After —well, I don’t like to think how long — I’ve finally had enough time to pick up enough steam on the Pine Curtain Project to start writing about East Texas history again. I haven’t had to start from scratch because I’ve been collecting bits along the way, but it still kind of feels like it.
My story of focus these days is my grandfather’s story, or rather my great-grandfather, Charlie’s. Among other things, he managed a speakeasy during prohibition, and made and sold moonshine. This is a tough one, because the speakeasy, a place called The Green Lantern, is long gone and left no trace! My grandfather remembers enough about it to roughly sketch the story, and there’s a brief mention of it in an Oral History document at the History Center. But that’s it! A head-scratcher for sure.
Anyway, because of the sparse info, I’m having get really, really detailed into my research. Which is fun, even if it is slower than I’d like.
Lately I’ve been digging into the Diboll Free Press archives. Nothing notable about the Lantern so far, but what it does have is a treasure trove of community gossip columns. These will take me a while to get through because I want to read every word! (And not just because the Free Press publisher was a Durham and covered the family like royalty, haha!)
Calling out a man who used up all the community blood!
Feasting on catfish!
What happened in Burke?! I must know.
Anyway, hopefully I will be able to update on the Pine Curtain Project more often. It hasn’t gone away, and there certainly are still plenty of stories out there to tell.
I’ve continued my Pine Curtain Project pieces with the folk/narrative art pivot, and as I do so, starting with a blank canvas rather than a photo or historical context, I am seeing more of a personal artistic style emerge.
I gravitate toward juxtaposition of bright and cool colors, which give the paintings kind of a whimsical, otherworldly glow effect. I also create some figures in more detail than others, which places my “characters” within a greater community. I also make sure there’s a little dog with a curly tail somewhere in there, representing my childhood dog Tater (1980-1997) who was always in the mix and lived long enough to bear witness to many life and community milestones.
With everything else going on and general life happenings, I usually do about one of these a month. So far, they have coincided with seasons or events, but that is more by inspiration than by design.
Hello, why yes — it HAS been a while since I last updated my blog and my web site. What can I say, the first half of 2022 has gone by really quickly. And while in some ways it’s been really nice, it hasn’t left a lot of time for more creative pursuits, much less documenting those pursuits.
I secured a new freelance/contract client in January that takes up most of my weekday hours, and I published a travel book! The operative word there (after “published” I suppose) is travel. I haven’t been home many weekends in the past year or so. I am planning more travel books which entails more travel. So, it’s been a bit of a balance to learn, but I am getting better at it.
But I still paint as often as I can, and I still have the Pine Curtain Project going in the background. The above painting doesn’t look quite like the other pieces in the Pine Curtain Project. That’s another reason this blog has been quiet for a bit. I have felt compelled to bring the project into a more modern era, and am always tiptoeing around that a little bit. Some stories are not my stories to tell, but intersect with mine. So, what to do? My solution is to just focus on the scenes and feelings that I want the paintings to evoke while making everything else unidentifiable. This specific swimming pool didn’t exist, and neither did the specific girls in it. But what did exist, for me and I imagine many others, is night swimming with friends on a summer night. One of my besties had a pool, and my church rented one each summer from the time I was in middle school on out. There was a special kind of relaxed that we felt after swimming, and many pool nights melted easily into slumber parties. It was hot, and the June Bugs were loud, and we somehow felt sunburned even though we were swimming at dusk. And it was wonderful.
I was invited to participate at the 2022 Kilgore Geekend, sharing the inspiration and processes behind my work on the Pine Curtain Project. As part of my presentation, I also shared some of my resources for Texas history research, and some favorites I have found in the archives. I’ve listed them below, in the order they appear in my presentation, along with the accompanying art, photographs or artifacts.
Interested in a piece of art that you’ve seen here or elsewhere? I offer hand-embellished fine art reproductions of most pieces made to order. Prices start at $100 for an 8X10 hand-embellished piece, and will deliver in approximately two weeks from order confirmation. Please let me know if you see something that speaks to you. More information can be found here, and information about commissions, etc. can be found here.
