And now for something totally different

My current hometown, Dowagiac, Michigan was the first stop on the Orphan Train. Before I get into describing the mural which is the subject of this post, here’s a summary of the history of the Orphan Train, patched together from the website

“The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1853 and 1929, relocating about 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children. The children ranged in age from as young as about one year to 17. These homeless children came mostly from large cities on the east coast, such as New York and Boston. Most children were poor and many had been in trouble with the law. Many times, children were separated from their brothers and sisters during these moves. Some never saw their siblings again. At the same time, the midwestern and western farmers suffered a severe labor shortage. They needed help with the work on their farms and ranches. The Orphan Train era was initiated by social welfare reformer Charles Loring Brace of the Children’s Aid Society in New York. Brace urged that children of the poor be given an opportunity to live and work with another family. The children were accompanied on the train by adults, often Catholic nuns. The children left the train at each stop and were chosen or not chosen by the people who came to the station to see them. In some cases, the match was made ahead of time, and the couple would present a number to the chaperones who would match the number to the child wearing the same number. The Orphan Train movement provided many children with homes during a very difficult time. Many of these children were loved and treated very well, but many were not. Many children were separated from parents and siblings for the remainder of their lives.”

So, what was the connection between the Orphan Train and Dowagiac? Here’s a snippet from the Dowagiac Daily News, written by Steve Arseneau, director of the Dowagiac History Museum:

“Some orphans were abused by their new families, forced to perform hard chores with little appreciation for their efforts and were never welcomed into the families. Some of the children ran away from the new families or had to be placed with new ones. Today, we can look at the Orphan Train and be aghast at the concept. Children paraded off a train to be inspected by area farm families to see if they could take them in to help with chores. It was, however, better than what faced orphans on the streets of New York City in 1850 and it opened the door to reforming the orphanage system and how society treats orphans. It certainly influenced child welfare in the 20th Century. So, what was Dowagiac’s connection to the Orphan Train? In late September 1854, Dowagiac was the destination of the first Orphan Train. The Children’s Aid Society sent 46 boys and girls, most between the ages of 10 to 12 years old, on two boat rides and two train trips from New York City to Dowagiac.”

Ruth Anderson, an artist and good friend of mine who lives in nearby Cassopolis, decided to see how many ways she could revive the history of the Orphan Train. Earlier endeavors included writing a play about it which local high school students performed and entered into state and national competitions. They won the competition for Michigan History Day last year and went on to Washington, DC to enter the national one. In the meantime, Ruth had an idea for the huge, inviting vacant wall along one side of the Dowagiac post office. Teaming up with the Dowagiac History Museum, she was able to raise funds for a giant mural which will cover the entire wall. All of the labor is volunteer, which is where I come in. A revolving number of interested people, artists and non-, have been painting away for a few weeks now. We still have a long way to go, but according to Ruth we’re ahead of schedule. Which is a good thing, since there will be a reunion for descendants of Orphan Train riders Sept. 23.

We all look so tiny. Human and sports car included for an idea of scale.

Ruth Andrews, who designed the mural and got the community to support it

Me and my shadow, working…

Although some of the already painted portions look “done”, there are many areas that are still unfinished, such as the “grassy” portion I’m standing next to in the photo above. I’m just glad I’m not charged with painting the complex locomotive…at least not yet…


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Charm and I love the number 5

It couldn’t have been a more perfect weekend for a horse show. Cool, dry, breezy. Overnight on Thursday it rained probably a couple of inches at the showground, but by the time we arrived on Friday evening the wonderful sand arena had soaked up almost all of it and left us with near-perfect footing. The Rockin’ Riders quadrille team had plenty of time to get into the ring on Friday and get both ourselves and our horses oriented to the space. I will state at this point that Charm behaved perfectly all through the practice, which is something she does not necessarily do in unfamiliar territory.

