Archives for category: Art

There’s a difference in hoarding and collecting. Hoarding, in my mind, is keeping things because you might use them some day. I do way too much of this and try to thin out the stuff every year. It’s a remnant of having parents and grandparents who lived through the Depression. Or not wanting to waste things. Or keeping them for someone else. I’ll move on to Spring Cleaning soon. I promise.

Collecting is almost a blood sport. It’s in my blood because I had a father who collected stamps and cigar rings as a child and coins as an adult. His sweet mother would lean down to pick up the cigar rings from gutters for him. We rolled our eyes at his coin collecting as he bought bags of coins from people in remote towns to bring home and clean, looking for the rare penny or nickel or silver dollar. He hid them in our air conditioning vents and my mother threatened to spend them all. She wouldn’t have, but it was funny to watch him dig through them and she enjoyed the drives to meet people he heard about who would sell him coins in the days before the internet.

My mother didn’t collect until later when she started going to auctions and antique sales. I spent a lot of time going with her and learned to bid watching her go head to head with dealers to get a piece she wanted. She loved being the winner of a bid and loved even more meeting all the people who were selling items and learning about the story of the pieces. She told me that a collection is at least three pieces and she would sometimes get three of something and say that was her collection and wait to find something else. Her competitiveness was another story.

When I was a young married lady, I read that you should group your collection and did that with some things and found I had several collections or larger ones than I thought. Santas were the biggest one. I had Santas from my childhood and had always loved them. Once I grouped them for the holidays, it all exploded. Since my birthday and anniversary were also in December and I worked on several Christmas projects with craftsmen and artists, I started getting more. As I told someone, if you get ten a year and you’re in your 70s, you have a whole lot of them. I picked them up when I traveled, when I was in antique shops or at sales, and received them as gifts from family and friends. That’s what happens once people know you collect something.

Here are a very few of the ones I have. My collection includes silly ones, antique ones, artist originals, cheap and expensive ones. Whatever catches my eye. I’ve found them (or figures that look like Santa) in a flea market in Vienna and a shop in Hong Kong. The tall skinny one in my kitchen window is the one I’ve had the longest since he was there when I was a child. The Lego ones are from Switzerland before they had them here and the wooden ornaments are from Hawaii. Some are from dime stores, some from fancy places. I have them all over the place, big & little. There’s no room in this story to show them all.

The thing about anything I have is that it comes with either a story or a memory. I think that is what I like most about collecting and collectors. I’m not much of a minimalist, not in any way. I like to see what people are about, what they like.

My mother loved talking to people and I’m sure most of her collections came from meeting an antique shop owner or someone who told her the story of a piece and she had to have it. We both loved buying art from artists we met on the street when we traveled or from supporting artists we became friends with. She and my father purchased several bronze statues of cowboys from a man they met and corresponded with for years. They liked knowing him and his story and supporting his work.

She also collecting things like miniature antique leather books, preferring ones with topics or stories that interested her, although she had some lovely ones in foreign languages. We both loved anything miniature and she had a fun doll house that she loved to furnish with things she made or found. She started collecting magnifying glasses, many with handles from antique umbrellas. I have part of her collection, which I have added to. I’ve found that I actually use them these days, so they’re kind of scattered around the house.

I recently found a couple of small ones to go with this one of hers with the tassel. You can also see some antique inkwells. Three of them were her collection and others are mine, one found in London and another found at an estate sale.

One of the first times I traveled to Europe, way back in the early 70s, I saw people collecting pins which they wore on Alpine hats. I didn’t want the hat, but I started collecting the pins and included some antique ones I found there. I still collect them, but have they are harder to find and so I have a magnets. It may be silly, but I get a nice feeling when I remember interesting places I have been. I must not have much of a memory because I depend on photos and things I pick up to trigger mine.

Sometimes we start collecting because we are just interested in something. This map of Oklahoma hung in my father’s office from the time I was little. I think he got it when we moved to Tulsa in 1948. He used it to map places for his salesmen to go and to find spots for his quail hunting trips. It’s yellowed from the smoke that was in the rooms back in the days of smokers. I claimed it years ago and it led to a collection of books and things about Oklahoma. I had to move some of them for space recently.

Once I was at an antique auction with a friend and there were a bunch of small English wooden boxes. We learned the word “treen” and became interested so we bid on some. I’ve only added a couple, but do love wooden or treen boxes. Note that one was chewed on by a puppy sometime through the years.

For a few years in the 80s, I worked on and chaired an antique show for a non-profit and we brought antique dealers from across the country. I listened to their lectures and stories and loved so many things that I couldn’t afford. I got interested in the little wax seals that people used to use to seal their letters and thought that was something I could look for that was affordable and a way to support the dealers. I don’t look for them as often these days, but I do see an interesting one every now and then. I love to picture people writing with their pens dipped in ink and then sealing the letters with a dab of wax and their monogram. The reddish Asian one is from Hong Kong. Supposedly, it was a Chinese version of my name, but I doubt that Karen translated very well. There’s a small one with a stag being attacked by a dog on top that was supposed to be a prop in a movie, although I always thought that was a stretch and probably just a good story from an antique dealer to sell it. It’s still interesting and antique.

Hearts are one of those things I just suddenly had a bunch of. I had picked them up in art galleries and antique stores and sales and gift shops and been given them. There is one from Tiffany that was a gift and some wooden ones made from driftwood on the beaches in Oregon. There are glass ones from the volcanic ash in Washington and artist ones from museum gift shops and I see a clay one from an artist in Sedona and another glass one from a young artist in Oregon. I had grouped my heart frames and then the hearts started piling up. Good grief. They are kind of fun though and make me smile. I have more hanging artist ones and others just kind of around. Whatever. I have a friend who collects hearts because her last name is Love and another who collects them because her birthday is on Valentine’s Day. We all have our reasons.

There are some strawberry things around my house because the name Fraser comes from the French word for strawberry, fraise, and there are strawberries in the Fraser clan badge. Not too many, just a few I’ve found.

The thing about collections is that you start to see the things you like everywhere. It gives you something to look for when you are traveling or shopping. I’ve also found that many collections lead to doing research on the item and learning more about its history, along with meeting some of the most interesting people.

