Reflections

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Pots and Pans, 20×24 Stebner oil on stretched linen

Mild as it was, January is over. Some of its goals have been accomplished. Others remain. Working in my new studio, I did revisit a number of subjects, from places to paintings. With new techniques, I reworked some old paintings.

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Kitchen Bits, 6×8 Stebner oil on linen panel

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Corner of Giverny, 8×10 Stebner oil on linen panel

After two years, I revisited the self-portrait, this time using the limited palette of Anders Zorn.

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January 2016 Self-portrait, 12×16 oil on linen

Now it’s the beginning of February, and as I have begun planning for my teaching stint in France in June(several spaces remain…), my mind was drawn back to January of 2013, when I was solo-treking through central France, including the bogs(marais) of Bourges, where the townsfolk have private garden plots, naturally irrigated by the canals. Although I was immediately smitten with this mysterious place, at last I’ve begun see the paintings they offer. I guess I had to mature through three cancer treatments(and a lot of paint, c’est clair!) in order to finally know how to paint them. Gray is sublimely colorful and shadows are as beautiful as sunlight.

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Marais at Sunset, January 6×8 Stebner oil on linen panel.

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Punting the Marais, January. Stebner 6×8 oil on linen panel.

Jump-Starting New Year

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Light on Giverny, 9×12 oil on panel

After church on Christmas Eve, we ran into a brilliant old friend we hadn’t seen in ages. After New Year, we received a card from her wishing us well and saying she had a feeling 2016 was going to be good for all three of us. What a refreshing thought. And coming from her, I realized it was more than a civil holiday wish. She really had a feeling good things were going to come each of our ways. Really?

Not that I’m negative. Anyone who knows me, knows I refuse to cave to the shadows of life. But six decades have also crushed youth’s rosy colored glasses, leaving me a little uncertain about unfounded hope. Deborah’s positive feeling challenged me to put aside my ready-for-anything boxing gloves and simply take a calm, confident pose, trusting that all the cancer treatment I’d undergone would continue to provide good test results. And all in the nick of time. You see, I was due more blood work to ascertain if all the treatment I’d undergone was still efficacious.

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Maribeth’s Tulips, 11×14 oil on linen

A week of waiting between drawing blood and seeing my oncologist ended this morning, after serving waiting room time, followed by the usual hurdle of well-meaning, vital-taking nurses: the typical patient’s purgatory. At last the familiar rap on the examination room door broke my quarantine and I was greeted by Dr. Hoimes’ handshake and reserved smile, an expression which has delivered equally happy and unhappy news over the past several years. But this year, it affirmed what I’d been waiting to hear: PSA still undetectable. That’s twice in a row- a first time for me. I’m starting to get that good feeling for 2016, myself! There’s a lot of happy, healthy hours ahead painting both here and in France.

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Happy Times: Normandy Mill 24×36 oil on linen

Burning Home Fires

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Last summer, this blue-eyed wanderer spent a record six weeks away from home, teaching and conducting Artistic Adventures in France. It led to the beginning of the now-thwarted, overwhelming attempt to move there permanently in August.

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Then a plan B, filling the autumn with the upheaval and excitement of moving and restoring our new Highland Square home, which boasts not only a first floor painting studio, but also two wood-burning fireplaces.

Supposedly…

With major construction behind us, Christmas Day, itself, was a delightfully quiet one. Anchored by a day-long fire in our newly rebuilt(smoke-free!) fireplace, it was interrupted only by a long, leisurely walk in the sun with our trio of canines.

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Life’s rhythm has changed since moving a little over a mile from Dorchester Rd. In our new hundred year old digs, incorporating many of the events we love about French village life has been possible: walking to the market, cafes, coffee shop and pharmacy as much as possible. And the fireplace.

1934574_10207495839292708_3509966120791038704_n.jpgLoosing the convenience of an on-off gas valve to control the fire has slowed our pace further, leading us to revel in the leisure and the labor of the moment. Evenings spent lingering by the fire until only embers remain have brought further contentment to this new chapter of life: a silver lining to the inevitable limitations accompanying these onsetting “Golden Years”.

12391773_10207541328869919_2387994479260122359_n.jpgAs I listen to the crackling fire while planning new summer French Artistic Adventures, for the first time, I feel a wistful twinge about being away from home, measuring the number of weeks and days I really need to be away from our new dream.

