Monday, August 25, 2008

Wild Wild West










That’s me, sitting on Abrams, a Longhorn Steer about five years old.
He weighs almost a ton! What a sweetheart he was, too! I rubbed his face, scratched his chin, fed him some “steer candy”, wiped my now very slobbery hand on my jeans, and climbed aboard!
Clay, his owner, remarked, “You’ve ridden before, haven’t you.” Yes, but that was a long time ago, and never a Longhorn Steer!
Two cowboys had brought their riding steers to the Harvest Festival at Wild Life West in Edgewood, New Mexico this past weekend. I was there participating in an art show, amidst all the tractor pulls, wild bird shows, Native American drum performances and roasted sweet corn. It was a blast! (Sold some paintings, too!)

We listened to some humorous Cowboy Poetry delivered straight from the Longhorn’s back, that included references to the famous West Texas, New Mexico and Colorado cattleman, Charlie Goodnight, who helped blaze the famous Goodnight/Loving Cattle Trail with his buddy, Oliver Loving. These were the same kind of Longhorns that Charlie and his cowboys drove along the trail. When I told them that Charlie was my Great Great Great Uncle, that his sister, Mary Jane Goodnight, was my Great Great Great Grandmother, they invited me over to visit with Abrams for a while. In exchange for getting some pictures of Abrams, and being allowed to sit astride the biggest four-legged ruminant I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, I told them the story of my GGG Grandmother, Mary Jane, and how she came to be the dis-owned sister of the famous Charlie Goodnight.

My GGGGrandaddy, Hiram Daugherty, married the widow Charlotte Goodnight and became stepfather to her kids, Charlie and his older sister, Mary Jane. They lived near Houston, and Hiram was a trader who spent long weeks away from home. On one of these trips, he took Mary Jane with him. She was seventeen. When they returned from the trip, Mary Jane was pregnant.

Charlotte kicked them both out, along with the three children she and Hiram had together. Mary Jane, Hiram and the three little kids made their way across Texas in a covered wagon and finally ended up in the Sacramento Mountains of Southeastern New Mexico. There, they homesteaded in a beautiful valley in Hay Canyon. They raised thirteen children all together: the three they brought with them from Texas that were Hiram’s children with Charlotte, and ten of their own.

Their homestead cabin was built strong and sure alongside a creek in the canyon, and I have seen it several times, still standing as a monument to perseverance and determination. They worked their whole lives to redeem themselves and raise up righteous children. But Mary Jane never again saw or spoke to either her brother or her mother for the rest of her life, such was the price of her sin. She lived a long life, outliving her husband by decades, is buried near Cloudcroft in a sun-dappled aspen grove, next to Hiram. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all remembered her fondly as a good and loving mother and faithful wife. Such is the good news of redemption.

In Charlie’s official biography, he never mentions that he has a sister, and I’ll bet no one knew to ask. When he was asked why his mother, Charlotte, divorced Hiram Daugherty, Charlie said, “For cause.”





Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Artist's Journey





I was invited to give a lecture and trunk show about my journey and development as a quilt artist, last week at the Harvey House Museum in Belen, New Mexico.

At one time, in the early part of the last century, Belen was a major railroad center, a "hub" city for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. The Harvey House Restaurants, built by Fred Harvey were elegant eating establishments that lined the north-south route and featured first class dining, an extensive menu and fine linen, crystal and silver. And of course, the renowned Harvey Girls, young women of impeccible reputations who were trained in the fine art of serving fine food to the railroad customers. They lived upstairs in the Harvey Houses, in dorm style rooms, were closely chaperoned and developed reputations for excellent service and high standards.
Belen has lovingly preserved their beautiful Harvey House and made it into an historic museum with exhibits changing monthly.

