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September 2016

August 2016

The end of summer, diving into "deep work," and Widdershins collage #1

Studio garden

Howard and I are developing the practice of taking regular Work Retreats: a few days in every month in which we hole ourselves up in our respective studios, the Internet switched off and the phone disengaged, in order to focus with greater attention than is possible during ordinary interrupted working days. Today is a holiday here in Britain, but starting tomorrow, and for the rest of the week, I'll be incommunicado in my quiet studio. Then I'll be back online again on Monday, September 5th.

Studio garden

Book & Burne-Jones coffee mug

Late summer morning

I'm working on a writing project right now, while Howard has several things on his plate, from Commedia to puppetry. Come step through the gap in the garden hedge that leads from my studio cabin to his....

The path from studio to studio

...where you'll find him at work (in the picture below) building the frame for a Punch & Judy booth.

Howard Gayton

Each day, a wide range of sounds floats over the hedge from his busy workspace to mine: sawing, singing, accordion or mandolin practice, the laughter of theatre collaborators. the distinctive raspy voice of Mr. Punch...

Punch & Judy puppets

The hound

Commedia puppets

...a steady murmur of creativity that is close enough to feel companionable, yet distant enough to preserve the peacefulness I crave as I write or paint.

Garden path

Meanwhile, the Widdershins exhibition at Green Hill has ended -- and I do remember that I promised to share my art for it here once the show had closed its doors. Below is the first of my six Widdershins collages. I've set up the other five for automatic posting each morning of the week ahead while I'm on Retreat, one per day.

This one is called Once Upon a Time....

Once Upon a Time by Terri Windling

Here it is framed in my studio before the exhibition, and on the wall at Green Hill with the other five pieces in the series:

Collages by Terri Windling

Alan Lee, and collages by Terri Windling

I hope the end of your summer is gentle, peaceful, and full of creativity. See you in a week.

Ripe plums

Studio garden

"Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed."  - Mary Oliver

Tilly, August 2016


Children, reading, and Tough Magic

Seymour Joseph Guy

From Touch Magic: Fantasy, Folklore and Faerie in the Literature of Childhood by  Jane Yolen:

"The great archetypal stories provide a framework or model for an individual's belief system. They are, in Isak Dinesen's marvelous expression, 'a serious statement of our existence.' The stories and tales handed down to us from the cultures that proceded us were the most serious, succinct expressions of the accumulated wisdom of those cultures. They were created in a symbolic, metaphoric story language and then hones by centuries of tongue-polishing to a crystalline perfection....

"And if we deny our children their cultural, historic heritage, their birthright to these stories, what then? Instead of creating men and women who have a grasp of literary allusion and symbolic language, and a metaphorical tool for dealing with the problems of life, we will be forming stunted boys and girls who speak only a barren language, a language that accurately reflects their equally barren minds. Language helps develop life as surely as it reflects life. It is the most important part of the human condition."

Walter Firle

Eastman Johnson &Michael Peter Ancher

Emile Vernon

Izsák Perlmutter & Knud Eric Larsen

"In fantasy stories we learn to understand the differences of others, we learn compassion for those things we cannot fathom, we learn the importance of keeping our sense of wonder. The strange worlds that exist in the pages of fantastic literature teach us a tolerance of other people and places and engender an openness toward new experience. Fantasy puts the world into perspective in a way that 'realistic' literature rarely does. It is not so much an escape from the here-and-now as an expansion of each reader's horizons."

Carl Larsson

Florence Fuller

 "A child who can love the oddities of a fantasy book cannot possibly be xenophobic as an adult. What is a different color, a different culture, a different tongue for a child who has already mastered Elvish, respected Puddleglums, or fallen under the spell of dark-skinned Ged?"

Boy Reading by Thomas Benjamin Kennington & Charlotte J. Weeks

Boys reading, vintage photograph

Clark Kelley Price

Gilbert Young

Dorothea Lange

"Just as a child is born with a literal hole in his head, where the bones slowly close underneath the fragile shield of skin, so the child is born with a figurative hole in his heart. What slips in before it anneals shapes the man or woman into which that child will grow. Story is one of the most serious intruders into the heart."

Tatiana Deriy

Tatiana Deriy

Honor C. Appleton & Mary Cicely Barker

John Weiss

Children’s books change lives. Stories pour into the hearts of children and help make them what they become.Denise Holly Ulinskas

"We have spent a good portion of our last decades erasing the past. The episode of the gas ovens is closed, wrapped in the mist of history. It is as if it never happened. At the very least, which always suprises me, it is considered a kind of historical novel, abstract and not particularly terrifying.

"It is important for children to have books that confront the evils and do not back away from them. Such books can provide a sense of good and evil, a moral reference point. If our fantasy books are not strong enough -- and many modern fantasies shy away from asking for sacrifice, preferring to profer rewards first as if testing the faerie waters -- then real stories, like those of Adolf Hitler's evil deeds, will seem so much slanted news, not to be believed.

Rebecca Kinkead

Adelaide Claxton

"Why do so many fantasies shy away from Tough Magic? Why do they offer sweet fairy dances in the moonlight without the fear of the cold dawn that comes after? Because writing about Tough Magic takes courage on the author's part as well. To bring up all the dark, unknown, frightening images that live within each of us and try to make some sense of them on the page is a task that takes courage indeed. It is not an impersonal courage. Only by taking great risks can the tale succeed. Ursula Le Guin has written:

"The artist who goes into himself most deeply -- and it is a painful journey -- is the artist who touches us most closely, speaks to us most clearly.' "

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Words: The quotes above are from Jane Yolen's influential book Touch Magic (Philomel, 1981; August House, expanded edition, 2000), which I highly recommend. This text has also appeared in a previous post: "Breathing in the world," August 15, 2013. All right reserved by the author.

