Archives for category: Art

20140321_142244I am beginning to think I may be the luckiest girl on the planet.  Things just seem to work out for me, even when it seems like I am standing in the bottom of a well, and the longest rope anyone can find to throw down to me is still three feet too short and a typhoon has just leveled the hardware store.

Fifteen years ago, when my art career was skyrocketing, and I was at a major crossroads in my personal  life, I was in Delray Beach, Florida looking for someplace to eat after supervising the final details for my one woman show at a popular art gallery. I was there alone, my sixteen year relationship in ruins, still reeling from the discovery that the man who raised me was not my biological father,  and with parents who said I’d known about him since I was six and had just “forgotten” about him.   I passed a restaurant with a handful of people in it, when something in me made me turn and go inside.  I sat at a table next to a pair of delectable men who turned out to be friends celebrating a mutual decision to relocate on opposite sides of the country. Richard had just moved to Palm Springs and Mark had just moved to Palm Beach.

20140226_114511My biological father lived in Mentone, California, so I had just decided to move to Palm Springs myself.  Richard and I exchanged phone numbers and the next day, I called my friend Daniel to give him the good news.  What I didn’t know, is that Daniel had only recently realized he needed a change in his life as well,  and was moving from Santa Fe to Palm Springs himself.  A few weeks later, I found an ad online for a house in Palm Springs, and called the landlord.   Since I was the first to call about the house, Jon agreed to hold it for me until I could find someone to look at it for me.  Richard was the only person I knew who lived nearby, so I called this complete stranger and not only asked him to look at the house for me, when he called back and told me it was perfect, but Jon needed a $1000 deposit, I got a blank cashiers check for the requested amount and mailed it off to him.  Richard delivered the check to Jon and took it upon himself to make sure that the house had new paint, new carpet and new kitchen and bathroom tile.

20140321_142853A month later I showed up at the house for the first time with some friends who agreed to help me move in.  The house, while far from posh, was huge.  Four bedrooms, (one with a fireplace), three bathrooms (one with an oversized tub for nice long soaks in the winter), a fenced yard, a pool with a waterfall and a garage.  I had room for a studio, a guest room, an office, and a library, which I filled with remarkable finds from dozens of thrift stores, and when I wasn’t getting ready for an art show, I was  “taking the waters” at the Spa Hotel and Casino, or driving backroads to Idyllwild to buy myself lunch and take a walk through town, or combing through  bookshelves at a second hand store in Joshua Tree.  I had a wonderful life, with great friends, and a successful career.  But when my father died in a car accident, I decided it was time to see what else was out there.  To “shake things up a bit”.   So I sold everything I didn’t absolutely need, packed up, and headed East.Denise & Red

I hadn’t been to Palm Springs in years, and this weekend, I am housesitting for Daniel, who is off to London and Paris with his boyfriend, Kenny.  Being here reminds me of so many things, not the least among them the sleek red dog I got as a pup, who hated the swimming pool, ate a hole in the carpet, and loved his girlfriend, Katie in equal measure.  It floods me with the memories of meeting my friend Tom Tyler (who was an extra in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON), and dinner parties at Colin Webster Watson’s (a sculptor from New Zealand who had everyone from former Broadway stars to a couple who wrote for DYNASTY as his guests), of working for photographer, Michael Childers and  film director, John Schlesinger, meeting David Hockney, and Stephanie Powers, and Franco Zefferelli, and Steve Zaillian, and Michel LeGrand (who still owes me for the bowtie I bought him before the Palm Springs Film Festival!).  The six years I spent here were among the best years of my life, and being here this weekend reminds me of the people and places I loved, but it reminds me as well that I am making new memories, and reconnecting with old friends, that everything (and nothing) has changed, that the stars have lined up to give me a second chance at seeing the dream I’ve had of “making it” in Hollywood played out one way or the other.

20140312_143050I used to drive through Palm Springs in early April, when the weather was perfect, and the sky was so blue it hurt your eyes, and declare to the universe that I was “the richest woman in the world”. And you know what?  Despite how hard the last few years have been, being here again reminds me that I still am.  I have the support of a wonderful man, generous friends, and the memories of how things used to be as the inspiration I need to make the most of this opportunity.  I am writing my heart out, and learning things about screenwriting I only thought I knew.

But that shouldn’t surprise me.

After all, I am the luckiest girl in the world.

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oprahbagI suppose most people would say I am too ambitious for my own good, but I think life goes by too quickly to waste time thinking about what I want to do.  I have a short list of regrets and I’d like to keep it that way. When I am faced with an opportunity, or something that looks like an opportunity, I ask myself “is this something you might even remotely regret not having done some day?”  I didn’t go to Japan as a foreign exchange student when I was in college and to this day I still wish I had,  and despite having been told a million times that some of the things I want are out of reach, I never persist in thinking, if Dale Chihuly can reinvent glass art or Erin Brockovich can have a movie made about her life, then I can, and should, go after what I want.  I honestly believe you never know unless you try, and you don’t know what the answer will be unless you ask.  After all, I only get this life to go after my dreams.  I might as well make the most of it, even if the word “no” becomes an essential part of the journey.