I called collecting a sport and it can be. Going to auctions or estate sales or combing through flea markets and antique shops can be competitive. Sometimes you are just looking at everything, but mostly your eye stops on either something that you like or have been looking for. You see something and want to know more about it. Many collectors become experts on their collections. I have a friend who started collecting vintage hats and clothing and recently donated her collection to the Tulsa Historical Society where she has her own exhibit.

I love standing in line to get into an estate sale and seeing what everyone else is looking for. I feel like I need to race to the things I want, but most people are collecting things I would never have thought about. They have become interested in things and are building their collection. I’ve met people looking for vintage toys, pyrex ware, old cameras, certain kinds of glass. Tom Hanks collects vintage typewriters. There is a competitiveness in being the one who finds the rare item you are missing, just as my father looked for certain stamps or coins. I don’t know if there is such a thing as having a complete collection of anything, but people keep trying. People like having a piece of history, many considering themselves keepers of something that may have been thrown away but needs to been kept for future generations. I do lament the things that we tossed and would like to see again from my lifetime, even knowing that we can’t keep everything. Some of collecting is nostalgia, a way to keep memories of our own lives. Rarely do I think people are collecting because they plan to sell the items and make money, unless they are dealers.

There are people who collect sneakers these days just as there are people who collect cookbooks and first edition rare books, vintage albums, sports equipment. There are people who collect art, including photographs, paintings, sculptures. I have a friend who collects etchings and has a museum quality collection, which is lovely. She is an expert on her pieces now and knows what to search for. Another friend collects tea strainers. I have a daughter who collects Toby jugs and another who is interested in mid-century modern furniture. A son-in-law collects bourbons. There is a surge of young people (younger than I am, which includes most people), interested in antiques. One of my Native American friends collects items from her culture and an African American friend collects the kitchy kind of figures, such as Mammy dolls, sold in earlier days. They are preserving their own histories.

There is no one reason or thing to collect. I can attest to the fact that it makes you learn, leads you to meet new and interesting people, takes you to fun places and can make you smile. What happens to our collections when we are gone is that they either are interesting enough to be in a museum or display or they are passed along or they go to sales for the next generation of collectors to add to their collections and enjoy.

My son was a collector from a young age. He started with his Star Wars toys and teddy bears but moved to beer cans. I would take him to the flea market and watch that nine year old bargain with dealers over a can he spotted. He was always an expert on pop culture. He moved on to lunch boxes and had quite a collection in his lifetime. His wife still keeps them and I have one of them to remind me of that little kid who inherited the family obsession.

As I said, the things I collect usually come with a memory. Sometimes they are just things I enjoy looking at or learning about, but they almost always have a memory attached of how I got them or who gave them to me or where I was or who I was with or what they mean.

And all those memories are good.

My parents taught me at an early age to value the work of artists. My father tended towards carved wood or figures while my mother was more eclectic. When I traveled with them, I learned that we could bring art back easily since paintings could be rolled or laid flat in our bags. Since I seem to have never been able to develop any ability to create anything with paint, I also learned to appreciate those who could.

Throughout my adult life, I have met many artists through various projects who became friends. Nobody has had an impact on me like my friend, Nylajo Harvey, who recently passed away at the age of 95. When I was a young mother with three daughters, I became aware of her work and wanted to own a painting. I decided I might as well have her paint my daughters since it cost about the same as buying another piece. This was a giant splurge for me, but I knew it would be worth it.

When I met Nylajo in 1975, I was 29 and she was 48. I was happily married with daughters aged 6, 4 and 2. She had been married and divorced three times and had two daughters with one of her husbands and two sons and a daughter with another. Her younger daughter and son were in elementary school. At the time, she had a glassed room at the front of her house that was her studio. The house was over 100 years old and was located across from a popular park near my home. I herded my little ones in to pose for the first time and was amazed that she could set them up and capture their personalities in a short time. After that, I would bring them one at a time. I don’t remember having many sittings with all of them – thank goodness.

I found myself stopping by to see her when I would take the girls to school or had a sitter. Of course, I was checking on the painting, but we were becoming closer friends all the time. We would talk while she painted, even with other people stopping by to see her and visit also. She was smart and interesting and we were just instant friends. She must have had us over for dinner, because she and my husband became friends also. For Mother’s Day that year, he brought home a little painting he knew I loved at her house.

Having seen her art before I met her, I was aware that she had earlier periods where most of her work was in pastels, then in blues. When I met her, we shared a love of bright colors, which she incorporated into the portrait of the girls.

She had instantly caught my middle daughter’s impatience with this whole process, my youngest daughter’s sweet baby self and my oldest daughter’s oldest child taking it seriously attitude. It was a delight. Just before she was finished, we learned that I was pregnant again. She laughed at my husband showing up to tell her to stop the painting until we knew what to do. Our solution was to wait for the baby to be born, guessing it to be another girl, and then paint the infant into my oldest daughter’s lap. There wasn’t a way to tell very much about a baby until it was born in 1975, so we waited until November.

Amazingly, our fourth child was a boy and Nylajo said she would wait and paint him when he was older, little knowing what a trip that would be. She often told me that she liked me and my children, telling stories of hiding in the closet when some other families showed up. We all liked her, too.

By the time my son was three, he had already locked into wearing a cowboy hat every day, one that looked like the hat Hoss Cartwright wore on the “Bonanza” tv show at the time. I had bought it at Neiman Marcus because it was so cute, little knowing that it would become a worn out, dirty family icon. Nylajo wanted to paint him in the hat and asked that we bring his Wonder Horse to the studio to paint him on. Those sessions had to be among her craziest sittings as he would rock the horse wildly, sometimes sitting backwards. He was not the ideal kid to sit still for a portrait. But, she succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and captured my little one’s personality perfectly.

At some point, I had taken a couple of photography classes at Philbrook Museum and showed Jo some pictures I took of my kids. She did paintings from two of them, one of my son (again in the cowboy hat) and one of my youngest daughter. She gave those to me and I later gave them to those two.

