The Beginning of the Rainbow

My son Eli and I met up in Taiwan last week.  He was eager to visit The Rainbow Village while we were in Taichung.  Several reviews suggested it was too far off the beaten path to be worth the trip, but most people were highly enthusiastic.

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I did a little research; sometimes the story of a place or object can imbue it with meaning.  This story goes way back, and knowing the story made a difference to me.  Huang Yung-Fu was born in 1924.  During the Chinese Civil War he fought for Chiang Kai-shek, and in 1949, he followed their defeated leader to Taiwan.
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Hundreds of villages sprang up throughout Taiwan, providing temporary military housing for the veterans like Huang Yung-Fu and their families.  Some of the military villages had a thousand units or more. The temporary concrete houses became permanent homes for many. 

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They were small and drab and time took its toll on the buildings.  Cities grew up around them, and the property became more valuable than the dwellings.  Developers started buying up the land. Residents were offered compensation and relocation if they would agree to vacate.

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 Most veterans submitted, but Huang Yung-Fu resisted; he would not leave his home.

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The old veterans’ community was gradually reduced to only 11 residences.

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They wanted to tear down Huang Yung-Fu’s home too.  So he picked up a paintbrush and began to paint…

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…and paint…

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…and paint.

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Bit by bit, wall by wall, his colorful murals expanded to beautify all the remaining residences.  

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Local university students discovered Huang’s work and campaigned to save the village. What was left of the place became known as The Rainbow Village.  Authorities eventually agreed that it should be preserved, and it has since become a designated cultural area.

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Mr. Huang, referred to by many simply as Grandpa, is now 94 years old. At a little table you can purchase post cards, magnets, and other products based on his work, the proceeds of which must surely provide a good living.

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Grandpa was napping when we got there, but we’re told he often touches up his work, keeping it fresh and bright.

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I am in awe. With the help from local students, through his art, a fragile old man rescued his home from destruction and urban decay.  He transformed his home into a vibrant tourist hotspot that also provides a good living.

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Huang Yung-Fu has worked a kind of magic, real and powerful.  He has turned this…

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…into this.

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As surely as Huang Yung-Fu was going to lose his home, we are going to lose ours.  Imagine what would happen if writers and storytellers, visual and performing artists everywhere were to unleash their passion, channel their creative talents, and fearlessly use their superpowers to advocate action for environmental protection, humanitarian aid, civil rights and social justice.  Artist Favianna Rodriguez says, “Change the culture, change the world.” She quotes Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”   It has happened before.  Sinclair Lewis, Pete Seeger, Miriam Makeba, Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Diego Rivera, just for starters.  It can happen again.  And it’s now or never time.

All images and words ©2016 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Magic.

Magic Carpet Ride

In Turkey, everywhere we turned there were carpets…

…dressing up every room in the house.

Indoors…

…and outdoors.

Sometimes in the most unexpected places.

 There are special prayer rugs in the mosques.

Even Turkish camels use them.

Cats love them too.

They really really love them.

And so do I.

They are important to the tourist trade.

 I was willing to do my part to boost the economy.

 

But how to choose?

So many variables.  Size, color, intricate patterns…

We knew we should research the market, measure the space, photograph the rug, walls, and furniture we wanted our  purchase to match.  But we didn’t.

The wine helped.  Hospitality is customary in Turkey, but it doesn’t hurt to soften up potential buyers.  We didn’t care: we knew from the start we would walk out with a new carpet.

Relying on instinct, we pared it down to two rugs. Then Metin explained the symbolism, and the deal was sealed. The tulip border on our favorite was a common Turkish motif, symbolizing the Garden of Eden.

Tulips recall Turkey’s rich history and culture, from the ‘tulip mania’ that brought “the Konya flowers” from Turkey to the West, to the many doors of understanding and appreciation opened on this shared journey.

One border design depicts water…

…for freedom and triumph over difficulties, because water follows its own path around, below or above any obstacle.

It also symbolizes fertility.

Red is for vibrance, passion, happiness.  The ‘S’ border is for the first letter in the Turkish word for love.

