Rocket’s World of Wonder

Her name is Rocket. Her parents brought her to my first reception at the Larimer Gallery in Palatka when she was three years old. She was the only child at the reception.

I wanted this reception to be a memorable event. I invited Stephan-the-Cello Man to play during the reception and he brought his friend Frog, who played an instrument he made himself, called “The Nightingale.” Stephan and Frog improvised melodies inspired by my paintings in the exhibit, and I noticed that Rocket listened and watched with wonder as they played.

Stephan said “Listen. This is how this painting sounds.” And I listened and he was right. And I watched Rocket as she gazed into the painting and heard the music reflecting what she saw.

I had set up a canvas on an easel in the main room of the gallery and spoke to everyone about “Creative Energy” and how it flows through all of us, and that I had discovered the healing and rejuvenating powers accessible by allowing the creative energy to flow freely – by giving up control of how I thought the painting “should” go, and allowing it to use my eyes, hands and sense of exploration to facilitate its evolution. I invited them to put paint and their energy onto the canvas – to put aside any rules or preconceived ideas of what art is – and to simply enjoy the experience of watching the paint flow from the brush onto the canvas and merging with the energy and colors of what others had contributed. I called it a “collective energy painting” and I would finish it after the show was over.

I watched as Rocket’s Mother held her up to the canvas and supported her little hand as she chose a color and made her brush move alongside and into the brushstrokes of the others. My daughter Kathryn was making a video recording and Jackie was there taking photos for the Palatka Daily News and both of them zoomed in on Rocket as she listened to the music and painted and studied the paintings with wonder.

After the reception I kept the collective energy canvas out where I could see it, but didn’t work on it again until almost two years later when I was invited to have another exhibit at the Larimer. Meanwhile, Rocket’s Mother and I had become Facebook friends and I loved watching Rocket grow through the photos she shared . I saved some of them because I knew I had to make a portrait of Rocket. I loved how her parents encouraged her creative spirit and allowed her sense of wonder and exploration to grow even as she grew.

I was also inspired by Rocket’s Mother and used one of her Facebook profile pictures as reference for this painting: “Earth Mother.”

“Earth Mother” Acrylic on 30″ x 24″ Canvas

And then there was Stephan and Frog’s music and I was enthralled with the idea that they would add the sensation of sound to the visual of my painting. I wanted to make a painting of Stephan that would give a visual representation of the sounds he was making with his cello. I went to his performance at the Bo Diddley Plaza and photographed him and Frog and came home and made this painting:

“Stephan the Cello Man” Acrylic on 30″ x 24″ Canvas

What I didn’t mention was that I met Stephan while exhibiting in the Cedar Key Old Florida Celebration of the Arts. He came into my booth and we had quite a long conversation about art and music and creativity. We exchanged business cards and he left. A few minutes later Evelyn Snyder came into my display and after another long conversation, she invited me to exhibit at the Larimer Gallery where she served as curator of exhibits. Do you see how serendipity played out so that all of these events came together?

The date for my next reception at the Larimer was January 10, 2020. Evelyn was retiring and invited me to exhibit the last show under her direction. I knew that I wanted to finish the collective energy painting we had started at the first reception in time for this one. I looked at the place where 3-year-old Rocket had put her bold brush stroke. And the paint that her Dad had put on the canvas – it looked like a picture frame! Another area reminded me of a magnifying glass. I went through the photos of Rocket I had saved. I sketched in the one of Rocket’s Mom holding her up to put her paint on the canvas. I sketched the brush she was holding to be in the place where she had put her brush stroke. A photo of her wearing her beloved red boots while sitting in an opening at Ravine Gardens looked like a good fit inside the magnifying glass, and the other brush strokes in and around it soon turned into a magical woodland. I drew from a photo of her looking back at her Mother, holding the hand of her Mother’s friend as the portrait that would fit into the “frame” her Dad painted on the canvas. I did not yet know what would replace the hand she was holding. And referencing the photo of her listening to Stephan’s music, it fit perfectly into the lower right section of the canvas. And then I ran out of time.