Saturday morning Charm and I had one class, First Level Test 3, before our quadrille class. Fortunately I have no photos and no video of our First Level test so I do not have to show what a total twit she was. The highlight of her performance was to break from canter to trot (usually the opposite of what she does–she prefers to canter when she’s supposed to trot) and when I asked her to give me the canter again she absolutely refused, and shook her head so violently in protest that the entire running braid fell out of her mane. This was near the end of the test and we looked really dorky coming up the center line for the final salute with 10-inch mane flying out every direction. This performance garnered us a score of 54.412. It also gave us 5th place out of 5 competitors. We’ve been scoring mid-50’s for the past two years, but since we have also been moving up the levels I maintain that getting the same scores when the level of difficulty increases means we are getting better. I did say we love the number 5, right?

I was completely taken aback–not by her behavior or our score, but by the fact that I was certain I had conquered the “mane coming unbraided” quandary. We had done many lessons and practices and the mane had always stayed put. So-o-o-o, before the quadrille I re-braided it after dousing it with probably half a bottle of Quic-Braid, which functions as a sort of glue for obstreperous manes.

Here’s a pic of her about 1/2 way through the quadrille. She can look like a dressage horse when she wants to. The mane is still nicely braided, and stayed that way. And don’t you just love our orange-gold feather boa mane decor?

Just to show that Charm can look pretty good, even with a swishy tail. I’ll just take the high road and assume the tail was blowing in the breeze…also notice our paisley jackets!

Our quadrille music this year was Beatles once again, this time with a Sergeant Pepper theme. Thus the paisley jackets. They’re a short (rideable) version of the popular 60’s Nehru jacket. So, let’s start at the top, shall we?

Nice spacing as we head for the entrance at A. Charm is second, the only chestnut in the group.

The “Chicken Circle”–one of our signature movements. This circle is in the vicinity of 8 meters in diameter. Nice and tight! We come at it from the four corners to the center, hence the “chicken” name.

Charm, just thinking about acting up–watch the tail.

Thar she blows…launching into a canter while everyone else trots.

A closer look at our paisley jackets and the boa mane decor.

We got 73.846 for this performance, our lowest score ever. But, in our defense this is the most advanced quadrille we have ever attempted. The movements are difficult and they come very quickly one after another, making it quite exciting to watch. We will be doing it again in a week and a half and should have some good video to show so you will all believe that I’m not kidding you. Hopefully Charm will be a bit more cooperative since we will be riding on our home turf.



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Something went awry here

I can’t ever remember criticizing a show I have been a part of (who wants to embarrass themselves, right?) so it’s a strange feeling to have to report that something was seriously amiss at the Box Factory show this year. I suppose the first clue was receiving an email notifying me that the crew receiving hand-delivered work had forgotten to have artists sign a PR release, and here’s a PDF file you can open, sign, and return. Not sure how well that went, but it was the opening salvo of a subsequent series of missteps.

Almost all shows require that accepted artists also fill out an identifying label with name, title, medium, and price of each artwork to be shown. They didn’t do that this year. And I think that may be part of what created the most dismaying situation of all. In the gallery’s defense it could be said that any veterans of the juried show experience would have known to make their own label and attach it to the art work if none were supplied (I always do that, even if a fill-in label is provided–you couldn’t possibly suffer from overkill in this regard) however it is unrealistic to expect all artists (who also have a perhaps undeserved reputation for flakiness) to reliably cover their arses.

So all of this leads to the final, inexplicable indignity. This is a huge show. This is its 15th year. I didn’t count, but there must be at least 200 works in this show. There are extremely generous cash prizes for best of show, and best of various categories. There is a reception with a real crowd–by which I mean so many people that it can be difficult to view what’s on the walls. So imagine you are an artist in this show, and there is no identifying information label on the wall next to your work. Now, imagine that this is the case with a whole slew of the art works exhibited. Next, imagine that you look around and in the middle of some sculptures is a wagon-type cart with a whole bunch of wall labels sitting in it that were never put up, along with the materials which should have been used to put them on those walls. Truly puzzling is the discovery of two quite large paintings which never even made it to a wall–they are still sitting on the floor on top of some protective carpet scraps, and leaning against the wall. All this is happening during the opening reception when everything should have been in place for the benefit of all the people who have come to see your work. Nit-picking here, but I must also mention that the labels which did manage to get put up did not state what the medium was. Acrylic, oil, mixed media, digital? Hard to tell.