WASPA few months ago I applied for a screenwriting scholarship at the New York Film Academy.  I applied on a lark, since the screenplay I wrote about the Women’s Air Service Pilots never got any farther than placing in the top twenty percent with the Nicholls Fellowships (which are offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).  That’s a significant accomplishment considering the fact that they had over 5000 entries, but when I got my “thanks but no thanks” email from The Write Room competition designed to promote the works of women writers, with female themed topics, I was beginning to wonder if the dream I have been chasing since I was 24 was even worth pursuing.  I love movies, but I struggled mightily with writing when I was younger.  Every word I wrote was painful, and even though I understood story structure, character development and theme intellectually, I could never seem to marry what I felt with what I knew into a screenplay that was worth a hill of beans.

The original draft of LUCKY 13 was completed in 1992, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I felt I actually knew how to write it.   The idea is as fantastic as the women who  trained at the only all female airbase in American history, and who went on to fly military aircraft in World War Two. After completing it  I was told repeatedly that it would never be made because of the predominantly female cast. Statistics on women in Hollywood both behind and in the front of the camera bear this sad fact out, but since I am never one to give up without a fight when I believe deeply in something, I decided to submit a story for a screenwriting scholarship through The Writers Store just a few days before the competition closed.  The scholarship offer was predicated on the idea that contestants would submit a story idea to be developed into a screenplay if they were chosen to participate.  The original offer was six scholarships (later increased to eight) and out of over three hundred submissions, I was selected along with seven other writers for an eight week screenwriting intensive.

Bessie StringfieldThe story I chose to submit was about Bessie Stringfield, the first African American woman to be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.  Bessie was a Jamaican orphan adopted by a wealthy Irish woman in Boston in the 1920’s.  Bessie’s adoptive mother gave her everything she ever wanted, so when Bessie laid eyes on her first motorcycle, her mother bought the bike for her and the stage was set for a long and remarkable life as a motorcycle stunt rider, World War Two motorcycle dispatch courier, and long distance rider with eight cross country trips and three overseas trips to her credit.

20140210_162354I have also decided to turn LUCKY 13 into a TV series and hope to pitch it to some  old friends who still work in the film industry while I am in Los Angeles.  In the meantime, I am also hard at work on a collaboration with James Mellozzo, a highly respected guitar maker who sent me a telecaster, and a stratocaster, to turn into art pieces for the New York Guitar Show and Exposition in April.   The first guitar is close to completion, while the second will feature a pack of timber wolves on the front and  back of the guitar.

The Handbag A Day calendar helped bring my work to the attention of the Tassen Museum in Amsterdam, which boasts the largest collection of handbags and purses in the world.   Considering the fact that the Handbag A Day features over  a hundred of the Museum’s best bags, I am over the moon to be included in such a prestigious collection.  handbag calendar

I have no idea if any of the opportunities I have been blessed with in recent months will lead to the career or life I ever envisioned for myself, but I do know that once I’ve had the chance to take advantage of this screenwriting scholarship, my dreams of writing a really good screenplay will have come full circle, and whether THE MOTORCYCLE QUEEN OF MIAMI ever gets made, or LUCKY 13 winds up on a shelf, or I find myself on stage at the Kodak Theatre with an Oscar clutched to my breast, at least I will know that I gave it my all.

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…..

bigI didn’t start life as a Gourd Goddess.   To be honest, I didn’t even start life as Denise Meyers.  I was born Denise Condit, a fact I did not discover until I was 39 years old, and which is another story entirely. The point is,  I have been reaching for the stars since I could remember, always dreaming of a life much bigger than the one I grew up with, always wanting to stuff  everything I possibly could into a day, always keenly aware that I would not live forever, and if I didn’t grab every opportunity that came my way – even ones I had to invent myself – I might never get the chance to do it again.

When I was fifteen, our psychology class in high school was reading ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST,  which was being filmed, at the time, at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem where I lived.  I called the production office one day and asked if anyone from the production would speak to our class. Joel Douglas, the production manager (and Michael Douglas’ younger brother), agreed, and showed up two days later to discuss the film at length.  When he left that day, he invited me to come to the set anytime I wanted.  I went as often as my mother would allow, and was there the day they filmed Will Sampson pulling the sink out of the floor and tossing it through the window just before he escapes from the hospital. Icuckoosnest photographed the basketball scene through the fence one afternoon, ate lunch in the commissary in the general vicinity of Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas, had Scatman Crothers ask me if I smoked and if I did, could I light his cigarette for him, and was the reason Joel Douglas remembered to order sea sickness pills for the cast when they headed to Newport for the fishing sequence.  I got my first kiss in that insane asylum as well when Joel Douglas pounced on me in the production office one afternoon, something I did not expect, but which makes for a great story.  My first kiss was in an insane asylum on the set of an Oscar winning movie!

