Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Iceland: Painting the Landscapes of our Lives

 "I realized that the story of even so small a place can never be completely told and can never be finished. It is eternal, always here and now, and going on forever."   --Wendell Berry

The beginning of the painting of "Foss Farm" in Westfjords, Iceland

The finished painting this week...

A few weeks ago Elias finished a painting of a Westfjords, Iceland landscape. The painting is of some nondescript cliffs with a gushing waterfall that spills into a tempestuous river. The river flows and widens in a stone's throw to a fjord in the Greenland Sea--the far north Atlantic Ocean. If you want to be specific, it is called the 66th parallel north--the circle of latitude that is 66 degrees north of the equator.  If you have ever been to Iceland, waterfalls are almost as plentiful as the sheep that roam the fields and countryside. But this waterfall is uniquely special to our family. You see it is not just any waterfall. My great-grandfather, also named Elias, was born on this remote farm overlooking an inlet sea fjord. As I walked along the road in front of the farm, I imagined him daily hearing the roar of this waterfall while it supplied his family with constant water.  

It was early summer when I took the below photos at 11:30 pm. It would be a few hours before dusk would momentarily descend on the scene. The wind was not howling on that night. We could gaze out at the tranquil fjord's calm waters where my great-great-grandfather, Eggert, had left the farm in his boat to head to Norway. His motive to leave? He was a ship captain, trained in Denmark, and took upon himself the responsibility to leave the Westfjords to bring back food for the villages around him. They were practically starving that year so he turned his head to the wind and left his Westfjords farm. He would make the trip a few times in his lifetime. 

My grandmother told me the cliffs that rose above the farm hid puffin nests. My great-grandfather, Elias, would be tied up with a rope from his brother or father. and then dangle from the cliff to retrieve eggs. I can't imagine gripping a rope while my young child would be suspended in the air--probably swaying in the gusty wind. Puffins only lay one egg each year so it is not like there were abundant eggs in the nests But my great-grandfather and his family were hungry, and those eggs would give them some nourishment. Sometimes it was hard to get out to the sea to fish, and eggs were there on the cliff if you wanted to dangle above to fetch them. 

I grew up with these stories of "Foss Farm." Being there brought me a deeper connection to my ancestors--like they were almost there. I closed my eyes, yearning that those people who lived there long ago could be next to me. I wished we could share a cup of cool water together before the sun dipped down for a minute into the sea. I wanted them to show me where they found the puffin eggs and how they survived a Westfjords winter.

Sometimes I think of them and the landscapes of their lives that shaped them. I am sure my great-grandfather would never think his posterity would care that he perilously dangled above the air to grab one puffin egg. But I do. Or, that he would row for three days while the rogue winds and waves tried to blow him to Greenland when he tried to go out to get some fish. But I do. Because my grandmother and father told me the stories. 

Lately, we have not just been telling the stories, but painting the places where they happened. Elias wanted to paint where the other Elias long ago lived. Watching my Elias paint these skies and cliffs this week has made me remember to tell the stories of those who lived in those landscapes long ago. I might not have to swing on a rope to get a single puffin egg, row for days in a blizzard storm off the coast of Iceland, or sail to another country to get food for my community. Yet, I hope we/I can do some hard things too. Somehow, to paint the strokes of a waterfall, not just any waterfall, but the source of your ancestors' life, made us very happy this week. There are many ways to tell the stories of our lives...

What are the landscapes of your life? And how are you going to tell their stories?

Elias Shumway on "Foss Farm" where Elias Vatnsdal was born.

                                                    Looking out to an inlet of the Greenland Sea...

                                                      Wearing Icelandic sweaters--of course...

A very special night to be at Foss Farm

Stuffed puffins you can buy all over Iceland

Not too far from Foss Farm... 

        Looking out the fjord that Eggert Vatnsdal sailed away to bring back food in a near-famine for the community around him. 

                         Peter going up the cliff to taste the water from the same waterfall his ancestors drank from.

                                  The glacier water that streams down to the North Atlantic Ocean

                                                                     No one wanted to leave that night...

One of my mottos

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Painting Peace in Pandemic Times in China--new youtube

We are working hard over here in China. Elias just finished an art exhibit at the Tianjin Art Museum, and tonight will have an opening ceremony at a famous gallery here in Tianjin to talk about how to bring art to children with autism and their families. On May 7-24, we will have another one in Beijing--a charity for two autism organizations. All of these exhibits we have been asked to participate in.  We can hardly run fast enough over here. 

The pandemic has brought a new interest in bringing people together to help others here in China. We all have been a cocoon for a long time. Many people want to get involved. Sparks are being lit. I feel it,  People are yearning to reach out to feel the warmth of service over here in China. One of the grand adventures of my life is to see how the fire of creativity grow in others all over this world. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Elias's art exhibit in Tianjin, China: Documenting Impressions of Joy

This is happening this week here in Tianjin!

For me, a painting is like a story that stimulates the imagination and draws the mind into a place filled with expectation, excitement, wonder, and pleasure. J.P. Hughton, painter

Next week here in Tianjin, China at the Tianjin Art Museum Elias will have another solo exhibit--sharing the space of some of the students we teach at two autism schools here. On April 2 the world will commemorate Autism Awareness Day. As it stretches into the month of April, there will be walks, lectures, buildings lit up, and other activities to promote more understanding of autism. Tianjin will shine paintings on a huge 40 story tower of the paintings of these students. Elias will have 25 paintings and there will be 20 other students who will have one. 

