Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Musings

In May I always think primarily about my mother, Agnes Paterson Wilson Membrino, always called Nancy. She was married in May, the iris that she loved to grow are always blooming in May, and she died nine years ago May 6th. It is fitting that as I was digging around in the garden today, Memorial Day, that I be thinking about her.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1919, she, her parents and two of her sisters packed all their belongings and took a steamer to the US. My grandfather, George Findlay Wilson was one of 11 young men who pooled their savings to buy a ranch in Ukiah, California. My mom was a towheaded California girl, living her early years running through the grasses and climbing cherry trees on the ranch. In her 14th year her father died of cancer and she, her mother and sisters moved outside of San Francisco. She went to Mount Tamalpias High School and dreamed of learning to fly an airplane. Engaged to a young man and pilot named Woody, she planned to follow him to Montana to settle and start a shuttle service with him into the wild. Woody never made it back from the war.

Mom and Dad, Alfred Joseph Membrino, met at a dance hall in San Francisco. He was stationed in Hawaii, in the Air Force, after Pearl Harbor and was an decoder and personal secretary for a hot-shot general nicknamed Red. Nan and Al were married back in his hometown of Fitchburg, MA, in 1946, and Mom had left the west coast forever.

One bit of glue for them was their mutual love of gardening. After I was born in 1956 my parents made plans to build a house up the street from my father's parents. When I was 5 we moved into it. It was a modest but modern appointed home with gardens surrounding it. I learned all about what plants looked like in every season, how to fertilize them, when to prune, and how to weed. We never bought vegetables at the market and until I went to college I had never had vegetables out of a can. Mom spent her summer days between caring for her 50 foot x 50 foot patch of bearded iris, the other flower gardens and canning and preserving the fruits of my Dad's huge vegetable garden. The last year of Dad's life he had planted 250 tomato plants alone, as well as every other vegetable you can think of. Do you have any idea how many tomatoes you get from that many plants? Hundreds and hundreds of pounds. Mom learned how to cook the best tomato sauce from her husband's mother and with the home grown tomatoes, it was a knock out.

Dad died in 1979 from cancer. My father's willing and wonderful smile is something I try to emulate every day of my life. He was a fair and honest man with a great sense of humor and a strong sense of family. Having lost all his hair in his thirties to a hair loss disease, he lived most of his adult life with a bald head. It was his trademark. He had a comb that was solid plastic before the tines were cut out and he would whip it out at gatherings to "comb" his head to the laughter of all around. For most of my adult life, I have missed the company of my father, similar to my mother's experience losing her dad so young. For at least a year after my dad died, I don't think my mother did much of anything. Her gardens were a bit unkempt and dad's vegetable garden never did get planted again.

Then all of a sudden a change came over her and she decided to live her life with gusto. She sold the house in Fitchburg, moving permanently into our summer home on Cape Cod. As well as being a pilot wanna-be, she had always wanted to paint. While setting aside the dream of flight, she began painting watercolors of her beloved iris, a few of which she had transplanted to the Cape house. Her garden there was a condensed version of all the flowers she loved: iris, peonies, delphinium, roses, daisies; a real cottage garden straight out of an English postcard, surrounding a shaker clad Cape style home. She painted and sold her paintings for probably near 20 years. Late onset diabetes knocked on her door not long after she turned 60, but she handled it carefully and so well that only in her later years was it a problem. Mom lost her eyesight in her late seventies and moved in with me for the last four years of her life. Death slowly took chunks out of her until there was so little of her left that it was alarming.

However, on the day that she died, I sat talking to her and her nurse as she told the nurse about one of her "ranch" stories. She lucidly spoke with twinkling eyes of climbing the cherry tree when she was only 3 or 4 because she just loved cherries. Anyone who has a cherry tree knows that the fruit grows high in the top canopy of the tree. Ladders are usually employed to pick them. She had been warned by her mother to stay out of the tree, but fell prey to her desires and climbed high into it anyway. Betty, her eldest sister, started yelling for her mother to get Nancy out of the tree so she started grabbing every cherry she could get her hands on, shoving them in her mouth and swallowing, pits, stems and all. Laughingly she recalled that she was pooping stems and pits for days after. I had never heard that story told before as I had heard so many others.

As I remember my mom, I can recall so many wonderful memories. I have the remainder of her paintings, some lovingly displayed in my home. I have her drawings, her photos, her and dad's love letters (which I have never read), her high school scrap books, her favorite jewelry and so many other things with which to remember. Yet there are times when I just wonder about the things I will never know, the stories she never told, the pictures of people from a long time ago who I don't know or recognize. Today as I trimmed the bearded iris which have bloomed and past, I remembered how she would spend her summer cutting back the leaves to force the plant to grow it's roots and not it's leaves. I know this because of her. The iris that bloomed are from cuttings of her iris roots. The magenta peony in my garden which is budded and ready to burst open is a transplant from her Cape garden, which is a transplant from the Fitchburg garden, which is a transplant from my Grandmother's garden. This Memorial Day and every one I am blessed to have in the future will be filled with happy memories of those whose lives touched mine in such a profound way.

The garden above is the first garden I planted when Tony and I moved into our home in Smithfield. It was a mound of grasses and weeds when we first got there. I got out my dad's pitchfork and dug the whole thing with a bit of help from my son Peter Wilson, aptly named for his grandmother's family. Three years later it has mellowed. The peonies are loving all the compost I lavish on them, as my mother instructed, and the Siberian iris are in full bloom right now. Edged by creeping flox and large stones, this garden is a nod to my mother's garden. If not for the rabbits it would also sport delphinium and daisies. Some days I just like gazing at it searching for the tiny fairies who keep it and finding instead my mother's smile.