Years later, when I was in college and decided I wanted to work in the film business as a career, I wrote a letter to Michael Douglas, asking for a job.  His business manager wrote back, largely because Mt Saint Helens had just erupted, and stories of the ash covering the Pacific Northwest were all over the news, so I sent her a jar of that ash and a friendship was born.  She agreed to get me work if I moved to Los Angeles, and a few weeks later, with my Volkswagon bug packed to the gills, I headed south by myself for a job at the Willliam Morris Agency.   One day while I was waiting to use a pay phone at the gas station across the street from Warner Brothers Studios, I struck up a conversation with a man from Oregon who not only had just moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of a career in film, turns out he was from Salem, was a popular disc jockey at a radio station where I had interviewed – with him – for a job.  We became roommates a few weeks later,  are still great friends to this day.

meandrayTaking no for an answer has never been my strong suit.  I wanted to live at the beach, and found an apartment right on the water in Malibu that was part of a small complex owned by a bachelor who had more money than he knew what to do with.  We paid $850 a month for four years, and hung out with people like Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Sherilyn Wolter (Celia Quartermaine, on General Hospital), David Simkins (who wrote Adventures in Babysitting) and Ray Abruzzo, who would later go on to star as Little Carmine in The Sopranos.  I wanted to write screenplays, so I did, and after awhile, I wanted to get as far away from the film business as I could, because quite frankly,  as much as I love movies, I didn’t love writing, or the process of pouring my heart and soul into something that I found so intensely frustrating, and so incredibly unrewarding. Besides, everyone in Los Angeles is a screenwriter and I wasn’t good enough, at the time, to make much of an impact.

I went to work at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore for some perspective, and that’s where I saw gourd art for the first time.  When the woman who was making, and selling them, offered a class one fall, I asked my boyfriend at the time to sign me up as my birthday present.  I fell in love with gourds that weekend,  back when no one knew what a gourd was.  I had no idea Robert Rivera even existed at the time, and which I still think has benefited me greatly in terms of developing my own artistic style, because I had to teach myself everything I know now about gourds.  I had to learn to work with a surface that was curved in two directions, had to learn about tools and equipment, about photography, about applying to art shows, and then art galleries, how to write a contract, and what to say in a cover letter to a magazine editor.

oldgourdI was so naive about the art world that it never occurred to me there were rules, so I barged in where other artists “feared to tread”.  I saw a news brief in the back of Art of the West Magazine about an art show in wine country that featured some of the top Western and wildlife artists I’d been reading about, and so I decided to apply.  The gallery owner called me back and said she didn’t accept gourds because “they are a craft”, so I shot back that she obviously hadn’t seen mine, and I would appreciate it if she would at least take a look at my work before passing judgement.  I got into the show, and into the gallery and did extremely well at both.  I had my first, and only, sell out, a year later, at the San Dimas Art Festival, which is a funny story in itself, because after challenging anyone and everyone who said gourds weren’t a legitimate art form, I started getting into some of the best art shows in the country.  The day I delivered my work to the San Dimas art committee, I spent the entire rest of the day crying, I felt so out of my league.  The artists in the show were famous, at least among the Western art crowd, and I was embarrassed to have my pieces shown alongside theirs.  And by the end of the show, the only thing I had left to take home was a nice, big, fat check, and a tremendous amount of respect from my fellow artists.

piggycanvas1aA few years ago, I decided to test myself artistically to see what I was capable of.  I could design, woodburn, carve and paint a gourd with my eyes tied behind my back, but I felt horribly uncomfortable around canvas.  I liked the “cheat” of woodburning, and how fast acrylics dry, I was used to the curved surfaces of a gourd, and how to make allowances for imperfections in the gourds.  Painting on a flat surface felt foreign to me, but I wanted to see if I could paint things other than cougars and coyotes.  I am embarrassed to say that the first few weeks of this new experiment were horrible.  I hated oils, and canvas, and not working on something I could rest in my lap.  I missed my woodburning tool, and my Dremel, and thought most of what I was working on was dreadful.  I decided to take gourds in all different shapes, cut them into pieces, and reassemble them into works that were five and six feet tall, with contemporary themes.  I covered some with hundreds of flat backed beads, and painted others with copper and brass from powdered metals I found online.  I painted nursery rhymes, and Japanese geisha’s, and even found some bare wood frames that would allow me to expand the artwork beyond the edge of the canvas onto the frame itself.  I bought a hollow core door and woodburned a tiger on it that is two thirds the size of an actual tiger.  I was commissioned to create a piece for the executive producer of The Lord of the Rings with Frodo, Sam, and Golum, and painted a leopard in oil, on a three foot by five foot canvas, and just for the fun of it, reproduced an Ed Hardy painting from a Sailor Jerry’s campaign just to see if I could.

LOTRtroutcontemporary1sailorjerrysIMG_0600bluejayevan_elvishighres#B1A6heytigerlargegeishapaintingpin up girl wine boxdodcoffinleopardhandbagflowerbox

And when I could see that the economy was turning on its ear, I decided to create “functional” artwork, that would allow a collector to justify the purchase, because the art had more than one function.  I turned to handbags like my life depended on it, then decorative boxes, then functional boxes,  day of the dead coffin boxes, boxes designed to look like vintage ads, or wine boxes with pin up girls on them, and recently began working my way back to gourd art again.  I am currently in the process of designing the largest and most elaborate gourd I have ever attempted, with every sort of creature I can think of to put on it, from hummingbirds to blue whales.  I expect this new piece to take at least four months to create, and when I am finished with it, I expect to sell it for more money than I have ever sold a single piece of artwork for, which is a pretty high bar considering that I’ve sold work for $22,500 in the past….

