Archives for posts with tag: western art

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

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.

I have an extremely close friend I’ve never actually met.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never even talked to her on the phone. I have seen pictures of her, and she’s absolutely gorgeous.  She used to work for my husband, and had even dated him for a few weeks close to thirty years ago, which, amazingly enough, is NOT what’s so odd about our relationship.  Her best friend met my husband and I at an art show four years ago.  We were in discussions with Toni about artwork for the new home she was building in Scottsdale, when she died suddenly of brain cancer. Suzie knew how close Toni and I had become, so she wrote to offer her condolences, and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Over the years, we’ve helped each other through all sorts of things, not the least of which were the two years her husband was serving as a doctor in Afghanistan.  When he got back, they decided they needed to change their lives completely, in part because they’d both lost their jobs, and in part, because they both realized it was time to ask themselves what really mattered in life.  A few weeks ago they decided they wanted to buy an RV and travel the U.S. in search of the place they wanted to spend the rest of their lives, and within days, they found an amazing deal on an RV, sold all their things, and headed to Flagstaff to begin their journey.

Sometimes things happen in this lifetime that make absolutely no sense to me at the time.  I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the idea that “things happen for a reason” most of my life.  When things happen that I don’t understand,  I am convinced there is no possible reason there will ever be a good outcome, until the day the lightening bolt hits me and I discover that everything about the events leading up to that revelation happened exactly as they should.  I wanted to tell the story about Suzie, because I think Michael met Suzie, who met Toni, who met me, because Suzie needed a confidente and  a best friend at a particular point in her life, and so did I.  And now Suzie has become my hero, because she made a decision, focused on that decision, and made it happen.  I told her I marvel that she found what she wanted out of life so quickly, and that it took so damned long to get there.

I made the hard decision to quit art a year ago to try to save my house.  I was five months behind on my mortgage with no idea how I would manage to avoid foreclosure, when I got not one, but three jobs in a town were jobs are almost impossible to come by.  I am also convinced that I had a guardian angel on my side.  There is no evidence whatsoever to support this conclusion, but again, the “coincidence” is hard to ignore. I went to New York last summer to audition for Project Accessory.  The trains to Pearl River  where I was staying at the time were under construction so I had to take the bus back.  I was in a tiny waiting room at the Port Authority, when I began a conversation with a woman who was also waiting for the bus.  When she told me she worked for JP Morgan Chase, I told her how unhappy I was with the way they had handled my home loan modification.  Meaning, they kept turning me down but never bothered to explain why.  She asked for my card and told me she would have an in-house mortgage counsellor handle my loan.   I figured she would toss the card the minute I was out of sight….instead, I qualified for a permanent home loan modification in three months time.  I can’t prove this woman had anything to do with it, but considering the abandon with which JP Morgan Chase forecloses on homeowners,  it’s the only thing that makes any sense to me.

“All of the sudden”,  I am in three new galleries and completely revised my website  to focus on these new galleries, as well as the new corporate gifts line I’m excited to launch.  My work was accepted to the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology for their spring fashion show.  I am in discussions with  a Los Angeles based company about providing Academy Award nominees with evening bags as part of their “swag bag” offerings.  I am also scheduled for a radio interview on January 28 at 9:15 PST with Bobbi Jean Bell, owner of  OutWest Boutique and Cultural Center in Santa Clarita, California.  I was also invited to create a new line of handbags inspired by the designs of Yves Saint Laurent by the Spirits In the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado in a show to run concurrently with the Denver Museum of Art’s YSL retrospective.  The show runs from April 6 to June 30th.  And last, but not least, I have brand new work at a gorgeous new gallery in Florida called Gallery One, which carries an amazing collection of art and artists that I am extremely proud to be a part of.

It seems a new phase of the journey has begun and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

I am conflicted. Christmas decorations are already up at most businesses in town and it isn’t even Halloween yet….

But I have a feeling that if I don’t start reminding people now that Christmas is almost upon us, they will wait until the last minute to place their orders……

That would be a real shame…..

Because these handbags don’t make themselves you know….

Although, it would be nice if they did….

So here’s to Christmas….

May it be ever so bright…….

Come join me at the Sausalito Art Festival at Marinship Park in Sausalito, California on September 4, 5 and 6.  I will be in booth 317, on the grass,near the tennis courts.  I will also have a piece on display at the Western Design Conference at the Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, September 10, 11, 12. Hope to see you there!