Art Walk in Bellingham

I’ve often told people who ask that the city where I live, Bellingham, WA., is like a small European community. One reason is because the city has a rich arts lifestyle especially for its size. Bellingham is ranked the second best arts community in the country, with the ranking being based on the number of active arts businesses per capita,” according to Downtown Bellingham, a non-profit organization of local businesses and civic-minded residents that works to promote the city’s lively and historic downtown.

During the 1980s, local galleries opened their doors four times a year for what was known as the Gallery Walk.  In 2009, it became a monthly event that takes place on the First Friday evenings , even in winter.  It has become a highly popular outing for locals as well as visitors who wander from shop to shop, gallery to gallery taking in a wide variety of art created by the many talented artists who live here.

Art Walk offers people a chance to view a variety of fine art by local artists.
Art Walk offers people a chance to view a variety of fine art by local artists.  (Photo courtesy of Leo Friedman)

Downtown businesses, in addition to the galleries, showcase the work of local artists with openings from 6 to 10 p.m. during Art Walk. I am often among those who enjoy the evening viewing the artwork. But at the May Art Walk to be this Friday, May 1, I’ll be showing some of my own portrait work in a group show at Dakota Art in its relatively new gallery space.

The show will focus on the art of portraiture and different styles of portraiture.  Three other artists, besides myself, will also be featured. Everett Aison will show five framed triptych portraits of “New York Subway Faces” and a series of “63 people looking at Art” water-color drawings and digital prints. The portrait art of the young artist Katie Johnson, originally from Hillsboro, Ore, whose works are very stylized large-scale oil paintings of the faces of various Bellingham brewers. Also included is Tessa Asato who creates large-scale drawings that are heavily detail oriented and have strong concepts.

My portraits will be among those featured in a group show at Dakota Art in Bellingham's May Art Walk.
My portraits will be among those featured in a group show at Dakota Art in Bellingham’s May Art Walk.

Five or six (space dependent) of my photographic portrait prints will be displayed. They represent a good variety of both my photographic media and my own portrait style. Some are portraits which I was hired to create for clients, others are ones that I initiated myself. Some clients own copies of the prints but most are from my personal collection and are the only existing print. Many have not been seen outside my studio doors. I am pleased to present them at Art Walk.

There’s a story behind each print, but I won’t be able to tell them that evening. I’ll share shortened versions here and with the images so that those of you who don’t live here can see them as well. As someone commented to me last week, you won’t get the full impact of the image without seeing it firsthand, just as with any piece of art. You can’t see here the finish used, the artwork done or the type of paper on which it was printed. I won’t get into a discussion about how I work other than to say that when photographing someone, whether for a personal portrait, a business or a high school senior, I do my best to reveal something about that subject, their personality or inner self. That comes with getting to know them quickly, making them comfortable enough to not be self-conscious in front of the camera and then capturing the moment on film or digital realisation.

This image was created during a high school senior portrait session at my Bellingham photography studio.
This image was created during a high school senior portrait session at my Bellingham photography studio.

“Fairy in the Forest,” was created during this young woman’s high school senior portrait session. Her mother asked me to photograph her daughter in her ballet clothes. After shooting some in the studio, I asked her to come outside with me to forest. She took off her ballet slippers and followed me out. I didn’t really have anything specific in mind at the time, I just like the idea of putting someone out of context. I placed her on the path amongst the towering trees and asked her to move into various ballet positions. Later, in looking at the raw proofs, this particular image reminded me of Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” one of my favorites. I had the print pressed into a fine weave canvas after scanning the original negative and doing some digital artwork.

With six gold medals hanging around his neck, Knight is an inspiration to us all.
With six gold medals hanging around his neck, Knight is an inspiration to us all.

I asked Richard Knight, the father of my Pilates instructor, if I could photograph him for my “The Noble Knight” after hearing about his remarkable accomplishment of winning six gold medals in swimming at the Senior Olympics. (You can read about that in my blog post: A Knight in Shining Armor.) Richard, then 79, wasn’t too certain about my idea, but once we met at the session, we became instant buddies, in part, because we’re both swimmers although I can only dream about winning six gold medals. I had hoped to persuade him to shed his jacket so that his medals would gleam against his bare chest but when he wasn’t willing to do that, I just went with it.  He was a good sport when I told him I wanted him to stand out on the rock surrounded by chilly water. But the look on his face and his stance caught at this instant, created for me a priceless image of a man at his the peak of accomplishment.

Photographed as part of a high school senior photo session, this print will be among those on view during Art Walk.
Photographed as part of a high school senior photo session, this print will be among those on view during Art Walk.