But that’s okay.

Because taking no for an answer just isn’t part of my internal make-up.  I may not have been born a Gourd Goddess.   But I will never stop reaching for the stars…..

wolf handbagI’ve made no secret of the fact that the last few years have been pretty rough.  I’ve had my ups and downs just like anyone else, but I’ve discovered they were minor setbacks at best compared to some of the challenges I’ve faced since 2009.  As a result,  I’ve learned how much more resilient I am than would have ever imagined.  I am braver, wiser, and more resourceful than I thought possible,  and after putting aside my art career to focus on saving my house and protecting my health, I’ve emerged from the past few years with an inspired and reinvigorated approach to art and writing that has resulted in a return to the gourd art I am best known for, a renewed passion for handbags and decorative box design, and the unwavering belief that my best years are ahead of me.

wineboxes

I have four back to back art shows starting at the end of September and continuing through the end of October, a feat I have never attempted before.  I was accepted into the Armonk Outdoor Art Show in Armonk, New York (September 28 and 29) which I have been applying to for years without avail, plus I will also be exhibiting at An Occasion for the Arts in Williamsburg, Virginia (October 5 and 6), and the Lake Eden Arts Festival in Black Mountain, North Carolina (October 17, 18, 19 and 20).  I was told that several artists have applied to the Lake Eden Arts Festival since its inception and have never been accepted, while I got in on  my first try, which I have to admit, feels really nice.

smudge2

I was also invited to exhibit at the Smithsonian Craft2Wear Show in Washington, DC (October 25, 26 and 27), and was asked to bring my new wine boxes since the Gallo wine family will be in attendance, plus I am hard at work creating a line of decorative boxes and one of a kind humidors for men that will debut at this event as well.

trout

Five years ago, I was the top selling gourd artist in the country, with the sales of several $10,000 and $15,000 gourds to my credit. I am still  the only gourd artist to sell a single piece of gourd art for $22,500, but I gave up gourd art entirely the past few years when I went from my best year ever to my worst year ever, between 2008 and 2009.  I honestly thought that gourd art was over for me, since I had a basement full of gourds no one wanted, but not long ago I picked up a gourd and decided to start experimenting again, and the reaction to my first new piece in years was overwhelming,  11,000 people saw the dragonfly gourd I posted on facebook, and I sold that new piece, along with another, significantly more expensive work, at the Tryon Arts Center as part of their outstanding 2013 sculpture exhibit within just a few weeks of one another.  I am working on several new pieces for the Williamsburg show and hope to start getting into galleries and larger art shows with them again as well.

dragonflygourd

Just a few days ago, I received my copy of the Page a Day Handbag calendar for 2014.  The publisher contacted me via email last summer and asked me to send photos of recent work, four of which made it into the calendar.  In fact, my handbags are the only ones in the entire calendar on a color background, and I am one of three handbag designers with more than one image on exhibit.  Most of the bags are from private collections and museums, and a large majority are vintage.  I was asked to submit photos for the 2015 calendar as well.

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My screenplay, LUCKY 13, about the Women’s Air Service Pilots,  was turned down by all five screenplay competitions I entered, however. the best of those competitions, the Nicholls Fellowship (offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), did say the script was among the top twenty percent of the over 7300 screenplay submissions they received.  So I did something that is generally frowned on in Hollywood; I sent copies of the script to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and included one of my best gourds in the submission to Steven Spielberg, who I understand is quite a fan of gourd art and artists.  It may never go anywhere, but you never know unless you try.

kokopelligourd

Finally, I got tickets to The Daily Show in September, and am currently waiting for my confirmation to be a balloon handler again at this years Macy’s Parade.  I missed last years parade because of my broken ankle, but I promised my sponsor that if he could get me in again, I would come to the parade, even if I was on a stretcher!  And last, but by no means least, the 1969 Dodge Travco I have been working on for over 18 months is finally done and is currently on the auction block.  I taught myself about upholstery, laying carpet, and refinishing woodwork among a great many other things.  Check out the link on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJNvYfHnBmU&feature=youtu.be/

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elephantsWith the American Crafts Council show behind me and a world of opportunities ahead, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the process of creating, whether its handbags, art, writing, or promoting a worthy cause.   Art is a difficult business, which is not something I think anyone who attends an art show ever thinks about.  And why would they?  As you walk through the aisles of an art show, indoor or out, it can seem as if the artists have always been there, creating beautiful things for you to admire, and when you leave, and the convention center, or the street that just days before was filled with white tents and throngs of people is now home to parked cars and delivery trucks, it’s hard to imagine what went into making that event happen.

