Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Visit with Jamie and Mandy: Part 1

Last week I spent about 48 hours with my daughter Jamie and my niece Mandy, and I for one had a great time! Mandy flew into Austin on Tuesday and spent a couple of days with Jamie, and then on Thursday morning they got on a Greyhound and made the trip to Houston. I met them there and we went straight to Baba Yega's for an early lunch. I recommend the Sea Wave salad -- a scoop of tuna salad on a bed of vegetables -- yum yum!

Here are the ladies after lunch -- I felt a little underdressed in my jeans!

From there we went to the Museum of Fine Arts, where I was thrilled to find out that I hadn't missed the John Singer Sargent show. Sargent has always beeen a favorite of mine, whether it's his juicy watercolors of Venice, or society portraits like Madame X, or one of those painterly landscapes. Sargent was born in 1856 and died in 1925, and although he was an American, he lived as an ex-pat traipsing around Europe with his parents, eventually settling in London at age 30. He was one of those lucky artists who was acclaimed in his own time. The show was called "Sargent and the Sea" and featured, uh, paintings of the sea. But gorgeous paintings of the sea, as well as people on the beach or in the water, boats, and coastal landscapes. I was glad to see lots of sketches, either graphite or watercolor and graphite, along with a few sketchbooks. This small oil is called, logically, "Seascape."

The painting below actually gave me a little touch of vertigo! That could just be me, but I did hear a few other museum-goers exclaim at the sight of "Atlantic Storm!"
The other show we saw at the museum was the Alice Neel show called "Painted Truths," which was mostly portraits but also included some paintings of buildings that I enjoyed seeing. I guess Alice Neel is not for everyone but I think she's great! The portraits seem to reveal a great deal about the sitters' personalities and psyches. This one is of her daughter-in-law Nancy and her granddaughter Olivia. The physical closeness of the woman and baby emphasizes the closeness of the bond between mother and child, but the expression on Nancy's face and the wide-open eyes seem to signal fear, or possibly an ambivalence for the maternal role.
Neel painted family members, but also friends and neighbors, and later on, famous people, especially those in the art world. The subject of the painting below was a Fuller Brush Man who came to her door hoping to make a sale, and ended up sitting for a portrait in 1967. He revealed to Neel that he was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, and while I don't think that is evident in the portrait, it does have kind of a mysterious, creepy subtext.

After a snack at Cafe Express, we drove over and parked at the Menil, and then walked down to the Rothko Chapel. For me the feeling of the chapel was altered by the absence of the benches and the presence of folding chairs. Seems they were having an event there that night; I prefer to experience the place as pictured below.
Scattered throughout the familiar Menil collections of ancient art, surrealism, and modern art were works by contemporary Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. All were sculptures involving the figure, and although methods, material, and mood varied widely, all were surprising in their own way. I recommend checking out this artist's work!

After the Menil we made a quick swing by Half-Price Books, and then sped home via the HOV lane. Martin made a delicious dinner of pesto -- Martin style. I gave Mandy the grand tour, as she had not been here before, and she oohed and aahed at all the appropriate times and places.
In the morning we got up and went to yoga -- and thanks to Jan for including my guests! After yoga we met Ann Marie for lunch at Wild Ginger, a new Japanese place that features sushi, bento boxes, and hibachi. Lunch was good -- and there should have been more than I could eat! Let me rephrase that -- there wasn't not enough. ;-D
Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Visit with Jamie and Mandy!"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Snake-eating Snake

While I was out gallivanting somewhere, Martin had a "Wild Kingdom" moment. More than a moment actually -- the drama lasted several minutes! He was sitting at the computer when a movement outside the window caught his eye, and when he looked out he saw a very large snake had just grabbed a smaller snake by the head!

He rushed outside to take this picture with his cellphone. He could tell he was alarming the big snake so he went back inside and watched through the window while the predator ate its prey. The big snake was a Buttermilk Racer (Coluber constrictor anthicus), apparently common in parts of East Texas, but it's only the second one we've seen since we moved here six years ago. According to "A Field Guide to Texas Snakes" by Alan Tennant (which we could not be without!) they range in size from 30 to 60 inches, with 70 inches being the record. This one was definitely in the 60 inch range! The background color is a dark gray, and it looks as though it has been splattered with off-white paint -- buttermilk-colored paint, presumably. These snakes vary widely in how many of the scales are off-white and how many are dark; the one we saw six years ago had a much higher percentage of light scales.

