DREAM - Butterflies
John left me with several small brown objects. They looked like nuts or seeds. I thought that one seemed to be a spider, so I carefully picked it up off of my bathroom sink and flushed it. Then, the house was filled with butterflies, and I knew that the objects were (sort of) cocoons.
The butterflies were all over me. They were very similar to the paper cutouts I had been making in shapes of flowers. Each was unique, like a drawing of an individual butterfly. I knew that they had only short lifetimes and that it was not necessary to take them outside, but I walked out of my back door and threw my arms up to let some fly into the sky. There was a great abundance of beauty and delicacy and flight.
Spring / 2004
Baton Rouge, LA
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
from "East Coker" The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
AND SUDDENLY - Leaving LSU
Every coffee and smoothie and sandwich stamp card that I carried punched full the next to last week I was in Baton Rouge. My time there had been a gift, and after three years, I felt right leaving.
I had chosen LSU in early spring when the landscape was in full, lush bloom. Foliage and flowers nearly swallowed houses and school buildings. Live oak trees stretched up and out and over and bent and touched the ground and reached again. This was before I made the landscape the focus of my work, but in a way, I chose the school for its landscape. At the time, I was studying Isaiah and pondering natural world symbolism: well-watered gardens, oaks of righteousness, plantings of the Lord, cedars of Lebanon, trees rooted by rivers…
Three years later, as I was leaving my Tiger Stadium studio for the last time – standing in its doorway looking at the empty space and smelling the way it smelled in May, I heard, felt a powerful crash. An oak tree next to the stadium entrance had fallen. It looked completely healthy. The wind was gentle. Its roots stayed in the ground.
From Baton Rouge, I went with my family to the beach and resumed reading from Genesis to Revelation in Daniel with his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – about a tree that fell but left its roots in the ground.
DREAM - Annabelle the Seahorse
I was in an airport waiting at the Southwest gate. It was sort of like being inside an aquarium, but the sea animals were swimming in the air among the passengers. They could go in and out of something like a birdcage.
A seahorse came up to me and tried to perch on my arm. She was brown and white like one of the prickly seashells in my collection. Her skin was rough like coral and poked my arm. I backed away at first then caught myself and let her perch there – sort of like a bird. I supported her with my other hand, and we walked laps around the gate area talking. She had to keep moving.
She told me her name was Annabelle. She spoke three languages – seahorse, English, and another European language. She explained that languages are connected, that seahorse had parts of the human languages in it.
I asked big questions, and she answered them. I was amazed and woke up with an affirmed understanding that animals and plants and the whole creation walk with God in innocence and praise. Annabelle showed me that it is different for humans – more difficult but that the design is good and that there is much to be gained. Waking, I saw a new aspect of the significance and power in Christ’s innocence as man.
“At the end of a life of dedication, I do not need any lectures about religious calling. I’ve not needed the sacraments to glorify the name of God throughout my life. I went as far as Tahiti to admire the beauty of the light He created so I might share it with others through my work. Thank you for your prayers. Ask God to give me, my last years, the spiritual light to keep me in touch with Him and to permit me to end my long and laborious career in the way I’ve always sought so that the earthly nourishment of my art may reveal His manifest glory to those who are blind to it. Here for you, this Sister Jacques-Marie, is my profession of faith that comes in response to your letter. I’m grateful to you for having stilled this in me. The need to answer your letter forced me to find deep within myself things I have never before expressed in words because until now, I’ve never felt the need to say them to anyone.”
from Henri Matisse's letter to Sister Jacques-Marie, a Dominican nun who had been his model and muse and who had a role in his work for the Chapel of the Rosary in the French Mediterranean village of Vence
quoted in A Model for Matisse, 2005 documentary film directed by Barbara Freed
DREAM - Triplets
I was a waitress – but not exactly. I was aware of a lot of people and their needs – and was responsible for assessing and meeting their needs. I started to prioritize – by urgency, by importance, and (rather curiously) by age… Should I help the older people first?
Immediately, God showed me that He could help everyone – even the little children – at the same time. He knew each person and every need. His resources were ready to provide. He helped everyone simultaneously.
The next month, when my father told me about my cousin’s triplets, this dream became specifically relevant. Years earlier, Kim and Jody thought they couldn’t have children. They adopted their daughter, Charlotte. A few years later, they had their biological son, Max, by a surrogate, Kathy. When Max was seven years old, the fertility clinic gave them a choice – put the remaining two embryos up for adoption, destroy them, or try for more children. Kathy agreed to be surrogate again. The two embryos were implanted, and one split so that Kathy was now carrying triplets – a girl, Mae, and identical twin boys, Flynn and Jude. My father’s news was exciting, but he was also asking me to pray. The doctors were concerned that Mae, Flynn, Jude, and Kathy would all survive the pregnancy. I remember where I was standing when I remembered the dream and responded – I think they will!
DREAM - While Reading Gombrich’s Art & Illusion
My friend, Marsha, was in treatment for breast cancer, and her daughter, Kate, and I were looking at images from her diagnostic scans. I was holding a pretty large – 20” x 30” ish – image that looked like a black and white photo. It was an extremely microscopic view – of the tiniest components that make up our cells and DNA and chromosomes. I was surprised and thrilled to see structures that looked like text, symbols, and vessels! They were neatly organized – as on shelves. They were wide-ranging containers, and I saw that God and men could fill them with a great variety of substances. There could be more or less of these container structures, too. I understood that this implied a sort of wealth or poverty very different than exterior wealth and poverty. We are each equipped distinctly. Holy, powerful, eternal things fit these vessels. They were suited to classify, organize, file, and contextualize daily, experiential knowledge – spiritual substances, ideas, and even physical materials like food, water, and air – everything. Each part was important and complementary. The whole system of resources was alive, moving – with adding and spending and connecting and redefining.
Some container structures and substances were shared through generations. Others were exchanged or duplicated in conversations or in works of art. Each intricate, internal system was designed to fit precisely into the whole of earth and heaven.
DREAM - White Whales
Little boats that were a lot like paddle boards took us there. I was with a guide. The boats were sort of taco shaped and glided across the water in a way that made me feel connected to the currents. At one point I "surfed" behind (got into the water and held onto the boat letting it pull me with it).
Then, we were walking along a path through thick vegetation. Mama was with me. We met a girl who had a dog as big as a horse. Then we saw the first of many gorillas! I was not sure what the dog would do. Mama fed them carrots / sweet potatoes - which they started tossing around. I wasn't thinking that feeding them was a good idea. But overall, I felt safe and like I had seen something wild and special.
The path abruptly came to the shore. Little taco boats were waiting, and before I knew it I was on one alone. I must have been just ahead of Mama. The boat skipped out into the water. Our group was loosely together.
Then I noticed HUGE white whales just under the water's surface. I accidentally slid right over a battered fin, and the whale, in slow motion, moved to thrash his heart-shaped tail my way. There was time to move, but it was pretty spectacular. I still felt safe.
Noticing and remembering everything would trap bright scenes to light and fill the blank and darkening past
which was already piling up behind me.
from An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
Enlightenment Gallery, The British Museum - London
Enlightenment Gallery -
Adams Synchronological Cart or Map of History (first copyright 1871)
L. Cornelissen & Son
Room 17a, The National Gallery - London
On the gallery map, I labeled every room as I explored The National Gallery's vast 13th - 19th century collection - seeing paintings for the first time that I had known from reproductions since my first art history classes. From a highlight reel that for me included repeating landscapes - especially oil sketches and figures with animals in landscapes and Rembrandt's extraordinary representations of human body, soul, and spirit, I was surprised to find that the small floral Dutch still life paintings in Room 17a impressed me most vividly.