work1I start months in advance to prepare for an art show, primarily because I am the slowest painter on the planet, and if I don’t have a dozen or more handbags woodburned and in the “painting pipeline” I would show up at most events with works in progress and an interpretive dance entitled, “What I Would have Brought to this Show If Could Paint Faster”.  I am in the studio 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in the months before an art show, with piles of work I am in the process of finishing, in the process of starting, and would really love to do if time allows.  As the time draws near for the show, the categories become what I have actually finished, what needs to be finished, and there is no WAY I am EVER going to finish this.  The studio is filled with handbags that are drying, with storage bins full of fabric that need to be cut and assembled for the linings, jars of paint and brushes that somehow seem to migrate across the enormous table I use to work on, despite my best efforts to contain them, until I can’t find anything I need because now the table is also stacked with bubble wrap and Elmer’s glue, and empty glasses of wine.

work2Two weeks before the show, I fill a cardboard box with bags that are dry and need to be assembled, bags that are assembled but need to be lined, bags that are lined but need a handbeaded handle, and drag the whole thing upstairs. The kitchen table is filled with hardware parts and beads, and a card table is set up beside the ironing board for the linings and handmade clutches.  There are purses drying in the bathroom because its cold in North Carolina even with a wood furnace blasting 24 hours a day, and because I use a polyurethane varnish to protect the bags against water damage, they dry slowly.  Because the show is less than ten days away, I don’t have the time to spend letting them dry naturally, and anyway the polyurethane stinks up the house so the faster it dries the better.  It’s time to pack for the show too, which means all my panels have to have a coat of paint, I need to rent a trailer, and a hotel room, and take pictures of what is finished and update my website and send out an email blast to my collectors to encourage them to come to the show, and make arrangements for the dogs, plus I also need to pack my show clothes, and all my equipment, and then, its time to leave.

booth1aMove in is the day before the show, which means checking in, finding your assigned space, unloading the truck and trailer, hauling everything to your booth space, assembling everything and (in my case anyway)  repainting half the panels we brought with us because somehow, despite my best efforts, they are scuffed all to hell and look like I found them in landfill.   Faster than you can say, “its showtime” the hall begins to fill, and you keep your fingers crossed that you will at least make your expenses, which can run in the thousands of dollars once you factor in everything from booth fees to supplies. You get to know your neighbors better than members of your own family when a show is bad, or slow, and in the lull you  trade horror stories with one another about rude customers and greedy show promoters.  My favorite this time was the man who sailed into my booth with his camera out and pointed at a handbag.  I asked him, politely, not to photograph the work, and he looked straight at me and said “you can’t stop me from taking a picture of anything I want”.  I raised my hand in front of the camera as he started to take the picture anyway, and said, “actually, I can”.  He stepped back and told me if I touched him, he was going to deck me.

work3It’s a hell of a way to make a living, and while I realize the economy is still bad and there is so much uncertainty right now, its an incredibly poor business model even under the best of circumstances.  There is little or no job security either.  I used to do an art show I loved more than words can say, as much for the people who put the show on as for the fact that they have insisted on keeping the event small, so everyone can make money. A majority of the shows revenues are reinvested in the community as well, and the show promoters  encourage high school art students to pursue careers in art with scholarships to support their artistic endeavors.

bluebirdebTwo years ago a fellow artist accused me of “violently attacking” her at the show, which, as anyone who knows me well knows couldn’t be further from the truth. I was put on “probation” for a year, then never invited back to the show, which I am the first to admit still hurts to this day.   You can get accepted to a major show one year and start to develop an impressive and devoted client list, and not get in the next year for reasons that are never explained and watch those connections slip through your fingers, or watch your booth and everything in it blow away at an outdoor art show when the winds kick up and in spite of the fact that there are four hundred pounds of weights attached to it, or fight a chargeback that winds up costing you more than the art you sold in the first place,  because someone forgot they bought something from you, and when you provide proof of the sale you don’t get the chargeback fees returned to your account.

dodwedding1I love art.  I really do.  But its incredibly hard work, and its both heartbreaking and terrifying when you get into a show and you don’t sell anything, or you don’t get into a show and have no way of selling the inventory you slaved over for months and invested your heart and soul in.  I get that there are no guarantees in life, and that just because I am exceptional at what I do, doesn’t mean I am entitled to make a living at it.

scrabbleassAnd the worst of it is, I can’t stop.  I want to make beautiful things, and write screenplays about people and  stories that inspire me, like the Women’s Air Service Pilots script I just finished, or short stories about where I live and the cast of characters who inhabit this place, or blogs, like this one, about what motivates me, inspires me, frustrates me and makes me glad I possess both the talent and the drive to create even though I often wonder what the point is of having these skills if having them causes the kind of self doubt and fear  I wrestle with sometimes.

Even so, creating gives me a platform to celebrate causes that matter very much to me, like the drive to raise money for a Rose Parade float commemorating the Women’s Air Service Pilots this New Years Day.  The Women’s Air Service Pilots were a remarkable group of women who flew military aircraft in World War Two, and who are the subject of a screenplay I finished this past January entitled LUCKY 13, about 13 women pilots who completed bomber training at the Lockbourne Army Airbase in 1943. By 1945, the entire WASP program was unceremoniously disbanded despite their enormous success, to make way for male civilian pilots hoping to avoid being drafted into combat duty overseas.  It’s an incredible story and the dream of my lifetime to see it made into a movie.  In the meantime, I am pleased to be part of a fundraising effort to make the float a reality, so please visit http://www.fifinella.com/rosedonate.htm for more information on how to contribute to this hugely worthy cause.

