The Last Garden In England

A Novel: Brief critique

This is the first book I have read by author, Julia Kelly who writes, among other genre, historical fiction set in England. The attraction was the title. Full stop. What gardener, even as novice as I, could resist this title?

There are many summaries online, so I will be brief: the gardens and their transformations are viewed by the reader through time from the perspectives of women who have profound encounters with it. It offers a comfort level many readers of historical fiction long for in that it is a linear and predictable story line, despite chapters alternating among three time periods and five women. We meet these women at certain points in their lives with only the briefest allusions to their pasts. This diminishes the intimacy of knowing them, their motivations, and often, their decisions at which a 21st century reader might easily scoff.

All that being said, it is a lovely story in the truest sense – loves of the women and love of the gardens themselves. It has been compared with “Downton Abbey” and one could easily see this as a Masterpiece series. It is a visual novel in many ways.

In this instance, what I would have loved to read is the story of the garden’s transformations from the garden’s point of view. An anthropomorphic, historical novel, you might say. As a gardener longing for something a bit more tantalizing, this would have added a different dimension.


Kelly, Julie. The Last Garden In England. Gallery Books, 2021. Print.

Travel & Happiness

An early summer affirmation

Recently the husband and I left for our first “almost-post pandemic” road trip. With a route starting in Maryland through New York to Massachusetts to Rhode Island to Pennsylvania, and back, we had simple expectations: to see family and friends.

Visiting Poughkeepsie, Jamaica Plain, Warwick, and Bethlehem became the geographic destinations but it was the heart directing the emotional ones. We spent time with our son and his girlfriend & her family, and his friend, with a good, family friend and her friends & neighbors, and lastly, my sisters. I found that I was in the midst of having a fabulous time.

What did we do? We hung art, re-potted plants, went to a neighborhood flea market, visited a very cool, Indie – Papercuts -bookstore, got carryout, went to a museum or two, cooked chicken, sat still, and stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts!

Last week, having settled back into my stationary life, I came across this TedTalk from 2015. Short and powerful, it explained why I was so happy that week, and why I continue to count my blessings! I hope you listen to this timeless advice.


Need Help?

National Alliance on Mental Illness – https://www.nami.org/help
National Institute of Mental Health – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/

Teaching during COVID

in a small way with zines

June is the traditional month for quite a few things, but the best, as I recall, is the ending of the school year. This year students and teachers will be relieved that it has finally arrived due to the stress of COVID.

Despite my retirement which is only entering its third year this June, I am looking forward to no schedule. No restrictions (at least at home), and summer evenings. During this past year my small contribution toward COVID virtual education came from my former field – librarianship. I hosted ongoing “On the porch” reading clubs for little ones and their parents, virtual, weekly book clubs for elementary students, and wrapped it up with two, virtual zine-making sessions for the fourth grade students at St. Francis International School.

It is to this last teaching venue that this post is addressed – zine making. Working with their grade level teacher, students used a BioPoem assignment to incorporate into their artwork. As in the past and with all assignments given to my students, I too did the assignment.  I am including links and/or pdfs with the example of my own trials before producing my biographical zine.

This summer, when your child has a summer assignment, instead of foisting on him or her alone, participate! Read that book. Write that essay. Ponder your life with a new lens. It is amazing how much you will learn about yourself and your child.

All these COVID educational encounters in the past year gave me more knowledge about myself – my likes and dislikes; my strengths and weaknesses, and taught me the importance of sharing with and listening to the young.


Ms. H's BIOPOEM

Sometimes, when I am feeling the need to be alone and solitary, my cup of coffee in hand, my thoughts go round and round. What is heaven like? Why did God create cockroaches? Will there ever be an end to wars in the world?

Sometimes, when I am gardening, I dream of Italy and of living there. Of course, all my family and friends would be there, too. I could never leave them. Too loyal. Oh, but the scent of a good coffee...well, perhaps I would leave them all behind!

