Archives for the month of: December, 2013

I used to be quite the guerilla marketer in the days before the internet and social media.  After selling a gourd for $20,000 several years ago, I approached anyone and everyone I could think of to carry a story on the sale.  I sent press releases to every newspaper and magazine under the sun, and press kits to everyone from Katie Couric to the Carol Duvall Show.  I discovered, days after it had been published, that the Wall Street Journal ran a small (and admittedly snarky) article on the sale, and several months after that, I received a letter from Carol Duvall, informing me that she wanted to do a segment on my work.  I was thrilled of course, but when her production team called to ask if they could interview me in July, in Palm Springs, for their fall season, I wasn’t quite as over the moon.

It’s 108 to 118 degrees in Palm Springs in the summer, but of course, I said yes.  I had to make four or five gourds in various stages of completion to make it look like I had created the work they focused on in one afternoon, and when the team finally showed up at my house, their equipment kept blowing the circuit breaker, so I had to turn off the air conditioning then act like it was as cool as a summer breeze on the Oregon coastline the rest of the day.  After all was said and done however, I think the production team did an outstanding job.

A few weeks ago, I started work on one of the first new gourds I have done in years.  I decided to photograph each stage of the process, then edited it to show how much work goes into creating a single piece of artwork.  I hope you enjoy the short video I did on it.

I was struck by a quote I ran across from David Hockney a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind because, for the first time in my life, someone was finally able to put words to the powerful and unquenchable thirst that motivates and drives my soul, a drive that, as time goes on, is becoming even more pronounced.David-Hockney-painting-Th-005

“I think I’m greedy, but I’m not greedy for money – I think that can be a burden – I’m greedy for an exciting life. I want it to be exciting all the time, and I get it, actually. On the other hand, I can find excitement, I admit, in raindrops falling on a puddle and a lot of people wouldn’t. I intend to have it exciting until the day I fall over.”

At 76 years old,  Hockney  has a show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco entitled “David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition” that features 398 master works, most of which was produced in the last decade alone.   “This is a man who is very active, very energetic, but we are in a period where every day counts, and I sense that with this desire to work all the time. However, the idea of old age and old age style is something that when you look at Hockney’s recent work, you’re sort of dumbfounded, because these look like the work of a very young man: energetic, exuberant, vital, optimistic” says Fine Arts Museum director Colin Bailey, in remarks based on art historian Kenneth Clark’s essay on aging and the arts.

It’s true that David Hockney is filled with the kind of relentless quest to stuff as much life and living into his remaining years as possible, and I know this, because I had the opportunity to spend and afternoon with David Hockney many years ago at a Boxing Day celebration at the home of film director John Schlesinger and his long time partner, Michael Childers.

Mr. Hockney had just completed a documentary after years of study to discern how the great masters produced such incredible detail in their portraiture, and he was eager to talk about his discoveries with anyone who would listen.  I knew David Hockney’s name, of course, and I knew he was famous, but I’d worked in Hollywood for many years and met lots and lots of famous people, not many of whom were kind to a “complete unknown” such as myself.

I think the only other major figure who ever treated me with that sort of respect was the great film producer, Ray Stark, who I met at a Prince concert when I first started working at the William Morris Agency.  I was sitting alone at a huge table waiting for the rest of the agent trainees and assistants I’d come with to return from the bar, when this man came sailing up to me to say hello.  Once he realized he didn’t know who I was, he left for his table, just as my friends all arrived.  One trainee asked how I knew Ray Stark and I said, “would you like to meet him?”  Everyone looked at me like I was nuts, because at this point, a line of influential Hollywood A listers had lined up to pay homage to Mr. Stark.  I got up and walked over to him, and said, “Mr. Stark, would you mind coming over to say hello to my friends?”  He left the A listers standing there while he came over to my table to meet my friends, and while they  were impressed that I “knew” Ray Stark, I was even more impressed that he treated me so kindly once I figured out who he really was.

It was the same with David Hockney.  Shortly after we were introduced, he grabbed a mirror and my elbow and guided me to a wall near a huge floral display and proceeded to explain, at length, how the mirror enabled him to create a precise reverse drawing of the display, and how the great masters used mirrors to capture their subjects in such incredible detail. Later, when my uncle told me he had a rare copy of a book by David Hockney, I sent the book to Mr. Hockney to have him sign it for my uncle, and he did.

When I read his quote about money and an exciting life, I couldn’t get it out of my mind, because that’s exactly how I have felt since I was ten years old.  I have wanted more money than I have ever had, because I have  wanted the kinds of huge adventures I thought being wealthy would afford, but I am old enough now to realize two things;  I am on the “other side” of the years I have left to cram as much living as I possibly can into a single day (and I do), and that not having the kind of money I have always wanted to go on a safari (for example) or stay in a five star hotel just because I could, or to make the dreams of people I run across every day of my life who have far less than I do come true, because I have the money to do it (which is as much a part of the adventure as sky diving or weeks spent on the Orient Express) is one of the reasons I have had the adventures I have had in the first place.

I have had to get very creative about how I live my life because I don’t have a lot of money, and paying attention to things like the bright flash of red I saw in my yard yesterday as a male cardinal darted past, or waiting at the corner of 81st and Central Park West in the freezing cold for the Macy’s Parade to start, is all part of the wonderful adventure of my own remarkable life.

I will never stop striving, never stop reaching for the stars, never stop challenging myself to drink in every moment I possibly can, even when I complain that I don’t have enough or the things that I want aren’t happening fast enough to suit me, but I have come to embrace the fact that my incredible impatience to stuff as much as I can into a day is all part of my charm.  I don’t have forever and there is still so much to be done.  The time to live, is now…..

For more information on the David Hockney exhibit, which is in San Francisco through January 20 at the de Young Museum click this link.

Now get out there and play…..

street1It’s next to impossible to explain the experience of participating in one of the most famous parades on the planet, especially when it is the culmination of a bucket list experience crossed with a childhood fantasy.

Before leaving for New York, I watched the Wizard of Oz and Miracle on 34th Street like a prize fighter preparing for a championship match, but nothing could compare with the moment I found myself standing on the corner of 81st and Central Park West watching Cirque Du Soleil performers practice their routine on a gorgeous pirate ship while beautiful girls dressed in dark purple coats swirled on motorized umbrellas in the street to pass the time, and grown men with scruffy beards dressed as fairies waited with people dressed as Vikings, firemen, Keystone Cops and clowns for the parade to start.

waiting

The morning began early outside the New Yorker Hotel.  We got up at 3:45 and drove into the city from my friend, Kim Hendrickson’s house in Pearl River.  It was an easy forty five minute drive, and we were in line by 5:30 Thursday morning.  Long lines of balloon handlers and character volunteers waited on either side of the hotel to be admitted to the costume staging area on the fourth floor of the hotel. This year they divided the balloon handlers into groups according to which street your balloon was on, and when it would enter the parade line. Since we were the fifteenth balloon we waited until almost seven o’clock to get into our overalls and head for the buses that would take us to the Natural History Museum, where the giant balloons are located.

buses

Part of the fun of the parade are all the behind the scenes moments we get to experience as part of this remarkable adventure.  Adults dressed as seahorses or bacon and eggs mingle with people dressed as cue balls, members of a marching band, clowns, elves and characters from books, like the ones from “The Wind in the Willows”  burst from the side doors of the hotel into the early morning light, while someone yells “All the boxes, this way” from the crosswalk where girls dressed as wrapped presents wait to be ferried to the parade line.

