2004 has started well for me and I hope it is the same for you.
On New Year's Eve Malcolm and I took part in St. Petersburg First Night
festivities. This city is one of several in the country that turn New
Year's Eve into a celebration of the arts. Within a one mile radius
of our apartment above the gallery, there were twenty-seven locations
holding performing arts events between 7:00 p.m. and midnight.
Because Malcolm is limited in his walking, (the cartilage in his left
knee was infected and most of it was removed by the surgeon and he must
wait a year before having an artificial knee inserted) we chose to stay
near and spent most of the evening at the Palladium Stage, where we
were entertained, first by the young people of the Florida Arts School
of Song and Dance, and then later by The Everyone's Youth United. We
could not have had a better evening.
Witnessing the enthusiasm of these young performers who came from a
diversity of family backgrounds, I was reminded of the debt we owe to
those adults who volunteer their time and leadership skills to provide
opportunity and encouragement for our youth.
The level of talent shown by these teenagers was earned through hours
of training and practice under the tutelage of their leaders. The precision
of the dancers spoke of a discipline and respect that earned standing
ovations. Once again the Arts were making a difference in young lives,
but alas on only a few compared to the majority who were elsewhere that
I had never envisaged my watching hip hop and rap with any degree of
enjoyment. I was surprised to find that with the right choice of words
and voices that carry messages of reason and not aggression, there is
much good to come from this art.
I came away from The Palladium enriched by the energy and zest of the
performers and ready to start a new year of painting with similar energy.
On New Year's morning we drove north for two hours in my twenty-two
year old Mercedes station wagon to visit Clyde and Phyllis Stephens,
who are Bocas, Panama, friends. The Stephens have a second home at Tavares
on Lake Harris near Mount Dora. I had never seen this part of Florida
with its rolling hills, magnificent live oak trees and lakes of tranquil
water. We were blessed with warm weather and continual sunshine.
Clyde and Phyllis are most welcoming. After exploring their lakeside
house and garden, we slipped easily into Bocas talk.
We are newcomers to Panama and Bocas in comparison to the Stephens
who have spent most of their lives in Central America and many years
in Bocas, where their home and garden encompasses a headland of great
beauty that is surrounded by coral reefs favored by divers and snorkelers.
Clyde calls himself a Banana Man. This is a modest title, for in truth
Clyde knows more about bananas than probably anyone else in the world.
An entomologist, whose 32 year career with United Fruit was followed
with consulting in virtually every banana growing country in the world,
Cylde has a wealth of stories that is without end. He is also an expert
on Florida and Panama flora and fauna.
Phyllis is by no means overshadowed by her famed husband. When she
met Clyde in the banana town of La Lima, Honduras, she was teaching
in the banana company schools. She continued to work for the company
teaching and administrating education while bringing up a son and daughter
in the various Latin American countries where her husband's career caused
them to set up home. Now retired to Florida for much of the year, Phyllis
is a leader of a team building a Habitat house, involved with various
other charities and is getting geared up to teach remedial reading in
a local school.
Enough about these two super folks. You can tell that we were set for
a fine visit. I am not going to relate all that we did but instead show
you three photos of highlights. I will describe them under each photo.
There is no finer place to take lunch then under the live oaks on the
edge of a lake in Florida in the winter time.
Clyde took us on a swamp nature trail and found a Virginia Swamp Oak
for me. This species has developed over many thousands of years so that
it can live in the wetlands of the Florida swamps.
Talking of swamps, Phyllis cooked us a super dinner meal of pork loin
with snow peas, mashed potatoes and swamp cabbage. OK, you non-Floridians!
Now tell me what swamp cabbage is. Not many of you know? It is Heart
of Palm. Malcolm said this meal compensated for his missing Thanksgiving
and Christmas Day meals by being in the hospital and then my being sick
in bed on Christmas Day.
What is the name of the instrument Phyllis, Clyde and
I are playing? Yes, it is a type of xylophone and you get a mark for
that but this particular instrument is called a Marimba. It is a traditional
Mayan instrument from Central America. The keys are made of dense wood
and there is a sounding box underneath each key. The Stephens brought
this instrument from Honduras.
Now to the painting of the past week. My delight in this studio continues
and has made me decide that although we will close the gallery and pass
the business on to Tim Finn at his new gallery here in St. Petersburg,
I will keep this studio. As I said last week the light from the north
window is perfect and the studio spacious. Although the construction
of high rises all around us would have hurt our gallery business, it
will not affect my painting.
One of two pieces Pat is working on for the Tennessee Collectors'
I have been concentrating on two paintings, either of which could become
the large convention print for my Kingsport, Tennessee, convention in
May. I am showing you photos of both. The mill scene is just about finished.
The second, the log cabin, has a ways to go, but from the photo you
will get a feel for how it will be. It is going to be hard to make a
choice as to which to make the convention print. If you have a preference,
please let me know.
This log cabin is another possibility for a convention print.
My other joy is the horse painting which you got a glimpse of in last
week's letter. I have now put the final brush strokes to this watercolor
and I am very happy with the result. I am showing you the whole painting
and then in a separate photo a close up of the horse's head and shoulders.
I want to take a moment of your time to explain the essence of this
painting because in doing so, I can help you to understand my philosophy
The final results of Pat's newest horse painting.
In every painting, my concern is not to replicate the physical detail
of what the camera would show but to capture the character of the subject.
As an example, before beginning a painting of a building, I learn all
I can about its purpose, its history, its structure, both external and
internal and its surrounds. I imagine the thinking of its architect
and its builders. I am looking to capture the spirit of the building
and how the building impacts the lives of those who know and love it.
This is the process that goes on in my mind before I put brush to paper.
I seek to understand the character of the building as well as its outer
Up-close detail of the completed horse watercolor.
So it is with my horse paintings. Physically no horse looks like my
horses. I am not seeking to do what the camera does so well. I am seeking
to go beyond the camera's capability and find the soul of my subject.
In the face of this horse I read trust and love. A trust and love that
has grown between the horse and its human companion, just as such trust
and love grows between two humans.
When I meet young artists, I tell them to listen to their inner thoughts
and to have the courage to express those thoughts in their paintings.
When they do paint from within, they are being truly creative.
Thank you for listening.
A note from Malcolm for those who sent cards when he was in the hospital:
On Sunday I spent an hour reading again each "get well" card
sent to me during my hospital stay. I felt overwhelmed by your kindness.
There are too many for me to write thank yous. Each of you please know
as I read your name again I thought of you and said a mental thank you.
As I said before, you speeded my recovery.
I want to share with you what Jean Lokerson and Elsie Blankensky included
in their card. It originated in the Richmond Times Despatch.
When stopping the bus to pick up a preschooler, I notice an older
woman hugging him as he leaves the house.
"Is that your grandmother?" I ask.
"Yes," he answers. "She's come to visit us for the
"How nice," I say. "Where does she live?"
"At the airport. Whenever we want her, we just go out there
and get her."