The other snake was a copperhead. Thank you, Mr. or Mrs. Buttermilk Racer, for making this poisonous snake your lunch! Apparently the racer will eat anything it can catch, but more normally subsists on mice and rats, frogs and lizards, and the occasional inattentive bird. Although its name includes the descriptor constrictor, according to Tennant, racers are not true constrictors. The usual method of capture is to pin the victim to the ground with its weight and then administer a disabling bite to the head. Too much information?

The copperhead fought the whole way through the process, but was swallowed in a matter of minutes. At the end the tip of his tail flicking back and forth in the racer's mouth looked like the racer's tongue. How's that for a shuddery detail?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Arbor Gate

OK, I'm finally on installment three of the belated birthday marathon day. After the art show and lunch, we drove out to Tomball to The Arbor Gate. If you haven't been there, it's time you went! We got there ridiculously late in the day and it was HOT! Next time it will be a morning trip. By the way, click on the link because they have a great website with a list of their classes, a blog, links, and a gallery of photos that might even be better than mine!

The main reason to go to The Arbor Gate is for the plants. That's not the only reason to go, but I'll get to that in a minute. Plants are the big draw and they have thousands of them! Everything is well-cared for and beautifully arranged. They specialize in roses, perennials, herbs, and native plants, but really do have a lot of everything.

Here is the herb area. They have more types of each herb than you have ever heard of. Whoops...ended with a preposition! Of which you have never heard? I'm afraid I don't really talk that way.
On the right are their shade houses, which is where I do most of my shopping. This is not like going to a big box store where they have plants shipped from all over the country, and you get them home and plant them and in a couple of weeks they're dead. And you think it's your fault -- that you have a brown thumb. Nope; they just sold you some plants that don't do well here. That will not happen at The Arbor Gate.
Dru also has a lot of shade at her house and found a big selection of plants that will work beautifully for her. Here's another great thing about The Arbor Gate -- the people who work there know their plants! And, they are happy to assist you in finding just what you need. I bet by now you think I am a stockholder or something. I'm not -- I just really like the place!

Now I mentioned that plants are not the only reason to go The Arbor Gate. They have lots of other cool stuff. Let's start with the fact that there are TWO gift stores on the property. One is more practical and outdoorsy, and the other has more decorative items for inside your house. You'll find something for a gift, maybe for yourself, at either one. Outside with the plants they also have lots of yard art, such as these great flamingos on the left. You can also find what you need for a beautiful serene water feature in your yard; arbors and trellises and anything you might need to coax a plant to do something it might not normally do on its own.; and then let's talk about the pots.
Oh my, you can find them in any color! Here is a grouping in one of my favorite colors.

And oh my goodness, did you see these over here? Wouldn't one of those look great on my porch?
If you plan to buy one of those super big pots, you better have a super big bank balance!

We had a great time at The Arbor Gate and plan to return soon. Now will someone come over and help me plant all these plants???

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Belated birthday lunch

My last post was about the student art show, but that was just the beginning of that day. From there we went to have my belated birthday lunch at The Woodlands Conference Center and Resort. I was going to link to their website but it doesn't list where we ate, which was called the something-or-other grill. It was actually very nice! Located on the second floor, overlooking the golf course, the view was panoramic; the service very good; and the food yummy. The fare is soup, sandwiches, and salads, with a full bar. Of course I had to start with a spicy Bloody Mary, no salt. Mmmmmmm!

We get together for these birthday celebrations for fun, to exchange gifts, and to enjoy good food -- not necessarily in that order. So here's a picture of my meal. It was some kind of spinach salad with feta and shrimp and scallops, and it was quite delicious.

But maybe not quite as delicious as the fried avocado, which was ordered by all the other ladies. Isn't it gorgeous? Two avocado halves, stuffed with chicken salad and deep fried in batter, then presented on a bed of greens with a couple of dollops of some wonderful fattening sauce. I just hate ordering the same thing as everyone else, and I also thought I'd make a wiser choice, calorie-wise. Of course by the time everyone gave me a "bite" of theirs I had consumed way more calories than anyone else! Sigh.

Here are Charlene and Dru about to plunge into their avocados.

The unique thing about these birthday parties is we all give the birthday girl a gift, but we also give everyone else a gift. I'm not sure how this got out of hand. It started as just a party favor kind of thing for everyone, like some Halloween candy at an October celebration, but now the "extra" gifts run the gamut from gag to glitz to downright wonderful. I guess the gifts presented proudly below by Glenda and Gloria fall into the "gag" category...

... while at the opposite end of the spectrum I am modeling a gift we all received -- a set of handcrafted earrings and necklace by woodturner extraordinaire Butch, with assistance provided by Gloria who I just bet put these together with the findings. What a nice group of creative and generous people!
When selecting a restaurant good food is a must, but we also need a lot of extra space for gifts, and the kind of atmosphere that will allow for a little raucous behavior! This place fit the bill. The only thing wrong with this last picture is Dru's not in it, but I guess that's what she gets for taking the best picture! Thanks to the yayas for all the gifts and for being so much fun!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

LSC-Montgomery Student Art Show

Last Thursday was such a busy day it's going to take three posts to write about it! This post is about the first event of the day -- the reception for the LSC-Montgomery annual student juried art show. What a mouthful! And actually the first event of the day was to meet Charlene and Glenda at Starbucks for a little pre-show frappacino fortification! Always yummy!

This was a juried show, which means that a juror was hired to select works for the show from the pool of student entries. The intent is that the "lesser" pieces are eliminated, and the resulting show is high quality and cohesive. Closer to the truth is perhaps that the juror selects his or her personal preferences to get down to a show of manageable size, and a different juror would select different pieces. It's important for students to keep this in mind and not feel terribly dejected and rejected if their artwork is not chosen. If you're an artist, you better get used to rejection!

The juror was from the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, and was on hand to discuss his selections and awards, which was interesting and informative. He said that most of the pieces he eliminated had problems with presentation, and indeed all of his selections were framed. In a way I think it's too bad that a student has to go to the expense of having his or her work framed in order to be considered, but of course presentation is of utmost importance, and is a lesson best learned early on. I'm also sure that many of the eliminated pieces were ones that were too similar (i.e. same class assignment) to the ones he selected, and too many of the same doesn't give the show enough variety.
I am proud of all of my students this semester -- all have produced and achieved and some have made true breakthroughs! I appreciate those who took the time and went to the expense of entering the show, and I'm especially proud of those who were selected and awarded! Drumroll please!
This is Amy with her incredible ink drawing of her son, which received an honorable mention. The assignment was a gridded image, and she filled each tiny square with designs, many of them in a winter theme to go with the image of the bundled up baby. I wish you could see the image more closely -- each square deserves to be scrutinized! If you live in the area, get over to the gallery in Building D at the LCS-Montgomery campus by May 13th to see Amy's work and the whole show.

Here is Cindy, who was successful in having both of her entries selected for the show, and the piece at right was awarded Best in 2-D. Woo hoo!!! Again, I wish you could really see it -- and sorry for the glare that I captured on the glass. It's a pencil drawing that she did last semester in my drawing class of a guitar wrapped in a blanket (I think it's a blanket!). The blanket is wrapped around the neck of the guitar with a set of headphones, which was a clever choice. What you can't see is the incredibly painstaking rendering of the objects, and her skill with graphite. The artwork on the left is an acrylic painting in white, black, and three shades of gray, and was painted this semester as a design assignment. This was an early effort at painting, and what a result!! Kudos, Cindy!
Another student who had two works selected for the show is Dru, shown here with everyone's favorite, Robby, ceramics instructor extraordinaire. This piece is a watercolor, masterfully painted by this experienced watercolorist, and beautifully presented in a handcrafted wood frame. It's so convenient to have a brother who can work miracles in wood!
Dru's other piece, barely showing below behind the crowd, was also a watercolor, and like Amy's, was a gridded image of her baby. Whoops, it's not HER baby (she just thinks he is) but her grandbaby, Reid. Beautifully painted in pastel yet boyish tones, the artist has embedded symbols of babyhood, such as a rattle, bottle, or toy, within the larger portrait of the baby.
Blocking the portrait of Reid, from left to right, is me, the instructor; Charlene, a student, nurse, and accomplished artist; Dru, student, retired art teacher, and adoring grandmother; Gloria, Dru's sister-in-law, married to master craftsperson Lonnie, and a very creative person in her own right; and Glenda, also a student and accomplished artist. Oh, and they are also my good friends!