As much as I love the subject matter and the traditional vanitas pondering of time passing, these paintings had always felt a bit cold to me - finished to a degree of precision that left little to the viewer's imagination. But, being in the small gallery with so many of them was like being inside of a jewel box - a feast of detail, clarity, and brilliant color. I found them so engaging, so warmly extending their beauties that I later remembered the blue walls in the gallery as being red.
Rachel Ruysch (Dutch, 1664-1750), Jan van Huysum (Dutch, 1682-1749), Jacob van Walscapelle (Dutch, 1644-1727), Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Dutch, 1606-1684), Osaias Beert the Elder (Flemish, 1580-1624), Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (Dutch, 1573-1621), Balthasar van der Ast (Dutch, 1593-1657), Jan Brueghel the Elder (Flemish, 1568-1625)
Sir Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection, Cookham, 1924-7
Tate Britain - London
I decided to ponder resurrection during the final museum day of my trip - to think about supernatural beauty after enjoying abundant representations of natural beauty.
William Blake galleries. Joseph Mallord William Turner galleries. Galleries of British artists from the 1930s and 40s. John Singer Sargeant's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose with lanterns glowing at twilight. John Everett Millais's Ophelia. Tate Britain's collection is visually rich and carries a unique, specific, local sense of time and place.
Late in the day, deep in the building, I turned a corner and saw Sir Stanley Spencer's, The Resurrection, Cookham, a 9' x 18' oil painting of the resurrection on the last day at a village cemetery. Wow! These had to be generations of people who had lived in the artist's community. As I looked at the figures emerging from the churchyard garden tombs, I thought of the joy implied in that wholeness and admired the faith I sensed underpinning such a giant, solid feeling, and personal vision of Christ's promise.
And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:40
My parents have been doing a labor-intensive house project that required us to unpack their attics. We came across overwhelming numbers of drawings I made in elementary school - including a magic marker drawing of a lion that I made in second grade at St. Andrew's. I remarked that I remembered making it - and realizing then as an 8 year old that there was something about drawing that was for me. My mother said, "It was that drawing? You came home so excited talking about a drawing of a lamb. Your teacher had you close your eyes while she read something about the way that it feels to touch a lamb's wool. Then she asked you to make a drawing based on what you pictured. You covered the page with layers of swirls." On the drive back to Oxford, I realized that my 2nd grade ah-ha moments involved a lion and a lamb - symbols of the peaceable kingdom that I am still pondering and hoping toward.
DREAM - Living in Excellent Art and Natural Beauty
After a flight to New York with a group of people I knew, we visited a house museum in a new-to-me part of the city – on the outskirts. The front looked like a large brownstone – vertical and striking. It felt part residential, part institutional, and as much like London as New York. The inside was filled with treasures – from nature and the arts. We exited through the backdoor – right into a neighborhood of carports and lush garden foliage and water! I loved the backdoor feel – the green space, the openness, the smaller scale of buildings, and lower density of traffic. This felt like a wonderful place to live.
At one point, we were in the water with small boats and rafts and friendly whales! I looked back and saw the place was named for Mary Delany’s naturalist acquaintance – Sir Hans Sloane. And, I realized I had been someplace like this before – had dreamed or anticipated it repeatedly.
After pondering – specifically pondering the apparent contradiction between wanting in the dream to live in a place like this and the extremely exclusive privilege implied – I realized that what essentially appeals to me is a WAY OF LIVING – with doors open to natural and cultural beauties, ideas, LIFE.
DREAM - Wonderful Book
Marsha Mabry gave me a book. We were all sitting at long tables – some sort of holiday celebration. Kate was talking about marrying Brad – making plans, pondering beautiful places.
As soon as I opened the book, I knew it was for me – wanted to make it myself. The pages were translucent and bound so that they turned vertically. The natural world imagery – plants, animals, gardens, woods – progressed in a unique way. Each image built on elements from the previous page that showed through the translucent paper – representing delightful movement through spaces, times, seasons.