My mother was about 10 years older than Jo and they also became close friends. When my mother found out that Jo owed about $5,000 on her house, she paid it off so that she would own the house outright. Money was always tight for our artist friend and my mother said that the only reason her widowed mother and my mother and her two brothers had any dignity during the Depression was because they owned their home and would be able to stay there even when they couldn’t pay the gas bill. I doubt my mother wanted to be repaid, but Jo gave her several large paintings in thanks. She would also give her little gifts, such as this small piece painting on a lid or something she found.

I think Jo was the one who first told me that it was a good exercise for an artist to paint large and small. I have this small painting, probably 2″x3″, that I love for the tiny details that let me know what is happening in this moment.

I have many of her paintings. I loved her images of children and have a couple of children’s parades. I also loved her portraits of women, flowers, so many. She had many themes.

Through the years, I was busy with children and volunteer activities and work, but managed to see Jo when I could, always trying to stop by her birthday parties in July or her annual show in December. She knew everyone in town, from artists to her wealthier patrons, and knew what was going on with everyone. It was always a lively party where I met interesting people through the years. Her dinner parties were special as she put together congenial, interesting groups, to enjoy her home cooked meals at beautifully set tables. She told me she also considered cooking an art as she made pots of soup to freeze, often sending some to my mother in her later years.

Nylajo was one of the most unique women I was ever fortunate to know. When my grandson needed to interview someone who had been alive before World War II for a high school project, I took him to meet her. She was 90 at the time. Listening to her answer his questions, I learned even more than I had known about her before.

Nylajo was born in 1926 to a banker father and a mother who was a teacher. She had one brother and three sisters and were a close family. Contrary to popular belief, she was not Native American. I recently looked up something to write this piece and found one of her paintings for sale online, and it was described as by this known Native American artist, which made me laugh. I always loved her name, but it is not Native American.

Jo always wanted to be an artist. As a child, she was told that she could draw better than she could write, and she took that to heart. She attended high school in Springfield, MO, and grew up loving sports, being a runner, a softball player and even playing football until her mother found out. She loved trout fishing with her father. Her first job was tinting photographs in a department store.

She won an engineering scholarship to Purdue, so she went there first. The men were all away at the war and women were being recruited. She learned that wasn’t for her, so she got a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute and studied to be an artist. During that time, she dated the son of Thomas Hart Benton and told me of meeting him in his home.

Another story she told me was of working for an architect and meeting Frank Lloyd Wright. I later purchased a painting she did entitled, “The Night I Met Mr. Wright.” Jo was known for her thick red hair which she wore in a long braid down her back for many years. In this painting, she was young, with her red hair flowing. She described him to my grandson as being really short and wearing a black cape, really interesting.

She got married for the first time in 1948 and became a mother that year at age 22. She never had much to say about any of her husbands to me as they were all long gone when I met her. She was so independent that I can’t even imagine her with anyone.

Talking to my grandson, she told him that she learned the basics from her teacher mother: honesty, kindness and truthfulness. She also fully learned the English language. She was reading a book a day well into her 90s and spoke to me about the books she was reading the week before she died. She could talk about anything with anyone. She got her first tv when she was 62 years old.

She told us that her most important decades were the 1940s-1960s when she was raising her children and found who she was. She was a strong, loving mother. She loved to be with people and often spent time in a neighborhood bar, where one of her paintings was displayed, probably given to pay her bar bill. She was a drinker and the first person I know who was 86ed from a place, the neighborhood bar, of course. Her parties were lively and she had her drinking buddies. She partied with Leon Russell and probably other artists of the area. I don’t think she considered herself one of the boys – she didn’t need to. She was very much herself always. I don’t remember her swearing or being obnoxious, although I’m sure she could. She was extremely well mannered and a tribute to the values her parents taught her. She was honest and outspoken and funny and smart.

She never felt like she was discriminated against as a woman, probably because of her self confidence, and she didn’t discriminate against anyone. She did not suffer fools and alienated many people through the years, although many worked their way back to her. She did not change who she was – ever. She could be difficult, probably with the drinking, but she had a large group of devoted friends who showed up to help her set up her shows (she was always painting until the last minute) or to take her to the store after she quit driving or to be there for her. I was not her best friend, just a long time friend, one of so many.

Jo adored her children, speaking of each of them as if they were the most interesting people she knew. They were some of her favorite subjects in paintings through the years. She enjoyed them and was able to travel with her youngest late in life. I have no idea what kind of a mother they think she was, but they loved her.

She enjoyed her children as adults. Maybe too much. After two of her daughters had died of alcoholism, she quit drinking. Having lost a child, I understand what a blow losing them was to her.

Since I didn’t see her all the time, I never knew what had been going on in her life when I stopped by. One time she was recovering from cancer, having refused the treatment. She lived at least another 20 years. Another time, she had fallen off a ladder while doing something on her roof (two story house) and had many broken bones. Her invitations to her annual show were often photos of her doing something fun and adventurous, such as riding a motorcycle. Here she is on a boat named after her.

Through the years, her lush red hair turned gray and her braid got thinner. Here she is visiting after my mother died.

Jo was a tiny woman with a big voice and terrific laugh. She was a fabulous hostess and I loved being in her kitchen, shown here a few years ago. I’m only about 5’4″ these days, so she was tinier than her oversized personality indicated.

When I took my grandson to meet her, I was struck with how great a listener she was – not just because she couldn’t hear as well at 90, but because she always had been.

From our earliest years as friends, I had always known she would be there, always curious and always compassionate. She was my confidante through the years, listening to all the ups and downs my own life took, never being judgmental, just being there. She could comfort you by being so wise and so loving, just as my mother was. They truly were kindred souls. When I lost my husband and, later, my son, she grieved with me.

A couple of years ago, I stopped by to see her and found her uncharacteristically sad. Her brother had died unexpectedly. They had spoken every week for an hour or more and he had just been chopping wood when she last heard from him. He was in his 90s and still going strong until he was gone. She suddenly felt a huge void. For the first time, she didn’t feel like painting.

When the wonderful new park, Gathering Place, opened in Tulsa, I persuaded her to visit it with me. I drove her up to the door since she couldn’t walk as far anymore. I took her outside to see the wonderful seating areas.

I wanted her to see the beautiful architecture and designs in the Lodge, so we went inside where I caught this image of her against the wall. She was having so much fun and delighting in this new place.

