the way, with each looming move, I gave up more of my precious belongings. It was just stuff you might say. You can buy more stuff when you get settled somewhere, you might say. That might true, but only if one had the extra money to do so. But you cannot replace all those old photos if they disappear into a black hole. Due to financial necessity, I had adjusted to living light, to living without my old belongings and without much new stuff, but I felt the loss. I not only lost my husband to his errant ways, but I lost the stuff of my life. At each step of the way I gave away a bit of my self, never to be found again, except in memories, and those were fading fast.
When Lois’ package arrived this week filled with old photos of Dad’s paintings and sketches, photos of me learning how to throw a pot on the potter’s wheel, and of my sister’s wonderful watercolor sketches, and the insightful and revealing letter to the editor written by my father in 1972, it opened a flood gate letting loose the waters—I was awash with memories and emotions. I remembered who I was when I was 17, 18 and 19— that trusting, fresh, young spirit—and it reminded me of long losses of time between then and now at age 66, but I am so pleased to have these old images filling in my memory gaps.
In the old brown portfolio were several 8×10 black and white photos of me. One, an image of my face as I leaned against the upstairs window sash looking out of an old abandoned building in Mendocino. My eyes, shielded by lowered eyelids and dark lashes, looked down at Scrib the garbage collector as he pointed his camera at me. He was a professional photographer who supported his family by collecting garbage and hauling it off to the bluffs and dumping the trash into the ocean and on to the rocks. For decades that’s how the northern coast folks got rid of their garbage.
Rapunzel’s Save me! Save me!
There I was in 1964, not yet 18, in Mendocino at my father’s place, insecure and on the brink of a breakdown for fear of being unlovable. So what do I do? I fall in love with the married garbage man. I had a thing about falling in love with unavailable men—married, gay or just plain emotionally, physically or intellectually unavailable.
Charismatic, intelligent and witty, Scrib drove a large green garbage truck. In those days detritus was garbage and recycling non-existent, but for dumping it all back into the sea from whence we all came. Scrib backed the old rusty truck up to the edge of the bluffs just off Main Street and tipped the bucket, spilling garbage on to the rocks and sand 100 feet below. Ultimately, all of it dispersed by the ocean’s crashing waves.
Even though I knew he was married and had two kids, I flirted with him. He didn’t seem to mind. When he was not acting the garbage man, he was a fine art photographer, a writer and poet. We had trysts in the derelict buildings that dotted Mendocino. He shot many photographs of me standing in front of open doors and windows in the streaking dust-filled sunlight. With long brown hair and hazel-green eyes, I was his Rapunzel, flaunting my sexuality, enticing my prince of a trash collector to climb the blackberry vines and pick me. Choose me, my heart called out. Save me! Save me!
After I moved to Santa Rosa to attend Junior College, Scrib surprised me by showing up at the motel where I was staying. My roommates were a bit surprised that the quiet and shy Susan had an older boyfriend. However it appeared, though, ours was only a brief summer platonic encounter. My romance with Scrib was seemingly innocent and safe. We were sexually attracted to each other, but no sex beyond kissing. I trusted him implicitly. He was married. I didn’t have to make a commitment, nor did he. We both knew this and we both knew it was morally wrong.
I missed seeing Scrib, I missed his attentions and pined for him after he left that day, but I very quickly fell in love with another unavailable man—oh so cool Dan, a Santa Rosa guitar player/folk singer.
Our relationship remained platonic probably because at age 17, I knew nothing about sexual matters.
I thought Scrib’s photos of me were lost. To see one of them again was a sweet treat. It brings back my carefree summer salad days as a young adult in 1964 -1966 Mendocino. Whether I want to or not, I recall all the young men I flirted with and dreamed about, and over whom I pined and suffered countless hurts: Scrib the garbage man and a photographer who took many photos of me on our secret trysts; Philip the writer and poet who once wrote me a love poem that I carried in my wallet for over 25 years; Dan the coffee-house singer and guitarist I stalked at the Santa Rosa Coffee house and as fate would have it, whom I sat next to on the bus to San Francisco and thus began our brief encounter; the fishermen boys from UC Berkeley, John a pianist and Gil a classical guitarist, both students wigged out on pot and other drugs and the Beatles, and now gone; then on to beautiful and handsome Peter, a counselor at a youth camp near Philo and stealing away together in the middle of the night to climb down the bluffs on the Bodega coast; and Russell the intellectual with his blond hair falling in his eyes, his rough pock-marked face oh so serious yet smiling at me in the Caffe Mediterraneum living in his tiny purple Berkeley apartment with the orange kitchen, and who cared for me when I needed caring; and Lee the blonde film student from San Francisco State who created a short film of me and a young man running through the sunlit dappled forest to a romantic tryst—after all these years, I now see this was a proverbial love scene with film students and commercial movies. Not too original.
Then, in 1968 another John showed up in my life in Pacific Grove who enlisted and went to fight in Vietnam soon after we met and came home married to a Vietnamese woman; and finally the man I married, Antonio who played classical guitar and with whom I had secret liaisons at the Monterey Peninsula Cemetery…because at the time he was married, and his wife was wont to show up on campus! I knew all along that if he would liaison with me while he was married to someone, he would eventually liaison with others while we were married, but in my bliss, I ignored all the signs!
