The Fish Whisperer

The weather report predicted rain the whole time. We had only five days.  Last-minute tickets were double the price.

But we love Alaska

…we love my sister Constance…

…and we love to fish.

On his last trip Eli couldn’t drop a line without pulling out a fish.  After catching a thirty pound King, he was hooked.

 

Using frequent flyer miles and companion fares, we caught the tail end of the salmon season.

You can pack a lot into five days, especially in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

We set out each day by the crack of noon.

Wildlife was abundant, whether feathered…

 

 

…or finned.

And then there was the two-footed kind.

Con’s friend Barbara is famous for her gin and tonics, and now her recently remodeled garage is a neighborhood attraction that everyone calls the Garage Mahal.

At the Alaska State Museum my artist sister’s painting, belonging to its permanent collection, was on display.  She’d just had a show of paintings created during a residency in a historic lighthouse keeper’s house on an island off the rugged coast of Norway.

 

We were inspired to make art of our own.  At her studio Eli and Constance painted…

…and I sketched Thom, although I couldn’t get him to look up from his book.

The line at the art house cinema was tolerable.

Small town headlines were refreshing.

And the fish were biting!

 

Some for grilling…

…and some for smoking.

 

The Fish Whisperer…

 

…strikes again!

 

We’ll be back. 

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

Who Turned on the Lights?

People find the light in their life in so many ways and places.  It can be as easy as turning on a switch.

 

Some find all the light they need in a sunset…

…or a moonrise.

Others find illumination in a church…

…a synagogue…


…a mosque…

…or a library.

Sacred is a place that lights up your heart.

It isn’t always easy to find…

Some look for it in food…


…at the bottom of a wine glass…

…or through yoga.

Some light up with the joy and anticipation of adventure.

And what constitutes an adventure is very personal.

Sometimes light comes from the joy of creation in all of its many forms…

 

Everyone’s light shines through differently.  To each his own.

For me, love shines brightest of all.

 

It’s our life’s work and pleasure to follow the light…

…or to make our own.

It is there.

It is there.

It is there.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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

Fly With It!

When my daughter Bea was a little girl, she found a seed in a seedless Satsuma, and planted it in a paper cup.  Our little Satsuma tree has lived on our kitchen windowsill for years now, as a reminder that with a little faith, anything can grow.   Creativity is like that too.

Sometimes we see beauty in the ordinary.

Or, upon reflection, we take the ordinary and transform it.

Sometimes inspiration comes to us in a flood.

Sometimes in a flash.

Or even in hindsight.

More often,  it comes in disguise.

Or as a creative response to something we feel passionate about.

Perhaps we are inspired by another artist…as in Bea’s sculpture, The Ice Scream.

I love working with a creative team…

Sometimes it’s a process.

…but the end result is worth it.

However it comes to you, wherever you find your inspiration, you are never too young…

Or too old….

…To fly with it!

May all your ideas and inspirations be fruitful!

All images and words Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of A Word a Week Photographic Challenge.

Survival Stories

 

While exploring Etruscan tombs in Tuscany, my sister Constance and I stumbled upon the ancient hilltop town of Pitigliano.

 

We saw many other lovely towns…

…and picturesque villages.

But I loved this place like nowhere else in Italy.  Its story was the key to my heart.  Pitigliano had provided a rare refuge for Jews driven from Spain during the Inquisition. After the Pope and the Medicis forced Pitigliano’s Jews into the ghetto in 1600, they still accounted for twenty percent of the population.  After the war and the Holocaust, a small handful returned to care for the synagogue and to tell the story.

How small?” I asked a local. She shrugged. “Maybe five.”

The Jewish bakery was closed for the Sabbath, and the synagogue was closed because there weren’t enough Jews for a minyan.

But a shop sold matzoh and a confection called Sfratto, the Italian word for eviction.  Sfratto has a filling of honey, walnuts, and oranges, baked into a smooth-crusted loaf shaped like a police baton.   It was invented by the Jews of Pitigliano to commemorate their eviction from their homes and into the ghetto by officers using sticks to beat on their doors.  Four hundred years later, they’re still telling the story, and we’re still eating it up.

In a narrow alley across from the synagogue, I shivered to hear the haunting strains of a lone Klezmer violin drifting down from a second story window.  At first I thought it was a recording, until the music trailed off.  It had to have been played by human, or perhaps ghostly hands.

 

 

Nearby was a doorstep decked with flowers as colorful as the town’s history.  Two cats curled up in a big flowerpot, one cat a black and white mix, the other all black, but I was an English major, and I saw them as symbols of the concrete world of black and white, living in harmony with the fluid world of shadow and story.  The scene was framed by dark medieval walls backlit by the sunny valley, while the valley was alive with vineyards and olive trees…

…yet riddled with ancient tombs.


The paradox seemed to capture the essence of Pitigliano, and of all Italy.  But before I could capture it on film, the cats bolted, and I lost the moment.  Or so I thought.  That night in our apartment in Orvieto, Constance painted…

…while I wrote about Pitigliano.  I loved it for its unique history, for providing refuge when so few others would, for its tiny but stalwart population of Jews determined to protect a precious legacy, for the stories and ghosts that linger in every back alley.

Then Constance showed me her painting.  Alive with color, it conjured the fragrance of honey and walnut, the haunting strains of a lone violin. And there were my cats, just as I remembered them, a perfect balance of black and white, and shadow.

It was reassuring.  In arts or in letters, by word of mouth, or in the guise of a Jewish confection, so long as there is someone left to tell it and someone willing to listen, the story will survive.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck