How do artists do it? That is, repeatedly create beautiful, contemplative and reflective work? I think of this every time I pick up a New Yorker and look at the cover painting, illustrations, and cartoons. Some might disagree, saying that it takes no time at all to draw a cartoon. Hearing this, I’d hold my ground and present my counter-argument. The creation of that one cartoon was the end result of many years of observation, self-reflection, and trial and error. Plus, cartoonists do not live in a vacuum. Most cartoons are a form of social commentary, and to be up on social commentary, you have to look outward.
So, closer to home, my situation. What now comes to mind is the mental image
Bootleg, by Jacqueline Welch
of several of my good women friends, many of whom are amazing artists in their own rite. All have produced some amazing work on my, and on my animal’s behalf – this in midlife, after many years of hard work. There’s California-based Chris Romano, who illustrated Raudi’s Story. She’s had several eye operations in the past few years, but she is still drawing and producing cartoons for the Icelandic Horse Quarterly publication. There’s Maine-based Nancy Wines-DeWan, who is currently illustrating Raising Raudi. She is not only an illustrator, but also a musician. Both Chris and Nancy also own Icelandic horses—this past year Nancy was the high point rider in the United States Icelandic Horse Congress pleasure rider program, beating me out by a few points. And there’s New York-based Jacqueline Welch, who is currently illustrating Headwinds: The Memoir of a Cross-Country Bicyclist. Jacqueline is a painter—her area of specialization is dogs. She teaches full time at a Catholic school, and she paints at night, at her studio, which is located near her house. A few years back, she did a painting of Bootleg. The “Patron Saint of the Enthusiastic Ego” now hangs in a prominent place in our living room.
And there’s Fran Bundtzen, who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. She recently sent Pete a portrait of Mr. Siggi. It’s now on the kitchen counter, under the large, south-facing window. We will soon move it to a more permanent place – but it is where it is right now. Every time I look at it, I think of this wonderful horse. And this reminder soothes an aching heart. I think that Pete thinks similarly, but I do not want to speak for him.
If I asked Fran how much time it took to produce this wonderful work of art, she’d undoubtedly tell me how long it took her to do the actual painting. But what I know is this – she shares a commonality with my other women friends. Mr. Siggi’s portrait is not her first, nor will it be her last work of art. Fran, like Chris, Nancy, and Jacqueline has worked hard at her craft, for many, many years. The learning process alone took considerable time, focus, dedication, initiative.
In this instance, Fran also took the time to get to know Mr. Siggi. I talked about him often—and she watched him, and took photos of him at clinics and rides, one of which was held here. She knew what he was like physically, and she knew what he was like mentally.
Fran is an artist, and as such, works in two dimensions. At the same time, she also works in three dimensions. She’s a wood carver and has done many, many likenesses of birds. I was once in her shop – I saw a chickadee out of the corner of my eye, and for a split second I thought it was real.
Fran’s art background complements her science background. She’s a trained field biologist, so her sense of observation is finely honed. I’ve watched her observe horses – she stands quietly, still, for great lengths of time, taking in what the horse looks like, and what the horse is doing. I once went on a group horseback ride with her in Fairbanks – and listened as Fran listed the English and Latin names of many of the flowers and plants.
It amazes me that Fran’s been able to do so much given that she also has had other things going on in her life. She has a family, and of course family obligations. She also has animals – like us, dogs and horses. She is also a gardener. No, not a gardener, but A Gardener. In the summer, in Interior Alaska, where she lives, she grows most if not all of her family’s winter produce. She also is as obsessive as I am about manure management. She picks up manure, and she composts it – I must add – without the use of a tractor.
Fran also puts out the Alaska Icelandic Horse Association Newsletter. It always contains lengthy articles, and beautiful photos. I have told her innumerable times that this is the glue that’s holding the club together – and it’s true. (Here, she would want me to say that her daughter Sarah does the layout and is the computer guru.)
Health issues do not appear to have slowed Fran down. A year-and-a-half ago Fran she was diagnosed as having uterine cancer. Fran, smart woman that she is – wasted no time in determining what she must do. She and her husband Tom flew to Seattle where she had surgery. After, she came home and began doing chemotherapy. I gathered from her ongoing email messages that the indecision and the treatments were very draining. Fran alluded to the fact that during this time she took lengthy naps. However, from what I could see, she kept on doing all that she does so well.
Each of my mentioned friends are continuing to produce great work—this in spite of ongoing time limitations. How is it that they are able to do this? I am thinking that it has something to do with inner drive. A crude comparison, but it’s like toy drive in dogs. The difference is that artistic drive is more altruistic than toy drive.
There’s the sense that if one ceases to create, that one doesn’t feel complete. Creating is (for many artists), a way of making the world a better place. An image of a horse or a dog, present or past, brings great joy to the owner of that animal, and further joy to others that view it. It also (ever so briefly) stills the mind and allows it to be at peace with itself.
Next: 43. 2/12/14: Found Poem: Craigslist: Alaska Farm and Garden