“Nikki, The Girl in White” was also done for a client’s high school senior. She was great fun to work with as I photographed her at a local boatyard. The rest of the images from this session are full of bright color from the boats, equipment and buildings. But towards the end, she slipped on a white t-shirt and I moved her away from the color to a spot nearer the water with only the sky behind her. The contrast between her shirt, the sky, her hair and skin tones was stunning. She was smiling in most of the images but then her expression changed and I had a moment that I thought said more about her than all the others.  I gave the print a high gloss finish to make it pop even more and give a high-fashion flavor.

The finished image was inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth although when I created the portraitfor this senior portrait, I wasn't consciously thinking of the artist.
The finished image was inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth although when I created the portrait for this senior portrait, I wasn’t consciously thinking of the artist.

“Rachel in the Field” is a much softer image. The young woman pictured here is the beautiful daughter of my cousin. Rachel is a horsewoman so we had gone to the stables to photograph her with her horse. When we were wrapping up, I placed her for some final images in the adjacent pasture with the treeline silhouetted in the background. She sat on the ground for the first few then I asked her stand and instead of looking at me, gaze off towards the horizon. When she did, I captured it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in editing her images later, I realized those last images bore direct references to artist Andrew Wyeth‘s indelible “Christina’s World.” I then applied digital artwork to create a feel I thought similar to that conveyed in Wyeth’s watercolor, although I didn’t want to duplicate his work,and that expressed the mood of my image.

“Madonna and Son”, the only print of which I don’t have a digital version to show here, also has considerable artwork, most of it done by hand on the print itself, in order to achieve the end result I had envisioned. This image feels very Italian to me, which is why I guess I gave it that title.It was done for a friend of mine in Los Angeles shortly after the birth of her second son. I arrived at her home for the session. Rarely, if ever, do I give my subjects props or clothing to wear but in this case, I loaned a silky white nylon robe to her. I can’t say that I had this image in mind when I shot it on film, but when I saw it in the camera’s viewfinder, I knew I had something special. She and her son were photographed in her hallway with the white light from the living room windows streaming in behind her. To this I added a feather screen on the print and then finished it with a lot of pencil work to give it the ‘etched’ look I was after. It is one of my own, as well as that of my many clients’ favorite portraits. I often have it hanging on the wall of my studio.

The portrait of this young man was made for a concert poster.
The portrait of this young man was made for a concert poster.

Lastly, but not least, is “The Pianist.” This portrait was created at the request of the Mount Baker Youth Symphony for a concert poster. This young man had won the orchestra’s concerto competition and was to be the soloist for the concert. When he arrived at my studio for the session, I took him into my home and had him sit at the piano. I asked him to play some of the music he would perform. When he did, it was as if he had left my room for his own personal world. Me too. When he stopped, I simply asked him to turn and look out the window but to leave one hand touching the piano’s keyboard. He clearly was still thinking about the music as he did so because you can see him so lost in reflective thought. The film image was made on watercolor paper as a delicate giclée print after I scanned the image and added my digital artwork to it.

I wish that all of you could come to the gallery next Friday and see these prints for yourselves. If you can’t, I hope that this offers some insight into my own portrait work and how I, as a photographic portrait artist, approach my work in creating my these images. You can always see more of my own portrait work on my studio website.

Read more about Bellingham’s Downtown Art Walk on Whatcom Talk.

 

 

 

 

 

Love is in the Air

‘Spring, as the poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, “is a time when a young man’s” (or woman’s) “fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”  Judging from the number of wedding photos posted by friends on their Facebook pages the past couple of weeks, nothing has changed since Tennyson penned those words in 1842.  In fact, I shared a few pictures with my family members of my own parents’ wedding who were married on April 9, 1946.

My father, who passed away a year ago only three days after what would have been their 68th wedding anniversary, said that the day they were married was ‘the happiest day of my life.” They celebrated 66 anniversaries together. It’s become rare to find couples of subsequent generations who have stayed together that long and who are still so deeply in love.

On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix' beautiful Encanto Park.
On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix’ beautiful Encanto Park.

I have on the mantel of my living room fireplace a framed photo of my parents on their wedding day. They were married in Phoenix, Az., when the city had not quite reached the population of 100,000.  My father had recently returned from serving in Europe in World War II. (His unit, the 2nd Chemical Warfare Battalion saw more days in combat than any other in Europe except for one.)  Upon his discharge, he headed home for Kansas.  No sooner had he arrived than one of his older sisters introduced him to a young woman with whom she worked at the local savings and loan bank.  I think it must have been love at first sight although my Dad never put it quite that way.

My Mom poses as a USO girl where she was chosen USO queen.
My Mom poses as a USO girl where she was chosen USO queen.