It’s a long tragic list for which I do have a few fond memories and many unpleasant and embarrassing moments. I was cute, flirtatious and alluring and I easily became infatuated with every man who crossed my path. A romantic addict, I wanted to be loved and to be in love. I often wonder how I survived. What strength I must have had to survive that time of hippies and drugs, innocence and ignorance without becoming a drug or alcohol addict? How did I survive falling in love so many times yet remain so naïve and trusting? Or was it that I was too frightened to get drawn into all that free love and sex, and the reckless lifestyle of drugs? I often think all of my neurotic fears saved me. They kept me out of serious trouble!
Next week’s post will consist of another cherished artifact found in my father’s old brown portfolio.
© All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.
Filed under: art, art Exhibits, Bernie Herr, Confessions | Tags: Aqueous media, Bernie Herr, florence, mixed media on paper, oregon, watercolor painting
Bernie Herr, Award Winning Juried Member of the Watercolor Society of Oregon since 1989.
A work of art is a source of emotion—with a content that is immediately perceptible to some, but mysterious to others. Watercolor is a compelling force in my life. I try to paint every day and on days that I don’t, I feel a little cheated! My subject matter is eclectic and reflects my travels, my garden, and the coastal environment I have chosen for my home. My techniques vary as I am always exploring new methods of using watermedia.
After graduating from a special high school for the arts, I served in the army during World War II. When I returned home to New Jersey I attended Seton Hall University and earned my BA and MA degrees. My vocation for the next 32 years was teacher of health and physical education.
During those years I did a great deal of pencil sketching and occasionally worked in oils and acrylics on canvas, but these media never became a compelling interest.
In 1984 I moved to Florence, Oregon, and it is here that I discovered watercolor. I studied with experienced instructors and tried to keep from going stale by participating each year in workshops offered by artists I admire. These have included many nationally and internationally known artists.
I have taken time out from painting to work with stained glass, pottery relief, leather, and bird carving. But it isn’t long before I find myself back at my easel.
My work is in private collections in more than a dozen states, including Hawaii; also in Canada, Japan, Poland, and Israel. – Bernie Herr
NOTE: Some of these paintings are earlier works and some are current. Not all are available in Bernie’s retrospective exhibit currently on display at the Florence Event Center’s Gallery One. I wanted to show the versatility of his skill and subject by showing old with the new. I enjoy his paintings because I’ve watched the progression of his style and subject developing since 2004 when I first met Bernie and his wife, Lu, also Bernie’s super art agent!
Back then he was doing traditional landscapes, florals and figurative works. From there his work evolved to semi-abstract with a hint of representation of traditional subject matter. For the last few years he’s been experimenting more with non-objective abstracts.
Bernie Herr has no fear of trying something new, experimenting and enjoying creative play with aqueous media on paper. He uses a multitude of other mediums, techniques and tools in conjunction with the water-based media to arrive at his multi-layered textured surfaces. When you look at his work, you feel his intuitive process and his willingness to let his imagination and painting process take him where it will.
The public is invited to a reception for Bernie on February 15 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. There will be refreshments by Red Rose Catering and live music by the ”Just for Fun Trio.”
See more of Bernie Herr’s paintings at FlorenceArtists.com
© 2013 All Rights Reserved- text and paintings – Bernie Herr. NO use or display of these works of art on any other blog, website, or printed material without written consent from the artist, Bernie Herr.
© 2013 All Rights Reserved. Blog and text. Susan Canavarro
Filed under: Ann T. Pierce, art, Confessions, Paintings -Inspiration, Paintings-stories | Tags: art, California State University, Chico, susan canavarro, watercolor
Conversation with Ann T. Pierce – Part II:
Continued from Part I:
The kids were also involved with the development of the Empty Sack series, which started with an innocent painting of orange-packing sacks hanging in the barn of a friend who has an orange orchard. When my family saw the painting, I became literally swamped with bags of all kinds: currency sacks from banks where my two daughters worked; bean and vegetable bags from my son who managed a farmers cooperative; grain sacks from my husband who fed the livestock; sacks another son found at a garage sale in Eugene, Oregon, and the empty sacks (skins) discarded by my third son’s snake. The enthusiasm spread to the wrapping of my Christmas presents in all kinds of sacks, which I opened for the occasion and then repacked for the watercolor paintings.
The first painting of the orange packing sacks was nothing more than a response to form, color, arrangement, and shape. As the paintings progressed, I began to realize that the bags had pregnant, maternal aspects. The sacks my family members were giving me had symbolic relationships to themselves. These paintings occurred at a time when the children were getting married, packing up and leaving home: thus, Empty Sacks.
Tribal Presence, the last painting in the “Sack” series, is really a record of an occasion when the “tribe,” the scattered children, was all back home for Christmas vacation. The word “presence” has a double meaning – the whole family’s attendance as well as the exchange of gifts.
Your paintings are very powerful, visually and emotionally. Has anyone ever said that you paint too powerfully for a woman?
No, but I notice that men are attracted to my paintings. They really seem to like the Southwest scenery. It’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s equally attractive with women.
I’ve thought of my paintings as fairly masculine, especially the most recent Canyons and Upper Bidwell Park series. In a way, it’s the subject, because the Southwest subject itself is very powerful. I feel like what I’m looking at is a masculine subject and that’s what I’m trying to express. And I can’t express that feeling of power and masculinity about the subject without using bold colors and shapes. I paint the way I feel like painting at the time I’m attracted to something. If it’s a gentle subject and I feel like painting that way, then that’s the way I’ll paint it. If it’s a big bold Southwestern scene, I’ll paint it bold.