The oleander flower, strong and drought resistant, stands for protection.  It can be poisonous but is used to treat cancer, epilepsy, heart conditions, and more.  Thousands of years ago Roman soldiers took it to cure hangovers.

Could our Turkish carpet brother be reading us so well that he could tell us exactly the story we want to hear?  Love, passion, protection, and satisfaction guaranteed?  Absolutely!

We weren’t worried about cutting the best deal or finding the best bargain: that was the happy ending to someone else’s adventure.  It was the love story that stood out for us, the one we felt invested in, the one we happily bought into.

And the rug was a perfect fit–although not where we’d intended to put it, but–surprise!–we found an even better place for it, and we love our carpet more than we hoped or imagined.

We choose our own stories, just as we choose a carpet or a mate.

A little glass of wine can help.  Don’t worry about the ticket price, go by instinct, and carry it home.  Not every day can be a magic carpet ride, but these things hold their value, and a good one will last a lifetime.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Intricate.

Depth Perception

Last Tuesday we went downtown to attend a concert at Benaroya Hall, commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.

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The performance was called Art From Ashes, and was produced by Music of Remembrance.

I had mixed feelings about going.

It was a wet cold day in Seattle.

The city seemed dirty.

…And sad.

It would be heartbreaking to listen to works by Jewish composers whose lives and legacies were cut short at the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau.

But the music proved more poignant than heartbreaking.

These doomed artists plumbed the depths of their despair, gleaned beauty from their cruel twisted world, and imbued their swan songs with love and longing.

Each note, each word a parting glance, a declaration of love, a prayer…

“…Tearfully stolen from the distant west, a gentle pink ray on the thin twigs, settling its quiet kiss on tiny leaves..”

As Jake Heggie wrote in his song Farewell, Auschwitz, they cast off their striped clothes and held their shaved heads high.  “The song of freedom upon our lips will never, never die.”

Ashamed and bewildered by the depths of depravity to which humankind has too often sunk, I also felt a fierce pride for its passion and courage and tenacious love of life that can raise art from the ashes.

Copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: One Love.

 

Beguine Again

 Hello, dear friends!

The Bardo Group has merged with Bequine Again, a B-zine featuring

an international collective of artists, poets, writers, and storytellers fostering peace, proximity and healing

through our love of the arts and humanities.

Please come visit!

Holiday House

I was in Juneau, Alaska last week.

It was a treat to see real winter, as ours in Seattle tend to be mild.

Mostly I was there to see my sister Constance, a well known Alaskan artist.

Her solo show, “Breakthrough,” was at The Juneau City Museum, and scheduled to open for Juneau’s big annual Gallery Walk.

We hung her paintings the night before.

Her work is vibrant and exciting.  It catches your eye from across the gallery…

 

…and is mesmerizing up close as well, with intricate detail and creative use of negative space.

 

Then we shopped for cheese, crackers, nuts, and veggies to serve at the opening.

Constance’s friend Nancy made five dozen deviled eggs, which were also a work of art. (Nancy’s husband Andy applied the garnish.)

 There was a great turnout, and Constance sold some beautiful paintings.  Her work will be on display until December 27th.  To view her artwork for this show and to read her artist statement about it, click here.

The whole town turns out for Gallery Walk.  Every shop and gallery in town serves refreshments and features local artists.  People come out in droves, wearing their sequins and snowboots. I popped over to Annie Kaill’s and saw my sister’s painting, Holiday House, in the front window of the shop.  This festive painting was on loan to the gallery from its owners.  Someone I talked to said he overheard people praising the painting in St. Petersberg! My favorite art tells a story, and this one tells a story I know.  Constance painted it as a gift for her neighbors Jeff and Terry.  Look closely and you can see Jeff in his brown overalls on a ladder, putting up his Christmas lights. Jeff is the kind of neighbor every neighborhood wants and needs, but few are fortunate enough to have.  When he mows his own lawn, he also cuts the grass of an elderly neighbor.  If Constance comes home and finds her driveway shoveled, she can guess who did it. Constance met him for the first time decades ago, when she bought a sandbox for her kids out in the valley and it wouldn’t fit in her car. She recognized him and, not knowing what else to do, asked a stranger’s help transporting it in his pickup.  It was all set up in her yard when she got home.  On our visit to Juneau last summer he heard that my son Eli was interested in fishing, and offered to take him out on his boat.  Jeff helped Eli land a thirty pound king salmon.  It was the highlight of his trip–all of ours, really, because eight of us ate fresh King salmon every night and there was still some to share with the neighbors. Every year Jeff spends the weeks preceding Christmas putting up tens of thousands of lights on his house, and at least a dozen Santas and snowmen.  His electric bill spikes each December, but the people of Juneau count on him to put some serious twinkle into their holiday. Some people save their treasures for heaven, but I think there’s a twinkle light shining on his house for each kindness Jeff has paid to others.  They add up, all those little lights, and push back the darkness for us all.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Paint.

