Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Painting at the Secret Garden Tour in Annapolis

Annapolis Secret Garden Tour

(image from last year's Chesapeake Life magazine article)

This coming weekend of May 31-June 1, I'll be in Annapolis, painting in two historic gardens that are part of this year's Secret Garden Tour, organized by the Hammond-Harwood House.

Gallery 1683 arranged for several of us artists to be able to paint in these unique private gardens during the tour. It will be interesting to be "on show", doing my painting while the public troops by. I just hope I can do justice to the gardens and have my paintings turn out well despite the added pressure. I also hope this will generate enough interest in our art so we may sell a few works. Please go on the Secret Garden Tour and stop by Gallery 1683 at 151 Main Street in Annapolis, one block up from City Dock. The gardens should be lovely this time of the year.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The Clark Farm, oils on archival canvas panel, 9" x 12," $100.

Let's get back to painting. Someone pointed out recently it's funny how I'll travel halfway around the world to paint, but I never paint my own neighborhood. To remedy this, yesterday being a gorgeous day here in Maryland, Susan, a younger artist I'm mentoring, and I went out to paint plein air in my Howard County neighborhood. I'm breaking in a new outdoor painting rig--a Guerrilla paint box and tripod just purchased, that way Susan could use my old Julian easel.

In the morning we painted at Centennial Park by the lake. Susan did a wonderful small painting there but I wasn't happy with mine. In the afternoon, we went across the road to a dead-end street where the Clark Farm spreads out over many acres. This is my favorite place to walk for exercise and inspiration. I love the rolling hills scattered with farm buildings, particularly this barn and silo--they make such a nice focal point for the composition. The fleecy clouds made for a lovely sky.

Next weekend, I'm painting plein air in Annapolis, as part of the Secret Garden Tour. If you are in the vicinity, please come & take the tour so you can visit with me, or stop by Gallery 1683. More details about it in the next post.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cuban Solidarity Day

Poster designed by Guyla Nemeth, graphic artist from Budapest, Hungary

It's Cuban Solidarity Day today--a day to show our support for the Cuban people, brave Cuban dissidents, political prisoners and their families. The list of prisoners is long; I'm sure there are many more whose cases are not known or classified as such. In Castro's Cuba there are many "crimes" one can be sent to jail for, from "social pre-delinquency" (propensity to commit a crime, but without having actually committed one; this usually means being unemployed after being fired from one's job by the sole employer in the country, i.e. the State--and frequently used to detain dissidents), "illicit hoarding" (economic crimes such as attempting to survive through one's own initiative by making/selling or reselling anything you can find) to more overtly political ones such as "enemy propaganda" (writing the truth about Cuba and publishing it anywhere), and "desacato" (disrespect) to the Comandante (saying or writing "Abajo Fidel" and the like). In short, actions that would not be crimes here anywhere else.

My heart goes out to every Cuban on the prison-island, but especially to the wives--the Damas de Blanco-- the families and particularly the children of political prisoners. These children are deprived of having their fathers or mothers at home (in some cases both father and mother). Some are too young to understand why their parents are imprisoned. In school, they are told by their teachers that their parent is a criminal, a "counterrevolutionary," they are often abused by their fellow students and picked on by their teachers, given poor marks despite high academic achievement.

For these children, infrequently visiting their fathers in a Cuban jail in all its medieval Dantesque horror must be a demoralizing experience. How could anyone be so cruel as to do this to an innocent child? I pray for these children, and their families, that they all won't have to endure these injustices much longer.

My problem is that I don't believe that all the peaceful pressure of an international community will ever persuade Cuba's rulers to abandon power, any more than North Korea's Kim Il Jung. These unrepentant brutes would cheerfully take as many lives as possible before they would cede an inch, so where does that leave us who desire freedom for these lands? Should we aid & abet armed insurrection inside these countries or wait another half century for the horror-movie regimes to fall of their own internal corruption? Will they really disintegrate like the USSR? Cuba is in the process of illustrating that Fidel's demise will do little to dismantle the apparatus of state repression he instituted a half century ago, about the only thing that works in Cuba these days. May God help me to regain the faith that something can be done.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The First Veinte de Mayo

Island (Original painting sold, prints are available in several sizes)

Today May 20, is the 106th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Cuba. It seems there's very little to celebrate after 49 years suffering under the cruelest dictatorship to have castigated our island in its entire bloody history. The Castro regime has turned Cuba into a third-world hell-hole: a daily calvary of struggle for survival, its people impoverished, terrorized, hopeless and broken in spirit, with two million of us exiled, scattered throughout the world. In fact, this date has been largely forgotten in Cuba with the total falsification of history the Castro regime has accomplished, and is not celebrated officially.