Recently a friend had dinner with the president of the Tianjin Art Museum. She showed him the video we made https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XywYayiimN4 and he asked to see us. He invited us to have an exhibit here. We wish all of you could come. Here are some of the pictures that will be shown:

                                   So happy we have been documenting joy over here...

Seasons of Trees

Hainan, China Ocean View with Shapes

Guilin, China

One of his first prints in Doha called A Red Frog Leaping over the pond

Another early printmaking in Doha called Floating Houses in a Dream

Christmas Tree, 2020--done with a lot of texture with a palette knife

View from the Art Barn in the Tetons, Idaho, USA

Happy Snowman in China

Inner Mongolia Grasslands from the perspective of a ladybug

Singing with the angels

Ziangjiajye National Park--Mountain Cliffs

Swimming Chinese Dragon 

Brazilian Favelas on a mountaintop

Haihe River in Tianjin, China at sunset

Winter Walking with Dad in Sweden

Teton Aspens 

Ocean Layers

Printmaking from Doha, The next three prints are called Views from an airplane

Printmaking from Doha, The Story of the Raven

Printmaking from Doha, The Story of the Raven

Waterlilies in Brazil

Art Barn Light 

Forbidden City Early Morning

Hike at Jenny Lake

Teton Glory

Autumn Puddle

Ocean Cubism

Teton Snake River

Springtime Poppies in Tianjin

Laughing Pandas in Chengdu, China

                                         Teaching art to children with autism here in Tianjin

                                                                Hard at work...

Saturday, February 27, 2021

China: Happy New Year of the Ox and The legend of the Big-footed Queen....

Year of the Ox--Steady, Strong, Persevering, Diligent, Helpful, Dependable, Hardworking

This was my fifth Chinese New Year living in Asia--always a treasured time to have another new year celebration. February 12, 2021, was the beginning of the new year of the ox in China. The ox is the second animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac calendar. The ox is the symbol of steadiness and reliable assistance in times of need. It is the animal who for centuries has brought the awaited and promised harvest. Chinese New Year or Spring Festival (as they call it) is a joyful time when China slows down for a week. All the stores, many restaurants, and shops close for at least this one night and possibly the next day. If it is at all possible, everyone goes home to their village to see their family. It is very important that every effort is made to return home. People save all year for the trip if they live far from their province. 

It starts on New Year's Eve, the day before New Year's. This is a special time when the family gathers together to eat favorite dishes (Fish is always eaten to show hope for abundance and prosperity), play games, and usually watch the nationally televised New Year's program on TV. Family reunions and gatherings are very important, and usually, throughout the next week, people go around visiting cousins, aunts, uncles, and even further extended family. There is a festive, happy spirit in the air with abundant lights, red banners, and signs everywhere. The government now bans fireworks, but you can still hear them going off sporadically during the holidays. They are supposed to ward off bad spirits. 

Chinese New Year is the beginning of a new year, renewed hopes and dreams. It's fun to relive it again--this time with a Chinese flair.

Children are supposed to get new clothes, and of course, in red.

I saw a lot of mahjong games. Apparently, many families spend many hours during the week playing the Chinese game of checkers.

Friends at our front door. Everyone decorates their door with banners that state blessings for those who enter of long life, prosperity, and health. 
A Chinese New Year gathering at our house
Making dumplings
Boiling the dumplings...

Chinese New Year's Eve at a restaurant with friends

This year making different colored dumplings

Playing games together...

Dancing and charades

On the street, there are many games to be played.

More mahjong games on the street

Family members give red envelopes with money as a present for loved ones. Many restaurants decorate with empty red envelopes.

Steamed seafood that is popular here in Tianjin for the holiday

Chinese New Year is a time to bring out all the culinary skills and delights.

More new red clothes for the Chinese New Year...

Kumquats or kumquat trees are a common gift during Chinese New Year. The Chinese word for kumquats is jinjr, which means gold. It is a blessing and gift to have prosperity for the year.

Oxes--the Chinese symbol of steadiness...
Some Oxes made out of a basket material we saw in Yangshou last summer. The ox is indeed revered, especially in the villages where they are depended on for their harvest.

                                                The Legend of the Big-Footed Queen

On almost every door in China, you will see the character of Fu, which means fortune, or jufu means blessing. But often time, you will see that it is hung upside down on everyone's door. The story is that Emperor Ziuyuanzhang and his Queen Ma Huanghou went on a stroll on New Year's Eve to see the lanterns hanging around the village. They walked up to one lantern where some of the villagers were laughing at an image on the lantern. 

It was a drawing of a woman on a horse with big feet. The image was in reference to Queen Ma who was known to come from poverty and did not have the small bound, dainty feet the women all aspired to have at that time in China. The horse the character was riding on was talking about the Queen's family's name, which was Ma (meaning horse in Mandarin). The emperor was furious and wanted revenge on justice on whoever had mocked his wife. He ordered his guards to find the person who drew the picture and turn their door symbol upside down so the assassin would know which door to secretly enter to kill that person. 

When the queen heard the emperor's plan, she was sad and did not want anyone to die because of her. She ordered her servants to flip all the signs upside down on all of the villagers' doors so the assassin would not know which door was the right one to enter. This unexpected order saved all the lives of the family from which the lantern came from. They were so grateful and told everyone of the queen's mercy. People then decided to turn their signs upside-down every Chinese New Year to celebrate the compassionate queen.