When I remembered the dream, I was delighted to realize that I COULD make the book myself. Maybe it will have something to do with marriage. The structure of the passages relates to Erin Harmon’s new work and her recent talk at the University of Memphis.
The whole Spivey family gathered to celebrate Aunt Ebbie and Uncle Sonny’s 60th anniversary. Since I had just been with them, I stayed in Oxford and started painting Easter Morning. Thad went to Hattiesburg to look at engagement ring diamonds! I was very emotional - thrilled and grieving. I watched Little Women and cried. I read Wright Thompson’s essay about going to the Masters without his father and cried. Uncle Sonny was finally talking about Aunt Ebbie going to St. Catherine’s. The two of them on North Street was ending. All weekend I mourned the loss. Then, on Monday morning, Uncle Sonny died unexpectedly.
My mother called in tears as she was running down the street. When I heard, I felt my place in the world change - like a gear turning forward. I remembered something Brenda told me years ago - that she saw me like significant figure on a chess board - equipped with particular gifts - positioned behind her generation - reserved for a future time.
I left my painting and went to Canton for the week (a notable act of faith - given that I was weeks away from delivering the work to DLGN). Having grieved all weekend prepared me to be there for everyone else - especially Mama and Aunt Ebbie. The funeral was set for Thursday, so we had days of being together and telling old stories and welcoming guests.
Miller’s death felt too recent, and I was especially aware of the differences in grieving his future and grieving Uncle Sonny’s past.
Thad was there for the funeral. I saved an aisle seat for him on the pew in Grace Church, and he arrived just in time. It was good to be together there where I felt so many layers of my history and together at the Mosby's house where everyone gathered for lunch. Before we left Canton, Thad asked my father for permission to ask me to marry him.
Letter to Thad
Thank you for my ring. I'm in the studio without my phone trying to stay focused on finishing paintings, but every time I use my left hand, the glitter catches my eye and gets me all excited again. I love how excited you are, too - that we've exhausted ourselves glowing.
Thank you for proposing so thoughtfully and creatively - for planning to listen for the right place. I love that about you - your super sensors, and I love the way you set things up. "I told her there was a kissing scene so she'd start picturing kissing me." "I tried to play up my birthday." The unfolding revelation is one of my favorite aspects of my relationship with God. It's so sweet that you give me something similar.
Thank you for the way you looped in my parents. Thy are having so much fun - and keep enjoying their preview. More than feeling like they / we are losing our past relationship, everyone is focused on a wonderful future.
Thank you for my ring!!! I really did wonder how a ring could be better than Nana's, but mine is your promise and your excitement and your planning with your family and PRISTINE, extravagant, radiant beauty.
One of my favorite bridal images is from Psalm 45 - "Her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the king in robes of many colors." I've always wondered how to picture the "many colors" at the same time I pictured bright white. That's sort of what I was thinking about when I made the Easter painting. When I saw my ring shine in the sunlight while I was walking Harry and Buddy yesterday, I thought - "There it is!" Brilliant. Clear. Shimmering with a multitude of colors.
And, I've long pondered a link between that multicolored bridal love beauty and Joseph's colorful favor cloak and this from Ephesians 3:10 - "This is so God's multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to rulers and authorities in the heavens." Like the pristine diamond reveals the multitude of colors in white light, so we are gifted to reveal the infinite variety, goodness, and beauty of God's glory.
And, this morning I gratefully prayed about my ring and then read my chronological Bible. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 stood out - "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light....the fire will test....If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward..."
Years ago I dreamed that we were getting married, and we were in a place that felt so strong and sturdy that I wondered what that strong foundation feeling meant. Today, I knew my ring represents a destiny that is designed to glorify God, to prove good and true, and to keep getting better.
Everything is coming together. My ring is a dream-come-true. You are a heart-desire fulfilled. We are going to have so much fun. Thad, I LOVE YOU!
Thank you - Carlyle