I haven’t been writing much lately because I’ve been working on new handbags, new decorative boxes, new websites, two new businesses, a children’s book, short stories and a screenplay. I am also recovering from a severely broken ankle, so I tend to go at half speed, and can tire easily from something as taxing as taking a shower.  But as my friend, Laura, put it so eloquently a few weeks ago, “who knew a broken ankle would give you wings?”  She’s right too.  It gave me wings, and more creative inspiration than I have had in years.

I just put a shipment of handbags in the mail to Spirits in the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado in time for Christmas, plus its time for my annual half off sale, so after wrestling all day with revising my website I am pleased to say that most of the sale bags have been posted along with images of the new pieces that are on their way to Colorado. I am including free copies of my new 2013 calendar while supplies last. The cover photograph of the calendar features a bag owned by none other than Aretha Franklin, and includes a cross section of some of my favorite handbags and decorative boxes.

Over the next few weeks I will be preparing for the American Crafts Council show in Baltimore, February 22, 23 and 24.  We will be in booth number 3203.  I am excited for the opportunity to exhibit at this event, since its still considered one of the top fine craft shows in the country.  Michael and I have also launched a new RV repair business since he is now a certified RV technician. He does all the work, I just do the website design but I think I am pretty good at it!  Check out the site and his services at rvtrailerandmotorhomerepair.com.

I also redesigned our babyboomeradventure.com website and plan to promote our Adventure Rafting experience pretty heavily next year.   Adventure travel is growing in popularity among baby boomers of all ages and we think it would be great to have a four day intensive to learn basic whitewater rafting skills.   The French Broad River in Asheville is the third oldest river in the world, plus Asheville was recently named one of the top five places to live in the US thanks to everything from our microbeer culture, and our harvest to table dining experiences.  PLUS we have the Biltmore, so really, how can we go wrong????

I’ve also started work on a screenplay I wrote many years ago, before the story had an ending.  It’s too soon to talk about what that entails, except to say that I am genuinely surprised to re-discover my passion for screenwriting.   I worked in the film business for 12 years before I finally threw in the towel, but the story I am working on is incredible and deserves to be told. I just hope more than anything that I get to be the one to finally see it made into a movie.

Its been a long year, difficult, and remarkable, in equal measure.  In injuring myself so severely, I’ve been forced to slow down and rediscover what matters most to me, and that’s why I think Laura is right.  My broken ankle DID give me wings, and I can’t wait to see where they take me in 2013!

I have been cleaning out my life lately, getting rid of old artwork, old clothes, selling things I don’t want or need anymore, giving what’s left over away to thrift stores, or charity, in a focused effort to live by the motto, “nature abhors a vacuum”.

I am ready for so much more than life has given me in the past few years, that I decided to create a vacuum where none existed, and while I know I am luckier than most to have survived the “economic downturn”,  I also know that I have been forced, by necessity, to let opportunities pass me by that I would have normally grabbed a hold of with both hands, and without thinking twice about in the past.

A few days ago, I found a signed and framed print by a Sioux artist named Ed Defender.  Ed and his wife Sue were among the first artists I’d ever met who traded artwork with me when I was just starting out. Shortly after we met, when I was still busy making a name for myself, they came to the Weems Artfest in Albuquerque to purchase my artwork to give as Christmas gifts to their collectors (among whom was the singer, Kenny Loggins).  Ed died of acute alcohol poisoning twelve years ago, and when I found that print, I decided to look him up online, to see if I could find out more about his life and what motivated him to create his innovative, tongue in cheek paintings of traditional Native American activities.  I found just a handful of references to his work and even fewer examples of his art.   It upset me greatly to think that this incredibly talented artist barely registered on a google search engine, like a passing footnote to a life I knew so little about and yet impacted me so deeply.

I was inspired by the memory of Ed Defender to write about an artist I know who is in the final stages of early onset Alzheimer’s.  I wanted to write about her, not because of her disease, but because I want people to know about her before she is gone.  I want to celebrate her incredible talents, her personal journey, and the man who was by her side along the way, so people to remember her, in the same way I hope they remember me, as someone whose life mattered, who was more than a name in a search engine that lead to a few photographs and a line or two on askart.com.

I first met watercolor artist Susan Guy, at Southwest Art in the Wine Country.  Created by gallery owner, Lee Youngman to celebrate the best in southwest, wildlife and cowboy art, I was honored to be included in such outstanding company, and felt I was in way over my head, despite having challenged Lee to be included in the first place.  Held on the grounds of a magnificent old winery and carriage house built in the 1800’s in Calistoga, California, Southwest Art in the Wine Country featured the talents of people like Leo Monahan, Neil Boyle, and Bob Boomer, artists I had only previously read about in magazines like Southwest Art and Art of the West.