Would you like for me to speak to your group? Please get in touch to discuss options for events, meetings or workshops starting Oct. 2022.
This is an embroidered vintage photo of my dad and aunt in the late 1950s in East Texas. They’re at my grandmother’s house in Homer, Texas outside of Lufkin, and looks like they’re on their way to school on a chilly day!
Lately, I have been thinking of embroidery. And by extension, I have been thinking about my Auntie. She died late April 2020, but not of Covid. A distinction that didn’t matter once she was moved into a skilled nursing center for what we thought would be a few weeks of care and then home, or worst case, private hospice. When she went in, she was well enough to ask for a specific red jacket to be brought to her, already planning her outfit for her release.
For about a month her daughter and my mother, her niece tried their best to communicate through speakerphone, FaceTime, message relays from the nurses (for as long as she could understand them) and finally, the last goodbye. My cousin, my mother and I stood in a nursing home parking lot in Tyler and yelled into a stranger’s iPhone as Auntie slept fitfully, inside and many floors up and maybe heard us but who knows, really.
She was my second casualty of the last two years and the first involving a person. This kicked off a parade of horrors that marched on to include the deaths of her husband “Pete-o”; a cousin younger than me and both of his grandparents – another great-aunt and uncle of mine, and two other cousins – siblings. Within one week, I lost two classmates – one who I had adored since 1981 and another that I had happily tolerated for just as long. A married couple from the family next door warranted a double funeral, closing off yet another chapter of our multi-generational story. My friend from college died that February, and in October my ex was killed in an accident while experiencing a mental health crisis. Loss upon loss.
And of course, the Big Bad gas station looms large across from my parents’ house. The Final Boss that will send my family scrambling back to Hoot Owl Holler where we came from, four generations and nearly 100 years ago.
I know mine is just one story in many similar ones these days. I really don’t know where any of us go from here. For me, and for a lot of people I imagine, there is a strong sense that things will never feel normal again. And how can they, with such loss? And how could we even want them to?
Thinking of Auntie, and thinking of embroidery, I keep coming back to stitches and sewing. Perhaps it is my mind, as it often does, working things out creatively when it is hard to communicate in other ways. Piecing it back together, trying to bring out the beauty.
Auntie was the family seamstress, making most of my clothes for most of my life. All of my prettiest dresses came from her: the red strapless prom dress with a full petticoat skirt and bow on the bodice, so glamorous and timeless that it was altered to fit my very short best friend a year later and looked equally amazing. A black, off-the-shoulder floral Gunne Sax-inspired dress for the 1990 National Future Homemaker’s of America (FHA) convention in Washington DC, complete with hand-placed clear sequins over every pink and red rose petal and green leaf. That trip was my first time on an airplane, so of course I had to have two new wrap skirts made to wear on the flights – a navy one with a bright, whimsical crayon print, one in tropical pastels.
In researching my family history, I learned that Auntie’s auntie was a pattern maker, and her great-grandmother did professional needlework and embroidery for the community in the early 1900s. I didn’t inherit any of that. I did poorly in my Home Economics sewing unit, somehow stitching a needle into the pillow I was making. (My FHA success came through its public speaking components.) Once, I thought I’d sew a sundress for my little cousin and was feeling pretty good until my mother walked by, sighed and rolled her eyes. “Make something she can wear,” she said.
But still, I think about stitches, piecing together, making something plain just plain prettier. As with my prints, never obscuring or transforming, always honoring and enhancing. So, stitch by stitch, something new begins.
When Auntie and Pete-o died, it fell to my mom and my cousin to clean out their house. There isn’t much in there that I really wanted. An oil portrait of my mother and a matching one of my cousin, if she or her child don’t want it. A framed 1993 Youth Fair needlepoint project depicting the million little things that make up a sewing room: thread, a sewing machine, scissors, spinning wheels…it was so big and complicated that I pulled tearful all-nighters to complete, sometimes working on one corner while my friend Jake worked on the other. It lost to a scene of a teddy bear eating an apple. A teddy bear! But that’s fine because Auntie liked it, and I liked it, and now I want it back.