I drove her around to the Boathouse and took her inside the fascinating exhibit room there. She was her usual self, taking it all in and happy to be there. We didn’t stay long as I didn’t want to wear her out.

A few weeks later, she told me she was doing a retrospective show. They called it “Nylajo’s Last Picture Show.” She had been buying up her old paintings from estate sales, so had many to re-sell along with new ones. I was shocked at first and then realized that she was outliving her old patrons. When I stopped by, she was in her usual place at her easel. I took several pictures (why had I not taken more through the years?) and one was used on the invitation to the show. I just wanted to always remember her as she was when I had first met her – painting.

The show was great fun with many local artists coming to see her. She had influenced so many through the years, more than I will ever know. My son’s daughter was about 10 and threw her arms around her, to Jo’s delight. Her eyes twinkled as she remembered my son with me.

When the pandemic hit right after this show, she was locked at home with her books and cooking. I sent her a card, a cutout of Picasso. She called me, delighted, and said she had him standing where she could see him all the time. She never failed to tell me that from then on. As time went on, I stopped by when it was safe and found her as sharp as ever, interested in me and life around her.

I went by right before Christmas to leave her some bourbon pralines and could see her curled up, sound asleep on her couch. I didn’t want to disturb her, so I left the treats. She called me later to tell me they were her favorites and to say she had not been able to sleep all night and had fallen asleep, which was something that often happened. She told me about new books and I told her I’d be back by. I was going to go last Thursday, but heard late the night before that she was gone. I hoped it had been easy since I had just talked to her, but found that she had multiple organ failure and great pain and fought it all the way. Of course she did.

Grieving for someone who lived 95 incredible years is a little selfish. I am really sad because I will miss her so much. It’s not that I saw her all the time, but that I knew she was there. She made a huge impact on my life with her strong personality, her great affection for me and my family, and the wise and witty conversations we shared for all those years. For all who appreciated her work or were lucky enough to share a little of her world, there is a gap to be filled by viewing her lifetime of work or just remembering her for who she was. When those who knew her gather, there will be new stories to share. Nobody knew all of them.

She was one of those people who only needed one name to tell you everything about her.

Nylajo

When I told people I was heading north to Des Moines, Iowa, there was always a moment where you knew they were going to ask “Why?” I’m kind of used to this coming from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I did have a specific reason. My junior high friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a weekend of parties and I was happy to be included. A mutual friend, who has lived in New York City for the past 50 years, was joining me so I knew it would be a fun adventure. Actually, almost everything I do these days is an adventure.

On the way north, we stopped in Joplin, MO due to a tire incident and made a stop at the Joplin City Hall. We had been talking about Thomas Hart Benton’s work and I said there is a mural there. If you go to Joplin’s City Hall, you can see his last signed large work, a mural of Joplin around 1900. Benton used to live and work in Joplin, so he knew the area well. As you can see, it’s not his largest work and you should go to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City to see the murals there.IMG_8604The interesting thing about this mural is the extra display that shows all the drawings, plans, letters, and models that went into making a mural. It’s a very complicated process. Here is a clay model Benton used.IMG_8601The Joplin City Hall is an interesting building to see and it was a nice stop along the way.

I always enjoy driving through Missouri with its rich green trees and hills. July is a great month for the drive if you can stand the heat. I don’t care what you say about dry heat or humidity – 100 degrees is hot! I’ve been in the heat for the last month from Texas to Iowa and it’s all hot! Other than that, it was a beautiful drive and I should thank all the people who invented air conditioning every day of my life!

At a beautiful Iowa information center, we learned our first new history fact about Iowa. Who knew?IMG_3333We sped towards Des Moines so we wouldn’t miss the first party of the weekend and were awed by the beautiful site for the event, the World Food Prize building. This was an old Beaux Arts library that was scheduled for demolition before wise Des Moines benefactors saved it and spent millions renovating it for the headquarters of this organization which gives an annual prize to the individual who has done the most to stop hunger in the world. It’s quite impressive!IMG_3336The inside is stunning. My favorite part was the sculptures of different grains adorning columns in the Rotunda.IMG_3340Every detail of the building was gorgeous.IMG_3355IMG_3341I was getting more impressed with Iowa and the Iowans who planned this city. Here was a view from the second floor towards the Des Moines River that runs through the city. The state capitol is in the background, as is our hotel, peeking out from behind the hotel in front.IMG_3361On Saturday, we were invited to brunch, so we walked across the river, along the river walk and into the incredible Farmer’s Market with over 300 booths along the way to the Des Moines City Government building at the end.IMG_3607IMG_3377IMG_3380IMG_3400After shopping our way down the street, buying food, clothes, Amish woven ware, and other trinkets, we arrived at the historic Kirkwood Hotel with its wonderful Art Deco lobby. Here is the desk.IMG_3605

And the row of phone booths that take you back. I expected Clark Kent to be in one of them.IMG_3389In the afternoon, we drove to the Capitol building, one of two in the country with five domes (the other is in Rhode Island). I had to admire the gumption of these Iowans who built this city in the middle of the country with such great aspirations.DSC_0110I guess they are re-gilding the dome. We visited the monuments on the capitol grounds, including the Soldiers and Sailors Monument honoring Civil War heroes. It was very impressive with large sculptures all around honoring the men and women of Iowa. I’m standing by it for scale – it’s 135′ high.IMG_3603One of the things my friend, Edie, and I both loved about Des Moines was the whimsical art everywhere we looked. It is a clean, vibrant, fun city with lots to do. There were unique shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment everywhere we were downtown. Paul McCartney was playing and there was a Broadway play, both within blocks of us Friday night. People were walking and having a wonderful time.DSC_0138IMG_3618IMG_3409IMG_3637IMG_4632IMG_3632IMG_3723Our hosts captured the spirit of Iowa with a photo stop at the big party Saturday night. In fact, we drove by lush fields of corn from Oklahoma through Iowa. What a rich, abundant country we live in!ScanAfter the party, we spotted an outdoor concert on the river and stopped to watch. Phillip Phillips was playing to the paying crowd and the audience along the bridge.IMG_3595Before leaving Iowa, we had to stop at some of the Bridges of Madison County, just south of Des Moines. We managed to see two of them and they were worth the visit. The first was the Holliwell Bridge, built in 1880, and the longest of the wooden bridges still standing.DSC_0149DSC_0147IMG_3719IMG_3720IMG_3644The second bridge we visited was the much smaller Imes Bridge, built in 1870. It was a cutie and a good comparison with the other one.IMG_3667IMG_4672Part of the fun was seeing all the graffiti left by visitors, which they must paint over periodically, just as they do the wall at Graceland.IMG_3673We left the rolling hills and lush cornfields of Iowa, headed back to Tulsa.DSC_0150I didn’t mention the beautiful fields of wildflowers that waved at us as we drove. I love this old gated road.DSC_0153On the way north, we had seen the sign for Peculiar, Missouri, and felt we had to stop and explore this town on our way home. You can look up the origin of the name, but we had fun using it as we drove into town along Peculiar Way and Peculiar Road. Actually, the town has grown and has a lot of new homes. We saw the high school and stadium where the Peculiar Panthers play. I wanted to hear their cheers.