One artist in particular stood out for me, even in such a stellar group of artistic talent.  Susan Guy’s work as a watercolor artist was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  I’d tried my hand at watercolor off and on throughout my art career, and I found it to be an absolutely maddening medium.  It is thoroughly unforgiving, in my opinion anyway, and yet, here was a herd of horses, thundering across a river, water splashing everywhere, each crisply rendered detail of every horse as distinctive as the landscape they emerged from.

I had never seen anyone do with watercolors what Susan did, and so effortlessly.  I fell in love with her work as easily as I did the woman herself.  Beyond the fact that she had a smile that could melt a polar ice cap, with wide blue eyes that made me swoon, she left an indelible impact on my life.  I had the chance to do a number of art shows with her over the years, and still kick myself for arranging a trade with her that never happened.

Susan was 22 years old when she met Wes Guy after a performance of Hello Dolly. Just back from a tour of duty in Vietnam and living with three kids from a previous marriage at his parents house, Wes was invited to attend the performance by his best friend, who was married to the woman Susan was in the play with.  After the show, Wes and Susan went to a nearby diner where they talked until 4 o’clock in the morning.  Five months later they were married, and Susan, who was the youngest of four, suddenly found herself living in an old farm-house with Wes and his children.  They raised quarter horses, and Sue continued to act, adding Nell (from South Pacific), Evita (in the title role) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (from The Lion in Winter) to her repertoire. Along the way, Sue continued to paint, but it wasn’t until she decided to enter a competition at a local bank that she decided to pursue her art full-time.

As an artist from Michigan, Sue found it difficult to make her way in a world where antiques and needlepoint were all the rage, so she talked her way into a spot on an invitation only Artists Ride where technique and subject matter were the focal point of each summer session.  Buffalo, Indians, elk and cowboys were brought in to allow artists to paint and observe in an up close and personal setting, allowing Susan to hone her craft to the point that her work was accepted into the prestigious Arts For the Parks.  Arts for the Parks was an event that started with the Top 200 paintings which were then narrowed down to the Top 100, and it was as hard as hell to get into.  I was never accepted into the show.  She was accepted on her first try, and the painting she hoped to sell for $600, was auctioned off for $1800.

Susan continued to gain entry to shows that would never consider my work, and it all came so effortlessly to her.  She managed to show at the Charles Russell Show, the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale and won the People’s Choice Award at the Coors Art Show, selling out every opening night for three years in a row, which, by the way, was one year more than any other artist was allowed to show.  People not only came out in droves to buy her work, what was shocking to both Sue and Wes, was that she couldn’t give her work away in Michigan, and in the West, she couldn’t keep up with the demand.

I met Sue just a few years before Wes was about to retire from his job at Xerox. She was over the moon about the fact that they were going to sell their house in Michigan and move to Wyoming, so she could be among the wildlife  she loved, and cowboy culture that inspired her work, and he could pursue a career as an outfitter.  Despite having been a performer most of her life, she was still painfully shy, so she decided to sew several beautifully crafted dresses from vintage patterns that would  act as conversation starters at her art shows.  I remember one outfit in particular; a deep, rich purple wool outfit with a bustle and fitted jacket that she wore to the Phippen Museum Western Art Show where I saw her for the last time.  Despite the incredible heat, Sue managed to look as beautiful and as collected as she had the first time I met her.

I hate the fact that Alzheimer’s Disease has taken this amazingly talented, incredibly beautiful, warm and engaging woman away from all the people who love and admire her, and I know that her husband of 40 years is suffering more than anyone over the loss of the woman he calls his “heart”.  Wes told me that the inscription on her headstone will read, “All my love, all my life.  Vows were kept”.  He told me he found a clay sculpture she had done of a grizzly with a fish in its mouth while packing up her studio.  He wasn’t aware that she had sculpted it, so he had it cast in bronze.  It is one of one, just like the woman who made it.

I am hugely fortunate to have met Susan and Wes.  My life is better for it.  And I hope, someday, when people are searching for her name online, they will find this blog, and know  how gifted and beautiful and amazing she really was.

I am no great fan of mysteries.

Maybe it’s because I found out at 39 that the man who raised me was not my biological father,  and my entire life (for a period of time anyway) became one gigantic mystery.

Maybe it’s because I am really just not that bright.  It  took me six months to figure out that the married man who had invited me to paint a “mural” at his summer home in Sun Valley a few years ago, hadn’t shared the details of his plan with his wife.  My friend Daniel finally told me he was gay because he couldn’t believe that in all the years we knew each other, I kept asking why some lucky girl hadn’t snapped him up.  It takes me longer than most people to figure out the obvious, so you can imagine my complete surprise when I figured out within minutes after a screening of  THE CRYING GAME began, that the chick in the beauty parlor, was no chick.  I was even more shocked to realize that I was the only one in the theater who knew that.

Its taken more than a few years for me to come to grips with the fact that the life I used to have is not the life I have anymore.  Like many artists I kept holding on to the hope that the economy would change, that an old client or a former gallery owner would call, that I would get accepted into a major exhibition…that a miracle would happen so I could go back to what I love to do and what I am so good at.