The rooms of the Harvey House Museum were filled with quilts of all colors and descriptions. They were all made by charitable groups to be given away at hospitals, nursing homes, police stations, anywhere some comfort was needed. It was a privilege to be surrounded by such graciousness and talent!
So, here I am, at the beginning of my lecture to a room full of quilt lovers, men and women both. I showed a dozen quilts that I chose from those remaining in my possession dating back to the very beginnings of my quilt art journey, in 1988 that I felt represented my development as an artist and showcased what I learned along the way.
My early work was all done in squares with the emphasis on color, like the first quilt shown, called "Four Corners" made in 1988. I learned that "Color, pure or muted, is its own magic" and "gradations attract, enfold and please."
"Purple Flower Woman", in the next pic, was made in 1992. By now I was doing much more than dyeing solid colors. I was experimenting with many different kinds of "surface design" techniques. I learned that "Squares and triangles give strength and stability. Patterns fascinate, involve and deceive. Repetitions are to forms what beats are to music. The obvious is enchanted by the hidden. Soft edges invite caress and touch."
"Sand Tracks", made in 2000, won the best of show at Fiber Celebrated International 2001. It is made mostly from silks and fine cottons and is based on the idea of the force of wind in the southwest. It is collaged and contains actual polished stone beads sewn to the surface.
The final piece pictured here is "Elements" made in 2001. It began as a playful exercise in composition using leftover pieces from previous work. After I had made a couple of blocks, I got an idea for a complete quilt, finished up the blocks and dyed the background fabric in cotton sateen in a shibori-style gradation representing the transition from water to earth to sky.
I made my last quilts in 2003. Since that time, I have been painting in oils!
You can see the rest of the quilts along with their artist's statements on my website at
http://www.katywidger.com/ Just click on the Paintings in Hand Dyed Fabric link to see more!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Field Stone Wall


Here’s the final painting. I spent the morning sketching the wildflowers I thought I might put in the painting. As you can see, the flowers are quite tiny in the actual painting, but it helps to know what shapes they assume in real life, even if you’re painting them in miniature, almost as “suggestions” rather than as flower portraits.
The sky came from another photo of Ireland, and I was interested mostly in the light and movement of color from bright blue to graying, with a hint of stormy weather.
I tried to capture the idea of the sun shining from the upper right, down across the mid-section of the wall, onto the daisies. And, I have to admit, this was a bit of a challenge, trying to get the rocks to look like a loosely-stacked field stone wall, with all their odd shapes and the deep shadows with the sky peeping through here and there.
Maybe, perhaps, someday I’ll go to Ireland and see an actual field stone wall for myself!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Field Stone Wall: First Statement


Here, we’ve got the stone wall roughed in using three values of the beautiful, mauve grey mixture of Ultramarine and Terra Rosa. Looking at a blow-up of the photo tells me that the stone has lots of color! Pale mauves, rosy tones and deep blues. That will be fun to paint! Also, the sky peaks through the stones in many places, which will make it "sparkle" with light and integrate the sky, wall and foreground.

I’ve decided that the light will be coming from the upper right hand side, and shine down, across the mid-section of the wall, and highlight the flowers that will be growing there, in that dark green spot, towards the left hand center at the base of the wall. Those will be white daisies. There will be other flowers, scarlet, purple, blue and yellow, along the wall, as well. The sky will be lighter towards the right hand corner, a more cerulean blue. It will move to a darker, greyer sky on the left side. I’m using Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine for the sky, and adding some Cadmium yellow for the ground. It’s mostly a thin, transparent wash, with just a tiny bit of white added to the Cerulean Blue on the right hand side, where the sky will be lighter.

This is the first “statement”; an underpainting that will serve as the first layer to this small, 5" x 7" painting. It is applied thinly and mostly in a transparent wash of pure hues. Almost all of it will be painted over in the next “statement”, subduing most of the brightest colors, but allowing them to “shine” through in some areas . Right now, I’m going to let this dry and come back again on Monday morning and finish it, hopefully, that day.

Field Stone Wall


Kathy and a good friend took a trip back across the pond to Ireland in 1972. A trip of a lifetime, back to her homeland, right out of college. What grand fun they had, driving on the “wrong” side of the road, touring the Irish countryside, kissing the Blarney Stone, soaking up the shamrock fields, the blue Irish sky and the enchanting culture of her ancestors!
She snapped dozens of photos on her little Brownie camera, and was especially fond of all the field stone walls that lined country land and highway. Just a long pile of rocks, mostly, cleared from adjoining fields, bounding land and keeping sheep from wandering too far.
She’s asked me to paint one for her, from one of those little Brownie pics from ’72.
Here’s the first step: Palette set up for this first “statement” is simple: Just some Ultramarine Blue and Terra Rosa, mixed together with a bit of Titanium White to make a beautiful grey. We’ll use that to start in on the rock wall. I’m going to “move” the wall and angle it to give the painting a more dynamic interest. The photo shows a pale, washed-out sky, which means it was probably an overcast day with diffused sunlight. Since there’s no strong directional sense to the sunlight falling on the wall, it's kind of bouncing around all over the place, we’ll “manufacture” one.

I’ve never been to Ireland, but I’ve got some great magazines to look at (Ireland of the Welcomes) and the internet is a wealth of wonderful, well-lit photos of Ireland with true colors, to give me a sense of the light and colors there. I’m using my digital frame for all the reference photos I’m using, which back lights the digital images, and gives a more true-to-life picture than a printed photo would.