The old Main Street is almost gone, but the three-legged water tower remains.DSC_0158There were a few buildings left and a hint of civic pride and desire to bring back some of the history.IMG_3680.jpgWe were lucky enough to meet ReGina Edmondson, who has lived in Peculiar since her military father and her mother decided to settle there and raise eleven children. ReGina has lived there since she was three and owns the house, one of the early ones on the main street, where she was raised. She is a writer for the paper and is working to have a museum. She was a delight and a source of information we couldn’t find anywhere else.DSC_0162She steered us around the corner to a Feed Store that is being refurbished for something historic and fun to see.IMG_3682IMG_368420286731_10212203272069629_1670150760645299054_oSuch a fun little piece of America. One can only imagine the jokes they have to put up with.DSC_0165We finished our tour of Peculiar, stopping at the local market to find a magnet, which we didn’t find (they’re missing a marketing opportunity). Edie captured this sign, which kind of summed up our trip. IMG_3717We started out as two old friends who kind of knew each other and discovered a mutual passion for photographing and exploring all the places along the way, catching up on 50 years as we drove. That wasn’t so peculiar, but it was a whole lot of fun!

I’m a picture taker. I hesitate to call myself a photographer because I don’t really take the time to use all the stops and lens and filters I could use. It’s been something I’ve done since I got my first Kodak Brownie camera when I was 12. I took a class when my kids were little and learned to use the darkroom, which I never used again. I took away from that class an understanding of the way you can manipulate photos to make them better after you’ve snapped the shot, an appreciation of light. Today, I do that with a computer, cropping and fixing as I go.

Mostly, I’m capturing my memories, the pictures of my mind. Maybe I think I’ll lose them otherwise, but I do go through my photos all the time, just as I went through my  grandparents’ photos when I was a little girl. Both my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents kept all their photos in the top drawer of a dresser. I guess that’s what people did if they didn’t put them in an album. I should have asked them more questions about the people in the pictures. I definitely should have.

Maybe it’s my impatience or my lack of discipline or my trust of the wonder of modern cameras, even on our phones, but I seldom spend too much time using all that I’ve learned in the photography classes I’ve taken. Usually, I have a camera with me and take what I see. And I see pictures all around me. I can’t drive down a street or walk a block without seeing a picture in my mind. I compose all the time, trying to capture the essence of what I’m seeing. That’s impossible sometimes, such as clouds or sunsets, but I can get a little of the wonder of it.

Yesterday, I stepped out my door and was struck by the beauty of the fall leaves in the rain. So, of course, I grabbed my camera and took pictures. For me. Here are a couple so you can see what I’m talking about.DSC_0005DSC_0014I couldn’t let the moment pass. It’s my own memory of that day I walked out my door and saw something so beautiful.

When I travel, I take photos to use in my blog or to remember my trip or to remember where I was. I now take pictures of the restaurants where I eat so I can remember when someone asks me because I would surely forget. I take a lot of photos from the car and it’s amazing what you can get, even through the windshield. It is definitely a problem when I’m the driver because I pull over a lot. A lot. Here’s a photo from Chinatown in San Francisco. I looked up and realized that there were people living lives above the tourists populating their streets. They must be immune to our presence by now.DSC_0508My favorite subjects are the people I love. I’m okay with posed pictures, but I love the candid shots that show me something you can’t see with a pose. My friends are caught in an impromptu dance. She was recently diagnosed with ALS, yet they are marching forward, surrounded by the love of their family and friends. This moment will stay with me for a long time.DSC_1052Here’s a long ago photo of my Daddy, relaxing with his paper on a Sunday morning. Most people knew him as elegant, athletic, handsome and he was. He was also Daddy with his tan line from his golf shoes, his rumpled curly hair, and his daily paper. Scan 32My youngest granddaughter is in love with all animals and not afraid to get up close. This bird was so patient to let her see how his feathers work.DSC_0161Last summer, my family got together for a swim party and I watched my grandsons play like little kids. The oldest one was leaving for college in a month and I caught him enjoying his cousins. How many more times will I get to see them all together playing?DSC_0163The boys made up game after game in the water in total joy with the familiarity of brothers and cousins.DSC_0187The boys are all athletic and I caught one of the younger ones (at 15 and 6’5″) showing his intensity in a ball game. He is a pitcher and first baseman, by the way.DSC_0145I catch my youngest granddaughter all the time in moments that remind me she is still a little one, our last for awhile. Oh, the sweetness of a sleeping child. IMG_7637Here’s another older one that I caught on the Christmas before my oldest grandson was born. All my children are gathered together in that moment before the grandchildren began to arrive. By the end of the following year, we would have three boys…but we didn’t know that at this moment. So much happened after this. So much.photoHere’s a picture I took at the OSU Homecoming Parade a few weeks ago, intending to use it in my blog. Little did I know that a horrible tragedy was about to happen about a mile down the street. Little did I know that this would capture the essence of the parade’s innocence and delight before the horror happened.DSC_0082Years ago, I was volunteering with the local domestic violence shelter. We gave a Halloween party for the women and children and I was taking Polaroid pictures for them. We didn’t use film because we wanted to respect their privacy. That event taught me so much about my camera and myself. One woman held a one year old in a body cast, wanting a photo for the father who had caused this pain. I had to stop myself. I lifted the camera to take a photo of one woman and seeing her eyes through a lens made me put the camera down for a moment. There was too much there, too much of her I was seeing. I lifted it back and took the shot, but I’ve never forgotten the power of what you see through a lens, what focusing on something teaches you in that moment.

