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I’ve been absent from my blog for the past little while, because I’ve been out, like living my life. IRL. :)
We’ve been on a tiny island in the Bay of Naples for the past week and have been segueing since Saturday back into our life on Dartmoor.
Just downloaded some of my photos from Italy and these are standing out to be shared.
I often feel a bit sheepish and slightly embarrassed when I write a post on my blog after a lengthy silence. Chastened by certain other bloggers who apologize profusely for allowing a few days to go by between posts. It’s kind of like being too quiet for too long at a dinner party. Do I blurt out some witty bon mot, start an amusing anecdote or act as if I hadn’t paused at all?
Anyhow I have paused. We’ve been having a fantastic summer.
I celebrated my 50th birthday in August.
We spent a very long weekend in London and Kent to celebrate both of our birthdays.
Then we took a trip to the Cotswolds, one of the most beautiful places in the United Kingdom and where I go when I need my faith in England restored.
I went on my first taxidermy course (an ambition I’ve had since I was 13). This is my muse and protégé, Mortimer Souris, the Tailor of Moretonhampstead.
We bought an ice cream maker.
I made a blueberry pie.
We booked our Autumn voyage to Isola di Procida in the Bay of Naples.
The endless sun beamed benevolently upon us throughout the months of June, July, August and into September.
And I’ve been making artwork for Devon Open Studios which runs from 7th to 22nd September.
In fact this brings me to the crux of this post. As an artist, I become inspired and have a creative vision. Sometimes I carry this inside of me for weeks or months. I’ve been focusing on a new area of work for about the past year in which I sculpt and meld images and light. I call these works Illuminations.
I started working on a floor lamp based on a contra jour fern I’d seen and photographed a couple of months ago. The first piece of rice paper that I collaged onto the surface of the lamp ripped. Just on the corner, but it really bothered me. It was in a prominent place and looked like, well, a rip in the material. I couldn’t repair it. I tried to ignore it, but there it stayed. I showed the piece to a couple of people and they didn’t even notice it. But it still bugged me.
I decided to wrap the whole thing in sheer fabric, which would have looked beautiful. I got up early one morning to do this work and when I saw the piece in my studio, I was so blown away by it that I forgot all about the flaw. I quickly realised that if I wrapped the piece in fabric, that I would cover up the flaw, but I would lose the subtlety of the piece.
I decided to sit down and be with the piece and write about just what I was facing.
‘Loving the flaw.
It feels huge, this flaw and fills me with shame. It distracts me from the beauty. I hate this flaw and want it gone.
Who cares if I destroy the piece in the process? At least the flaw will no longer be there.
[But if I let it remain] at best, the piece will remain in all it’s glory, with the flaw. If I can love the flaw and let it be there,
I reach a state of grace. Humbled.’
Grace (n.) late 12c., “God’s favor or help,” from Old French grace “pardon, divine grace, mercy; favor, thanks; elegance, virtue”
I think of grace as elegance and poise, but the old meaning is Divine favour. In a state of grace, I am forgiven my mistakes and can forgive myself for my imperfection. I can live with the flaw and see the beauty in the flaw. In my artwork and in myself.
I find that when I make art, the process reflects my whole life, and how I feel about and respond to my creations can give me insight into my entire life. There’s really no big separation between being inside and outside of my studio and my creative process.
Creativity can be such a fertile, fecund place, just like summertime, but there is still that dark heart at the centre of it. It is good to be aware of and to live within it.
I wrote this haiku which I put onto the piece.
In the dark heart of summer,
illumined beauty shines,
a state of grace.
– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2013
And I left the flaw right where it was.
Steve and I spent a beautiful May Bank Holiday weekend in London. Our approach to the city was via the Underground.
So, we’re back home. Well, Steve had to go right back out to work, but it feels good to be back at home base after our travels around Southern Ireland. I’ve been unpacking, doing laundry, working on some publicity material for a couple of important art showings this late summer, went into Exeter on some errands and to meet a friend for lunch, had a nap, went to the gym, cooked dinner, Skyped with Steve. In other words, I’m back to my day-to-day life, nuancing it to what’s happening now and in the near future.
I’ve also been thinking about our trip. Sometimes when I travel, I feel anxious at times. I know how I prefer my surroundings to feel and look – calm and quiet and beautiful and interesting. When I’m travelling, the place I get to may not be how I envisioned it or I might look at the road not taken with a pang of yearning or feel overwhelmed with a place I love and feel a touch of melancholy when I realise that I can’t absorb it for as long as I’d like to.
What I love the most about travelling is finding the places and things which resonate deeply and find a Home within, experiences and people who take root in my Soul. When it happens, it’s amazing, although I confess that I don’t enjoy every single bit of the travelling part. That’s me though, an INFP (Idealist) and a Type 4 (Romantic).
A huge part of how I process my travels, is to reflect on them when I’m back in the comfort of Home. Tonight I’m thinking about being on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. A place where the sea and sky disappear into one another and the setting sun silvers the water.
The land cradles and is cradled by the ocean.
I stood for a while on this clifftop and walked along the edge, following the Dingle Way for a few hundred yards. Swallows skimmed the tops of the grass. I wanted to keep going!
I’m also thinking of some of the Stone Age and later Anglo-Celtic art work I saw including Newgrange Passage Tomb, The Book of Kells, Bronze Age gold jewelry, Celtic Christian stone work.
Trying to keep this fairly short, but here are a couple of favourites. They are both about three miles from where we stayed, on the westernmost point of Ireland.
