Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dancing Spirits

Dancing Spirits
6.5" x 10"
Mixed Media
watercolors and toner
There is sad news today as we learn of the deaths of Dr. Michael DeBakey and Tony Snow. I have felt so priviledged to have been able to hear these men speak.
Dr. DeBakey
I heard Dr. DeBakey speak at a Lions Club sponsored function many years ago. At the time, I was teaching art, but my heart was really in nursing. So, I was particularly eager to hear him. Nursing had not worked out for me, but his talk brought an interest in medical illustration. I couldn't do that, either. I didn't think I was good enough at drawing realistically, for one thing. But, the main thing was that I had children to support and care for, so going back to school was not an option. It would have, most likely, paid a lot more than teaching, though.
I was upstairs in an auditorium when Dr. DeBakey spoke to the community. He brought slides with him to illustrate his fairly new, at that time, heart surgery. I was really impressed with his intelligence and humor, and his energy.
As he showed the first cut, many people felt sick or faint, and had to leave, as he drew the scalpel across skin and a trickle of blood followed.
"Ooops!" he said. That one wasn't supposed to be in there. He usually left that one out because a lot of people would faint when they saw the cut and the blood. That one was for his medical students. He said that some of them fainted, too.
Now, I'm one that has always fainted when someone just showed me a needle, so I was surprised that I wasn't among the first casualties! At least half the audience had to leave. I thought that I was doing really well.
After that first slide, I watched, fascinated, as he explained what was going on through heart surgery. It did get a little warm in there, though, when he started suturing the incision . But, he made it funny, saying that he learned to sew from his mother-"a simple over and under stitch". And that's the stitch he used in surgery. I could just picture him, as a little boy, sitting there, at his mother's feet, learning to sew.
I taught my students things like creative stitchery, and, usually, the boys caught on and did a better job than the girls. So, I was not surprised.
He told something of his schedule, saying that he got up at 4 a.m. every morning, took walks, ate little, and went to bed fairly early. I've heard a lot of people, artists, writers, etc., who say that they get up at 4 a.m. It's a quiet time, with no phones or interruptions, when they can work or just think, and enjoy the solitude.
The schedule seems to have worked for him as DeBakey died at age 99.
I thought he was a really amazing man. I might have liked to have been a student under him, or just talked to him. He certainly lived a long and productive life and has left so much to help mankind.
Tony Snow
I first noticed Tony Snow when he was a news anchor on tv. He was distinctive, with silver hair that seemed to match his last name of Snow. He had a distinctive voice, too, a little on the raspy side, I thought. But he was someone who stood out from the other newscasters.
Later, when we learned that he had colon cancer, I wanted to ask him about it, and, at the same time, felt concern for him. When he returned to broadcasting, not only was his hair white, but his skin looked very white-almost like his hair. I thought it must be from the surgery and chemo.
Soon, he was looking better, had some color, but I thought that might be makeup.
And, then, we heard that he was replacing the very bland Scott Mclellan (I probably spelled that wrong!) as White House Press Secretary. "Good for him!" I thought. "He should certainly be better with reporters than his predecesser was, since he was one of them." And, he was.
I was a little concerned that he, sometimes, seemed to be going over to the administration's side on some issues, but that was understandable since this was his job. It wasn't always comfortable from an observeror's standpoint, or, possibly, from the reporters position, either.
And, then, one day, they announced that Tony Snow was coming to the George Bush Library. I just had to have tickets to that. So, my daughter got tickets for my grandson and me to go.
I thought that I might have a bit of a problem because, by this time, my knees were bad and I was having to walk with a cane and had trouble getting up and down from chairs, or sitting too long, or walking very much gave me trouble. But the newest problem was my eye with Macular Degeneration and cataracts in both eyes. I wasn't seeing very well. But I was determined to be there, even if all I could do was listen, and if I had to ask everyone around me to help me up out of the chair!
The night of the event came and we walked across the plaza with the piece of the Berlin Wall and the sculpted horses jumping over it, to the auditorium. Protestors were off to one side of the building, with poster board signs that I couldn't read, of course.
" College kids," I thought. "They should have seen the days of the Hippies!" But I was glad that they weren't as bad as back in those days.
We entered the lobby with our tickets, and found that the main auditorium was full. We were ushered into a smaller auditorium, an annex, where there was a large screen in front of the room. We picked a spot about the middle of the auditorium, on the aisle, and sat down. An usher soon moved us and directed me to sit against the wall. I knew that I wouldn't be able to see a thing there, and what if I should have to get up and leave! I told him that I couldn't see at all out of one eye, and that I really needed to be on the aisle so I could see. And also that I had bad knees. He kind of rolled his eyes, and said I could stay there, but moved my grandson to the next row behind me, next to the wall, and filled the row beside me with a family. At least my grandson is tall and could see over people in front of him.
I talked briefly to the people sitting beside me. A family who had come from the Beaumont area, to Austin, and on to College Station, just to hear Tony Snow. As the evening progressed, I learned that people had come from all over to hear Snow. So many, in fact, that they filled the annex auditorium, and the dining hall. Certainly an overflow crowd.
