Sunday, August 21, 2016

Entering Glacier

Lake MacDonald Morning, watercolor 5" x 8".

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to fulfill a long-time dream to visit Glacier National Park in MT. I had applied to be artist-in-residence at Glacier this year for the second time, and had been turned down again. Being in my late sixties, one wonders if this could be the last year when one might still be able to trudge up and down those rugged mountain trails. I didn't want to take no for an answer. Could there be another way...?

I thought of going on my own, and started looking for accommodations in the park, but of course April was too late--every hotel in the park was already booked. I saw a link to Sperry Chalet, a historic back-country chalet built in 1913 and clicked on it. On the website was another link: Art at Sperry Chalet. I read through it and found that Sperry Chalet offered an artist in residence for two weeks in the summer. The deadline was rapidly approaching, so I hurried and managed to get in my application just before the May 1st deadline.

Two weeks later I had a message from Kevin, the manager of Sperry Chalet. I called him back during my lunch hour and he interviewed me. I had many questions: how would my gear get there, how did the chalet feed its guests if there was no electricity, were bears a problem, where was the nearest airport? Kevin answered my questions and asked a few in return, which I did my best to answer. At the end of the interview, he told me I could come! He suggested I should come a few days before the start of my two-week residency if possible, so I could see a bit more of the park.

I started looking into airfares and hotel accommodations--booking a flight into Kalispell was no problem, but all the hotels close to the park were already booked. I found one room available at the Glacier Travel Inn in Columbia Falls, some 15 miles from the west entrance to the park and booked that right away. Perhaps there would be some daily bus or shuttle service that could take me into the park.

Outfitting was next: I needed to replace the water bladder in my old day pack, and I bought some hiking poles (I'd never used these before, but considering the terrain, I thought this prudent). I had adequate clothing and art supplies but I needed new orthotics for my nearly-new hiking boots, and I needed to pack light  (it's the bad habit of an exile, I tend to pack too many things I don't need, as if I were never going to return).

The preparations consumed the weeks before my July 12 departure. Despite all this, when I landed in Kalipell that evening I felt so--not ready! Kevin met me at the airport and drove me to my hotel. He agreed to pick me up the next morning to take me into the park, and pick me up that evening, but since he had to work, I would on my own during the day.

Apgar Village near West Glacier.

Wednesday morning after Kevin dropped me off I toured the Visitor Center at the west entrance and then walked on through Apgar Village to the visible edge of Lake McDonald. The mountains around the lake were veiled in clouds, giving the place a moody atmosphere--perfect for a sketch. I found a bench and parked myself there for several hours to observe and work. As the light and shadow played over the mountains I painted, and chatted with a charming lady from St. Louis whose son and daughter were wind-sailing on the lake. She took a photo of me with my paints. 

Lake McDonald on a cloudy morning.

Painting at Lake MacDonald.

After lunch in Apgar Village I went into a quaint store--the Old Schoolhouse (formerly exactly that) and on a whim, I bought a Polartec vest that happened to match the color of my old favorite Polartec jacket that I had brought with me. I had a hunch this vest would come in handy, and as it turned out, my hunch was correct.

After that I boarded one of the shuttles and went to Lake McDonald Lodge towards the other end of the lake. The clouds had cleared and the day had become sunny and pleasant. Like Sperry Chalet, this hotel dates from 1913 and has a classic Swiss chalet-style of architecture. The interior conserved the western-lodge decor of the era, with hunting trophies mounted on the walls.

Lobby of the Lake McDonald Lodge.

After taking the lodge in, I walked out to the back and looking to fill the time, reserved a seat on the next boat tour. I chatted with the young man at the boat concession and after I told him I was going to be Sperry Chalet's artist-in-residence, Devan insisted on returning my ticket fee--he wanted me to take the tour for free, with his promise to point out Sperry Chalet from the water during the tour.

The boathouse at Lake McDonald.

The ranger leading the boat tour was a gentleman in his 70's and had worked at the park for many years. He pointed out a small cabin on the shore of Sprague Creek that was the artist in residence's quarters and a few other private homes behind the lodge that predated the creation of the national park. His description of the 2003 fire which he had witnessed was unforgettable--seeing the wall of fire jump over the mountain range to the west of the lake, the fire roaring louder than jet engines.

Sperry Chalet and Sperry Trail seen from Lake McDonald.

When we reached a spot about two miles from the boat dock, Devan handed me his binoculars and told me to look for Sperry Chalet on the second mountain range behind the first one. The Chalet was barely a dot in the distance, and I was going to hike up there next Sunday? From this perspective it seemed an improbable feat. So this is what I'd signed up for... oh boy, I'd better do a few practice hikes in the next couple of days to get ready for this!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

More Garden Photos

 Pink Petal Pushers and Red Simplicity roses with hybrid Peace between them.

New Dawn Rose and Clematis Etoile Violette

Cumberland Azalea (Azalea bakeri)

Stella D'Oro daylilies, catmint and Itea 'Little Henry' bloom in front of the Little Indians.

Little Indians bed looking up the hill on the east side.

Yellow daylilies at the base of a red maple, new houses in back.

Front bed by the driveway: creeping phlox, barberry,, white salvia, red yarrow and lavender.

Blueberry 'Top Hat' and 'Mara de Bois' strawberries.

Not much to say except that my garden continues its seasonal growth, and show you its beauty. These are photos taken from the beginning of June through last week. Now in early July the major flush of flowers are done, and the Japanese beetles are decimating the roses. The chiggers have been attacking mercilessly, forcing me to spend less time outdoors.

In another week I'll be flying out to Montana, to be Artist in Residence at Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park. It's a good time to take a vacation from the garden to enjoy and paint the alpine wildflowers at Glacier.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Darling Buds of May

Pink peony bud.

After two very rainy and chilly weeks the sun finally came out last week, coaxing those darling buds of May to start opening. The irises came to perfection a bit earlier than I had expected, while the roses bid their time.

The front walk.

On impulse, I bought a new pink iris to reward myself after a hard week. I'd have to expand one of the flower beds to make room for it, but that would give me room to separate and replant some of the the irises in this front bed that are getting a bit crowded.

Pink iris.

The irises in the back yard suffered from fungal leaf spots, perhaps because it's been so wet, so it seemed best to put the new iris bed behind the peonies in the front, where the drainage and air circulation are better. I waited a week for the ground to dry out, and still, a few evening showers interrupted my labors. Yesterday evening despite the heat, I finally managed to get in the new iris and separate some of the others--voila!

The new iris bed.

As I was working on the expansion, the rosebuds began to open. Ah, is there anything as lovely s a rose, except perhaps many more roses?

The red Double Knockout rose by the front walk.

My 'Etoile Violette' clematis and climbing rose 'New Dawn' have grown into a sizable array after three years--earlier in the spring I pruned the rose and trained it farther up the porch pillar. It's now grown into a graceful "S" curve and gradually come into full bloom.

Rose and Clematis last week in May.
Rose and Clematis, first week in June.


Other plantings are filling out nicely too, more on those in the next post. My garden keeps on growing, fuller and more lush each year. The garlic spray has kept the deer from eating my roses, at last, I can enjoy them in their glory!

Evening in the garden.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Passel of Pink Lady Slippers

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids (Cypripedium acaule)

Last  summer when I was poking about in the woods at the site I had visited with VNPS where we found the native Yellow-Fringed Orchids, I had seen some other leaves and a seed pod that looked as if they might be Pink Lady Slipper Orchids, and decided to come back the following spring to verify my find.

After two weeks of plentiful rain, I figured this would be the right blooming time for slipper orchids, so last Sunday I went back to Fort Valley to look for them. With the leaves just emerging and the woods more open, it wasn't hard to locate the area. Lo and behold, here was a huge patch of Pink Lady Slippers in bloom--I counted twenty-seven open flowers with a twenty-eighth one just fading!

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids (Cypripedium acaule)

About twenty feet upstream from this colony I found another three or four flowers--it's amazing how these orchids manage to hide so well in plain sight! I hope these patches flourish for many years, but  I think this particular year may be a rarity--somehow I doubt so many orchids flower at the same time every year. I plan to return next year to check just in case.

Close-up of the flower

In the close-up you can see the pollinia (pollen sac) just behind the staminode (the flap-like triangle at the opening of the slipper).

After such an exciting find, anything would be an anticlimax, but since I had never driven any farther into Fort Valley, I decided to drive on to the small town that takes its name from the valley: a small community of farms in a beautiful setting bounded by mountains.

Farms in Fort Valley

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My first Vellum Painting

Slipper Orchid Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum on vellum, 12" x 9".

In April I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Carol Woodin at USBG on painting orchids on vellum. Painting on vellum was something I really wanted to learn--the techniques are very different from watercolor painting on paper. Since vellum can easily buckle with moisture, it's essential to apply the paints very dry, in thin layers, and build up the color gradually. I had read about this, but wasn't quite sure how dry the paint needs to be.

USBG brought out a group of lovely orchids from their collection for us to work from. I chose this delicate-looking Paph--Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum--for my painting. Many of the other orchids had wild colors: yellow, orange, magenta and purple, that were appealing but seemed too difficult to deal with.

Photo of Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum on my stand.

I struggled with the composition of my drawing, trying to give a sense of the winding stems and their bracts. I noticed that this species of Paph is of a type that has multiple flowers on one stem and a small bud could be seen beside the open flower  in front (most of the Paphs I've previously seen had only one flower per stem). The hairy spotted petals were one of the features that attracted me to this species.

Transferring the drawing to the vellum presented another problem--without a light table, it's very difficult to put graphite lightly on the back of the drawing and get much to go on the vellum, so one had to re-draw a good bit of the original drawing with the slim guidance given by barely-readable linework.

