Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mr. Dandyland, Tear Down That Wall:

Before before & After after:

Cathy asked to see the original photograph of my grandfather, before William worked his magic on it - so here's that. And here's a printout, in greytones, of the image William altered, which I worked with graphite to make the image a little stronger.
The curiousity is that this image, perhaps altered by the tendencies of my aesthetic, and my drawing practice, to become something unlike what it was, appears to be of a younger man than the sepia tone did. I had guessed 30s - this looks like a man in his 20s to me. When I become a little more knowledgeable about the chronology of photographic fashions and techniques, I may be able to pinpoint the age of my grandfather when this photo was taken.

My next step will be to print the image on drawing paper so that I can work it with silverpoint.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sliced Studio:

Will it be a teahouse? A pouting house? A potting shed? A guest cottage? A mini-museum? Who knows! All we know is that the old studio has now been sliced. About 2/3rds of the historic structure that enclosed so many dance parties is gone - what remains will become something as yet unknown.

The part that remains includes the loft - the original nest was behind the woven honeysuckle vines. There are none quite so big in dandyland now. I thought that it was a very romantic place to sleep, even, and perhaps partly because, snow used to blow in through the cracks onto the feather comforters. I actually used that as a courting gambit. Ah youth!

Slowly it is becoming an interesting place again...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mysterious Visage from the Past:

"Invent! There is no forgotten feast at the bottom of memory" (Henri Bosco)

Yesterday William, bless him, took time from his work to help with the new project. He worked on the emergence of the image of my grandfather, Daniel Hoskins Dutton, starting with an old photograph, using his mastery of photoshop to add what was probably there, based on what remains.

Once he began cutting, pasting, moving, smudging, dodging, all sorts of cyber face-washing & reconstructive surgeries; replacing an eye that had been chipped away, merging layers with heightened contrasts to bring hidden edges into view, drawing in edges - based on clues from remaining curves, even checking the configuration against one of the many photos he's made of me, as a guide to what my grandfather's face might have looked like, I began to wish that I was taking photos of his manipulation of the photo. Those images, a sepia eye, cut out with a blinking dotted line, isolated and looking out from a rectangle of grey, were haunting - lost time exhumed in the light of a digital age unforseeable at the moment the image began. Haunting too, that an ancestor, once only a name, linked to me by genetics, artifacts, and a handful of stories, gradually became more visible right before my eyes, as though we were meeting for the first time. I knew tales of him, but of this man, perhaps in his 30s at the time the photo was taken, most of what I know is that he lived on the same land I live on, and that he looked something like this.

Now that I have an evocative image to tether my imagination to, I can begin to envision a life surrounding it. My plan is to have the facts and artifacts for boundaries and clues, but within that blinking, dotted line of decision, reality is maleable and subject to the ambiguities of art.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Meadow Mushrooms:

(I cannot seem to find writing time at present, so here's another bit from Cebah's Kitchen to fill in. Oh if only the autumn rains would arrive - everything is parched to a crisp here... mushrooms of any sort daren't rear their heads.)

Meadow Mushrooms

"The moon hath pulled the midnight mushrumps up." (Shakespeare)