So I’ll go on taking my camera with me, stopping to capture my family and friends, everything beautiful, interesting, funny or memorable around me. I sometimes feel artsy, as anyone can with the sophisticated equipment we have today, but mostly I do it because I can’t help myself.

You get the picture.

Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in Missouri.  He was born there, she died there.  They both wrote fiction based on their childhood.  Last week I visited both of their homes and came home with a renewed fascination with these two remarkable people.

I had been to Hannibal 15 years ago with my son.  He was working with an improv comedy group in college and I told him he needed to learn more about one of the greatest stand up comedians, Mark Twain.  We spent an afternoon in Hannibal, listening to Hal Holbrook’s tape on the way back to school, a couple of hours away.

Nothing much had changed at Mark Twain’s boyhood home since I had been there, which is a good thing.  The night we arrived, I sat on a bench at twilight in front of his home and looked down the street at the Mississippi River while I ate huckleberry ice cream.  It seemed like the perfect way to start the visit.  The white picket fence had a bucket with brushes tied to it so you could take your picture while pretending to whitewash the famous fence.  Last time I visited, the fence had extended further, but they’ve built a lovely garden on what was an empty lot.

DSC_0075The house is well preserved.  I saw pictures around town of Mark Twain standing in front of the house on his last visit to Hannibal in 1902.  He’d come a long way from his days as young Sam Clemens.  My favorite picture was of the photographers and reporters taking pictures of him as he visited, while young boys and townspeople looked on.  He was a rock star in his time.mt hannibal visit boyhood home I had strolled up and down the streets and the river, taking it all in once again.  The mighty Mississippi that I first learned about through his books spread out before me.  The hill where Tom and Huck played to my left, the building where young Clemens first worked for a printer in front of me, his father’s courtroom beside me.

In the morning, I took the tour of the house again, picking out the window he climbed out, as described in Tom Sawyer.  Before you go through the house, there is a nice interpretive center that gives a timeline of his life and gives the background on what in his books is taken from his life, which people he used for the characters.

We visited the other museum downtown with its nice interactive area that would appeal to children and its collection of first editions and copies of Twain’s books in many languages.  My favorite is the collection of the Norman Rockwell paintings that were the illustrations for one of the reprints of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  What a match of two great artists with their sense of humor and small town living.  I only wish they also had some of the originals of another Missouri artist who illustrated the books at another time, Thomas Hart Benton.IMG_4969

This trip, I took the riverboat cruise to get the feel of being on the Mississippi.  It’s a strong, wide body of water and there is a peace about floating along its waters.  I must admit that I was thinking of kids on rafts being in the middle of this current.  I shook my head at the dangers.  Later, I captured a photo of this little town on the river from Lovers Leap bluff with the riverboat coming in and a train rolling by. I could live easily with the sound of the boats and the trains.  DSC_0133Before I left town, I looked up the street towards the statue of Tom and Huck, the first statue dedicated to fictional characters in the United States, and the hill where Sam Clemens played.  Even with the hardships his family endured, his childhood was idyllic in his memory.  I took a graduate level class on Twain in college, but my travels through the places he wrote about, Hannibal, Virginia City, San Francisco, and more, bring him to life just as he brought those places to life for all those who delight in his writing.DSC_0144

On my way home from this trip to Missouri and Kentucky, I found that we would pass by Mansfield, MO, where the Laura Ingalls Wilder home and museum are located.  I came to her books later in life when my oldest daughter was reading them.  I picked one up, read the whole series and searched for more.  I found a biography of what her real life was like, much harsher than the books in childhood.  Mansfield is where she and her husband, Almanzo, her precious Manley as she called him, and her remarkable daughter, Rose, settled.  Once again, the museum was a delight, filled with so many actual items from their lives along with a timeline of both Laura and Rose’s lives.  DSC_0344The family that got out of the van next to our car in the parking lot looked like they had stepped out of Laura’s time, but they were Amish, a family paying tribute.  Other little girls scampered around the grounds, wearing sunbonnets and long dresses, playing Laura from the books and television series.DSC_0346I was reminded that Laura didn’t start writing the books until she was 65, when the stock market crash had wiped Laura and Almanzo out of their investments in their retirement.  Then she wrote one about every two years, writing into her 80s.  Once again, the museum helped sort out fact from the written memoirs, bringing new dimensions to the stories.  And I gained new knowledge and appreciation for the accomplishments of the remarkable Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s only surviving child, herself a renowned author, journalist, and political activist.

Our guide through the farm house and the little rock house that Rose built for her parents was a delight, an older woman who had actually known Laura and brought so much life to the tours.  She was all that I love about small towns and Missourians with her openness, friendliness and sense of humor.  I love the fact that Almanzo built the entire farmhouse in stages, using materials from the farm, taking 18 years to complete it.  I love that the counters and cabinets in the kitchen were designed for his small wife, who was only 4’11”.  He was only 5’4″, so everything was to scale.  No wonder she was nicknamed “Half Pint” by her Pa.  He built much of the furniture, including chairs that were low to the ground.  I felt I knew Laura after seeing her favorite collections of china and the things she treasured around her, including her beloved library.  I love the fact that she only got a refrigerator a year before she died.  We take such things for granted.  It’s typical that Rose bought the refrigerator, always wanting to bring her parents into the modern world. DSC_0348The little rock house that was a Christmas gift from Rose to her parents was built from a Sears & Roebuck plan using rocks from the property, supervised by Almanzo.  This is the house where Laura actually wrote her first four books in the Little House series, marching up the hill to the farmhouse to discuss them with Rose, who helped with editing and shaping these stories for publication.  DSC_0353I would love to have listened to these two strong willed women argue over the drafts of the books, each fighting for one change or another. And Almanzo, walking with his cane since his stroke early in their marriage, walked down the rock stairs to the field below to milk the goats and carry the milk to the other end of the field to store in the spring house.  I also love that Rose bought them a car in 1923 and they loved it, using it to take trips to California and Minnesota and nearby Springfield whenever they felt like getting out.  Almanzo and Laura were the true story of how our country grew.  Unknown

I hadn’t planned to visit both places when I left home, but they made nice bookends to the trip.  Two of my favorites when I read their works and even more beloved now that I can see them in their homes and know so much more about them as real people who looked back on their childhoods, discarded the worst memories and transformed the best into stories that continue to inspire readers of all ages today, teaching us about the strength of human nature, the joy in relationships, and the humor in mankind.  Classics in every sense of the word.