 

The Current of Peace

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Giverny Bliss, 11×14 oil on linen, Stebner

I remember thirty-some years ago, flying to Europe at the dismay of many, when airplane high-jacking was just beginning. Less than a year ago, Jim and I were on a train to Paris from Provence the day Charlie Hebdo and his team of artist/journalists were murdered on the job in that city of art and culture. We walked the streets unknowingly that night, enjoying a wonderfully romantic dinner not all that far from the scene of the crime. It was later that night, tucked in our hotel room near the Gare de Lyon, that I read many of your concerns for us on Facebook. Now, once again, terrorism has tried to darken the City of Light. But its inhabitants seem to refuse to buckle. Nor would I.

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Autumn Bliss, 11×14 oil on linen, Stebner

It’s public knowledge that I’ve been fighting a personal terrorist called cancer for over two years. I’ve refused to cave in to its assault on my happiness and creativity. Facing that assailant within has only strengthened my resolve to drain the last drop of life out of every day. This autumn it’s been a season to paint my childhood stomping grounds on the Cuyahoga River as well as French memories. Our move put teaching in France on the back burner this September.

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Everett Bridge, 12×16 oil on linen, Stebner

In a little over a week, I’ll host my thirty-sixth holiday open house and sale. In an effort to add at least a drop to aid world peace, I’ll be donating 10% of all sales through December 19th to the Gandhi Institute. So, should a Stebner painting call your name as a gift to yourself or a loved one, you’ll be doing your part, too. Thanks.

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Returning to Childhood, Cuyahoga River  8×12 oil on panel, Stebner

The Move: Rumor Squelched

1435937649892OK, we really are moving. We bought and sold in a week. But not France. Almost, but no. Why? It’s true, we tried. Look up “red tape” in the dictionary and it will describe anyone outside the EU trying to take residency there. But that’s OK. It got us out of neutral and in gear for change.

All our travels there will be easier in a few weeks, when we move to our new home in Highland Square, Akron’s closest neighborhood to what we crave. A smaller, charming turn of the (twentieth) century house on a much smaller lot, where we can still have a tiny front garden and a secret little courtyard in the back, without being enslaved to its upkeep. The organic grocery, library, pharmacy, restaurants and more are all easy walking distance. Just like we were seeking in France.

10x20 Stebner painting. "Morning Sun"

10×20 Stebner painting. “Morning Sun”

Of course it isn’t France, C’est ridicule! But it’s our new adventure, all the same, just a mile from Dorchester. Crazy but true. Now when I do cross the Pond to have a proper baguette, gorge myself on French cheese(and wine) and teach painting in the French countryside, whoever housesits(Jim’s increasingly France-smitten with each visit!) will have a lot less to care for. In the meantime, I can always strike up a French conversation at the coffee shop a few blocks away with my young French teacher, Nils.

Did I mention I’ll have a painting studio on the ground level of our new digs, to boot? Pas mal, pas mal du tout!

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Paintings: June in France

Tomorrow marks two weeks home from my summer painting/teaching excursion in Burgundy and the Périgord. Blogging was minimal because we had very little wifi. Also, there’s been a problem with my blog site domain name, which I’m happy to report was corrected yesterday. If you’re reading this, you’re back in the fold. Welcome!

I’ll try to write more about the trip in hindsight, but for now, sit back enjoy this little video of some of the finished paintings from the trip. I’ve taken time to tweet them from their raw state which you might have seen either here or on Facebook while I was gone. They are all either 6×8, 8×8 or 8×10. Now they’re ready to find their home. Feel free to contact me for prices. Shipping is free.

Chasing the Holy Grail

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Yesterday’s pilgrimage to Rocamadoor ended three hours south in Cathar country in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Our nest in St. Ferriol is a fabulously restored medieval house next to the town chateau. This morning I awoke to the town rooster’s crow being echoed by a distant cuckoo; a call to brew the coffee(taking longer than any American can imagine) to accompany crepes, yogurt an melon, all fortifications for the escapade before us.