The fall I'm thinking of is not remembered by the glorious days,
which I'm sure it had, of crisp blue sky and flame-colored leaves. Of
all the falls past the one with the mushrooms was surely the best.
For one thing it was the final round of my first passionate love and
we were just secure in our happiness. The end of summer turned wet.
Day after day misty rains watered the cow pastures, interspersed with
still afternoons dimmed by seamless grey clouds. It was never cold, but
mellow. The light rains, more like descending mists than showers,
veiled horizons and distances until the farm itself seemed distant from
the outside world. The colors of the turning leaves were saturated with
moisture to the deepest of reds and oranges, yet were muted in the pale
mists to half-lit pastels, vivid only at close range, rich contrast to
the damp darkened twigs and black-barked tree trunks.
The full moon came, and as we so often had before, we wandered
through the fields to wonder at it, ever obscured this time, an orb
behind a moving screen. The next day saw them on the hill pasture
beyond the cow barn, scattered lines and wheels of white dots upon the
close-cropped turf, meadow mushrooms, everywhere!
Every afternoon for a half-week we took baskets with us on our walks.
The cowpastures that saddle the ridge of the hill were thick with them.
We could afford to be selective, picking only the largest and most
perfect buttons, still snowy white and dense at the size of golf balls!
So perfect that I couldn't resist gently squeezing and sniffing their
flesh like a cannibal as I pinched off the black loam from their stems
and piled them in my stash.
It was a daily reason to ramble over the low bottoms, listening to
the distant calls of the crows, picking bouquets of goldenrod, sapphire
toothed rods of lobelia, cerulean blurs of mistflower, tiny fragrant
spirals of ladies tress, to lay atop our baskets full of pink-gilled
wonders, some hickory nuts stowed to one side. The walks were
unhurried, the mushrooms were going nowhere, and we had nowhere else
we'd rather be, walking slowly over the mellow earth, talking quietly,
gathering what we treasured most.
Back in the kitchen they became many delicious things. Never before
nor since have I had so many mushrooms to eat, and we ate them every way
I could think of. We dipped the bite-sized buttons in egg and rolled
them in seasoned flour, frying them in an inch of oil until they were
crisp brown on the surface, delicate toothy yet molten earthiness
inside. They stewed with a rabbit, some onions and a sprig of thyme in
the maroon of a bottle of St. Emilion. They were simply sauted in
butter and poured with their buttery liquor over eggs scrambled with
cream. When I saw that there was no end of them in sight, I singled out
the tiniest tightest buttons, packed and peppered them in a wide-mouthed
jar with spriggins of oregano and marinated them in olive oil spiked
with sherry vinegar, to eat as snacks, or dress the late lettuces and
arugula with.
The weather cleared, turned deep blue and brilliant, spiking the
bottomlands with light frost. The leaves brightened, rallied to a high
pitch in the sun and fell, in whispering red and gold drifts. Halloween
came and went, November staked its claim on the chilly starlight and
waning sun. We ate the last of the piquant oiled meadow mushrooms at
Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

White Rose:

Not to be outdone by red, today this white rose nominated itself for the dandyland last rose of summer. In the comments on the last post I mentioned Madame Hardy, perhaps the loveliest of the white Old Roses ~ this is not that rose, but there are some similarities. I don't know this rose's name - it's one that I rescued from the bulldozing of an abandoned house. Unlike Madame Hardy, it's a climber, and it doesn't have the distinctive tightly curled button with a green center, or quite the unique lemon-tinted fragrance - tho it does have a lovely scent. Also the petals of this rose remind me a bit of a zinnia, not that that's a bad thing...

It has been so dry that I don't think any of the other Old Roses will offer competition, and not knowing if this rose already has a name, I'm going to call it Madame Katherine, to encourage that budding rosarian.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Late Rose:

This glorious blossom of Madame Isaac Pierre may not turn out to be the very last rose of summer in our garden, but it is likely to be the most fragrant of the last, given that this variety is considered the most perfumed of all the Old Roses. With a whiff, one is transported to paradise, located presently here in dandyland.

There are around 30 kinds of Old Roses growing here on the hill. I'm not collecting them as avidly as I once did, mainly because every good spot is currently occupied, and I think that if I could fit more in I'd like to have more than one of certain varieties. I wouldn't mind having another Madame Isaac Pierre, or the lovely white Madame Hardy. My bushes of both of these kinds, originating in the glory days of Old Rose growing in France, are over 20 years old now. They were bred to be compact and modest-sized, a virtue in the formal gardens of those days. Far more attention was paid to the fragrance of roses then, and a rosarian would easily distinguish Madame Isaac from Madame Hardy blindfolded. That I can do - Madame Hardy has a hint of lemon, and is strong but light; Madame Isaac is perfect attar of rose - balanced between ravishing and delicate without being cloying.

This summer was a bit too dry (again) to lay canes. Most Old Roses are easily propagated by digging a little trench beside the bush and carefully bending over a cane, nicking it lightly and burying part of it under the earth. By fall, generally, roots will have formed where the cane was nicked. The cane can then be cut loose from the mother bush and planted as a new independent but identical rose.

There is a song about the last rose of summer, for the soprano (Air), in The Stone Man:

The Late Rose:

The late roses in the garden
fill with sweet perfume
heavy and full
of drops of rain
they bend to pour
their fragrant tears
into the shimmering puddles...

gentle pools - they are still blooming!

(Of course we're in such a drought that there are no puddles about for the late roses to practice such delicate Narcissism with. Sigh!)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Looking East:

I got up in time to see the sunrise this morning. "Red skies at morning; sailors take warning." Cebah says ~ tho she has such an aversion to the ocean I can't imagine atmospheric conditions for any marine activity that would counter it. The idea is that red sunrises presage rain. I hope so! Late September rains bring on the meadow mushrooms...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Woods:

The magician's woods is an example of something rarely seen - a carefully tended woodland. One clue that you're in an extraordinary place is the presence of ginseng - over harvested to near extinction around here. The red berries are helpful in spotting it at this time of year. Of course it's long been considered a magical plant - the Cherokee think highly of it. I've read that the indians carefully managed woodlands here in the east. If that's true, then they might have looked something like this:

A Visit with a Magician:

I know it may sound preposterous to write "This afternoon I visited an old friend who became a magician and who lives in an enchanted forest." - but there it is. With magic you have to be careful not to show everything right off the bat, so I'm going to portion out the images.

It seems a particular honor to have a magician with an enchanted forest collect your paintings. One of the reasons for my visit was to get a photograph of a painting that I did in my late teens of the ancient white oak that stood near my father's homeplace. It was one of the largest oaks I've ever seen, with limbs bigger than most trees. Since that oak is a thing of much interest in the new piece I'm working on, (There's a photo of my grandfather standing under it.) - I started thinking and realized that the painting I did of it in my teens is actually the only complete image of the tree. Even with a large canvas, painted from the midst of the field on the west side of the tree, looking up toward the top of Dutton Hill, the outer branches couldn't be entirely fitted in. This amazing tree, with a hollow large enough to sit inside, stood there through the Civil War. After the homeplace was sold, the developer pushed the tree down and buried it with a bulldozer.
Sad day.

The other paintings, and a carved & glazed porcelain plate, are also from my late teens.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


This odd painting came about because I didn't have the stretcher frame bars to make a long rectangle. I picked the fall flowers, ironweed, thistle, mistflower, lobelia & goldenrod, in Ralph's field. It's all a little poignant thinking that now that Ralph is gone, the low meadow of wildflowers is likely destined to be a subdivision. The loss of the woods of ancient trees is even more affecting - but alas, there's nothing to be done about it.

I doubt this painting will make the grade - I'll probably paint over it - but I'm glad just to have brush in hand.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Visit to Dutton Cemetery:

Cebah & I stopped by the cemetery on our way to the Mexican grocery store today. I wanted to take some photos of my grandparent's headstones for the new project, and then the picture-taking escalated. When I saw a particularily beautiful buckeye butterfly, (possibly my favorite butterfly), & was reminded how the butterfly is sometimes a symbol of the soul, I thought why not make a photo of everything in the cemetery which has a bearing on the project. These are what I wound up with.

Meanwhile Cebah discovered some wild grapes in the fencerow, not exactly like the wonderful ones we used to pick in the old days, that kind is extinct around here now I think, but not exactly the wanky kind we call possum grapes either. I was a little skeptical that something good could be made from them, but after the experience with the wild peaches, I went with it. We decided to call the jelly, so dark purple that it's almost fittingly black, graveyard possum jelly. It is delicious.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

3 Surprises:

This afternoon Cebah sprang a surprise on me. I came back from the store to find her working up a kettle of little peaches she'd picked from a wild tree in the fencerow - small ones, only a couple of inches long. The trees, which were loaded with deep pink blossoms in the spring, came up from tossed out peach pits - actually from the pits of trees that grew from tossed out pits. They've reverted to something wilder.

We've never used them for food before. The flavor out of hand is a little whangy, with a slight bitter edge, so I wondered about this plan to make them into jam - it seemed too good to be true. The jam making was handed over to me.

At first I wondered if chutney might be a better idea, and another use for the abundance of habenero chiles I have. That could make a slight bitterness the least of your worries. But I decided to try for jelly. To my amazement, the peaches cooked up, released their juice, and, once sweetened with an equal amount of sugar, clarified and jelled wonderfully. My last mistrust of the fencerow peaches was to wonder if they'd need some spice to mask less than scrumptious flavors, but surprise again, the jelly was delicious made with only peaches and sugar. So that was good. (or will be, for breakfast...)