Once I started to apply the paint, putting an even wash with a dry brush was another challenge. Even more challenging was adding layers to the previous washed to build up the color--the slightest dampness tended to lift the previous layers to create "holes" or streaks that were hard to deal with.

Carol was very patient explaining how to repair these problems. Most of my classmates had a little more experience painting on vellum than I, and many obtained wonderful results with their pieces, bringing their expertise to bear on their particular orchids.

Paphiopedilum painting  on vellum by Cristina Baltayian

 The workshop breezed by very quickly, my piece is not quite finished but I managed to get enough on paper to give an idea of this specific orchid. I can see it's going to take a lot of practice for me to get these techniques down, and I hope to have the time to devote to it.

Paphiopedilum painting on vellum by Renee Johnson

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Japanese Umbrella Pine Sketches

State Champion Japanese Umbrella Pine (Sciadopytis verticillata), pencil sketch, 10" x 8"

Ahh, spring! Yesterday on the way back from delivering my three pieces for the Art at the Mill spring 2016 show in Millwood, I decided to stop by the Virginia State Arboretum on my way home. It was such a fine spring day, I took along my sketch book, pencils and camera, thinking to sketch the Japanese Umbrella Pine in the garden that is rated a state champion for its size. I've been studying the trees at the Arboretum with an eye to producing a painting to submit for the ASBA show next year, and the Japanese Umbrella Pine there is certainly an unusual and beautiful tree.

State Champion Japanese Umbrella Pine

Its "needles" are arranged in whorls around its stems that curve gracefully in a manner reminiscent of an umbrella's spokes, hence the common name. Looking it up on-line I found that the "needles" are actually cladodes, which are botanically classified as stems, but function as leaves. The tree is the sole representative of its family and genus, and a living fossil native of Japan, where it is associated with old Shinto temples and an emblem of the Imperial family.

It was introduced to western cultivation in the 1860's and grows very slowly. This state champion at the Arboretum was probably planted after Mr. Blandy's death in 1926, when Dr. Orland White took over as Director of the Blandy Experimental Farm and started collecting plants for the arboretum. Over the years this tree has been engulfed by other gigantic evergreens in the conifer garden so that this was the only unobstructed view of the mature tree that showed the trunk and structure of the branches. I sketched this while standing up and did a detail of one branch and a cladode from a nearby bench. I looked but couldn't find any cones on the tree or on the ground.

Younger Japanese Umbrella Pine at the VA State Arboretum, pencil sketch, 10" x 8"

I asked a gentleman at the gift shop if he knew where in the garden another specimen of this tree might be found, since the Blandy Experimental Farm website's "Map It" page listed two specimens on the grounds. Bill didn't know, but he was so kind as to find a smart phone and use the app to find the second one in a less-visited portion of the garden. He walked me there and helped me to move one of the garden benches closer so I could sit comfortably to sketch, thus earning my gratitude and friendship.

This second tree was much younger, and still had the classic pyramidal conifer shape. The strong breeze animated its branches, giving my sketch a very lively look. Happily occupied, it wasn't until my sketch was almost finished that I noticed it was getting chillier as the shadows became longer. I looked at my watch: it was five o'clock! Time to head home with a good afternoon's work.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Out of the Box Botanicals

Big Cypress Box, oils on wood tobacco box, 5.25" x 4.5" x 4.5".

Preparing art for the upcoming BASNCR show, "Off the Beaten Path" has been fun, if a lot of hard work. The theme was to present botanical art that went beyond the traditional format to be "out of the box". The Big Cypress Box, a piece with five tiny oil paintings on a gessoed cigar box that I'd started many years ago (I can't recall exactly when but I think it was around 2001) and hadn't quite finished, seemed like a perfect piece for this show--botanical paintings literally on the outside of a box!  

Big Cypress Box: right side and rear panels.

Five miniature oil paintings of various plants and a butterfly native to Big Cypress appear on each of the sides: bromeliads (Tsillandia fasciculata) appear on the top and rear panel. Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) is on the front panel, Florida's state butterfly, the zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonius) on the right hand side, and bald cypresses (Taxodium distychum) on the other.

Big Cypress Box: left side and front panels.

Decorative stripes in red, green and yellow outline the edges so that the design wraps around the box and creates the illusion that the paintings flow into each other. Next week I'll show you how the painting of "The Holly and the Ivy" I was working on back in December turned out.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

First Signs of Spring 2016

First Crocuses  of 2016 (Crocus tommasinianus)>

That harbinger of spring--the crocus--has begun to bloom in my yard. Today the first patch of Crocus tommasinianus planted two years ago, is finally putting on a show under the cherry tree in front. The early daffodils are also coming up.

White hyacinth buds (Hyacinthus orientalis).

My white hyacinths are also starting to show their buds--I'd almost forgotten where I planted them. It seems that we may yet have an early spring, provided we don't have any sudden cold snaps. The past two years spring has been so late in our area, a change would be very welcome.