My mother was a beautiful young woman who had volunteered at the local USO. She loved to dress stylishly and somehow managed to do it on her small salary as executive secretary to a bank president. She had moved after high school from her tiny hometown of Aurora, Missouri to the then prosperous railroad town of Parsons  when she received a scholarship to attend the Parsons Business College. She had excelled in the courses of shorthand (a vanishing, if not gone, art of note taking), bookkeeping and typing. After graduation, she quickly landed the job at the bank where my father’s sister also worked. His sister was convinced that my Mom was the ideal girl for her handsome, younger brother.

"She must have really loved me," my Father would recall years later.
“She must have really loved me,” my Father would recall years later.

They were introduced and two short weeks later, my Dad told her that he wanted to marry her.  As he put it, “I told her that if she didn’t marry me, I was going to re-enlist in the Army.” Now that was determination. Shortly after his proposal, he left town to travel with his older sister and her husband and race greyhounds.  My uncle owned a large kennel of dogs (another story for another blog post) and needed someone like my Dad to help out.  My Dad said that his sister convinced him to come with them because, in his own words, “I was a mess after the War and that helped to straighten me out.”

He wound up in Phoenix where there was (and still is) a greyhound race track.  I think he wired–rather than mailed–his beloved to come join him so that they could be married.  My mother had, by then, a little time to think over his proposal and must have loved him as much as he loved her because she accepted.  But when she asked her boss permission to take a week off to go to Phoenix for the wedding, he declined and told her that if she went she would lose her job.  She went anyway. Later, my father would tell me; “She must have really loved me to take such a chance, quit her job and go to Phoenix to marry a guy who didn’t have anything at the time.”

My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.
My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.

She and her oldest sister traveled down to Arizona. I don’t know if they went by car or train but they went together. It must have been quite an adventure for neither of them had ever been out of the Midwest.  I never heard the details of that trip from my mother but I’ll bet it was exciting for them both. My mother packed a gorgeous, tailored suit as her wedding dress. My aunt chose her best suit to wear as the ‘matron of honor.’

My Dad dressed in a sharp, light-colored double-breasted suit. (They don’t make those kind anymore). Whether he had brought it with him or bought it with his earnings from the dog track I don’t know. But the two of them together looked stunning and very much in love.

They were married in the chapel of the majestic First Baptist Church built in 1929 of Italian Gothic design. The church, abandoned 40 years later by the congregation, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has fallen into decline after fire there in 1980 but just last year, historic preservationists and architects in Phoenix launched an effort to restore it to its former glory and re-purpose it for new use.  When my own husband and I were to be married in Phoenix, where we were both working at the time as journalists for the local newspaper, I chose to have our own wedding in that very same church.  The building was owned by the city at the time and was being used for city offices. We had to obtain permission from the city then go in and clean up the sanctuary–the chapel was closed–in order to have our ceremony there. But we did it and I’m very grateful we did.

Showered with rice, my husband and I emerge from the church in  Phoenix where we and my parents were both married.
Showered with rice, my husband and I emerge from the church in Phoenix where we and my parents were both married.

My parents were unable to pay a professional Phoenix photographer to record their wedding day. Instead I have snapshots, probably taken by my aunt with some instruction by my Dad who was leaning towards a career in photography but hadn’t yet begun it.  None exists of the ceremony itself. The few photos I have were taken outside the church entrance and at Encanto Park, a beautiful old park with a large lagoon in Central Phoenix’s still-posh Encanto neighborhood. They tell the story in themselves of a young couple, so in love, on their wedding day.

 

The Last Supper

Everyone who celebrates Easter has their own holiday memories. It may be waking up early to attend a sunrise service at their church. Or hopping out of bed to find the multi-colored candy eggs that the Easter bunny has hidden. Or smelling the sweet fragrance of an Easter lily and winding up with a bright yellow nose from the plant’s powdery stamens. (Studies tell us that smells are our strongest memory associations).  As a child, my family did all of these things to celebrate Easter. But for me, some of my happiest and most vivid memories of the holiday were the family ‘suppers’ that we all sat down to after the morning church service.

Still in our pajamas, my brothers and I look through the goodies in our baskets on Easter morning.
Still in our pajamas, my brothers and I look through the goodies in our baskets on Easter morning.

For my mother, or my aunt, who took generally took turns preparing the big noon-time holiday meal, Easter started early. Before heading off to church, which began at 9 a.m., they would be in the kitchen, putting the ham into the oven so that it would be cooked by the time we returned.  The new potatoes that would be stirred into the pot with the creamy white sauce and added to the early spring peas, would be boiled.

My father shows off the new potatoes he just dug up  in his garden.
My father shows off the new potatoes he just dug up in his garden.

The packaged ‘brown and serve’ dinner rolls would be placed into a shallow baking dish and covered so that they could be popped into the oven for  a few minutes just before supper.  Some of the eggs that we had dyed a day or two before would be peeled, sliced in half and made into the deliciously simple deviled eggs that always seemed to vanish almost before we sat down at the table. And the table, that had been covered with the soft green-colored damask tablecloth with the protective pads beneath, would be set with my mother’s best china, sterling silver and often the dark green water goblets.  Sometime the entire setting would be accented with a centerpiece of whatever was flowering in the garden, usually daffodils. I would contribute by decorating white paper napkins with Easter bunnies and eggs drawn in crayons.

There were usually eight of us at the table, including my parents, my brothers, and my two aunts and uncles.  I later learned from one of other aunts that this coming together for a meal after church had long been a tradition carried out by my mother’s family.  

My mother, holding guitar, with her parents and sisters and brothers pose for photo on their porch.
My mother, holding guitar, with her parents and sisters and brothers pose for photo on their porch.

My mother came from a large family, as did my father, and, like my father, grew up on a farm during the Depression. I had always imagined her family as struggling to survive, like so many during the era. I later learned from my aunt that despite the hard times, there was always plenty of food on Sundays.  I was surprised to hear that my Grandmother, who lived with her husband and, at the time, with her seven children and her mother- and father-in-law, would often invite people from their church to supper afterwards. Indeed, they had difficulties, but they had chickens and cows and fruit and nut trees, vegetables in the garden and wild plants from the woods that they could eat. I guess that my Grandmother thought they were more fortunate than other families so on Sundays, she would set as many as 12 extra places at the table for supper. I think they must have had a very large table, or perhaps the children ate elsewhere.  But according to my aunt, there was plenty of food to go share.  It was a happy memory that my aunt carried with her all the 90 years of her life and fortunately, passed along to me.

With my aunts and uncles, my family sit down together for a Sunday dinner.
With my aunts and uncles, my family sit down together for a Sunday dinner.

I don’t know whether my mother enjoyed making those large Easter dinners, or getting up early so that the meal would be ready by the time everyone assembled around the table, but I know that she enjoyed our sitting down together to share the holiday meal. The meal wouldn’t begin until someone had said the blessing, usually my father or my Uncle Joe who was particularly eloquent. I remember the first thing that I would reach for was one of those deviled eggs. Our plates would be carefully handed to whomever sat closest to the sliced ham, now steaming warm,  so that it could be lifted off the platter with the big sterling silver fork. I smeared my hot roll (the second thing that I reached for) with butter and grape jelly before biting into the soft, white bread.

The conversation would be grown-up and continuous. My younger brother (I only had one at the time)and I could contribute but we were too busy eating. I can’t remember what they talked about, but the symphony of their loving voices–my uncle’s deep bass, my aunt’s Swedish lilt, my other uncle’s mumble and my other aunt’s melodic alto–was music to me. I forgot that my new frilly, fancy dress or black patent leather shoes that my mother insisted I wear to church scratched my legs or pinched my feet. I was surrounded by those I loved and who loved me all partaking together a simple, but sumptuous meal, that would finish with the wonderful pineapple upside down cake made from scratch by one of my two aunts.  Ah, what could be better.

Last Easter, my family gathered once more for a final holiday meal at my parents' home.
Last Easter, my family gathered once more for a final holiday meal at my parents’ home.

Last Easter we repeated this tradition at my father’s home one last time. My father had passed away the week prior.  His funeral took place on Good Friday. I was staying, with my sons and my husband, in his home still surrounded by his things he and my mother had so lovingly collected together over the years. Our family portraits still hung on the wall, including the one of me taken in the studio many Easters ago when I was child. (You can read about that in my Easter post from March 2013: https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/in-my-easter-bonnet/) Despite the sad events of the previous few days, I felt we must have one last supper to celebrate Easter in my father’s house, if nothing else but to honor the memory of both my parents and the families from which they came. Not everyone from the family who attended my Dad’s service was still in town. Two of my sons had to leave shortly after his funeral and my brothers couldn’t be there. But my husband, my cousins, nephews and nieces that were present was enough for me.  It was family, gathered once more around the table. I had set it for one final time, with my mother’s good china on top of one of her beautiful tablecloths and placed flowers and candles in the center.

We didn’t have the ham, nor the creamed peas or even the pineapple upside down cake. In fact, the menu leaned more towards the brunch. But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were surrounded once again by family who shared a common history and love for those who had come before us and whose memory would live on long after us. While it was an Easter saddened by the recent passing of my father–the last of his generation– it was also a beautiful Easter.