The other good and unusual thing was that Jody and I listened to the completed Nimbus & are mutually delighted. Musical collaborations can be tricky, but this music, made as part of The Faun project, seems to merge our complimentary skills in a way that surprises and pleases us both. It is at once the most organic-sounding and electronic-sounding of anything I've worked on - and it reminds me of Debussy. Not so much the moonlight and mist aspect that made him popular, more in the radical ever-changing shifty harmonies and rhythms of Jeux, or La Mer. It makes me want to compose another opera, and I think I will. And it sounds like the soundtrack to a film - an animated film? - in any event a very strange film, that I'd also like to make. How inspiring! Both ideas seem wildly improbable... and thus very appealling.

The third surprising thing was that in the research for the new work concerning Pete & Charles & my grandparents, Daniel & Lucy, I ran on a character I'd never heard of, Gladys Bentley, a Drag King in Harlam Renaissance during the 20s. She was said to be "a 250-pound, masculine, dark-skinned lesbian who performed all night long in a white tuxedo and top hat. ...a talented pianist with a magnificent growling voice, was celebrated for inventing obscene lyrics to popular contemporary melodies." Here are some quotes:

"For many years I lived a personal hell. Like the great number of lost souls, I inhabited that half-shadow no-man's land which exists between the boundary of the two sexes. Throughout the world there have been thousands of us furtive humans who have created for ourselves a fantasy as old as civilization: a world which which enables us, if only temporarily, to turn our back on the hard realism of life."


"I have violated the accepted code of morals that our world observes but yet the world has tramped to the doors of the places where I have performed to applaud my piano playing and song styling. These people came to acclaim me as a performer and yet bitterly condemn my personal way of living. But even though they knew me as a male impersonator, they could still appreciate my artistry as a performer."


"Somewhere along the line after we discover that we are fascinated by a way of life different from that approved by society, we attempt to analyze ourselves. All about us we hear the condemnation of our kind... The censure which rages all about us has the effect of creating within us a brooding self-condemnation, a sense of not being as good as the next person, a feeling of inadequacy and impotence... Of course we all reach varying degrees of adjustment. Some of us, on the face of things, accept our predicament and defiantly try our best to live with it. Others, by guilt or grudgingly, but as if drawn by some magnetic force, give in to our way of life. But forever the majority of us are trying to find excuses, alibis, answers to the eternal why. Almost all of us live in a restless constant search for happiness."

(These quotes are from "Creations of Fantasies/Constructions of Identities: The Oppositional Lives of Gladys Bentley" by Carmen Mitchell.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Let's take a walk...

"One misty, moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather, I met with an old man, a- clothe'd all in leather." So goes an old song (British, I think...) that, sure enough, just as I guessed, Cebah quoted when she saw these photos.

I wasn't where I thought I'd be this morning, in the city visiting with friends at a wedding, instead I woke up here in dandyland for my usual crack-o-dawn walk. When I saw that dandyland was enveloped in mist, I went back inside to get my camera so that you, dear bloglets, could see how lovely misty moisty morning walks can be around here.

I started out through the garden gate, under the laden apple tree mentioned some blogs back.

The late garden was dim, dew-spangled and hung over with morning glories.

I went on through, across the neatly tended hayfields and across the fence into my late cousin Ralph's field, now grown thick with autumn wildflowers - purple ironweed, tall queen of the meadow - (showing where a hidden seep further moistens the low part of the field ) - cerulean mistflowers, golden rod - all festooned with dew-bejewelled lacery of spider webs. The unmown field is so grown up that Alf had to leap at every step, and in no time I was soaked nearly to the waist.

In the woods the mist was not so dense, but it did dim the morning light to pale grey mysticism, hiding boundaries and borders, making it possible to imagine infinity beyond sight. And the mist muffles sound too, so that the air is hushed, with only the odd sound, like a gloved finger caressing tiny cymbals, of countless dripdrops falling from one leave to another.

Within the mist, dandyland could even exert its magical influence over the road that cuts through the bottom edge. Stepping across it didn't feel like exposure this morning. Everything stayed deliciously hidden. I got the newspaper and headed back into the misty woods, following the path that leads through a tunnel of honeysuckle and bushes, into the wondrously familiar unknown.