Pictures: Artists are identified in the picture captions.


On reading: in words and pictures

Young Man Reading by Candlelight by Matthias Stom (Dutch, 17th century)

Norman Rockwell

"When we read a story we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own."  - John Berger

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

"Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head."  - Paul Auster

Jan Mankes

"Stories you read when you're the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you'll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit."
  - Neil Gaiman

Samuel John Peploe

Charles James McCall

 "No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally -- and often far more -- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."  - C.S. Lewis

Honoré Daumier

"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."  - William Faulkner

Henry Stacy Marks

Room in New York by Edward Hopper

Joseph Lorusso

"A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading."  - William Styron

Ignat Bednarik

Duncan Grant & Vanessa Bell

And my favorite quote on the subject, from the great James Baldwin:

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."

Vincent van Gogh

The art today is for Jane Dorfman and Stuart Hill, who wanted more pictures of men and boys reading. Artists are identified in the picture captions.

Carl Larsson

Frances Foy

Tilly & Howard, 2010


Reading and resting

Georg Pauli

I'm afraid I'm out of the studio for another day or two. It's frustrating to find myself back in bed again, but it's only a stomach flu this time and will surely be over soon. Meanwhile, there are plenty of books to read, and the Faithful Hound cuddled beside me.

Woman Reading by Albert Moore

Reading by the Window by Charles James Lewis

"Reading is a co-production between writer and reader," says Ben Okri. "The simplicity of this tool is astounding. So little, yet out of it whole worlds, eras, characters, continents, people never encountered before, people you wouldn’t care to sit next to in a train, people that don’t exist, places you’ve never visited, enigmatic fates, all come to life in the mind, painted into existence by the reader’s creative powers. In this way the creativity of the writer calls up the creativity of the reader. Reading is never passive."

Charles Edward Perugini

Robert-Archibald Graafland

''Beware of the stories you read or tell," he warns; "subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.''

Carl Larsson

Leopold von Kalckreuth

The pictures today: reading and resting. Artists are identified in the picture captions.

Jessie Wilcox SmithThe quotes by Ben Okri are from his essay collection A Way of Being Free (Phoenix, 1998); all rights reserved by the author.


Recommended Reading

Jeanie Tomanek

Howard and I truly enjoyed last week's Chagford Show, and also the final Widdershins event at Green Hill Arts on Saturday night. But with all this gadding about, I've managed to pick up some kind of stomach bug. I'm hoping it passes quickly and I won't be out of the studio for long.

Jeanie Tomanek

A few reading recommendations for you in the meantime:

W. W. Tarn, The Treasure of the Isle of Mist by Rob Maslen (The City of Lost Books)

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant by Rob Maslen (The City of Lost Books)

Sister Act: female friendship in fiction by Alex Clark (The Guardian)

Simplicity or Style: what makes a sentence a masterpiece? by Jenny Davidson (Aeon)

The Race to Save a Dying Language by Ross Perlin (The Guardian)

Encyclopedia Blue, a history of the color by Bernd Brunner (The Smart Set)

Watch Out, Little Red, on wolves in Germany by Bernd Brunner (The Smart Set)

Bird Song Found to Somehow Protect Babies from High Temperatures (The New York Times)

A World Away, So Near by Julian Hoffman (People Need Nature)

Reclaiming Ritual by Lucy Purdy (Positive News)

Recommended listening: Tolkien: The Lost Recordings on BBC Radio 4 (time-limited)

Recommended viewing: Lunette by animator Phoebe Warries on Vimeo (with thanks to Sarah C. Hines & Jennifer Ambrose)

Bedtime Story by Jeanie Tomanek

The paintings today are by Jeanie Tomanek, whose work graced the poster for the "Power of Story" talk. Go here to see more of her luminous art.

The Return by Jeanie TomanekThe poem in the picture captions is from Evening Train by Denise Levertov (New Directions, 1992); all rights reserved by the author's estate.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Old American quilt pattern

This week's music is from Rhiannon Giddens,  a wonderful singer, bluegrass banjo picker and fiddle player from Greensboro, North Carolina. Giddens began her career playing with a postmodern string band (Sankofa Strings) and a Celtic band (Gaelwynd), but she's best known as a founding member of the country, blues, & bluegrass band Carolina Chocolate Drops.  She's released seven albums with the latter group, and one solo album (Tomorrow is My Turn), all highly recommended.

Above: "Julie," a song by Giddens, with lyrics based on a slave memoir. The video was filmed in North Carolina last year.

Below: Giddens and her band perform "Last Kind Words" on the American program A Prairie Home Companion (2015).

Above, Gidden sings "Black is the Color (Of My True Love's Hair)" for WFUV Radio in New York (2015). This old Scots/Irish folk song is also a staple of Appalachian folk music in America.

Below, Giddens performs "Mouth Music," in Gaelic, at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland (2016).

Old American quilt pattern

The final video is an old one: "Sowden's Jig," performed by Danny Barberin, Giddens, and two fellow-members of Carolina Chocolate Drops in an alley in Fresno, California (2010).

For more Carolina Chocolate Drops, go here for their video of "Country Girl" (a charming send-up of stereotypical country music videos, complete with babes in pickup trucks), and here for a fine selection of bluegrass tunes recorded for Liveset.


Sculpture by Virginia Lee

This charming sculpture is by Virginia Lee, who says: "My onion can barely contain his tears knowing there is only week left of being in Widdershins, at Green Hill Arts, in Moretonhampstead." The show closes on Saturday, August 27th.

If you can't make it over, David Wyatt provides a glimpse of the exhibition here.

Many, many thanks to everyone who came to share the "Power of Story" evening with me & Howard at Green Hill last night.