Sometimes, when I am reading, a feeling of content overwhelms me. I can easily slip into melancholy  though, and am dismayed that I cannot help all those suffering in the world. But then, I will hear a bird sing or a cat meow, and I realize that at least I try. That counts for something, I hope.

Sometimes, I am filled with joy and creativity, especially when I am teaching YOU!

Continue reading “Teaching during COVID”

The dogwood trail

Trials in grey & pink

Earlier in May, I was sent a lovely photograph of dogwood blooms. The irony is that I have this very species in bloom outside my studio window. Yet, it took this gift (Thank you, Carolyn!) for me to take the time to look closely at the flowers. They are exquisite.

This precipitated what was to be a brief artistic journey in basic printmaking, but turned into quite a voyage so far.

Drawing from nature is by far the best way to render an image, but alas, my blooms had already fallen, so the process became something more than I anticipated. My rendering from the photo took on a life of its own:

  • Transferred the drawing, using graphite paper, to a meat tray
  • Etched the image using an awl to make a print
  • Photo-edited the print to create an abstract dogwood flower image. This took several forms until I could live with at least one
  • Next, did a calligraphic drawing on Roma paper, then scanned, made a transparent image
  • Drew a tiny graphic image of the dogwood blossom again scanned, and created a transparent image
  • Imported all three images into a Word document and printed one at a time on another gift of fine, rice paper
  • Tried out various ways to colour on the rice paper, another gift (Thank you, Phyllis!), to see which medium worked the best including: gouache, watercolour, oil & chalk pastels, pencils both graphite and colour
  • Hand coloured the small, graphic blossom images on each print

AND, not done yet!  It is still a work in progress. How will I know when it is finished? Well, I am counting on the art piece to tell me this. Check in with A Blue Bunny Studio from time to time to see the finished edition in the near future.

Friendship

at the lighthouse

Lighthouses
Rose Island Lighthouse, Rhode Island, U.S. photos by Britta Pofahl

In 2019 I met an artist while taking a road trip. We were both sharing a short stay with our spouses at Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island, U.S. Britta lives in Berlin, Germany; I, in Takoma Park, Maryland. We maintained a virtual friendship when we each returned to our countries through social media, especially with our art at the center. In February 2021, after COVID sequestration began to feel so very long, we decided upon a collaboration.

I began with calligraphy, pastel, type & collage from torn book pages. Using a standard paper for mixed media (Canson XL), I played. Reminding myself that I needed to leave her room to work. Restraint and on two pieces simultaneously yet allowing room for creativity were challenges.

Sending it off with no deadline or expectations, it arrived sooner than expected in Berlin. At least there was comfort in knowing the mail systems in our country were working well!

Back and forth

This week, Britta sent back my finished piece. I am thrilled to see what two strangers who are forming a long-distance relationship can accomplish with trust and an understanding of our love of art.

SEE, A BLUE BUNNY STUDIO for the completed work.

My hope is that others take a leap of faith in their fields to venture into new friendships and creative work whatever your media – visual art, writing, car restoration…..and it goes on. Just take that step and surprise yourselves!

Dedicated to Britta Pofahl with gratitude.

Art, a Pandemic & the Library of Congress

Beth Curren, Guest Blogger

My Covid Year, 2020-2021

Between January 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021, I kept a journal and recorded notes, quotes, observations, sketches, photos and collaged ephemera on a 3’ x 30’ roll of Canson mixed media, 90lb. weight paper.  I’d never been able to stick to a journal for very long; I always ended up misplacing the notebook.  But a big roll of paper is hard to lose.

Having worked on small surfaces, the scroll had been rolled and rerolled constantly. I fell into a rhythm of writing the text, using pencils, in vertical columns; I glued in drawings, small watercolors and photos, willy-nilly. This journal was not intended to be exhibited but at the end of fourteen months I found I had a very personal record of an extraordinary year.  The work was part of a group show, “Intimate Hand Work” at the Studio Gallery in Washington, DC, which ran for three weeks in March (2021).

Beth’s piece in Intimate Hand Work at Studio Gallery, Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 2021
Continue reading “Art, a Pandemic & the Library of Congress”