I took the unfinished painting to the reception on January 10, put it on an easel again and invited the attendees to add more paint and energy, but not to cover the places where I had already begun to place the images of Rocket. And they did! The energy was palpable as Rocket selected a tambourine from my basket of rhythm instruments and we danced and played rhythm music and people added more paint to the canvas, even as we made music. Stephan played the cello and Frog played a flute and wove the music into an energy filled “happening.”

This is how it looked before the reception:

And this is how it looked after the reception: (Notice the purple and yellow paint in the lower left corner, added by now five-year-old Rocket! It sure looked like a rocket to me!

After the reception, while also working on commissioned portraits, I worked to complete the painting, letting the brushstrokes of all those who attended both receptions lead me to the next step. Then another serendipitous event happened! The Gainesville Fine Arts Association announced a national juried show with the theme “Attending to Wonder.”

This is a quote from the call-to-entry for the show:

“When the eye is graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonder… Everything depends, really, on the way we gaze at things. Engaging the world this way illuminates the world in a way we’ve never noticed.” — John O’Donohue, Beauty & the Invisible Embrace

That’s when the title of this painting came into my mind: “Rocket’s World of Wonder.” It’s a painting that represents the sense of wonder that we all experience as children, as we discover though our senses of vision, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching all the miraculous wonders of the natural world – even before we know their names – even before we know that they even have names – they just are: wondrous miracles created by the Ultimate Creator for our delight! Each day I retrain myself to be aware of these wondrous sights, sounds, tastes, scents and textures designed to stir the soul and the imagination – our creative spirit, untrained and untamed and inspired by the most Holy Spirit as we were created in the Image of the Ultimate Creator, and given the choice of how we will use that Creativity – for the benefit and joy of all, or for the satisfaction of the ego-mind that ignores the laws of Nature.

With all that in mind, I’m repeating the image of the completed painting, so you don’t have to go back to the beginning to see it.

Rocket’s World of Wonder

And now, a close-up of the portrait of Rocket, and I’m hoping you will see the wonder in her eyes as she listens to the song of the warbler.

Here’s a great footnote to this story – some information about Rocket’s Dad, Dan Askew, that I wasn’t fully aware of until I finally asked him. I am fortunate to have two pieces of his wonderful pottery art.

“I have been on the board of directors for the Putnam county arts council for a couple of years now, and have recently taken over the volunteer position of gallery director from Evelyn Snyder. I have been teaching at Florida School of the Arts for 8 years now taking care of all things 3D in visual arts: sculpture, ceramics, 3D and 2D design. My own work is all over the place in regards to technique, but I play around with pop imagery loaded with sarcastic undertones. Ceramics, found objects, fabrication, painting, photography, video, and foundry aid me in my endeavors to see possibilities beyond the apocalypse.”

“Reclamation” Every Painting Has a Story”

“Reclamation”  Acrylic on 18″ x 24″ Canvas

I am sitting on the screened porch at my friend Mike’s house. Inside is dark and the porch, though damp and windy, at least offers a bit of daylight and renewal of our spirits.

We had concluded, with encouragement from our adult children, that two seniors who love to live alone would be wise to take shelter together during a storm!  By the time I had my car prepared to travel north to where my daughters lived, the highways were already congested with evacuees from south Florida, and gasoline supply was running scarce.  So Mike welcomed me into his home, laid out a pair of twin-size mattresses end-to-end, taking up all the floor space in the hall, the safest place in the house  He even welcomed my cat Stitch, who was cozied up in the guest bathroom with his food, water and bed and plenty of treats. The door to the bathroom was right next to the head of my mattress.

The night before had been rough. By the time we were ready to sleep, we had already lost power, so it was very dark. The wind whistled and roared. Branches crashed on the roof and Stitch howled in the bathroom.  The top of Mikes’ head was inches from the top of my head and I wondered how he slept, but he did.  Once I woke him up saying “Mike, I’m scared!”  He didn’t remember saying “Just lay back down. Everything’s going to be ok.”  I crawled into the bathroom, spread a towel on the floor and lay down next to Stitch and we comforted each other until soft morning light crept through the bathroom widow.