The escapade? Chasing two key venues of the Holy Grail. First is Rennes-le-Chateau and second, Chateau Montségur, the last stronghold of the Cathars. Although we don’t expect to find the elusive treasure, we have treasure of our own to pursue, beyond the obvious bliss of walking history: landscapes to paint and a geocache or two to discover! C’est parti!

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Back in the Périgord

wpid-wp-1433697412930.jpegLeaving Burgundy, Suzanne and I had the sublime joy of picnicking in the Auvergne, surrounded by wildflowers framing the mountains and volcanoes in the distance. Yes, sublime about sums it up. Approaching Limeuil some five hours after departure, I wondered how I’d feel upon returning. No need to worry. As we rounded the sharp bend in the road, tight against the stone wall, all the joy of this little gem shone anew. In the heat of a sunny June, the bridges and stone buildings glow golden while the rivers sparkle. Our ancient stone house, which has sustained centuries of plagues and pleasures, is even more charming than I remembered. Renovations are underway to make it even better.

There’s an extra thrill about coming to town and seeing your poster on shop windows and your picture in the paper. With the help of my trusty student and great friend Suzanne, the show is up and I’ve had a few painting sessions in the Jardins Panoramiques which surround the chateau hall at the top of the town. Tomorrow night is the official opening, le vernissage, as the French say. I’ve choked and woken several nights after hearing that I’m expected to say something after the mayor and the president of the Rives d’Arts. I feel pretty comfortable muddling through daily life in France, but never imagined a public address. Luckily for me, the president is Dutch and will speak in both English and French, so i can follow her lead, after the French mayor. There will be English speaking people at the event, anyway. The Périgord is riddled with them. And my mantra is “short and sweet”. I’ll smile my way through it and keep you posted!

Bookends

Although it only takes three hours to get from Paris to Mougny- Bazolles, it’s a trip from one world to another. All the overt stimulation of civilization Paris offers is usurped by a subtle, gentle one which seeps into your pores unknowingly in very little time. It’s the act of coming in tune with the rhythms of nature instigated by the gentle Burgundian breeze and sun.

1970401_10206194761086566_1741745792181170749_nRinging Jim yesterday at his breakfast time, the first sound I heard at the other end was a singing cardinal. I was momentarily confounded, feeling we must be in the same place, hearing the same birds and feeling the same breeze. But no, they were Ohio cardinals chirping in one ear, while I was hearing unknown ones in the other. As a very late sun set about us that evening, Agnes assured me I’d be lulled to sleep by the nightingale, to which I asked if this part of Burgundy is also home to the cuckoo. As sure as the nightingale sang to me as I climbed the stairs over the donkey barn to my garret above the house, I awoke to the cuckoo at the sun’s rising.

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The rumbles of Paris streets and subways are a distant strain as I finish my second painting of the morning. Soon I’ll be collecting the last three students from the train station to join this world of gentle beauty. Together we’ll learn from the capricious sun how to paint it’s light on our canvas.

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Before Sunset

OK, I blatantly stole the title for this blog from one of the three most annoying movies I’ve ever endured, just because it takes place in Paris. Happily, my agenda before sunset changed from a museum marathon into an attempt to see through the eyes of one of my favorite painters, Pierre Bonnard. Much more fulfilling than a day shredded away with Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy hopeless misunderstandings.

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So what if I only saw one exhibit? That one made me very, very happy because it was another chance to stroll with Bonnard, oblivious to the throngs of others about us. Several years ago, it was the Bonnard museum in Le Cannet, on the Mediterranean. Today it was the Bonnard exhibit at Musée d’Orsay.( If you followed that day on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you were right in my pocket. If you don’t I’ll plug for signing on. It’s going to be a much more direct way to feel like you’re right there with me, as my dear friend, Nancy Sampson, commented today.)

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But the point of the day is this: although packing things in, as I mentioned yesterday, can sometimes be stressfull, it can also make any journey worthwhile. And as you know, striding through my sixth decade, I’ve snatched onto the concept of sucking the marrow out of the bone more than ever, because we never know when the sun will set. I’d rather be tired from doing than regretting I didn’t. When sunset comes in an hour or two, I’ll be sipping wine and savoring bistro fare with a soul as content as my belly. And that should be as good a remedy for jet lag as any. If I should waken, I’ll be seeing all the beautiful colors of Bonnard’s paintings as well as those of a sunset on the Seine.

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