The subject and content of your work has changed over the years. Is your work influenced by changes in your location, or what you are going through personally, or the art of the times?
My work changes all the time. I’ve been criticized for having so many ways of painting. My first major paintings were abstractions and it seems I’ve come full circle through semi-abstraction, representation, and back to abstraction again; from colorful to subdued and back to colorful. Environment has played a heavy role in its influence on my work. Most of the paintings I did in Colorado were vertical and influenced by the mountainous scenery. In Colorado the mountains went straight up. When I came to California, to this valley, everything turned out to be horizontal.
An artist is influenced by everything. I can remember being inspired by things I read while in school, and it having an influence on what I was going to paint. I was taking an art history class and the image of the Deposition of Christ, an altar piece, stuck with me. I’m not a religious person particularly, but it really made an impression on me. In watercolor class, I did sketch after sketch and many small paintings of this painting. Never in my life had I put so much effort into any thing. This is how my Dad used to paint. He’d do one study after another and toss them away, then do another study, and he’d do tracings and more tracings, and he’d finally get it on the canvas and start painting. I work more like my Mom who was a very spontaneous person and would not even use a pencil; she would just start painting.
Back then, I remember doing all kinds of preparations for this one painting and when I finally completed it, my instructor said, Hand me those sketches, hand me the painting. She took them up to the front of the class, pinned everything up on the board, and said to the class, This is what you should be doing to create a painting. And I didn’t feel that way at all. I learned from that experience that every bit of creativity I had for the painting, for the idea, went into the sketches, and the sketches were wonderful little things. They were spontaneous, but the painting itself was pure drudgery. I got to the point where I felt I could paint it, and it turned out to be just a lot of hard work.
A lot of times, the way you paint has a lot to do with how creative a piece is. Things happen as you paint, you know this, and if you take advantage of those things, make the changes that you need to make, it’s a much more creative experience than doing all these heavy preparatory sketches.
Were you affected by art that was happening around you?
Well, my graduate work at the University was abstract. I’m sure a lot of that was influenced by the abstract expressionists because that was what was happening in the fifties. Jimmy Ernst, the son of Max Ernst, influenced my work. He was an abstract expressionist. I was doing very linear abstractions, not non-objective, but abstractions derived from subject matter, very linear and colorful. Jimmy Ernst taught a summer class at the University of Colorado. He was impressed with what I was doing, and then I realized it was because his stuff was very similar to mine.
Who are some of the painters besides Jimmy Ernst that have influenced you?
Well, I guess if I like them, I’ve been influenced, although I can’t say that I’ve been directly influenced by anyone. One of my favorites is Paul Klee. It’s the abstraction and symbolism in his work. Another more recent influence would be Wolf Kahn.
Kahn uses strong subjective color in his landscapes and his work has a soft textural quality like your recent canyon paintings.
Yes, I guess that’s a very pointed influence. I’ve never felt a direct influence, but I love his work.
Are there other people in your life who have influenced your directions with your art?
All my teachers have given me direction, either by negative or positive criticism that has pushed me in a different ways.
What was one of the biggest pushes?
I was a beginning painting student and one of my first watercolor teachers, the one that hung my stuff up on the wall saying this is the way you should paint, came around to where I was painting. At that time I was using a lot of browns. She said, I like this, but why did you put in the “shit brown”?
That really made an impression on me! I’ve remembered that phrase “shit brown” ever since, and avoid using browns. I tell my students, Watch those neutral colors! I don’t say it the way she did. I tell them to paint in any color they want, but use bright colors to get there. You can get down to any neutral you want with washes and various techniques, layers of colors, and it makes a better neutral than taking it out of a tube.
Usually, I’m painting for myself, but I also want to create a visual image of what I feel for the subject so that other people can see what I saw and perhaps have the same experience.
If they do or don’t get it, does it make a difference?
In some cases it does, because I work so hard to bring across this feeling or idea and if they don’t catch that, sometimes I’m disappointed.
One of my students said to me, I want you to talk to me about this painting. So I told her the technique I used and the subject and how I felt about it, that I loved the fog rolling in over the Butte Creek Canyon, used to take my dad for drives up there, and took lots of photographs.
And she said, Oh, I thought it was an ocean!
It does have that feeling and I’m fine with that. That doesn’t distract from the feeling at all. You look out across the canyons and you see the fog and it’s very much like the feeling of an ocean.
It bothers me that people will look at a painting and say, Oh I see a donkey up there in that corner. Do you see that donkey? If I’m still working on it, I’ll take the donkey out!
But anything that has to do with the feeling of the subject, not the subject itself, but the attitudes and the response I have toward the subject, is fine. They may also feel they have a completely different feeling.
So, the experience a viewer brings to a painting contributes to his or her understanding and appreciation of your work?
Yes. I don’t care how they interpret it, it’s their business. But, if they can catch some of that feeling, that’s my communication. That’s what’s important to me.
Can you tell me how you get from idea to finished product?
I get ideas or inspiration from the photographs I’ve taken on location. Photographs are an excellent resource, especially in situations where metamorphosis is a problem; where there is movement or when a constant light source cannot be maintained. I develop understanding through sketches, which are just an arrangement of lines on a small thumbnail scale to work out a composition. Sometimes, I do a little more than that, like a linear or value study. I’ve used the process of blind contour frequently in a relatively slow, methodical technique which not only aids in understanding the form, but also forces the recognition of aspects that might otherwise be missed. That said, however, I’m a firm believer in direct painting as opposed to doing a lot of preliminary work which feels too complete, soaking up all my creative efforts – efforts which really should be evident in the final painting. A painting has to involve the initial creative process.
When you begin, do you have a clear idea of what your image will look like?
No. I can visualize what it might look like when I start, but because it’s developed on the paper as I go along, I make a lot of changes. I flow with those changes, making corrections as I need to, adding or subtracting. If I need light, I’ll add light; if I need dark, I’ll add dark areas. The emphasis is not on the way the subject looks itself, but on the feeling I get from the subject, so if I’m not getting the feeling, then this is where changes are made. Feeling is important. I’m not just painting a representation of what I’m looking at, but I’m painting the way I feel about it.
Do you ever get stuck with certain areas?
All the time. Sometimes, I’ll throw away the whole painting if I can’t resolve it, or I’ll put it away for awhile. There are very few paintings that go from beginning to end without problems. When things do fall into place, I’m always proud of those. There are so few, I can probably count them on the fingers of two hands. Most of the time it’s just hard work and making changes. But, I love it when the spontaneous painting happens, because when it does, you look at it and say to yourself, When did I do that? I don’t remember doing that—because you’re in another world completely. In an altered state. You’re painting, but you don’t realize what you’re doing. I wish that would happen more often!
It’s different teaching college and teaching workshops. Because a lot of the students in the college situation don’t know what they’re doing, they need to have special art direction and help in terms of technique. The more advanced students have a direction and know something about paint, but if they don’t know the techniques to start with, they’re lost. They need a basis for understanding design and how to put a painting together, for understanding composition and color. I object to a lot of the recent university level education that I’ve seen because students aren’t being given the basics. You have to know what you’re doing before you can do it; you have to learn technique; and eventually after the technique and the ideas of design and composition are understood, then you’re able to do what you want. And you don’t even think about it, you just paint, just do it. So knowing the basics comes first.
Another thing I try to get across to all the students at the university level and in my workshops is that everyone is going to paint differently. Everyone has their own signature, their own way of writing, and everybody has their own way of holding the brush, putting down the paint, with their own emphasis and development of the painting, i.e. their own way of putting it together. If you have an artist that you like a lot, no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to paint like that artist. You can’t paint like anyone else.
For that reason, I try to make demonstrations as brief as possible. In my art education background I was taught that you don’t demonstrate the whole painting. Another instructor I had in a graduate program did complete paintings in front of the students and there wasn’t one student in that class who painted any differently than the teacher. That made an impression on me, so rather than doing a whole painting and saying this is me, look at what I’m doing with this beautiful painting, what I try to do is demonstrate the technique, a way of holding the brush, a way of beginning, a way of breaking up the space, or ways you can use bright color and overlapping washes. I show students certain techniques, and then turn them loose.
If I give my students the same problem, every one of their paintings comes out different. Some of the people are beginners and some are experienced painters, but they do their own thing, which is what I think is important.
In the late 1990s Ann participated in a group show at the Chico Art Center, a show that had the largest attendance ever for the Center. Called “Bag Ladies,” the exhibition consisted of work from eleven Chico women artists. All of the works were created and woven around specific proverbs and sayings. I wrongly assumed the women called their group the Bag Ladies because when they painted together, they brought their own bag lunches! But, oh, how wrong I was! Intrigued by the name for its many connotations and associations, I asked Ann about how the Bag Ladies got started and where the name came from:
We are a group of women artists from or near the Chico area who used to get together every Friday during the ’80s at the Chico Art Center to paint. Sometimes we had models or we set up a still life. We just painted together.
In the mean time, my parents had moved to Paradise, and Mom and I would occasionally paint together. Before she moved, she had had cataracts removed. This was before the implant procedure came into being, so her vision was affected terribly by light and she couldn’t go outside to paint. I tried to find things to take up to her that she could paint while remaining indoors. A friend gave me a bunch of old corn that still had its dried husks attached and that was the first thing we shared together. I painted it, and then took the box of corn up to Mother, and she painted it. Then there was a wasp’s nest that a friend gave Mother. She hung it up, painted it, and asked if I would like to paint it. So I did, and we got together to compare paintings again.
I mentioned this to the ladies at the art center and we decided that we would come up with a project—we would each find an object, do a painting of it, then put it in a paper sack or bag and pass the bag to someone else. None of us saw what anyone else was doing until we finished. At that time there were seven of us. Seven bags and seven people meant there would be 49 paintings we were supposed to do! Not all of us finished, of course, but finally we got together to look at everything, had a glass of champagne, and talked about the paintings. It was such fun to see how different people reacted towards the same subjects.
The second time we put different objects in the sacks and passed the bags around, we decided to have a show. The show was held at the Vagabond Rose in Chico in 1997. It was a very successful show.
In this recent Bag Ladies show, Ann not only had several works from her current series of Canyon paintings as well as the “Bag Ladies” paintings, but she also had a three dimensional rock installation which consisted of near perfect spherical yet naturally formed rocks laid out from the largest to smallest in two rows, with minute visible changes from one rock to another. But, when all together in a line, a distinct difference in size from first to last was evident. Inherent in the roundness of the rocks was nature’s sense of perfection, pattern and design; the natural order of things. Ann says when she looks for a cohesive thread in her own work over the years, she sees that there is a “…consistency—not in the intent or the visual images, nor in the technical presentation itself, but in a basic sense of order, or, if you prefer, organic unity or design.” She knows this order and design when she sees it in nature, and deftly creates it in her artwork, whether in painting or in collecting rocks!
Is the rock installation something new for you?
Yes, it took two and a half years to get that together and there’s more of it over there on my kitchen counter and two sets in the studio. It was a fun thing to do. I’d go out with the dogs to the Channel and other places, like the creeks around Chico, and every time I saw a rock I liked, I’d pick it up. I found that the rocks I was picking up were as round as I could get. Then I started organizing them and reorganizing them. I had two sets going at once. I’d take one rock and place it in the other line if it fit better.
When you were collecting and organizing rocks, did you think of it as an art project?
No. I’ve done very little three dimensional work, but really enjoyed it. It was just fun, and I loved the feel of them. Then, with this last Bag Ladies’ show, where we worked around the sayings and proverbs, I thought, well, I can use the rocks for one of the proverbs in the show. After the show was over, I moved the rock piece to the Chico Museum where a high school teacher at Pleasant Valley High had put together a show to help her students learn how to set up an exhibition and judge shows. The title of the show was “Chico Scene.” Everybody submitted things that had to do with Chico, so I entered the rocks; it’s all Chico. I didn’t know if it would be accepted.
How is creating that three dimensional piece different from creating a painting? Or is it?
Not much. It’s a matter of selectivity, you know. Trying to put things together in the order in which you want them. It isn’t that different, except the rocks were more easily changed. I could just move them. With a painting, you can’t do that.
And, in that sense, it is a living, evolving piece. It could still change, every time you find a new rock.
Yes. It can.
Another continually evolving and productive project for Ann, like her own painting, is the scholarship fund she set up in the name of her mother, Frances Trucksess. Our conversation began with Ann telling me about an exhibition she and Marlys Williams, then curator of the BMU Upstairs Gallery on campus, pulled together of Ann’s many paintings that had been loaned out to various departments on the Chico campus over the thirty-one years of her teaching career. It was a difficult endeavor because in the course of their search, they discovered that many of the departments had moved to new buildings and taken the paintings with them. In order to find them, they first had to find the new locations of all the departments, and then they had to convince people to let go of the paintings for the show. Many people, who didn’t want to give up their treasured paintings, wound up purchasing them. In their search, Ann and Marlys collected over 72 pieces which were finally hung in the Upstairs Gallery. The proceeds from the sale of the works went towards the Fran Trucksess Watermedia Scholarship at CSU Chico.
Ann T. Pierce, Professor Emeritus, California State University at Chico, currently resides in Chico, California, and continues to work on her own painting projects and teach workshops out of her own studio.
Filed under: Ann T. Pierce, art, Paintings -Inspiration, Paintings-stories | Tags: Ann T. Pierce, California State University, Chico, watercolor painting, women in the arts
PART I – Conversation with Ann T. Pierce
by Susan Canavarro
Can you tell me a little about your formative years?
I was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado. My father, Frederick C. Trucksess taught art at the University of Colorado from 1927 to 1964 for thirty-seven years. He taught sculpture and painting, and half way through his teaching career he specialized in Pre-Columbian, Asian, and Primitive art history courses.
My mother, Frances Trucksess, was Supervisor of Art in the Boulder Public School system for sixteen years. As an art education specialist she worked directly with the children, making it through every grade from kindergarten through ninth at least once a month. Because some of the teachers had no background in art at all, she also worked with them, giving presentations to help them understand how to teach art and use it in their classrooms. She wrote a book, Creative Art – Elementary Grades, (Pruett Press, 1962), to aid teachers in understanding, appreciating, and presenting art projects at appropriate grade levels. I helped with the illustrations. The University wanted to hire her in the Art Education Department but they couldn’t because of a nepotism rule. At that time, husband and wife couldn’t teach in the same institution. So, when Dad retired, they hired Mother. She started teaching at the University when she was 70 years old!
So, as both my parents were artists, I grew up in that environment with art all around me and the materials available to me. Whatever I wanted to do, I was able to do.
How old were you when you did your first art piece?
I remember being four years old. I remember because it since has made a real impression on me. I made a little design with bright colors. It was nothing in particular. I don’t even remember calling it anything. But Mother was really pleased with it and showed it to a friend of hers, Dorothy Eisenbach, who was also teaching in the University Art Department and who had gone to school with her at the Pennsylvania Art Academy in Philadelphia. Dorothy was visiting Mom and I was standing right there looking up at them when Mother showed her this little painting I had done. Dorothy said “You really must encourage Annie to go into art. She has such a beautiful sense of design.” All I remember doing as a child is that one painting. Her comment didn’t register at the time, but it somehow stayed with me. I recalled it later in life after I started making art. For the most part, I shied away from art because both my parents were artists. Perhaps, unconsciously, I felt the pressure of competition. Everywhere I went people would say, Oh, your mother and father are such great artists, you know. Or people would say, Oh, you’re Franny Trucksess’ daughter, aren’t you?
