Sunday, October 28, 2007

Over the Border

It was a relief that yesterday's bus trip to Tijuana and Rosarito, "Artists of the Border," sponsored by the Atheneum Music and Arts Library,, wasn't cancelled because of the fires. My daughter and I had been looking forward to it, and now it was even more welcome. The high winds, falling ash, and poor air quality of the last week had no respect for national boundaries, but the worst was behind us. I had not been to the Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) in several years and was amazed by the building boom in the whole surrounding area, including now McDonalds and Starbucks. Fortunately it also includes a new building going up at the Centro that will house an International Gallery built to museum standards, putting Tijuana on the international circuit of traveling exhibitions. Amazingly, this is sponsored by the National Council for Culture and the Arts: the government!

We also visited the Instituto de Cultura de Baja California, a state sponsored gallery which promotes the work of emerging, even edgy and controversial artists, as well as established artists. My daughter expressed a desire to purchase a small print. The gallery Director took her name and email address to pass along directly to the artist. "You can do business directly with each other" he said. It took me the whole day to wrap my mind around that. The gallery didn't take a percentage of sales, because their overhead is paid by the government. Not worried about survival they can take risks in who they show. As far as I can tell, their role is to provide exposure for the artists, be a cultural resource for the public at large, and connect potential collectors up with the artists. WOW!

I took the photograph above through our bus window, showing a section of the border fence in the upscale gated community where one of the artists we visited lived and worked. The neighboring home had a tree house in the backyard from which one could see over the fence into the United States. My understanding and appreciation of what it means to be part of this vital and rich border culture was deepened on many levels. The dance of inside/outside, who influences who, and just what is a border anyway, became more intricate.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I thought I would be writing about having pieces in two wonderful shows. Our San Diego Chapter of Women's Caucus for Art is having a show together with the Women's History Museum,, - hopefully a first annual event. And Studio Maureen/Next Door Gallery,, is having its fabulous annual Dia de los Muertos exhibit. I am happy to be participating in both shows.

The raging firestorm throws this into quite a different perspective however. We are evacuated, camping out at my daughter's house, who fortunately lives in a safe area. When packing up the car, after selecting photos, videos of family, hard drives, legal & financial papers, and my grandmother's Sabbath candlesticks, which had survived twenty moves in two years in the Old Country before making it to America, I realized I hadn't packed any art. I quickly threw in the CDs of all the digitized slides of my work from 1984 to late 90's. There wasn't room for much. I had no hesitation about packing the wonderful collage by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith which has hung over my work table for many years, giving me joy and inspiration. It was a vote in favor of new work to come, made on a new work table, if necessary. Of my own work, I grabbed the photo etching "She Came to me in a Dream", which includes passages of the Kaddish prayer along with an image of my grandmother. It was close at hand, not too big, and two dimensional - easily packable. And it deals with loss...

Newer work not yet photographed, our collection of other peoples art - mostly friends, some of it trades, and our folk art collection - hopefully will all still be there awaiting our return home. I have complained in the past about my limited studio space - one bedroom chock full of supplies, old work, new sketches. To others it may appear to be a jumble. To me, I know exactly where things are, organized according to my own quirky catalog of visual images. All I have to do is putter in it, attempt to clean it up, and new sketches spring to life. The thought of losing it all is horrifying. I cherish my limited work space, not to be taken for granted. If I had larger space I would enjoy doing larger work, but I have never cherished what I do have as fully as now.

I also packed a piece of melted glass from James Hubbell's former studio which was destroyed in the fires of four years ago, along with a slender book of watercolors he painted after the fires. These amazing watercolors embody the continuity and resurgence of an artist's creative impulse despite losing so much, and his ability to see beauty even in destruction. Some of them were exhibited at the Oceanside Museum in 2005:

A plastic container with my journals from the last three years or so managed to fit in the back seat. Amazingly, it also included my very first journal, from 1971. All the rest, continuous during the intervening years, are in a box back in the garage. I had been reading a book called Harvesting Your Journals, by Rosalie Deer Heart and Alison Strickland, which makes me appreciate my years of journaling in a way I hadn't fully before. Furniture and clothing can be replaced. Thirty-five years worth of journals can't.

I feel calmer today, because of being with loved ones in a safe area, no longer wondering if or when we will get the order to evacuate. The air here is not too sooty and doesn't sting the throat and eyes. The grandchildren, who are bouncing off the walls with no school today, are a welcome diversion. It definitely beats watching flames on television.

Addendum at 9:00 p.m.: The winds have shifted and the evacuation order lifted. We are deeply grateful to be home again, smoky air and all. As I unpacked the car the first thing I did was hang the Jaune Quick-to-See Smith collage over my work table again.