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s Photo-a-Week Challenge: Artsy.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle.

Love at Second Sight

When my nephew from Southeast Alaska was just a tot, he came to Seattle and squinted up at the sky. “What’s that stuff in my eyes?” he asked. “What stuff?” asked his mom. “That shiny stuff.”

Oh, that would be sunshine. Yes, the sun does shine in Seattle, even more than in Juneau, but so not much lately. Our weather tends to be soft, our skies pastel.

It was autumn when we left Seattle last Friday.

Two hours later, we stepped off a plane into summertime.

The California sky was so blue!

 
The light was intense, and even the shadows seemed to take on a life of their own.

This was most noticeable in the courtyard of the Cantor Art Museum on the Stanford campus, where we saw a sculpture by Robert Serra.

It was 200 tons of iron, 13 feet tall, 67 feet long.  At first I thought it looked like smoke stacks on a steamer or scrap metal from an old factory.

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But there is more to it than meets the eye.

It is two interlocking figure 8s that we could step inside…

…to interact with…and become a part of the sculpture.

The slanting walls were surprising, but the effect was intriguing.

We felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole.

Each step brought a new view.

The interplay between light and shadow and sky was brilliant.

We viewed a hundred canvases, each one borrowing colors from the same palette…

…but every one a distinct new creation.

It was playful.

Energizing!

 

Definitely a case of love at second sight.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Abstract.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme.

The Art of Work

Imagine a world without art and artists.

They help us see the world through different eyes.

And artisans infuse our everyday lives with beauty.

 

Works of art come in many disciplines.

 

And on many scales…

 …some more grand than others.

 

My artist sister Constance’s painting, “The Poet”, celebrates the literary art of poetry through her visual art.

But I have great appreciation for people who would never consider themselves artists, and yet they make an art of work.

Some apply exceptional creativity to their work, like this fellow who rigged a bicycle to power a sugar cane juicer, to crank out a little work of art one cup at a time.

Some turn an ordinary business into something with a very personal touch.

 

In Ireland,  I was moved by the gravestone of a man lovingly remembered for his gift of turning his work into an art.

Be it traditional…

 

…entrepreneurial…

…fleeting…

…or a treasured heirloom…

 

…art is all around us, and everyone is an artist in his or her own way, whether practicing with a paintbrush, chisel, camera, wooden spoon, plow, or scissors.

Art is in the eye of the beholder.

Also on the tongue…

…in the ear…

…the nose…

…the heart…

and the mind.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, party arty!

All images and words c2014Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Industry.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art.

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

When visiting the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio with my cousins June and Nancy, a huge sculpture immediately captured my attention.

It dominated the back wall of the entry hall, a 3D rainbow of recycled paper, cardboard, and plastic.


The sculptor, Lisa Hoke, titled the piece “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” in a nod to baseball player Yogi Berra, who was famous for employing the English language in surprising and humorous ways.  I don’t know exactly what Lisa intended when she chose that title for this piece, but it seems appropriate.

This work of art features colorful patterns created by discarded packaging of consumer goods, mostly paper and plastic.

Trash, really.


But Lisa has mindfully and creatively transformed refuse into something beautiful– and useful, too—for art satisfies the senses and stimulates thoughts and feelings.

Here’s what this piece brought to my mind: We are trashing our planet.  Landfills are overflowing and oceans have become dumping grounds.  Imagine if we could do what Lisa has done, only in our real lives and on a larger scale–by making less garbage, of course, but finding ways to make the most of it.