Tattoos were a topic of discussion with my son from his teen years.  He had the tenacity to end every conversation (well, not EVERY, but it seemed like it) with “Mom, can I get a tattoo?”  The answer was always “No.”  Just a firm “No.”  When his father was in the Navy, he used to amuse me with stories of the strange and stupid tattoos his fellow sailors got while on leave.  I asked him if he was tempted, and he said he thought about it, but thought again.

When I was growing up, tattoos were seen on burly guys who had been in the service or strange people you didn’t want to associate with.  They were not common in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 50s and 60s.  When they started coming into vogue, my husband and I were on an island resort beach and saw an older couple, maybe 70s, probably from Europe, with tattoos.  It made us laugh because the tattoos were sagging and not so attractive.

At one point in the tattoo discussion years, I gave my son a wonderful tie with tattoos designs, telling him this was the tattoo he had been asking for.  Stupid me.  He loved the tie, but he didn’t give up the idea.

IMG_5049Needless to say, he started getting tattoos as soon as he went to college, starting with his fraternity letters on his ankle.  I excused that as something that at least would last forever.  The next ones were the family crests of my family and his father’s on his shoulders and the celtic design on his lower back, telling me they were to honor his grandfathers.  Really.  There was the penguin he got on his leg when we went to Seattle for his cancer treatment.  I have to say it was at least a work of art.  There was the mad kitten attacking the ball of yarn on his upper arm when he licked cancer the first time, a symbol of his triumph.  And there was some weird wolverine or something on his forearm.  God knows why.163996_1576103763497_1262679120_31377092_8035279_n

He’s gone now and we never finished our conversation on the tattoos because he was going to do what he was going to do.  I never got to tell him how carefully I protected his skin with lotions when he was a baby, how I worried over every blemish, bruise and scar that marred his perfect skin.  He was a work of art from the day he was born.  I didn’t understand why he needed to cover anything, but I did appreciate his love for life and his attempt to experience every bit of it he could.  I loved him for that and tried not to grimace at the tattoos.

I’m trying to understand the body art I see everywhere and not relating to the addiction that people have to it.  I’m not criticizing, just trying to understand.  I’m getting older by the moment and I can only visualize what a tattoo would look like on the parts of my body that change (I won’t mention droop) from year to year.  On the other hand, I have seen photos of gorgeous tattoos covering women who have had double mastectomies and understand the beauty of that.

It’s also amusing to know that this too shall pass and the next generation or the next one will look at their parents and grandparents and see the tattoos and do something different, whatever that may be.  Maybe they’ll just choose to go with what they have.  I watch my grandkids and wonder if they’ll leave home and head for the tattoo parlor because it’s legal and everywhere.  Their mothers must be cringing as much as I was.

In my wisdom of the ages, I know that the only thing I could have done to stop my son was to sacrifice and get tattooed myself so it wouldn’t be so cool.  But he would have thought of something else, so I’m glad I saved my own skin to let it age naturally, age spots and all.   I tend to look beyond the skin these days anyway.

Driving trips are my favorite, but sometimes you must fly.  I’m fascinated by the landscapes below and the patterns from above.  I click shots, trying to place what I’m seeing from a high perspective.  Flying west in America is a constant study of geology, geography, and art.  What cataclysmic events caused this upheaval of the planet, what up thrusts of rock, what cutting by glaciers left such jagged marks, which change so abruptly?

From Denver to Burbank, I was crossing territory I had driven several times. The beauty that mesmerized me on the ground created artistic designs from an airplane window.  My iPhone and iPad clicked away.

The snow covered Rocky Mountains in April…

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The change from mountains to flatter, dryer lands with canyons carved through eons…image

And more ore canyons, winding in such tight twists that they form circles from above…

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The projections of Lake Powell…

imageEdges of canyons…the Grand Canyon was on the other side of the plane…

imageEerie lights somewhere near Las Vegas and agricultural patterns are signs of people below

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So many patterns through deserts and then the San Bernadino Mountains…image

And I end our bird’s eye view with patterns of civilization.  From wide open spaces to masses of people.

imageMy feet are back on the ground.

All the arts cause us to feel something, anything.  You can love it or hate it, but you do feel something when you hear music, read a poem or passage, or view a performance.  Visual art is all around us, whether in a museum or on the street.  A couple of weeks ago, I was in Bentonville, Arkansas, visiting Crystal Bridges Museum, an always fabulous place. Two of my friends said not to miss seeing 21C, a museum hotel in the old downtown area, so we went there for a late lunch.  We missed the lunch hours, but had a fabulous hamburger in the bar and got to experience what they were talking about.  I hear the rooms are terrific, too.

There are 3 of these hotels out there now, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Bentonville, with new ones planned in Kansas City and Oklahoma City. These hotels boast their own museums within the hotels, basically everywhere you look.  If the restaurants are all as great as the one in Bentonville, they are double winners.  My daughter and I walked around the outside and the lobby, enjoying or discussing everything we saw. Here are some examples, although I didn’t take photos of some of my favorites inside.  Those are for you to discover.

We first saw the basketball tower as we approached the museum.  One of these would keep my grandkids busy for hours.

DSC_0044The footed car outside reminded me of a Flintstones car.  Whatever, it made us laugh.

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The bench by the front door was perfect for a hotel.  Loved the creativity of this one.

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Inside, there were some incredible pieces to discover.  This one caught our eye, because how could you miss this huge chandelier hanging low in the corner.  Definitely a conversation piece.