Mother kept encouraging me to take art classes. I had one required art class in junior high and the teacher, Ms. Caldwell, was a friend of Mother’s. She was a very strict teacher. I remember working very hard and the only grade she gave me was a “B,” so naturally, I felt disappointed. But, like with my Dad, who was the only teacher I had in graduate school who gave me a “B” grade, probably because I was his daughter and he didn’t want to appear as if he was over doing it, I think she probably felt some hesitation to give me an “A” because she was my mother’s good friend.
Then, when I was in high school, Mother encouraged me to take one art class every year. Annie, just take one art course, she’d say. I finally enrolled in a class and the first thing that happened when I walked into the room was that the teacher introduced me as the daughter of Mrs. Trucksess. She said to her class, Oh, you all know Mrs. Trucksess, don’t you? They had loved having her come to their classroom when they were in grade school.
They all said, Yes, yes. They just loved Mom.
Then she said, Well, we have her daughter Ann Trucksess in class with us!
And that did it! I dropped that class like it was a hot potato. But Mother still said to me, Annie, just take one art course, just take one, just for me, take one art course.
Finally, in my junior year in college I enrolled in a design class. I went home after registration and said, Mom I’ve got something to tell you.
What is it?, she asked.
I said, You better sit down.
Oh Annie, it’s alright if you’re pregnant, she said. We’ll raise the baby. We’ll take care of the baby.
And then I told her I enrolled in a design class. Of course, she was terribly pleased.
Well, that did it, I took on art as a major, but I’d been through Romance Languages, Geology, Climatology, English, all of those before I finally switched to an Art major with an English minor.
How, then, did you wind up in Northern California?
Well, I married (in Colorado) before I finished my Master of Fine Arts degree and got pregnant right away. Those were hard times for me trying to finish the degree because I was so sick with my pregnancy and my feelings were right on the surface. If anybody said anything to me, I’d burst into tears. Going through the orals was awful. I made it through somehow or other, got my degree, and continued having children. I had four children within five years. They were coming fast, one right after another. (Then I had one more child after I moved to California!)
Things weren’t going well (in the marriage), so I got a divorce and had to decide what to do to earn enough money to live on. I had a friend interested in helping me set up private classes. She helped set up the books, the financial aspect of doing business. I taught private classes three days a week and every weekend in my garage which I had turned into a studio classroom. I had 75 students total for the almost three years I did this. The students kept coming back. I had students ranging from six to ninety-six years old. It worked out pretty well, but since I was furnishing all the supplies, I wasn’t making any money on it. I didn’t know how to do it the right way. Even with teaching summer classes at the University, I couldn’t make ends meet.
I went back to the personnel office at the University and started putting in applications for a variety of different places. I was accepted at Boulder High School and at four colleges, one of which was CSU, Chico in California. Reading about all the different places, trying to make a decision, I finally decided on Chico because with the mountains close by, it sounded the most like Boulder. But, when I came, I found the mountains nothing like the Boulder mountains!
I came out to Chico in May 1964, before the semester I was to begin teaching, to look for a house or apartment to live in. John Ayres, the Department Chairperson at the time, took me around, introduced me to the President and all the instructors in the department, and had me over for dinner. He was very nice and made me feel like this was where I wanted to be.
I knew I had the job, but I got the real interview afterwards. It took place in my kitchen in Boulder. One of the officials from Chico State University was coming to Denver for a conference and John told him to stop by Boulder to interview me. We sat down at my kitchen table and did the interview right there, with one of my little kids sitting on the potty, and the others running around the house! He went back, made his report, and I received a letter in the mail saying I had been accepted for the position.
This was in 1964 when discrimination against women still existed. Chico State hired me at the lowest paid position there was, something like a lecturer, and had four kids in my care. I took home $350 a month. I paid $125 for rent, had four kids to care for and food to buy on what was left over. I taught four day classes and one night class, so I had to get a sitter to take care of the kids. It just wasn’t enough money. To earn enough to support my family, I took every extra job that I could find. I taught painting workshops, teacher workshops in Tehema, Glenn, and Butte Counties. The word got around that I was willing to do this, although, those side jobs took time away from my kids.
And time away from making your own art, I suppose.
Yes. I had to give a show the first year I was there, so I was up all night every night, painting. I had sold most of the paintings I had done in Boulder because I didn’t want to lug them with me when I moved. At the end of my first year, when I was 33, Janet Turner (printmaker and professor) went to bat for me. She took it on herself to get that promotion for me. She got me from the lowest paid position to an assistant professor position which helped financially. I really appreciated her efforts.
After moving to Chico, I eventually married again, and we moved into the big house in the country. My youngest kid, Jay, was born then. He was seven years younger than the last of the four that I had in Boulder.
Were you hired with the expectation that you would start the watercolor program at Chico State?
No. The artwork I had sent in with my application was mostly oils. I had gotten my degree in oil painting and ceramics. So what they had seen were oils with 3 or 4 watercolor paintings.
I taught a painting class, two form and color classes which later became design, and two basic drawing courses. After the first year, John Ayres talked to me about splitting the painting class, doing both watercolor and oil in the same class. Interested in watercolor, I said sure, that sounded good to me, however, I really had to get busy and start learning how to paint in watercolors! I had taken only two classes in watercolor during graduate school and that was it. I worked hard to develop some proficiency with the medium, and felt I was constantly stretching to keep a day ahead of my students. When I could afford it, I signed up for watercolor workshops with highly reputable professionals in the field. Although the overall influence from workshops was minimal (as the time was too short and the instructors too many), it was enlightening to see the versatility of the medium and how differently each artist worked with it.