Twenty years ago, I took a one day class from a set decorator in Santa Monica who made decorative gourds in her spare time.  I fell in love with the medium on the spot and dedicated myself to becoming the best gourd artist on the planet.  I had no idea what I was doing, and no one to turn to for guidance  or support.  The only other gourd artist I managed to find out anything about at the time was Robert Rivera, and  even though I will credit him with single-handedly creating a market for gourd art until the day I die, he’s no great fan of anyone he considers his competition, and I made no secret of the fact that I hoped to  leave him in the dust.

Being so naive about art in general, and gourds in particular, was an unexpected gift of the greatest magnitude.  Unlike artists today, who can find a wealth of information about gourd art online, and at gourd societies around the United States,  I taught myself everything I know about gourds, from how to work with a surface that is curved in two directions, to how to create and use gemstone inlay, to marketing and self promotion.   Because I was blissfully unaware of the “rules” I wasn’t afraid to try, and I wasn’t afraid to ask for what I wanted.  I thought art, unlike the film business, was deliciously non political, so I barreled into situations where more seasoned artists would have – and did – balk.

I still remember the time I contacted a gallery in Calistoga, California after reading about a call for entries in Art of the West Magazine.  The gallery owner was clear on the fact that, in her opinion, “gourds are a craft and we don’t accept crafts”.  I showed an equal amount of moxie  when I shot back, “Then you obviously haven’t seen MY work”.  I was not only accepted into the show, I exhibited in her gallery for many years afterward.

I dedicated over twenty years of my life to gourds, and I can honestly say that I was considered the best there was for a great many years.  There are a lot of amazing gourd artists these days, including Bill Colligen, Patricia Boyd, Mark and Karen Klay, Dave Sisk, Bonnie Gibson and Doug Fountain, but for awhile….I was the number one gourd artist in the nation.  Not many people can say they were number one at anything, but I was, and I am really REALLY proud of that distinction.  I am still the only gourd artist to sell a single piece of gourd art for $22,500 and I have had articles in the Wall Street Journal, Southwest Art, Cowboys and Indians and Art of the West on my work, as well as a segment on the Carol Duvall Show on HGTV.

Twelve years ago, I loaded up a six month old Pharaoh Hound and headed to Santa Fe for Indian Market.  I sold a gourd for $10,000 before I even got there.  We stayed at a series of Motel 6’s along the way, and I even bribed the desk clerk at the Motel 6 in Santa Fe with a pizza to babysit Rajha while I was at my opening.

I loved those days.  Walking into a gallery where people were waiting to greet you, where the art was professionally displayed, where the only thing that was required of you was to shake hands, talk about your work, and take pictures with the clients.  I got the chance to meet some of the best Native American, Wildlife and Cowboy artists on the planet, and even created and produced two art shows of my own (Reinventing the West at  the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, and Outlaw Artists at Fallbrook Fine Arts Center) featuring the incredible talents of artists like  Cliff Fragua, David Caricato, Bruce LaFountain, Carrie Fell, Thom Ross, Anne Embree, Lyn St Clair, Sherri Greves Neilson, Pati Stajcar, and Susan Guy.   It was an amazing time, and I still marvel at the memories I have of the people, the places, and the experiences I never expected to have.

Last weekend, I took the last of several dozen raw gourds I had to a gourd show in Eastern Tennessee.  The event was held across the street from the Bledsoe County Detention Center, a far cry from the galleries I used to show at  in Santa Fe and Delray Beach.  Classes were held in the exhibit hall at the Bledsoe County Fairgrounds where, I would imagine, jam and handmade quilts are center stage every summer.  I made $600 , and while its hard to imagine that it’s over, the most amazing and wonderful thing about this past weekend wasn’t that I finally took the hint that the world has changed and its time for me to move, on, that its time to let go of what used to be and open myself up to what comes next, it’s that I got the chance to end this experience the way I started.

I spent 12 years travelling the country with a skinny red Pharaoh Hound, who was my constant companion through everything I did on the road, and in the studio. I traded a client for him and to this day, I still think I got the better deal.  She will have the Egyptian themed gourd I did in exchange for him long after he is gone, but I will have the memory of this goofy, sleek, smart, funny, aloof, independent, difficult animal for the rest of my life.  If I heard “what kind of dog is that” once I’ve heard it a million times, in the same way  my nice Baptist neighbors heard me bellow “Goddamn it, Rajha, get OVER here” (thanks to his incredible tendency toward selective hearing ) at least once or twice a day every summer.

Being able to bring this journey full circle by taking my 12 and a half-year old  Pharaoh Hound with me to Crossville, Tennessee, to a Motel 6 (where I bought the desk clerk a pizza after getting my panties in a knot about my reservation) is easily one of the best weekends of my entire life.  I don’t know how much longer I will have this amazing boy, and while it won’t be easy to let him go when the time comes, the fact that I got to end this journey with him, the way it began, made taking the hint, and letting go of who I used to be, sweeter than I would have ever imagined.