I wondered about Snow's hair. He had been on tv earlier, and his hair looked gray instead of white. In fact, each time I saw him on tv, his hair was a little darker, and his skin had more color.
George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) and Snow came into the auditorium where we were and told us of the overflow crowd. They would be speaking in the other auditorium and we would watch on the big screen. However, when it was over, they would come in and answer questions.
Actually, it worked out better by seeing them on the big screen, for me, at least. I could see them so much better than the smaller figures that they really were, in front of the auditorium.
Following a very lively and interesting talk, Snow answered questions, then Bush and Snow came into our auditorium. They were on a slightly raised stage. Four Secret Service men stood in front of them. I hardly noticed the men, at first.
As the speakers answered questions, I did my usual thing in trying to see better. I leaned out into the aisle and closed my bad eye and blinked with the good eye, trying to clear up the image. Since no one was walking up the aisle, I stretched my leg into the aisle a little and leaned on my cane.
Snow talked , enthusiastically, about the wonderful job he had, and his excitement was contagious. He spoke of many things in history that he had so much knowledge of, and brought those things to life.
"His hair is brown!" I thought! "And his skin is tanned! He looks really healthy and good! Maybe he is well, now. Or could it be dye and makeup. Could be the lights. But he does look younger and like he feels good."
I suddenly looked at the Secret Service men, glaring at the audience.
"Oh, dear! I wonder if they can see me!" I told myself. "I had better stop this. No telling what they think I am up to, winking at Tony Snow and the president!" I could picture those Secret Service men, rushing up the aisle to throw me onto the floor, thinking I was up to no-telling-what!
I pulled my leg back under the chair in front of me and kept both eyes open as I looked at the speakers. "Behave yourself!" I thought. I'm sure that they couldn't see me at all, but, if they did, I'm sure they wondered why that old lady was winking at the president and Tony Snow!
After the speech, we were not allowed to leave through the front door, but were ushered out a side door. We were told that there were protestors and they wanted us to be able to get to our cars easily. I couldn't walk too fast, so I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to get to my car fast enough. Maybe I should stay in the building until the protestors left. My daughter was waiting to pick us up, so I was relieved to see the car nearby.
As soon as almost everyone had cleared the sidewalk, the protestors swarmed over to the sidewalk where people had been leaving. It was a funny sight. I remember young people, waving posterboards and laughing. They seemed to be having a good time. Guess they thought they would be on tv. And one person was pulling something that looked like a children's wagon, with slats on the sides, and Christmas lights on it. We thought they were harmless and must not have homework or a date that night. But I was relieved to get in the car and out of the crowded parking area.
It had been good to see that Tony Snow looked so much better in person, and to be able to hear some of his life and experiences, as well as all the history that he shared.
It was only a day or two later when we heard the announcement that Snow's cancer had returned and he was scheduled for surgery and more treatment. I was stunned. He had looked so well and full of life when he was here.
After he returned to tv, and said that he was going to be a news anchor again, his skin and hair looked gray on tv. I hoped that he would be alright. He seemed to be one person who would certainly beat the illness with all his exuberance and love for life and work. I truly thought that he would triumph and go on to live a long life.
Sadly, the news today is that he died. I had not heard that he was not doing well, so it was quite a shock.
While he did live a full life, in his short 53 years, doing so much more and having so much more knowledge than most of us are priviledged to, he had so much potential to do more.
We've lost two amazing men, but they have left us with so much.
The small painting above, "Dancing Spirits", was created by first using a watercolor wash of yellow over the paper. Then I used rubber cement to mask the light design in the center. A final wash of reds and oranges was placed over the paper. After the watercolor was dry, I removed the rubber cement to leave the design with the warm background.
I thought that there must be a good use for all that used copy machine toner that everyone was throwing away, so I decided to paint with it. It didn't mix with water, at all. But I was able to mix it with acrylic gloss medium and varnish and got something that had a wonderful consistency and a rich black color to it. I mixed it in small jars, then used a straw and a popsicle stick to pick up the "paint" and drip and smear it on the paper. Since I don't like to get my hands dirty, I was very careful not to get it on me, just on the paper. And it only took a small amount to get a rich black.
Later, I was told that the toner is very toxic, could cause cancer, and to not get it on me. But, I couldn't help but wonder about the safety factor when so many teachers and office workers, were changing toner cartriges and got that powder all over themselves, the machines, and their surroundings. It was always a mess, and no telling how much of the powder we inhaled while trying to put new toner in.
So, you might not want to try this idea!
I enjoyed my idea as I thought I was recycling, for one thing, and also I liked to paint with unlikely things, like berries. I moved on to use more watercolors and acrylics and natural materials, however, and didn't continue my experiement. I only did a few paintings with the toner as my black paint.
In this painting, as the drips took shape, they seemed to be like figures in a circle. At that time, I had learned of the death of a former student, and thought of her, being brought into a circle of other spirits, with a dance of joy and sharing.

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