But there is much good to remember about our republic-- imperfect as it was, we had managed to achieve a first-world standard of living. By the 1950's Cuban workers enjoyed higher hourly wages than their counterparts in England and all of post-war Europe, we had good sanitation and health care; income and opportunity were much more equitably distributed than today, with the Castro nomenklatura cemented as a new aristrocracy.

What I remember most from my childhood in Cuba is the music everywhere--not the mechanical high-decibel grinding begging-for-tourist-currency I hear in the current videos coming out of Cuba --this was music coming softly from a myriad radios, street vendor chants (the "pregones"), ordinary folks anywhere who spontaneously broke out into snatches of contagious melodies. It was a joy that permeated our lives expressed as music that had made us famous around the world.

To celebrate this date I like to remember my grandfather Pa's story of what he witnessed in Havana on that May 20, 1902. Having fought for three years with the Liberation Army, he was now 22 years old; he traveled from his hometown of Remedios for the express purpose of seeing it. A huge crowd had gathered on the Malecon, which at the time ran only a few blocks beyond the Castillo de la Punta on Havana's north coast (thank you, General Leonard Wood and the American military forces who built that first stretch of the Malecon!)

A few minutes before noon, the American flag which had been flying over the Morro for four years, began to be taken down, and the Cuban flag, with "la estrella solitaria" (the lone star) began to rise. At the stroke of noon, the light breeze took hold of our flag and unfurled it, while the cannon resounded, causing the crowd to break out in wild cheering. It was the fulfillment of an ideal we had been fighting for nearly a century. Cuba was now officially and in fact, a democratic republic with a constitution modeled on that of the U.S. The partying went on for days!

My paternal grandfather, Juan Jose Maza y Artola, a lawyer from a well-to-do family, was one of the delegates to that first Constitutional Assembly of 1898 and took an active part in writing the first Cuban Constitution. He would go on to be elected to the Lower Chamber as Representative from Havana, and later serve as Senator from Havana until 1925, when he resigned to make an unsuccessful run for the Presidency. I wish I'd had the honor of knowing him, I bet he would have had some stories to tell. Unfortunately, he died about seven years before I was born, so I didn't get the chance.

Our first republic was forged out of much human sacrifice. Now after another nearly half a century of suffering the Castro dictatorship, with so much sacrificed by valiant men and women, entire families, I can only hope all of us can unite to bring forth a new Cuban republic, applying the lessons of the unhappy present to create a democratic state with true freedom for all.

Monday, May 19, 2008

May 21 is Cuba Solidarity Day

I imagine the date for Cuba Solidarity Day was chosen because it's preceded by two important dates in Cuban history this week. I am joining this world-wide day of support for the cause of liberty for Cuba and its political prisoners by sharing family stories that tie us to Cuba and the cause of freedom.

On this day, May 19, we commemorate the 113 th anniversary of the death of Jose Marti, known to Cubans as "The Apostle of Liberty." For those who do not know Cuban history, on this day Marti was wounded in a minor skirmish with the Spaniards near Dos Rios, a small village in Oriente, in the eastern part of Cuba, and died hours later as a result of his wounds. Marti had spearheaded this last Cuban Independence movement and was its undisputed leader--his loss was a harsh blow for the new military campaign for independence from Spain that had just begun in February of 1895.

My maternal grandfather, Othon Caturla, who was quite a character, had a number of fascinating stories to tell. Pa, as my sisters and I fondly called him, liked to relate how when the news of Marti's death made its way to his home town of Remedios in Las Villas (as the central province was called before Castro changed its name), the immediate reaction from all the young men in the town was to want to join the liberation army of Cuban fighters in the countryside. Marti would not die in vain, his death would be avenged by freedom!

Othon was a few months shy of his fifteenth birthday, so he and his older brother Marcelo agreed to wait until he had turned fifteen before joining up. They made their arrangements through the widow of Urrutia (mother of the man who would later have the singular honor of being interim President of Cuba for six months in 1959 after Castro's take-over), and she put them in touch with conspirators who had ties to the troops. Many of the conspirators were women, brave and willing to sacrifice along with their men.

In late July, Othon and his brother boarded a train to a near-by town, then got off at one of the intermediate stops, where they were met by someone who led them to a safe house. From there they rode on horseback to meet General Carrillo's men. Together the Caturla brothers would survive as part of Carrillo's troops for three years, until the Americans joined the fight and beat Spain in a scant three months of the Spanish-American War.

This photo, published in a Collier's Magazine issue in May of 1898, shows General Carrillo (on chair) and his senior staff: my grandpa is the skinny lad seated first from the left, still too young to grow a beard. What an impoverished troop they appear, and yet these men were tough: they hung on valiantly for three years, fighting the better-equipped Spanish army with little more than machetes and sticks. The photo was taken by an intrepid American journalist, James Ware, who had been sent on an expedition to meet with General Maximo Gomez, Commander-in Chief of the Republic in Arms.

Ware's story makes for amazing reading from start to finish: his ship running aground attempting to run the Spanish blockade, losing all of his gear to save his heavy camera from the surf, making his way through the Cuban "manigua" (the bush) from Cardenas out to Oriente to find Gomez. His photo was reproduced in the 1950's in El Diario de la Marina, one of the leading newspapers in the Havana of my childhood, and my mother recognized her father in the photo. Otherwise, I would not have known the original source. Many years later in exile, I was able to take this photograph from an original issue of the magazine at the Library of Congress.

I have confidence that today's dissidents and political prisoners are every bit as tough and determined as my grandfather's generation to bring freedom once again to our beloved island. I salute each and every one of them with heartfelt thanks for their brave example. Let us all work until we have once again a Cuba Libre!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Scent of Roses at Giverny

Roses at Giverny, watercolor, 10" x 14" - $125

May is the month of flowers, when nature is profligate with her gifts, and there is nothing like the scent of roses in the air... except perhaps the delicate perfume of irises. Why has no one created an iris-scented perfume?

My climbing rose, an old-fashioned pink cabbage-type twining around the deck railing, is about to burst into bloom. This spring has been so rainy, my irises have flopped over, but the neighborhood azaleas and rhododendrons are loving the extra water.

Longing for sunny days, I remembered this small watercolor painted during a visit to Giverny, Monet's home in the French countryside. Two friends and I visited on a Monday, when Giverny is closed to tourists but artists are allowed in to paint, if you don't mind an army of gardeners bustling all around you. Monet was a great artist through and through: his house and garden as much a work of art as his paintings.

The big pink house with its green shutters was trellised with thousands of roses of many colors sparkling in the sun. My friend Marguerite (with hat) appears in the foreground, painting from a nearby bench. It was a day to treasure, as I hope someone will treasure my little painting. Send me an E-mail at if you are interested in buying it. I can accept PayPal, or a check if I know you or you are recommended by a friend.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sky Meadows

Last weekend Linda and I visited a friend in Virginia, on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Jane lives very close to the Thompson Wildlife Management area, where trilliums and other wild flowers are so spectacular in early May. Consulting my books, I'd learned that another state park, Sky Meadows, adjoins the Thompson tract, and though the drivable roads don't go through, one can walk from one to the other via the Appalachian Trail.

It was pouring on Friday as I drove west on I-66 through a slow rush-hour slog, but with increasing distance from the Beltway the traffic cleared, it stopped raining and the clouds began to lift. By the time I reached Sky Meadows, the clouds were opening and the sun was flitting through in patches. Linda and I took a short walk on a loop trail that led up to this grassy meadow. The pastoral beauty of this part of Virginia seems like a movie set, I feel blessed to be able to enjoy it in its spring-time splendor.

It rained heavily during the night, and was still raining next morning, but the weather predictions assured us it would clear up in the afternoon, so we prepared for the hike. We held off starting our until the rain had stopped, drove out to Sky Meadows to leave my car in the parking lot, then drive up to the Thompson area in Linda's.

We started out at one o'clock with the mountain mist still heavy, but within an hour the sun was out. There weren't as many trilliums on this part of the mountain as on the slopes below, just patches here and there. A small native orchid, Showy Orchis, was blooming all over the woods (in photo above); we saw one yellow Lady Slipper orchid, but the pink Lady Slipper orchids I'd hoped to find eluded us. There were many other by-now familiar wildflowers like rue anemone, a few new to me (wild comfrey), and one quite rare.

The hike proved to be longer than I'd anticipated, but the woods in spring are so lovely, the spirit feels refreshed at every turn. No paintings to bring back this weekend--just a few photos and my old quite muddy and tired self.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Plein Air

Last weekend's plein air workshop in Cambridge, Md was wonderful in every respect. It's so rare to have a marvelous instructor like Sara Poly, a congenial group of painters and perfect weather all at the same time! Covey Point Farm is a lovely place on the water, with fabulous views all around, the converted barn comfy.

Painting in the sun (or shade) for five to six hours a day is hard work, though others in the group said this was a relaxed pace as far as painting workshops go. Sara had us do exercises such as 50-stroke paintings, that were beneficial. Making every stroke count was hard, but great discipline. My art leaped light years ahead in just a couple of days, and I feel much closer now to being able to paint oils the way I want to: looser, and full of luminous natural color.

This is my last painting at the workshop, not quite finished, but my best by far. I'm hooked on painting plein air; it's one of the most challenging yet satisfying things an artist can engage. How I wish I could spend more time painting and taking workshops. I'll have to work on that some more.