Our deck is made of recycled plastic.  Paper products like toweling, books, and stationary are made of recycled paper.  Instead of adding countless plastic grocery bags to the landfill, cloth shopping bags can be used again and again.

There’s no doubt that Yogi was right—the future ain’t what it used to be.  But wouldn’t it be a fine thing to recycle the old future into a better one for ourselves and our children?

All photos and words c 2013Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Sculpture.

One More Time

Sharon Creeden has been my good friend for thirty years.

She was a King County prosecutor, a right-brained person in a left-brained world.  I would describe her as a person with one toe deeply rooted in the earth, and an ear bent toward Heaven.  No wonder she left law, and went on to become an acclaimed storyteller and author.  Fair is Fair: World Folktales of Justice was awarded the American Folklore Society’s Aesop Prize, as well as a Storytelling World Award.

 

Her brilliant anthology, In Full Bloom: Tales of Women in Their Prime (foreword by Naomi Baltuck!is well known in the storytelling world.

 

But at heart she has always been a poet, and a visual artist.

Sometimes both at once. Her work, Generations, is a collage featuring a vintage photo of four generations of the women in her family.  Having grown up in Kansas, Sharon chose to include the quilt pattern called “Kansas Troubles.”

On the back of this piece–and at the heart of it– you will find her poetry.

Writers, poets and artists, teachers, mothers and grandmothers…hell, everyone occasionally needs a boost.

I am fortunate to know creative people with whom I can retreat and reenergize.

To share ideas…

To feed our spirits…

To get the creative juices flowing.

To create a quiet space to write….

…and write…

…and write.

Whatever it takes!

Last week I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the next writing project I have committed myself to.  Sharon said, “Before dawn this morning, I was stewing about my resistance to starting a new painting and was reading Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING. And this poem came:

I am more than the sum of dried paint tubes and stacks of attempts and tries.
I am the breath of color on canvas,
I am the vision of something never before.
I am the incessant urge of “one more time”.

Sharon transported me from that space of uncertainty.  I felt cradled and spooned by the good women in my life.  I felt bound not by blood and bone, but by our passion for language, story, and the incessant urge of “one more time.”

I know I can and will do whatever it takes.

One. More. Time.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration.

c2013 Naomi Baltuck.

Please allow me to introduce you to another friend.  Jamie Dedes is the founder and managing editor of an inspiring blogazine called INTO THE BARDO.  Above all, Jamie is an incredibly talented poet, whose words give pause, bring smiles, tears, and moments of breathtaking recognition.  You will find her poetry on her blog,  THE POET BY DAY, the journey in poem.  Another good woman.

The Very Picture

The king was plagued with the heavy burden of responsibility. “Drought and famine, war and rebellion, disease and disaster, one after the other!  I must find a way to quiet my troubled heart, so I can sleep at night!”  He offered a reward to the artist who could paint him a picture of perfect peace.  Artists came from all over the kingdom, each bringing his own vision of peace.

 

One painted a sheltered mountain valley.

Another a pristine lake, still and calm, a perfect mirror to reflect a clear blue sky.

There was an orchard in full bloom.

Fluffy clouds with silver linings.


Cheerful sunny days.

And so many sunsets!

The king studied them all, and at last he decided.  He chose a painting of a waterfall, tumbling down a mountainside, beneath a dark, angry sky.

“But your majesty,” said his counselor. “Why this painting? This is a portrayal of chaos.”

“Look closely,” said the king.  He pointed to a sheltered spot behind the waterfall, where there was a ledge between the jagged rocks. Upon that ledge a mother bird had built her nest.  Snuggled beneath her wings, safe and warm, were her precious chicks.

“I understand now,” said the king. “Peace happens not only where there is an absence of strife and suffering.   In the midst of chaos, if there is calm in your heart, will you know the true meaning of peace.”

(Mrs. Bradford Ripley and Her Children, 1852. By Robert Walter Weir, Detroit Institute of Art)

(Sculpture for his friend Robert Arthur by Samuel Murray, Detroit Institute of Art)

Copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped.

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Travel Theme: Peaceful