At the time, was it unusual to put so much focus on watercolor painting at the University level?
Watercolor was never considered painting in the fine art sense, but, soon, after I started teaching it, watercolor societies started blooming. I still don’t think it’s thought of as a true art form, but I feel like I’ve contributed some to its progression. It is so versatile, it deserves to be considered a major medium.
Eventually, I said to John, You know, oil and water just don’t mix. I don’t think I can teach the two courses in the same classroom. So he set me up with a special watercolor class in the design room, and I taught oil painting in another room. At that time the art department classrooms were scattered all over the campus, and I had to run from one classroom in Taylor Hall clear across the campus to another building to teach a back-to-back class. But, at that age it didn’t make any difference, I could do the running, but I couldn’t do it now if I had to!
One watercolor class eventually became two. Students would take a beginning class, then go into intermediate painting, either watercolor or oil. In those years, acrylics started becoming popular so some of our people began working with acrylics, however, my class was strictly watercolor, transparent watercolor technique. Later, I started introducing opaque, gouache, and various techniques other than transparent.
What is it that drives you to be an artist? Do you feel compelled, or is there a physical and/or emotional experience that you get from the process?
I think there is a certain compulsion. I certainly miss it when I don’t do it. The process is the most important part of it for me. Once the painting is finished I can either like it or not like it, but it was the process that got me to the end. People have asked me, Don’t you wish you had that painting back? I say, Well, I really like it, but I am finished with it. I don’t need it any more. I can only think of three or four that I wish I had back.
Certain themes, subjects, or ideas of one kind or another are attractive to different people. I find myself intensely attracted to some kind of visual stimulus. The impact of and excitement I feel for this is insistent and I find it difficult to concentrate on other tasks at hand. Both consciously and subconsciously my mind is immediately formulating paintings. Perhaps, the initial impact is the result of my response toward abstract form—the potential for design, color, texture, pattern, shape—rather than any deep philosophical relationship to my being. The psychological or philosophical reasons for my attraction become evident only after the paintings in a series progress.
Artists have a way of communicating and sharing experiences. When I experience something, I’m anxious to get my response or experience down on paper in visual terms, to allow others the opportunity to be a part of the excitement. This is why the painting is created. Some people might not see something as terribly interesting, and being able to call their attention to this is exciting.
Besides the idea of being inspired or excited by something you see in the external world and wanting to share that excitement, is there any kind of political or social commentary or personal subtext in your work?
How I feel about things is personal enough. There are no deep-seated philosophical ideas; I’m just trying to express what I enjoy. I’m not trying to make a statement about my philosophy or the world. My feelings are there and that makes it personal. If I wanted to dig deep I could probably say this relates to my childhood in one way or another, or this relates to an experience I had with my mother and father, but I don’t think that’s necessary. In fact, I don’t want to do that. It doesn’t appeal to me. A lot of the recent teaching at the university level is based on the experience of the student from childhood to adult hood, and that’s fine, but it’s not my approach. I like to paint what I want to paint, and I’ll use any method I can find to paint it.
The artist Nancy Spero once said that the reason she painted on small pieces of paper was because of the sensitive sexual nature of her images and content. She didn’t want her small children to see what she was drawing. With small drawings, she could easily slip the pieces of paper into a drawer if the kids wandered into her studio while she was working. She then took those fragmented pieces and glued them to a long scroll of white paper which was hung as an installation in a gallery space. In that way, her role as woman and mother strongly affected not only her art making process, but also her content and the way the final image looked, reflecting the fragmentation that is so often a part of a woman’s life as wife, mother, woman, chauffeur, chief cook and bottle washer, and artist, etc. How has being a woman and mother of five impacted your painting, subject and content, or process? Is it manifested visually in your painting?
Well, raising a family is a time-consuming effort. You have to squeeze your painting time in as best you can. There are some paintings that don’t work because there are so many other things that are interfering with your concentration. I used to reserve Fridays for painting because I didn’t have classes on that day and the kids were in school. I’d look forward to Fridays so I could paint, and then on the weekends I could be with the kids. It turns out that I was doing twelve loads of laundry per weekend and cleaning the house! There were days when I just took off to do things with the kids. It’s hard. It’s harder for women than it is for men. A lot of men have had wives who have given their support so he could do his work. What every woman artists needs is a wife! I can sit for six hours straight when there’s nothing to disturb me.
The kids shared in my art work. I’ve gotten lots of criticism from them, both good and bad. In that way, they were part of the work I did. I did a lot of my painting outside at one time. I’m not as comfortable doing that anymore, but I did one of a field of poppies with rocks here and there in the painting. I showed it to my oldest daughter, Amy. She said, Well Mom, I don’t have my glasses on, but why’d you put the bunny rabbits in there?
(One of Ann’s paintings from this series is entitled Matrices, derived from mater, meaning “mother” or “that within or from which something originates.” As this series progressed, the paintings became metaphors for motherhood, and because in the still-life setup, Ann had overlaid the dress patterns on natural backgrounds of grapevines and blackberries, it also spoke to the concept of “Mother Nature.” Of course, also associated with the idea of motherhood, one can’t overlook the symbolism inherent in the use of grape and blackberry vines with their thorns, alluding to the ideas of fertility and sacrifice.)
Filed under: Ann T. Pierce, art, Paintings -Inspiration, Paintings-stories | Tags: Ann Pierce, California State University, Chico, watercolor
When I was living in Fort Bragg, CA I got the brainy idea to do a series of interviews of my favorite California women artists. Through eight years of art school I had seen a lot of good work by women, and after college, I continue to be impressed by the work of women in painting, sculpture, printmaking, fiber arts, and photography where ever I’ve lived. I was, and still am, interested in what makes them tick as an artist. Many times it is the woman who makes the bold step into the future with her innovative ideas, and who changes the art world paradigm of what good art is. She sets a new height for future artists, both men and women.
Most of the women artists’ work that I saw was very strong, and somehow, if I hadn’t known who the women were I would have thought their work was done by a man. This attitude only shows my built-in bias and our cultural bias as to who makes powerful art – men or women? I don’t think this is true any more, but it was the acculterated belief I learned by studying art history. When I was in college in the 1990′s more male artists than women were in the art history books and art magazines. So, I wrote a paper on this issue, counting all the women artists I found in several issues of two art magazines—Art Forum and ARTnews—to prove my thesis!
My first interview was with the painter Ann Pierce. My second was with Bobbi Quercia, a potter and sculptor, also my stepsister. Unfortunately, I didn’t take this interview project any further. But I am still intrigued by the idea.
My conversation with Ann Pierce came about because when I was a student at the University of California at Chico from 1988 to 1992, Ann was my watercolor instructor and she graciously agreed to sit down with me for an interview several years after I left Chico. We began our talk with a discussion of Ann’s formative years, the influences from her artistic mother and father, and how she got started making art.
It is a long interview with images, so for this blog, I broke it up into two sections. In Part I, Ann talks about finding the time to be woman, wife, mother, teacher and artist back in the 1960s and 1970s; she talks about people who have influenced her life and art; she talks about the beginnings of her teaching career; and starting the Watercolor classes at Chico State at a time when, in the realm of the professional fine art world, watercolor painting was a second class citizen. And in Part II, it is clear that all of these compartments of her life meld together to bring meaning, not only to her life, but to her painting as well. It feels like a seamless conjuncture of all aspects of her life. In Part II, Ann shares with us how this happens.
See new Post to read this Conversation.
Filed under: art, Confessions, Paintings -Inspiration, Paintings-stories | Tags: college work
Back in the days when I was an undergraduate studying art at Chico State University I did a series of three mixed media paintings on paper that I called “The Other Day…” I used watercolor and gesso and some kind of resist, which, at the moment, my memory resists bringing to the forefront. I developed the concept for these paintings in a watercolor class taught by my favorite instructor, Ann Pierce.
One semester her class, usually full of female students, included two young guys. Working close enough to their table to hear them talking among themselves, I overheard one guy say to the other, ”You know, if there weren’t guys like us, there wouldn’t be guys like us.”
I laughed out loud. I immediately thought, Now isn’t that just like a guy! An ego as powerful as God’s peeking through and taking responsibility for the whole damn (male) human race. No matter the woman’s role! A couple of guys thinking they were god’s gift to humanity. And yet I thought, Yes of course! It’s so true. We couldn’t have men like them, and women like me, if man had not come together with woman to procreate. And only a man would have enough hubris to think he was the only source of that creation!
The content of this series is the absurdity of their statement and yet the absolute truth of it. I was clearly dumbfounded by their conversation and couldn’t resist using their words in my painting process, so I incorporated some of the text in each painting. The meaning of these works is not obvious, but that didn’t matter to me. I knew the story. I enjoy the contrast of visible text in artwork as part of the design and surface texture, whether or not it is legible or the meaning of it is clearly understood.
A few weeks ago I began rereading, again, one of my favorite books, Art & Physics, Parallel Visions in Space, Time and Light, by Leonard Shlain (1991). In it he explores the idea that much of art, particularly visual arts, down through the ages explores and/or reveals many of the basic ideas subsequently discovered in the science of physics. According to Shlain, there is a binary or complimentary relationship between art and physics, such as with Mind and Universe. Art is subjective and physics has not been, at least until the 20th century.
I write this because, in the very first chapter Shlain quoted something from the Talmud that struck a chord with me and added a whole new dimension to the series I call “The other day…” as seen above, although I didn’t read Shlain’s book until after I did these three paintings in 1991-1992. It was one of those Ah Ha moments for me.
Shlain writes, ”According to John Wheeler, (student of Niels Bohr) Mind and Universe are inextricably integrated. The Talmud expresses this subtle relationship in an apocryphal story of a dialogue between God and Abraham. God begins by chiding Abraham, ‘If it wasn’t for Me, you wouldn’t exist.’ And after a moment of thoughtful reflection, Abraham respectfully replies, ‘Yes, Lord, and for that I am very appreciative and grateful. However, if it wasn’t for me, You wouldn’t be known.’ “
You’re probably familiar with the adage, “Behind every great man there is a great woman”? Or in other words, there is a woman who makes his achievements possible, who makes him known, who provides the egg without which his sperm cannot become a guy like himself. And don’t most women feel powerful in achieving this incredible feat?