This dry rubble masonry oratory was built by a monastic community in the 7th century AD.
Gallarus Oratory (Irish: Séipéilín Ghallarais, literally “The House or Shelter for Foreigners”, the said foreigners being “those pilgrims who had come from outside the Peninsula.”
Next to it is this beautiful and simple cross-inscribed stone. I love the cross-quartered circle. This is an important symbol in both Native American and Celtic religions.
The sacred circle filled with a cross, four equal lines pointing from the center to the spirits of the north, east, south, and west– or to the basic element: earth, water, air (or wind), and fire. In Native American traditions, it forms the basic pattern of the medicine wheel and plays a vital part in major spiritual rituals. Many contemporary pagans consider it their main symbol for transmitting the energy of the goddess. It’s been incorporated into the cross in Celtic Christianity.
I like the people who made these objects of simple beauty. My curiosity is piqued and I look forward to finding out more about them. It felt good to be there and to bring back some of the awe, peace and happiness that I felt from having encountered and experienced what they left behind. My creativity is inspired to travel deep within and to discover where this new path will lead, following all of the artwork I saw on our travels.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are my favourite rock band, ever since my big sister gave me a copy of their debut album in 1977 when I inherited her Pioneer stereo. I was 14 and have grown up over the past 34 years listening to their music.
I was pretty excited when I saw an ad in The Guardian that they’d be playing at The Royal Albert Hall this June on their first UK tour in 20 years. I had to work the day tickets went on sale, but I left Steve with strict instructions to get online and at the end of the phone at 9am. He did his best, but tickets sold out in about 10 minutes. I tried to be philosophical and not too bummed about it. After all, I’d seen Tom and the boys at The Hollywood Bowl in the mid 1990′s and again in Raleigh, NC in 2002. As a consolation prize, we bought Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent documentary on The Heartbreakers, “Runnin’ Down a Dream”.
We watched Part One and a week later, planned to watch Part Two. I was on Facebook and decided to post the documentary trailer beforehand. I found it on YouTube and somewhat cynically clicked the ‘On Tour 2012 Buy Tickets’ button. It took me to the Official Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ website. I trawled around in the Tour Dates area and saw that there was a show in Cork, Ireland on 6/8/2012. I said “Whoa, they’re coming back in August!” Steve said “Are you sure it’s not June 8th?”. Ya see, I’m in the middle of two cultures and sometimes forget that the US and the UK transpose the month and day.
Anyhow, long story short, a Cork show had been added in June after their Dublin show. Tickets went on sale the next day and we got ourselves two of ‘em! I’m officially stoked.
So we’re planning a road trip to Southern Ireland for our 2nd wedding anniversary. Steve got a MP3 adaptor for his car cassette deck so we can spin Tom Petty tunes all the way.
‘Night Driver’ was the first one I played. It’s one of my favourites from the Highway Companion album.
On our trip to The Netherlands, Steve and I bought a Douwe Egberts coffee grinder from a junk shop in Utrecht. Steve likes his daily cup of Joe and I’ll have a cup about once a week, usually with cake or dessert.
By the way, according to the BBC h2g2 website, one theory of where ‘ a cup of Joe’ originates is as follows. ‘Joe’ is a derivation of ‘Java’. Java itself became a popular American nickname for coffee in the 19th Century when the island of Java in Indonesia was a major source of the world’s coffee.
Steve and I normally buy Douwe Egberts ground coffee and use a cafetiere. Douwe Egberts (often abbreviated as DE) is a Dutch corporation that processes and trades coffee, tea, and other groceries. Its full name is Douwe Egberts Koninklijke Tabaksfabriek-Koffiebranderijen-Theehandel NV, which translates as “Douwe Egberts Royal Tobacco Factory – Coffee Roasters – Tea Traders, Plc.”.
Coffee was introduced to Europe from the Middle East via Italy in the 1600s. The race among Europeans to make off with some live coffee trees or beans was eventually won by the Dutch in the late 17th century, when they allied with the natives of Kerala against the Portuguese and brought some live plants back from Malabar to Holland, where they were grown in greenhouses. The Dutch began growing coffee at their forts in Malabar, India, and in 1699 took some to Batavia in Java, in what is now Indonesia.
Within a few years the Dutch colonies (Java in Asia, Surinam in Americas) had become the main suppliers of coffee to Europe. By 1780 Douwe Egberts started processing and trading coffee, tea, and tobacco. So our new little coffee grinder has quite an illustrious provenance.
We cleaned it up (discarding the second hand coffee beans that came with it)
and installed it next to our tea and coffee corner.
To celebrate, I made Dutch apple cake to have with our first cups of freshly ground coffee. This recipe is from Rachel Allen, who is apparently the blonde, Irish version of Nigella Lawson.
Dutch Apple Cake
- 2 eggs
- 175 g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 85 g butter
- 75 ml milk
- 125 g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 75 ml double cream, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Line the sides and base of a 20 x 20cm/8 x 8in square cake tin with parchment paper.
2. Using an electric whisk, whisk the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and mousse-like and the whisk leaves a figure of eight pattern (this will take about 5 minutes).
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the milk, then pour onto the eggs, whisking all the time. Sift in the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and fold carefully into the batter so that there are no lumps of flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface.
4. Arrange the apple slices over the batter. (They will sink to the bottom.) Sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar and bake in the oven for ten minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180C/350F and bake for a further 20–25 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.
5. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin. Cut into squares and serve warm with cream.