I'm truly terrible at anything technical. How I ever got this blog to look this good is a mystery. Through no help on my part my followers have reappeared. Yay! Welcome back followers and thank you all for following.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I seem to have lost all my followers. I think it may be a blogspot glitch. It's taken me two years to figure out how to use this technology. It may take me two more to figure out how to get my followers back. I thank all 17 of you for following me, I did not, repeat NOT delete you.

SAQA Conference in Denver, Colorado

May 19 through May 22 I spent in Denver, Colorado on a whirlwind of events making up the latest SAQA Conference. As I have just joined SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) in September of 2010 this was all new to me. I arrived into Denver via the Denver International Airport at around 12:30pm, Denver time. I had arranged for a shuttle trip to get me into the city and it was there that my first adventures began. Two women traveling from Connecticut for the conference were on my flight and on the shuttle with me. I ended up having a wonderful luncheon with them in the hotel tavern, talking about quilts, exhibiting, and SAQA. Thanks to Cathy Smith, Rita Hannafin, and Marianne Williamson for being such wonderful company and ushering me into the fold.

Thursday night's festivities were so much fun. The evening started with "speed dating" SAQA style. 10 or 11 people seated at a large round table took turns passing their business cards and speaking about themselves and their art for 2 minutes each. With three sessions of this we all met at least 30 people. I ended up coming home with a bag full of business cards and have spent the last few days checking out websites, blogs and online galleries. Immediately following the "dating" session was a reception for the SAQA trunk show. 12" x 12" pieces from at least 50 artists were identically matted and mounted on large boards to create a show of incredibly unique and visually exciting "mini" works of art. It was a knock out! My picture above is of people milling about in the foyer where you can see the boards with all the pieces mounted.

Friday was a jam packed day of getting to know people, listening to speakers and going to workshops. The first panel of the day was Deidre Adams, Carol Watkins and Charlotte Ziebarth, all very accomplished Denver artists. I was riveted by their descriptions of their processes, work habits, and the photos of their art. Each of them likes to work with a mid-range size of about 36" x 40", Charlotte saying she was challenged to work in a smaller format for SAQA's trunk show. On average they each produce 10 works, more or less, a year. I really am in awe of each of them and find them to be incredible models of success for someone like myself who is beginning the journey.

My workshops for the day were with Carol Larson and Dr. Monica Dixon. Carol was so informative that I made pages and pages of notes of what to and what not to do when submitting an entry for an exhibition. Monica's workshop was filled with the energy she exudes. I came away wanting some of what she was having. Her workshop was about fueling the creative fire, and I felt very energized to make some changes after her hour session. The keynote speaker at our luncheon was Luana Rubin, owner of, one of my favorite haunts for finding the best fabrics. She is leading quite an adventuresome life and I found her talk full of inspiration.
One might think that the day might have ended there. Not on your life. Thanks to Judy Warner who signed me up for a ride out to Golden to see three exhibits. Those of us who flew in and were without rental cars had to get hooked up with a ride. Golden, pictured above is a quaintly western town surrounted by mountains and buttes. I hopped into a car with Del Thomas of California. She had driven out in two days for the conference. We had some fun navigating a navigation system as Del was about as clueless as the rest of us as to where we were going. But she did a marvelous job at getting us there. Our first stop was the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum. What a wonderful show! My favorites were pieces by Lea McComas, Christine Broer and Gay Lasher. They had prepared a great little feast as well, not your usual cheese and crackers. We did a few circles around and finally found the second show, "Sidelines," a powerfully constructed show meant to pull at your emotional strings. Pieces by Annie Helmericks-Louder, Kathy Nida and Regina Benson resonated with me. I ended up buying the show catalog. The last leg of our trip brought us back into Denver to the Ice Cube Gallery. Carol Ann Waugh's one woman show was breathtaking. We even got a tour of her studio which is behind the gallery.
Here are my three car-mates outside the Ice Cube Gallery. It was a wonderful night of fun!
On Saturday, we started all over again with so much information. I thought my head would explode by the end of the day. The first panel of the day was on working 3-D. The panelists were Susan Else, Mary Beth Bellah, Carolyn Crump and Jull Rumoshosky Werner. Carolyn's elephant was amazing and she got a few laughs talking about the challenges of working with large sculptural forms. My workshops for the day were with Gregory Case, learning how to shoot photos well of your work, and with Valarie Poitier, learning how to professionally promote yourself. Valarie is pictured above at the beginning of her session which was a very "hands on" workshop. Nancy Bavor talked that afternoon about archiving your work, something I must admit I have never thought about.
While all this was going on, the best part of the weekend was what was happening within the structure of it. We were all having a great deal of fun learning, but even more so we were making fast friends. I am pictured above with Judy Warner on the left and Jean Judd on the right. I always get home and wish I had taken more pictures. Missing in the snapshots are Dawn Browning and Margaret Blank who are part of the Visioning Project with me.
Thankfully I have at least one photo of the whole visioning crew, including it's creator, Lisa Chipetine, third from the left in the back row. It was so nice talking to all these friends for the first time in person and not through the computer.
After a grueling flight home on Sunday, with a three hour layover in Detroit, I sat down to mull over the experience. I bought three SAQA books, two of which are above, which I find incredibly inspiring. I was lucky for once and came home with one of the door prizes at Saturday's banquet of two lovely pieces of Lunn Batiks. It seems that the security at the airport absconded with my three complimentary pots of fabric paint that were packed in my boarded suitcase. I guess they thought fabric paint is a dangerous substance. But I came away with so much more. I have new friends, a wealth of information, and a jump-start to my ambition to be the artist I strive to be. I can't wait for next year in Pennsylvania.