Sunday, September 13, 2009

Soul filling

One for the fondest memories from my childhood is my Grandma Rose. She was my anchor and often my care giver, always had time for me and taught me most of my life skills. She had large work worn hands and was simply one of the best cooks I ever have known…and I have had the luxury of many fine meals prepared by great chefs, famous cooks, in famous restaurants. She had a limited education, a limited circumstances and a limitless life force that continues long after her death. I miss her terribly. One of her prize possessions was an odd assortment of Nippon Lusterware from Japan which she kept above kitchen cupboards with all the odds & ends of vases and treasures given her by countless grandchildren, adoring children, families she cleaned and kept house for, neighbors, etc. She had a renown garden, vegetables (part of why her food was so good) and amazing flowers. Almost every inch of her Southern Minnesota yard was in some sort of flower bed, She created micro climates by manipulating cold frames, straw bales, wind breaks, burlap, any thing she could come up with to tame the -30 degree wind chills that were far too frequent in Minnesota and spring times far too reticent to coax delicate blooms from the frost encrusted ground. Sue Foster’s snow drops in the grey Noritake Lusterware vase returned me to my grandmother's swimming pool aqua kitchen: wooden table spread with a well ironed, well worn cloth, snow drops perched triumphantly in their delicate Nippon (the earlier name for Noritake) Lusterware vase. Her specialty was apricot kolatchies and although in late winter when the snow drops peeked out, we would have never had fresh apricots, the dried ones would have summoned these plumps fruits of Sue's like ghosts, to the table. Rose had found a theoretically hearty variety for her garden and although it never bore much fruit, they were considered a miracle for the Gurney Seed Catalog to have produced such a thing for her to coax into surviving the Arctic blasts which descended every winter. Sue’s painting evokes the smells of Rose's kitchen, the kolatchies fresh from the oven, apricot syrup bubbly and caramelized, snow drops nodding, silver glaze's soft grey reflections of my grandmother beaming as she watched us wolf down the still warm pastries, big glasses of fresh milk, re-energizing our lanky frames as we unbundled from the raw Minnesota spring air, ravenous from barn chores. I miss my grandmother, but when I gaze at Sue’s painting, she is back, larger than life, tucking a stray errant curl behind my ear, reminding me I had homework before bed. It is through Sue’s painting, the ravenous hunger in my soul's memory is filled, no longer empty from life’s barn of endless chores.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dominic Avant painted our resident Homeless Man "Mikie" as he lounged under a shade tree this summer. Mikie suffers from fairly severe mental illness and has been a fixture downtown for many years. Urban legend is he was a boxer and is punch drunk; alternately he was brain injured by too many drugs; that he was abandoned by a well off father; etc. It is almost impossible to tell what the circumstances leading to Mikie's street based life are; he is usually not clear enough to tell you and when he does the story always changes. What is clear is he could be any one of us given the right circumstances. He is harmless to others, many of the downtown merchants feed him, give him cast off clothes, blankets, etc. More than once any one of us has dragged him out of the street, calmed him down, led him to a safe location. He continues to use and abuse substances as a way to self medicate his raging mind. As a society we do so badly by men like Mikie. He deserves a warm bed, medical care, a bath, clean clothes. He lives in a city where the amount of wealth is staggering. I have no answers for the Mikie's of our world. He would rage at any forced half way house residency...he is simply too crazy. So when I pass by him, I try and make eye contact, say hello, bring him lunch. He smells so bad it is hard to get too close. We can't invite him into the gallery, the body odor lingers for days after. In Dominic's painting Mikie appears blissful; and often he is very happy, chattering away, smiling. I am sure he will not live a long life based on the statistics for men in his circumstance. When I look at Dominic's painting of him it appears as if he has almost transitioned; as Dominic puts it "Almost Home". I am so delighted Dominic chose to paint him, commit him to our collective memory.