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These bodies inflated and deflated as you watched, making an eerie statement of some kind.  We interpreted it in different ways, but we didn’t ignore it.

DSC_0049There was an incredibly intricate drawing of a haunted dollhouse with details to keep you looking for more and more weird things while you marveled at the skill of the artist.  There were beautiful beaded items, and paintings and other sculptures scattered around the lobby and beyond. They even give tours each day.

One of the fun things about the hotels is that there are penguins all around, even on the outside of the building.  They use them as stanchions and for overall whimsy.  The hotel in Bentonville has green penguins, the one in Louisville has red penguins, and the one in Cincinnati has yellow penguins.  I love penguins, so this was just a fun bonus.  Who doesn’t love penguins.

DSC_0047If you’re near a 21C Museum Hotel, I suggest you stop in.  It’s worth the trip.  I’m planning to return to Bentonville for a girls’ weekend to see the rooms.  I want the whole 21C experience!

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

On my morning walk today, I plugged my earphones into a compilation of oldies, very oldies. The music of my youth always puts a beat in my walk. And the memories…oh, the memories. This one started with Rock Around the Clock, a hit when I was in grade school. I got a pink clock radio for Christmas when I was in about 5th grade, the coolest thing ever, next to my record player that played 45s. I could listen to all this music in the peace of my room. That doesn’t sound like much to generations who grew up with their personal music everywhere they went, but all we had were radios and car radios and records. Real records. I lived in some prehistoric age obviously.

Anyway, today I was rockin’ and walkin’ to Bo Diddley and the Moonglows singing “Sincerely” and the Spaniels crooning “Goodnight Sweetheart” along with Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle & Roll.” I was definitely in a different place because these took me back to my days as a silly jr. high girl, full of shyness and insecurities and curiosity about everything. Way way back…

As much as I loved going back, I decided to switch my tunes and my era, so I put on a little J.T. I have to admit having an old lady crush on him…so cute, such talent, such humor. So this old one rocked home to music that holds no memories, but makes me smile. I’m sure parents are worrying about the music their kids listen to just as our parents worried about us. We all turned out just fine, still rockin’ along…

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All travel is enhanced by the people you meet along the way. You can look at photos, read books, study history, but it’s the people who bring it to life and give you a real sense of a region or country. I could write about the waitresses and waiters I’ve met along the way or the tour guides and just the people I’ve encountered through the years. Some of my favorites, some of the people who have made my trips the most memorable are the artists…performers, musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, photographers, and writers…the ones who stick in my mind because they bring places to life.

In Memphis, I met David Bowen while he was singing at the King’s Palace Cafe on Beale Street. He’s been playing there, or elsewhere in the area, for years, a backup player, whatever it took to keep playing the music. These guys are everywhere, playing for the love of the music whether they get rich or mildly successful or not. He just has Memphis written all over him and his playing.

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I watched plein air artists in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but they weren’t selling.

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When you’re in Charleston, you see the ladies (and gentlemen) with their sweetgrass baskets everywhere. Our tour guide warned us that the prices sound expensive, but not so much when you know how much work goes into the weaving and sewing of this traditional art, brought from Africa and seen in the Carolinas since the 17th century. I stopped by the tables of this sweet lady, Neantha Ford, just off the corner of Broad and Meeting to admire her work. She was all smiles, which made her a winner. She signed my basket, as all artists should…

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I don’t blame the ones who were so solemn because I’ve worked a booth and it’s not always fun to sit all day waiting for some tourist to purchase your work. I love the basket I purchased, which is a nice usable size or easy to hang on a wall. I stuck the sweetgrass flowers, called Confederate Roses, that I purchased in the handle for this picture. I bought several from a vendor in the market and then bought one from a young man standing in an alley making them and another from an elderly man who approached me in Savannah. Making these roses must be one of the first things learned in this area.

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Fairhope, Alabama is an artists’ haven, fueled by the creativity encouraged in the Organic School (similar to Montessori) that flourished there in the 20th century and still is active. I met several artists and it seemed they had all emerged from that background. It is a charming place to live along the Gulf across the bay from Mobile. I was enchanted with these bricks made by a local potter, John Rezek, that made up a walk in front of the Organic School and another one by the Fairhope Museum of History, a delightful small, well run and interesting museum of the area.

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John was working on one of the walks when I met him and I asked our hostess to take me to his studio, where I purchased a coffee mug…

Karen with John Rezner, potter - Version 2

She then took me to the studio of Tom Jones, a studio made of bricks from the area, known as Clay City.

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He had a kiln from Clay City that most of my potter friends would covet…

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Karen with Tom Jones, potter - Version 2

Tom was another product of the Organic School. He was off to Italy so I was lucky to meet him…such a genuinely nice person. I would love to have one of his Halloween jack-o-lanterns, but they are sold out for the year. I’ll need to get an order in early. I did purchase one of his platters, which also celebrates Jubilee, an event that takes place annually or more often when shrimp, crabs and other fish swarm into Mobile Bay. When the call goes out, “Jubilee!,” people rush to harvest a seafood feast. Sounds crazy and fun!

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No surprise that New Orleans is teeming with artists. There are musicians on the streets from the man who plays for Jesus outside of Cafe DuMonde and starts your morning off with a smile…

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…to the three kids who looked like they were skipping school to play…and could they ever play!
That little girl on guitar was incredible…

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There are always performance artists by Jackson Square. I saw this guy change positions once during the day and saw several wannabes nearby who couldn’t begin to freeze in position like he did.

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Street Performer - NOLA

Of all the street painters, Sean Friloux was the best on that particular day. I walked by and came back, loving his images. He was working on a painting of the corner by Cafe DuMonde and I loved it. I came back to get it and he kind of posed for me. He was a quiet guy. Love my painting…

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You can find Sean’s work at https://www.facebook.com/sean.friloux. Enjoy!

You can see why I always stop for artists. I thank my mother who taught me to buy art when I traveled. Way back, you didn’t have to pay duty on it, so it was a good deal, another bonus for her. I’ve met artists all around the world, including in my own hometown, and love supporting them. They are entwined with my memories wherever I’ve been. I encourage you to make it a habit yourself to bring any trip to life!