Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

I have been neglecting this blog again although I have been posting on my other blogs, my iPad travel blog and my Beautiful Vancouver blog.  But now that school is back in session even though I am retired but still volunteering in that first grade class, it seems time to blog again.  This time last year school teachers here were still on strike so it wasn't a normal beginning and I was posting madly about that sad situation.  This has been a "normal" school year although I don't think teachers in the public sector have found it a particularly easy set up.  I spent the morning with 22 new first graders and one teacher and I can tell you both of us were busy the whole time.  I couldn't help but think of private schools I know of where there is a teaching assistant in every primary class and often this is actually a certified teacher hoping one day for a real teaching job.  Anyway, I am not going to discuss that right now.

Last year I "won" a book by a favourite author but I never did write about it and even accused one of my friends of borrowing it, but instead I found it tucked away at home recently.  Jen Bryant has been a favourite writer of mine for sometime.  I loved her middle school novel, Pieces of Georgia, about a young girl whose mother, an artist, had died several years earlier, and her own sketches seem to disturb her dad.  She receives an anonymous gift in the form of a free museum membership and this plus a good friend help her family come to terms with their loss.  I love how this is a real museum. Brandywine River Museum of Art, and that Georgia and the book's readers learn about real life artists, Georgia O'Keeffe and the Wyeths whose work is at the museum.  I also like how it looks at communication in its different aspects.  It is also a perfect book to remind teachers to look at their students' whole stories and to help them realize their dreams.

It also has a perfect companion piece, Georgia's Bones, beautifully illustrated by Bethanne Anderson.  This tells a bit of the story of artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, perfect for children of all ages.

Now about the book I won!  I think I actually had a bit of a choice of books and I chose A Splash of Red as it was about an author with whom I was not familiar, Horace Pippin.  And if you hit the link you can actually watch a short video about him.  And here from the National Gallery of Art is a unit of study!

This is a beautiful book illustrated by a favourite illustrator of mine, Melissa Sweet.  I love what she wrote in the dedication- To Jen, whose words make pictures in my mind.  That makes perfect sense to me as I think Jen Bryant is a beautiful wordsmith (not surprisingly as she is a poet too).   But I love how Melissa put those words into pictures!

It is such a beautiful story of a boy who absolutely loved to draw and did so even though he had to quit school in eighth grade to help support his family when his dad left the family for good.  Always people asked him to draw for them and he did so with whatever he could find to draw and paint with until his right arm was injured in the war.  But he even overcame this with sheer persistence and ingenuity.  He tried to sell his paintings at a local shoe store, but no one wanted to buy them until the president of a local artists' club saw Horace's pictures and his friend, the famous painter N.C. Wyeth saw them as well and recognized Horace's talents.

They arranged a one-man exhibition and soon he was famous and selling his pictures easily.

I love the book, the story, and the fact that he always added a touch of red to his paintings.  I would certainly love to use this book with students, and I plan to lend it to my friend who I accused of borrowing it, and see what her students might do with it as a starting point to learning more about his work!

I had so much fun with the first graders last year as they were doing a painting unit and I even got to come in as a local artist to work with them.  I loved how fearless they were with their water colours.  And again we had great fun using picture books with them to familiarize them with some famous artists.

I also love how Jen researches real people and makes them accessible to young readers.  For older students that process is a great entree into writing their own biographies.

 I was thrilled to actually win this book (from following her on Facebook) just as I was thrilled to hear her speak and meet her at a conference long ago.  If you aren't familiar with this award winning author's  books you are missing treasures!!  And I have only given you a sample of her work here!  Happy reading!!!

Saturday, August 1, 2015


I recently have gone through an experience where I realize I definitely had a communication problem.  It involved having work done in my backyard.  It did not end well at all.  There were clues at the beginning which I failed to recognize or recognized but continued on.  Anyway the result has been that six weeks later I don't have what I had hoped to have accomplished,  and the business relationship ended on a rather sour note.

A friend and I were having a discussion yesterday about how you seem to need to continue to learn lessons even though you think you should have learned them long ago.

And having spent four years as a consultant and many years on the executive of a volunteer organization I had to be very careful in my communication.  And as a teacher, one obviously has to be very clear in ones expectations.  In personal relationships, in the past I have had a tendency to  pretend a series of things didn't bother me when they really did, and then let my frustrations boil up and then tell someone off.   And this really is not that effective.  It is a pattern that I have worked hard to change.  I have also learned that we seldom know someone else's whole story so to perhaps give people a bit more slack at times as well.

But then with this project I saw myself end up back in that pattern, where I waited patiently outside but not inside for someone to continue a project which he did not I think ever really want to do it. His son needed some summer money so I think that is why he did quickly take my garage down but then nothing else basically happened for six weeks as he went on holiday etc.

Sometimes I realize I  also look for an easy way out.  "You know a good carpenter, great!"  And honestly that has sometimes worked out perfectly, but this time it did not.

So that is life, live and learn…or at least try!  And regarding my backyard, this is a first world problem-at least I have a backyard, and lesson learned is to be clear in your communication and expectations, and try to sense a communication problem right at the beginning!  And deal with it then!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


A friend phoned the other day, who hadn't recently talked to, and he asked me what I had been doing. I said I have been taking art lessons. Of course I do other things, but that was the first thing I could think of.

It started when I went on a cruise from Brazil to Miami and I took watercolour classes on board ship. I hadn't done anything like that in years and I found myself really enjoying it.

Next, back home, I signed up for a water colour plain air workshop, which other than having a friend for company, was a total disaster. I felt way over my head.

But I don't give up easily. I decided to take a watercolour course drawing flowers. I loved it so much that I signed up for a second class and convinced a friend to do so as well. Each week we got to go to the nearby botanical gardens and paint and learn about painting with a lovely group of people. I wasn't so good at practicing when I wasn't there but I tried.

A friend saw a one day workshop on botanical drawing at the other botanical gardens. I heard the instructor was knowledgeable and nice, so I decided to do it as well. One good thing is I didn't even have to supply a pencil.

It was interesting and much more exact but I really found I learned more about what is involved in drawing a flower. I also not sure I really like six hour classes!!! Notice I seem to confine myself to drawing flowers. Small steps...

There are always brilliant people in these classes who really draw well but they are usually quite self critical. I am not a brilliant artist but I think I am improving and my friends on Facebook are always very encouraging. That really helps!

I bought some very small note cards and wonder if I will ever have a completed card I can actually give some one. Photography is certainly easier though I did take lessons many years ago but now I just use an iPhone, no need for different lenses etc. I just have to look carefully as you do as well when you paint and draw.

I am still not good at practicing. I took piano lessons for seven years and didn't much like that part. Of course, I actually wanted art lessons, and so here I am many years later doing just that.

I keep wondering if I will end up back in piano lessons or try to learn to play the ukulele or something. Maybe I will take paddle boarding lessons. Anything is possible. I am currently considering a Mayan cooking class...Sometimes people say I should give courses on how to be retired. I could teach you how to stretch a half hour walk into a couple of hours...But I taught a long time and learned lots along the way but right now I kind of am focused on just learning, and stretching just a bit.