But, what I really want is her sewing kit, a lidded basket in the shape of a beige house edged in blue and green. It sat by her machine for as long as I can remember, there with everything she’d need for each stitch and sequin, snip, button and flourish. There was never one thing out of place in that house, and yet that sewing kit is nowhere to be found. My other family members aren’t interested in it, and if they were they would just tell me. It’s simply not there.
Maybe it will turn up, but if not, that’s okay. I have a theory, or maybe some magical thinking. Perhaps she came back for it, took it with her to wherever she went. Her greatest joy was in her sewing, the satisfaction that can come from fixing a stitch, making something pretty, making something right.
There is a lot that is wrong right now. Who’s to say that the other side is so cut off from us that they can’t feel it? Maybe they feel helpless, too. So many gone, in such short time. To them they’ve arrived en masse somewhere entirely new with lingering, fuzzy memories of voices through smartphone speakers, unrecognizable shapes in hazmat suits, blinding lights. Who’s to say that they too, wouldn’t like to return to the comforts of old joys, to attempt to set something right, perhaps stitch by stitch. Who’s to say they can’t?
A reward of my interest in family history and research is learning not only who my family was as individuals, but how they influenced me. Both of my parents are musicians, my dad – a Gen Z wrapped in a Boomer wrapped in a lounge singer – has an impressive online music career with a bigger and more engaged audience than I could ever hope for. My mom sings and plays the piano and organ but mostly at church. They don’t collaborate because they have ….let’s just say creative differences. But music has always been a part of my life and our household.
I learned from my paternal grandmother that she had written and recorded a song back in the 40s in Houston. This tracks, because my cousin on that side is also a really talented musician – singer, songwriter and guitarist.
But what about my mom’s side of the family? She had a lot of formal music classes, but there had to have been something there for those classes to refine.
In our church archives, there’s a photo of a band in the early 60s, and the guitarist is my great-grandfather on my mom’s side, Pappy. Aha!
I really like this photo, not only because Pappy is in it, but also because it captures a time in the Homer community when it was really thriving – there were enough people to form a band and enough people to come hear them play. This was the case until I was about 17, and then it started to dwindle down. In junior high, my youth group friends and I stood on that same stage and lip synced into bananas calling ourselves “Banangles.” (Not sure why we didn’t go for the obvious Bananarama, but why be obvious when you can surprise and delight?)
I wonder what Pappy and his friends would have thought about the Banangles. But, I also don’t know what songs they, themselves were playing. Same place, same community, same (or similar) families – whatever they were doing, I bet it was fun.
Almost one month into 2022, I am finally able to get back in my studio and make fresh monotype prints. Because this process must be completed in one go, it needs more dedicated time than other types of art. And time is something that has been in short supply!
For the my first print of 2022, I chose a vintage photo of my great-grandparents in the 1920s or 30s. Doing the math now, I realize this would make it close to 100 years ago. That seems hard to believe. While Beatrice died at 68 in 1978, Charlie, aka Grandy, lived into his nineties – almost to the year 2000! So, I knew him quite well.
What I like about this photo – other than the people in it – is how stylish she looks. I was too young to have memories of Beatrice before she passed, but I have always been told about her fashion sense and desire to keep current on trends. I see her angular 1920s bob and her shoes and think this was a person who had a sensibility beyond her rural environment.
Not sure if Grandy shared her fashion sense, but I remember that he didn’t like being gifted jogging suits at Christmas. So, maybe.
Each year, my community church puts up a lighted nativity scene, replacing the live nativity scene that it produced in the 1980s, after everyone got older and more tired. After Thanksgiving, busy groups of people work together to test lights, assemble figures and finally, install them on the church grounds and roof. This piece is based on a photo of that process. (I dare not call it vintage since it was within the last 15 years!)
I purposefully left the figures a little abstract. The main reason is because they’re so tiny that trying to personalize them would not render them recognizable anyway. But also because at gatherings like these, it is less about the individual and more about the group. And I would go further and say it is less about this particular group, and more about the spirit of tradition and faith moving through them, as it has before, after and as it will again.