Greg Thatcher was my sons' art teacher in upper school. During his summer vacations from teaching for the past 25 years, he has been traveling to England to draw ancient yew trees. In the plein air tradition, he sits beneath a tree that calls to him and draws with a hard pencil on heavy paper. He spends hundreds of hours in communion with his subject. Sometimes it takes him two years to complete one drawing. As with all art, the artwork is a reflection of the spirit of the artist united with the spirit of the subject and the material.
Now retired from teaching at the school, he still plans to return to England this summer. To help defray the cost of travel he held a raffle, with one of his prints as prize. I love this print. Like all Greg's drawings, viewing it is a self-referral process. The vanishing perspective, the contrast of light and dark, and the fascinating fractal details beckon one to enter the tree, and at the same time, to enter one's own feelings. Like every experience of beauty, it is a wonderful way to engage both heart and mind.
When I handed Greg a check for the raffle, my only thought was to support this master artist in his work. So it was a great surprise to get a call saying I had won. We are both happy, me, to become the proud owner of an amazing artwork, and the artist, to have someone who loves his work own this print.
The following artist statement is taken from Greg's website (http://www.gregthatchergallery.com), which I invite you to visit to see (and purchase) more of his work.
The direct experience of an artwork is primarily an internal experience, based solely upon our level of consciousness and our mental impressions and past experiences. Experiencing an artwork with openness can provide us with direct contact with our deeper selves and, at times, a beautiful epiphany that reaffirms the divine. This is my goal, and I hope that you will experience some of the joy, inspiration, beauty and raw primal forces of nature that I experienced while drawing.
My yew tree series is based upon yew trees growing in St. Mary’s churchyard in Painswick, Gloustershire, England. The yew trees were planted in the Middle Ages and form the most beautiful yew tree avenues in the world. Many of the trees planted along dirt pathways around the church have grown together to form archways. Upon discovering the Painswick yew trees, I became fascinated by the larger shapes of the trees and how their shapes and their intricate values interacted and melted together. I am also intrigued by the heightened dramatic quality of the light at Painswick, and had to be very attentive and aware to begin to identify the subtle changes and nuances with the trees. I find this process very stimulating and nourishing to my creativity and imagination.
Working on location during the summers since 1991 has given me the opportunity to become more aware of my perception and feelings for the trees. The trees, in their various settings and light conditions during the day, take on or create a full range of human emotion. Having experienced this, my challenge is to re-create it in the drawings and to forge a link between my experiences and those of the viewer. Thus, the yew tree drawings have become a visual metaphor for my inner experience. I feel that my trips to England to work on location at Painswick have been pivotal to my career. It has given me access to a unique and inspiring landscape, which I find to be culturally thick with creative possibilities. I have exhibited the Yew Trees series in the United States, Canada, England, and France. The drawings are also in corporate and private collections.
Most of the images here were created on location in St. Mary’s churchyard in Painswick, England. I try to work there each summer from June through early August. I generally spend between 6 to 8 hours a day working on the drawings. I try to take the work to a level where I can finish the piece back here in the states without losing any of the magic or power. These drawings are non-compromising, specific, literal examples of what I actually see and experience. On many of the drawings, I will spend 100 – 650 hours or more on location to establish the image. These drawings require an immense amount of dedication, focus, and concentration. They are without question the most rewarding and difficult images I have made. I have a deep relationship with the trees and my goal is to manifest my experience, love and appreciation of these wonderful friends into vital living works of art.
Late March, time for our usual last fling of winter, with its bud-killing frost. In the morning, a light rain soon turns to ice pellets bouncing on the green grass. The small stones in the pathway to the gate are covered with a layer of white pea-sized hail.
Driving to town at noon, the hail turns to sleet. Wiggly tire tracks waver up the first long hill. A little further, a white car sits in the gully, which is filled with snow perforated by green tufts, as if someone decided to park there. No one is in the car. I suddenly realize that I dashed out in a raincoat and clogs, not real smart if I end up in a ditch. What was I thinking, that it was Spring?
Ten minutes later, sleet turns to big splotchy snow globs splatting the windshield like huge insects. In another hour, the show moves on south, drawing a gray curtain behind it.
In art class I greet a friend who spends every winter in New Mexico. She just got back last night. "Great timing," I joke. "Welcome back to the Midwest!"
It's officially Spring, but tomorrow the forecast calls for snow. I keep telling the flower buds, "Wait a few days!" But the ballet troop of miniature Iris already popped up through the dead leaves. Maybe they're close enough to the ground to withstand the frost. Anyway, their early appearance invites my neighbor's honeybees, who are happy to find a few sources of nectar. After plunging into each of the three throats of an Iris, one bee adds more pollen to her legs, which will pollinate the next blossom. She dances gracefully around the blossom, wrapped in yellow leg warmers, and even explores the fake flower on my hat. But she quickly decides that this pink blossom is not a bit sweet and flies away.
Outside Everybody's grocery store, a man and his cat are sitting on a Sunnybrook Home bench. The cat is attached to the man by a leash and the man is attached to the cat by the same leash. The cat is climbing around on the bench, never very far from the man. His brown narrow-brimmed hat and corduroy jacket match her shades of long brown fur. The cat stares at me for a moment from green eyes flecked with gold. The man's eyes are hidden by dark shades, but I bet they're green, or at least hazel.
"She's a sweetie," I say, as I scratch her ears and chin. "What's her name?"
"Her real name's Sweetie Pie but I just call her Kitty." Then, as an afterthought, he adds, "My name's Gerard, not Gerry, Gerard."
"Does she like going out on a leash?"
"Oh, yes, she's very friendly."
He picks her up and wraps his arms around her. Sweetie Pie wriggles in his grasp, obviously wanting to continue exploring, at least as far as the leash allows.
In all the years I've been in a relationship with one cat or another, I never put one on a leash. They were always free to go outside and come in when they were good and ready. Still, some of them came to an untimely end that way. It is a choice we made, to be linked by an invisible leash.
decorous haunting artifacts patrolled by cats, wide women, thin ghosts
Saturday Sallie and I saunter up to Iowa City, this time for business. I am bringing several packing boxes full of cool stuff from my travels (space-wise and time-wise) for three consignment stores located conveniently within a block of each other, on either side of the Bluebird Diner. First stop, the Haunted Bookstore, which sells used books, as well as new jigsaw puzzles and puppets.
Two cats patrol their domains, as they have done for ten years. Downstairs, a gray cat with a white bib greets me as I start of the stairs and submits willingly to a little ear scratching. Upstairs, a faded calico jumps down from the window sill, caroms off of a quilt covered chairs and sallies past me to the next room.
The purchaser, a thin woman with a long wispy braid and faded clothing, arrives to examine my books. After she has handled each one, she whispers, "None of these." I am astonished. "None?" She touches the worn red leather bindings on the complete set of Shakespeare. "They're not in good shape." Well, of course they're not in pristine condition. They're USED, as in, actually read by me and a lot of other people, not just languishing on a bookshelf. But with that pronouncement, the ghost-like woman wafts upstairs and disappears into a tiny room marked "Private." So it appears to me that this "used" bookstore, like a used car lot, is actually a "preowned in mint condition" place for people who buy books as decorations, which they periodically trade in for different colored covers, depending on the season.
Undaunted and determined not to be haunted by first-time failure, we carry my boxes of goodies to Artifacts. This looks promising, a flying turtle sculpture in one window, baskets and African carvings in the other. I actually brought along a couple of wood sculptures I was given in Senegal, at age 20, so they are now officially antiques.
Inside, the shop is full of shoppers peering at shelves and walls packed with all kinds of interesting things, from salt and pepper shakers to old hand tools, pottery, plates, books, dolls, games, paintings and clothing. A friendly woman looks through my boxes, smiling as she sets aside many items to keep. "I love this," she says, holding the Balinese puppet. "It must be very old." My turn to smile. "Older than I am," I reply.
Just down the street, Decorum is another consignment antique store. Though much smaller than Artifacts, they specialize in jewelry and art.
Our mission now is to window shop, not buy, but Sallie finds a peacock plate for her friend who just had surgery, and a pair of glass bead earrings for herself. I fall for a little carved wooden chick with a feather topknot.
At our next stop, Home Ec, Sallie finds a big yellow measuring tape, which is on her To Do list. I wander around, imbibing all the eye candy: draped yards of white wool roving in the window, boxes of embroidery floss, trays of buttons, bolts of quilting material, skeins of yarn, tubes of brightly colored oil cloth, oh, and plates of scones and chocolate muffins.
I think about all the baskets of yarn I have at home and it makes me want to start knitting again. Of course, we have a wonderful knit shop in Fairfield, in the back of the At Home Store, but alas no longer a store for quilting fabric. Thinking about home reminds me that it's time for us to head home. We're both happy with our small purchases, and I'm looking forward to coming back in a month with more boxes of goodies. This time I'll take some to Decorum as well as Artifacts, and maybe try some unblemished books at the Haunted House, er, Bookstore. Hopefully, I will have sold some things too!
Saturday, my friend and I drive an hour to Iowa City for a little shopping -- Cosco (organic dried apricots, fresh asparagus and green beans, hemp seeds, fresh salmon), Comic store (gift for Sallie's grandson), Dick Blick's (bow compass and handmade paper for me), Second Act consignment store (a bunch of clothes I never wear anymore), The Haunted Bookstore (browsing). We decide to try a new place for lunch, Bluebird Diner, a 1950s venue that serves breakfast all day long. The place is totally packed, so we sit at the bar.
The 1950s style diner is located near the university campus, very popular, very crowded on a Saturday afternoon with a ball game later that day.
Blue and white tiled floor, overhead fans, round tables, blue padded chairs and lots of mirrors on the wall, including one with blue glass.
We're sitting where we can watch the waiters key in orders on a computer screen, pick up orders and impale the order slip on an old-fashioned spindle. The waiters all wear blue jeans.
A plate of giant cinnamon rolls sits temptingly to my right. The back counter houses the noisy coffee grinder and espresso machine. On the wall, the word BIRD, in blue of course.
I order the special, "Cheesy Crab Penne," which comes with pasta drowning in melted cheese, a few green peas and, well, the flavor of crab, though I'd have to use a magnifying glass to see the meat.
Sallie orders a hamburger, medium rare, with fries, but the burger is so rare she can't eat the raw middle. Our waiter offers to "throw it back on the grill," but she declines. My bluebird cup of hot water with lemon is cracked, and our waiter hastily replaces it. Well, I'm sorry to say that I'm not impressed with the food!
When we arrive, the parking lot next to the diner is full, but right behind the diner in an old stone building is The Haunted Bookshop, in an old stone building, with a tiny four-vehicle parking space. So we park there and go in to browse and buy something to justify parking there. In addition to two floors of used books, they also have shelves full of puzzles and hand puppets, all new, plus plenty of chairs for sitting and reading. Lots of small shops nearby, so we vow to come back and spend more time exploring this area of Iowa City.