seahorse

street

the gang

michaelandfairy

Once we arrived at the flight line, an entirely different scene unfolds.  The last time we did the parade, very few floats were lined up on Central Park West, but instead, were waiting on side streets to feed into the parade at designated intervals.  The crowd of spectators started at 81st and Central Park West, and acts would feed onto the street in a staggered formation; a band would start down the street, then a float would  come in behind them, and a giant balloon behind the float, like an assembly line.  This year, the floats commanded Central Park West from 81st to uptown,  all the bands lined one side of the sidewalk in the order they would feed into the parade at the starting line, and all the character acts (like the clowns) lined the opposite side of the street, so standing on the corner of 81st and Central Park West, I could see the visual chaos of the event in all its glorious color and motion, and because I was part of the parade, I had the freedom to wander among the floats and balloons while barricades restrained the crowds of people who gathered to witness the spectacle for themselves.

cirque kimandmewizThe balloons are kept under nets until an hour before the parade starts.  We all crawled under the nets to find a “dog bone” which is wrapped with rope and attaches to the balloon to make it possible to maneuver and control it.  I made a mad dash for the front of the balloon, only to find all the dog bones had been claimed.  The parade consistently overbooks volunteers to ensure there are enough handlers and character acts, since people drop out for all sorts of reasons.  The weather was so questionable up until the very last minute that one newspaper reported that the giant balloons had been grounded.  We received an email from parade officials a few hours later ensuring us that the decision to ground or not would come the morning of the parade, and implored us to all show up, so there were plenty of additional balloon handlers to help manage the basket the wizard was in thanks to occasional wind gusts.  Kim and I wound up in the front row of the balloon, and traded the dog bone back and forth along the parade route, which allowed me to actually LOOK at the parade this time.

There is absolutely nothing like stepping out onto the street the first time, and seeing crowds of people, sometimes twenty deep, on either side of the street, and then, looking up and seeing people in office buildings, apartments and hotels, gathered at the window, or on the balcony or roof, watching the parade, while hundreds of police officers and what seems like an equal number of people wearing press badges stick giant cameras in your face, while people yell “Happy Thanksgiving” enthusiastically from the sidelines.  Up ahead I could see the high school band that Macy’s outfitted with munchkin costumes playing their hearts out along the parade route, and in front of them, a float carrying the Goo Goo Dolls.  Because our balloon was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz, we were accompanied by a woman dressed as Dorothy (she looked more like Little Red Riding Hood for most of the parade, since she was wearing a red cape to keep warm) and four characters with giant balloon heads who were led down the street by young women dressed as characters from the Emerald City.  The Cowardly Lion’s head slowly started to deflate, and the Witch got so far behind us that she was loaded onto a golf cart and whisked away.  The Tin Man gave up the ghost at one point and had to be driven to the “Parade Quiet Zone” where each balloon or float waits until they are called before the cameras for their 30 seconds of glory.  The Cowardly Lion’s balloon head was filled with helium again just before it was our turn to be on camera, and out of nowhere, someone got Dorothy’s cape and gave her a dog who looked like Toto.  We passed the cameras on cue, only to discover that Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthry were sitting with their backs to us so the cameras could show us passing behind them.

withthewizardWhat most people don’t know is that the parade ends the minute we pass the cameras.  Macy’s officials and police officers wait at the end of the street to direct us to our respective finish lines, so bands go down one street, floats go down several others, and all the giant balloons all march to a giant red net laid out on the road where we help deflate them and put them in a storage bin.theend

The trouble is, the helium release vents on the Wizard of Oz balloon are on TOP of the balloon, instead of being strategically placed on the underside of the balloon the way Spiderman and Pokeman are.

deflatingspidermanThe balloon handlers for How to Train Your Dragon, Spiderman, Pokemon AND the Macy’s Star, all had their balloons deflated before we figured out we needed to roll our balloon down to reach the vents.  Once the balloons are completely deflated, they are rolled up, and placed in a large laundry style cart.  The floats are dismantled and loaded onto flatbed trucks, and back at the hotel, costumes like the ones worn by the Tin Man and the Wicked Witch have been loaded into large carts, sealed, labeled and stacked into moving vans.

withmichaelI can’t imagine ever getting tired of being part of the parade.  It’s such an amazing experience that I hope I will still be doing it when I am 90.  And I suspect I will feel like a six year old every time I do….