Mike heated water on the gas stove to make coffee, so now we sit on the porch sipping coffee and we wait.  The clouds are dark and heavy and it’s still raining sideways! The trees are bent from the howling wind.  Broken branches and fallen trees litter the streets and yards and roofs of houses in the neighborhood. We sit and watch and wait for the power to come back on.  We sit and watch and wait for Hurricane Irma to determine our fate.  Without power, there is no news from the TV or the internet. The last report we heard had warned us that Irma was still heading our way.

Irma is angry!  And we are angry with Irma!  How dare she roar into our lives and disrupt our routines!  We curse her and disparage her name. While we wait, I make doodles in my sketchpad.

 Irmadoodle 1, 2 and 3

“Maybe we should be nicer to her?  I say. “She’s just doing what hurricanes are supposed to do.  It’s not her fault that we happen to be in her path.”

“Yeah, right” Mike said.  “Why don’t you talk to her, then.”

So I did.

I look up at the sky and I talk to her like I would talk to a sister in distress.

“Irma.  I know that you’re just doing what’s in your nature.  Maybe you’re upset about how we’ve been disrespecting Nature, throwing our trash around and cutting down trees, digging treasures out of the earth and spilling horrible things into the waters. And I’m sure you must be upset with how we’ve been talking about you and saying mean things about you. But I’m asking you if you can’t just go way out in the ocean and calm down a little.  Just take a deep breath and move away from the land where there are innocent people who could be hurt by your wrath.  Please.  We’ll try to do better.  I promise.”

Now I’ll admit that I’m just making conversation while we wait and this little speech is my attempt to bring a little lightness into the situation.  At the same time, however, I sort of believe – or want to believe – that she is listening.

Suddenly the rain slows down.  The wind calms.  And the two paddle fans on the porch slowly start turning!  The power is back on!  Mike and I look at each other with wide eyes and mouths hanging open.

“Did that just happen?”  he says.

“What?  You doubted?”  I fire back and we laugh, if for no other reason than the amazing synchronicity of it.

The TV comes on and we rush inside to see what’s happening on the news.  “Hurricane Irma has changed direction and appears to be heading out into the Gulf.”

Later that day I feel secure enough to  pack up all my stuff, and Stitch and his stuff, and we’re ready to go home!. As I drive up the street from Mike’s house someone with a chain saw is cutting up a tree that fell across the street onto a power line, just in time to let me pass.  On the way home I take detours where fallen trees block my usual route.  Leaves, branches and debris are everywhere.  Water stands in deep puddles, blocking lanes of traffic.  When I get home I notice that the apartment across the street has a huge tree limb through the roof!  I am relieved that my place is intact.

Stitch is so happy to be home!  He demands his food, then demands to go to his favorite place – HIS back porch.  I sit with him, looking out into my little back yard. The clouds are dark and dreary.  It’s not raining, but the trees are still dripping.  I am depressed.  I am sad.  I keep thinking about the things I said to Irma and I am worried about what we’re doing to Nature.  And can I keep my promise?  I promised that we’d do better!

Suddenly the dark clouds separate and a blinding flash of sunlight bursts through and lights up the entire back yard!  The water droplets on the leaves flash sparkles of brilliant light and the light dances around the little yard!  And just as suddenly I feel calm.  No!  I feel comforted and amused  – even excited!  I sense that the Ultimate Creator, through Creation – Nature – is reassuring me:  “Don’t worry!  We’ve got this!”

I came back inside and paint. This painting.  As it nears completion, it names itself, by putting this word in my mind::  “Reclamation!”

We can cover the earth with asphalt, but the grass will eventually break through and Nature will reclaim Her own.  Our species is the only one who vandalizes and disrespects nature for the benefit of our convenience, our greed, our fears and the glorification of our ego-minds.  We may destroy our species, but Nature will reclaim its own.