So what happened? A management change from previous years? A shortage of volunteers? Who knows? All I can say is I would have preferred that whatever limited resources there were had been directed toward proper display of artists’ information. Fortunately my two paintings were not victims of whatever chaos struck the show but I feel for the artists who were shortchanged.

On a brighter note, here are a couple photos of things I really liked, along with a look at my two paintings which thankfully happened to be actually hanging on a wall, with proper ID next to them.

Best of Show–“Balloon Dart” by Douglas LaFerle

This is a rather large painting which can’t be totally appreciated from a tiny photo. It was also darker on the upper left side but I couldn’t tell my phone not to capture the reflected glare on that side. I liked the busy quality of this painting in the sense that my eye wanted to hop all over it, sussing out all the little compositional bits. It can be tricky to pull off “busy” successfully; too often the result just looks busy with no purpose. I was drawn into this painting partly by nostalgia, partly by the expert use of color, and partly by the concomitant use of contrast.


“1000 Tea Bowls”–Best Ceramic category by Paul Flickinger

I felt compelled to stare at this installation piece for quite some time. I loved the variety of  all the little bowls which seemed to be sitting precariously on their minimal pedestals. There was no way to tell if they were securely attached, which was probably the point since I couldn’t help but wonder if the mountains of shards underneath were an earlier result of hundreds of these little gems dismounting from their perches. The lighting on this installation was also quite effective.


Nice big space for Sky Pads 11

My entries, Sky Pads 11 in front, 10 in the back on the brick wall

It’s a pet peeve of mine that in many juried shows, not just this one, an artist’s works are not displayed together. I don’t understand it, never will, have received various “explanations” but still believe that people enjoy seeing an individual artist’s works together, and that those works when together reinforce each other and complement each other. So the continuity in this case between #10 and #11 was ruptured by distance and another hanging wall. On the bright side, at least this year they were within 20 feet of one another. A couple years ago my paintings were on two different floors.


Lots of attendance–this is only a tiny corner of the huge two-story gallery space

I guess I should be grateful that I don’t post on this blog too often. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read this much stuff on even a weekly basis. I hope you made it all the way to the end of this post!

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The road to happiness

Sky Pads 13, finished

It didn’t really take much to make me happy, just bringing back some of the greens on the left and adding some more white fluff to the top. Here’s a little slide show so you can get an idea of how many times this painting transformed itself.

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Someone (wish I could remember who) suggested that I go out to the Mill Pond and take some early spring photos of the just emerging lily pads. I demurred, saying there wouldn’t be much to see. I was wrong. I’m not sure what to do with the photos yet–I’m really excited with them–but I’ll save that for another post.

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I don’t usually take this long…except when I get stuck

Sky Pads 13 version 4…ack!!! Can you believe it??!!

I was totally stuck on what step to take next with this painting. I finally decided to just start dropping some soupy colors on it and see what would happen. My original goal was to keep it a bit more light and airy, and it still is. I have mostly succeeded, if you compare it to what I was trying to backtrack from, which was its immediate predecessor:

Paint riot of Sky Pads 12

I’m still thinking I should go back in and bring up the shapes of some of the pads on the left hand side in number 13. But on the other hand, maybe I should set a limit on the thinking time and if I don’t decide in a couple more days I could just call it finished.


In the meantime, let me tell you about my big prize! I subscribe to a wonderful website for art/craft fair artists called It lists shows across the country of interest to roving artists, and also has several pages which include blog posts, helpful advice for outdoor exhibitors, supply sources and services. It’s free, but they were holding a pledge drive this week with super prizes and so I pledged some $$ and wonder of wonders my name was drawn for a prize. The selection process for the prizes was a little bit complicated, but the essence was that someone not associated with the website would draw 24 names and those people would submit their choices from a list of prizes. You could put 3 or 4 different ones on your list. Then the prizes were distributed according to the first choice of each person in the order their names were drawn. Since I was number 20 I figured I had zero chance of getting the first of my four choices and 100% chance of getting the fourth of my four choices. With me so far?

OK, so lo and behold I won my first choice prize, which is a very expensive set of mesh panels from Flourish that fit my Flourish Trimline tent and make my display look all neat and clean. Here’s an example (not my work because I don’t have the panels yet). But one could go completely crazy and hang stuff both inside and outside the walls if the weather gods are with you. Nothing twisting in the wind, any configuration goes, limitless (well, almost) possibilities!

Mesh panels–hang your art in any configuration you want!


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Headline of the day…

These two managed to worm their way into this year’s MAAC (Michiana Annual Art Competition) at the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph, Michigan–YAY! This makes the third year in a row my paintings have been accepted (after years of rejection!). Message to other struggling artists: hope springs eternal! Will be exhibiting from June 16 through July 29.

Sky Pads 10

Sky Pads 11

Posted in art, Box Factory for the Arts, exhibit opportunity, gallery show, landscape, oil paintings, Sky Pads | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Dogwood Festival Art Stroll


First things first! Red dots rule! This one sold before the Art Stroll even officially started on Thursday afternoon. Nothing beats an auspicious beginning…

The event featured art works in stores all along Dowagiac’s main street, known as Front Street. My venue was a fabulously unique business called Yarn on Front, which benefits from the fact that Dowagiac is plopped down in a fairly rural Michigan area that does not have a yarn shop on every corner. People come from all around, even as far as South Bend, Indiana to see the great yarn selection and take classes.

Beautiful downtown Dowagiac

Yarn on Front’s inviting store window, accented by our art nouveau-ish street lamps which I dearly love

Art Stroll organizer Sharron competing for attention with all the gorgeous yarn colors

We had a steady stream of visitors all during the three-hour event, so I was kept busy both introducing my art to them and pushing refreshments on them. Note my signature art event outfit–black 3/4 coat with hand-crafted ribbon floral decorations, and Spanish riding boots with leather tassels…

Yours truly expounding on “something”…my florals in the background–and a box of dee-licious and dee-lightful Danish pastries from Baker’s Rhapsody just up the street

My two landscapes at the entrance to Yarn on Front–are we having a yarn color riot yet?

I shared the space with a fellow artist/crafter from the group we both belong to, Cass Area Artists. Diana makes the most engaging dolls completely by hand. You can see a whole bunch more of her work here:

My fellow artist Diana’s hand-made Raggedy dolls–she made a sale too!


After the Art Stroll, Sharron, who orchestrated the whole event, held a reception for all the artists around the corner at the headquarters of the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival. The Festival features musical performers, story-tellers, the Art Stroll, authors speaking about their writing, and for the kids Klassics for Kids, Youth Fine Arts and Youth Voices and runs for ten days.  For a small town (maybe 6,000?) we do make quite a cultural footprint.

Reception crowd and…food!

Sharron (above at far right) completely revamped the festival office, repainted the walls, and installed picture rail and a hanging system, not to mention replacing all of the tired baseboard. She effectively turned the office into a gallery, which will have shows rotating throughout the year.

Hizzoner, Mayor Donald Lyons, showed up at the reception to lend support

Cass Area Artists corner in the gallery (someone always managed to stand in front of my two paintings, which are in the center-oh well, enough about me!)

My fellow artist and good friend Ruth, who has art in the store next door to Yarn on Front, decided that a hat would be appropriate–I did not ask how many birds gave up their lives for her “hat”. I suspect it is a very old hat.

The bird hat

So there you have it. Ruth will be orchestrating an enormous mural on a wall of the town post office. I have been assigned to do the horse…this should be interesting since I have never done a huge outdoor mural. The theme is the Orphan Train. Cribbing from the Dowagiac Area History Museum, here’s a bit of history about it: In the mid-1800s, homeless, orphaned children roamed the streets of New York City. In 1853, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society to care for the children with the ultimate goal of having the children adopted. He came up with the idea to send the children on train to be adopted by families in the western United States (Michigan at that time was part of the western U.S.). He sent the first trainload of 46 children west in September 1854 with one destination– Dowagiac, Michigan. If you’re curious to know more of the story and more about the mural project, you can find it here:


Posted in art, Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, sales, watercolor | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments