Gift #1192: A Humboldt Experience

Amid the monuments of stone and marble, our nation’s treasures are curated in a collection of museums at the Smithsonian. There the most fascinating stories are told, but they are narrated with objects instead of words, read with experience, not just our eyes. And today is such a story – the story of Alexander von Humboldt’s visit to the United States in 1804. He was here just six weeks, but in that short time he directly influenced artists, philosophers, scientists, and politicians in tangible ways for the next 50 years. Indeed, it can be argued that we still feel the impact waves of that short visit to this day.

His visit had two immediate purposes, as he writes a letter of introduction to President Thomas Jefferson. He greatly admired Jefferson for his role in American democracy, as well as his scientific interests. Humboldt wishes to talk with Jefferson about a shared interest between them – mammoth skeletons. Such a skeleton had been recently exhumed in New York under the direction of Charles Peale and was displayed in his museum. Peale took delight in showing the fossilized skeleton to Humboldt and the mammoth quickly became a symbol of national pride.

This was the first time that Peale’s mammoth skeleton was back in the US in over 150 years

The other reason Humboldt specifically wishes to see Jefferson is because he wants to gift a map of the territories surrounding the US to the President so that he can more strongly negotiate the borders of the Louisiana Purchase with the King of Spain. This act of friendship and generosity endeared Humboldt to the new nation and secured the borders that would eventually become states as the population extended west. In return, Humboldt asked that the US would send him data and measurements as the new territories were explored, thus ensuring Humboldt’s contact with US explorers and scientists for decades to come. At Humboldt’s suggestion every expedition west would include an artist or photographer and scientist. They also brought Humboldt’s books for reference.

Humboldt’s View of the Cordilleras from his “Researches, Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America, 1814

And speaking of artists, Humboldt strongly believed that every scientist should look at nature with the eyes of an artist, and that artists should imbue their work with as much scientific detail as possible. His philosophy directly influenced American landscape artists, especially those of the Hudson River School. In particular one artist, Frederick Church, sought to embody Humboldt’s vision in all his work. The exhibition had a wonderful collection of his works on display. In addition to painting America’s natural beauty, Church followed in the footsteps of Humboldt’s expedition to South America. There he used Humboldt’s book to inform where he would go, visiting the same scenes and translating Humboldt’s maps into detailed landscape paintings that illustrated the scientific detail so desired by Humboldt. In fact, these paintings are used by scientists today to understand the changes in the snow pack and vegetation on these mountains caused by climate changes over the past two centuries.

Frederic Edwin Church, The Falls of Tequendama, near Bogota, New Grenada, 1854 Humboldt described these cataracts to Niagara Falls and Church based his composition based on Humboldt’s engraving
Frederic Edwin Church, Study for The Heart of the Andes, 1858 Church used Humboldt’s detailed maps to include multiple biomes ranging from the Amazon River basin to the glacial summit of The Cordillera

Throughout Humboldt’s travels, he relied on native people to guide him, believing their knowledge was more valuable than that of colonial powers. He was deeply convicted of the equality of all peoples and was an ardent abolitionist. While in the US, the situation of slavery greatly distressed him in a nation dedicated to freedom. He formed close friendships with abolitionists, notably Frederick Douglas and John Fremont. Fremont was an explorer who named many natural points of interest after Humboldt. Humboldt in turn valued Fremont’s stance on slavery and was one of his greatest supporters when Fremont ran for president in 1856. He was devastated when Fremont lost and accurately predicted that the issue of slavery would tear apart the nation.

John Quincy Adams Ward sculpted “The Freedman” in 1863 as a commission from the Fremonts. It was forged from a piece of one of the guns at Fort Wagner, South Caroline, where the African-American Massachusetts 54th Regiment were destroyed

Humboldt was also deeply interested in the Indigenous Peoples of North America. He had missed Lewis and Clark leaving to explore the west by a matter of weeks and seriously considered trying to find them so he could explore the continent with them and meet the tribes of Native Americans living here. Though that didn’t happen, he did send two of his students back to the US to live and record their experiences among the tribes of the West. Prince Maximilian and Karl Bodner spend several months living with the Mandan people, forming close friendships with the Chief. They even taught him to watercolor at his insistence! They were guided in these expeditions by the maps that William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) provided them. Their time with the Mandan, painting the scenes of tribal life and recording their oral traditions became even more valuable when, a few years later, disease would completely wipe out this tribe.

Karl Bodmer, Mato-Tope, a Mandan Chief” 1839.
Mato-Tope, Battle with a Cheyenne Chief, 1834. The Mandan Chief used Bodmer’s paints and brushes to create this self portrait of one of his most famous accomplishments. He later gifted this watercolor to Prince Max.

In addition to his interests in ethnography, Humboldt was intensely curious and encouraging of scientists and inventors of his day. He formed close friendships with many, including one Samuel Morse, who at the time was a burgeoning painter. When both men lived in Paris, Humboldt was fond of distracting Morse from his painting in the Louvre and would get him talking about his new idea of a telegraph. Humboldt was deeply dedicated to sharing information and the idea of instantaneous communication thrilled him. When Morse debuted his telegraph, Humboldt endorsed it and was instrumental in getting the technology accepted. As Morse extended his ideas to the transatlantic cable, Humboldt’s vocal and sustained support ensured its success, even after a few setbacks. (As a side note, Morse partnered with Cyrus Field to make the transatlantic cable a reality. Cyrus Field was also the patron of artist Frederick Church, and accompanied him on his treks to South America)

Alexander Morse telegraph key, 1845
Daniel Huntington, The Atlantic Cable Projectors, 1893. Cyrus Field is at the far right and Samuel Morse stands behind the group
The actual globe from the painting above that Cyrus Field used to propose where he would lay the transatlantic cable

The exhibit ends by illustrating a direct role Humboldt had in American culture that continues to this day. Among his friends was a brilliant chemist named James Smithson, who was looking for a way to use his fortune. Humboldt influenced Smithson heavily and at Humboldt’s encouragement, Smithson named a bequest to the US government for the establishment of an institution dedicated to the collection of knowledge in Washington DC. This became the Smithsonian Institution in which we were standing. In fact, upon Humboldt’s death, his heir asked the United States government to purchase Humboldt’s estate for the Smithsonian. That didn’t happen because of financial concerns on the eve of the Civil War, but the Smithsonian itself is an homage to Humboldt’s mind and influence. His efforts to collect knowledge from anthropology, art, history, culture, and science, and connect them in meaningful ways is exactly what the Smithsonian does. I can think of no better place to pay tribute to such an amazing man.

Frederic Edwin Church, Aurora Borealis, 1865 The exhibit closed with this artwork because of the metaphorical meaning. Here a ship (depicting traditional communication methods) is trapped in ice while electromagnetic waves dance overhead, connecting Canada to Ireland, the terminus of the transatlantic cable (depicting the instantaneous communication Humboldt so desired)

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gifts #1191: A Series of Coincidences

Hello readers, Welcome back to my blog!

I was inspired to start writing again to share with you a series of strange coincidences I experienced a few nights ago. We wanted to watch a movie and I suggested that we watch a documentary on St. Paul’s Cathedral. I got up to find the DVD and my eyes fell on a documentary of the Hudson River School and we decided to watch that instead. Now the Hudson River School actually refers to a group of American artists that shared a similar aesthetic of landscape painting. They painted in the early to mid Nineteenth century and were greatly influenced by Romanticism as well as the belief that our natural places were uniquely blessed by God and should serve as the basis of our cultural identity. Their paintings were supremely important in a new country struggling to find its place and purpose in the world. Through their paintings, the nation was able to see spectacular places, and consequently to take pride in them and seek to preserve them.

This is my absolute favorite genre of painting. In fact, the last time I had been in a museum was to view a collection of Hudson Valley works in Cincinnati before Covid struck. The paintings are breathtaking – especially with the handling of light across majestic scenes. And the attention to the ecosystem and natural details is outstanding. Wikipedia has a great selection of artwork if you search “Hudson River School”.

During the DVD they discussed a famous painting by Frederick Church called “Heart of the Andes”. Church painted this work as an homage to the explorer Alexander von Humboldt, and had traveled in his steps to Peru to create his landscape.

I perked up at the mention of Humboldt, who is a personal hero and my favorite of all scientific explorers. I love him deeply – and my love for him started with a portrait. I can’t recall where I first saw it – maybe in a textbook, but I was arrested by the gentleness in his eyes and that he was surrounded with plants.

This mention of Humboldt in the DVD made me want to see that portrait again, so I googled it and was trying to find out who painted it. I visited about 15 sites to find the credited portraitist, and I finally found it on a Smithsonian page. And that page was describing an exhibit that was about Humboldt’s influence on the United States in terms of science, art, culture, and politics. Oh, my goodness!!!! What an incredible idea!! This is exactly the sort of intersection of art, science, and culture that thrills my heart. I thought how wonderful it would be to see it, but the exhibition ended in January. Sigh….. so close. I clicked the “read more” tab to find out more of the elusive exhibit full of wondrous things. And – would you believe it? The exhibit dates had changed and it was open until July11th!!

And that my dear readers, is how through a series of linked coincidences (or ordinary miracles), I find myself standing 4 days later at the steps of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC to pay my respects and experience the life of this amazing man.

Stay tuned to hear feedback of the once-in-a-lifetime exhibit.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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The Fanciful World of J.J. Granville

I’m delighted to pop into the Art Bead Scene blog as guest artist for Art Journey #8. When I received a sneak peak of the Journeys this year, I was instantly drawn to the work of J.J. Granville. I loved the whimsical, fairy-tale quality in his illustrations, but also the infusion of quirkiness and satire that mixes in. His style is perfectly suited to lithography, an art style that I’ve been appreciating more and more. So I invite you to pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let’s get lost in the imagination of J.J. Granville.

Metamorphosis of the Day was the first of his illustrations I saw, and I was immediately smitten by it. While he considered it a satirical commentary on the haughtiness of people, I found it quite fanciful and delightful to think of beetles and bugs dressing up for a night on the town.

A lovely moth pendant from Artisticaos was my stepping off point for this illustration. Something about the folded winds and delicate antennae of this moth made me think he’d be right at home strutting his stuff with the finest of insects. The brightness of his wings is picked up by a hand-painted ceramic bead and an assortment of wood beads, shell slices, and metal spacers fill out the space. Some of the metal spacers have a dusting of patina on them which draws the color upward, where it ends in a strand of blue leather lace.

This next piece, Battle of the Playing Cards, has undeniable association with fairy-tales. The imagery is deeply entwined with that of Alice in Wonderland. Scenes of playing cards acting as consorts for the Queen of Hearts and painting roses red instantly came to mind. Fortunately, Humblebeads released a fabulous collection of Alice in Wonderland faux tin pieces and I knew they would be perfect for our Art Journey.

Isn’t that pendant fantastic? I love that image of Alice getting flooded by that flurry of cards while White Rabbit tries to sneak away in the background. I tried a lot of different designs with this one, but in the end decided to use this assortment of metallic hued beads so that the pendant would remain the focus of the eye. The metallic beads are card-shaped and each are embossed with a tiny cross and accented with faceted silver beads. Copper chain in diamond links brings in the warm colors of the pendant and subtly plays off the card theme. Of course, we can’t forget the Queen of Hearts herself, and she is symbolized by the copper heart dangling from the pendant. This one is a wonderful addition to my collection of Alice-inspired jewelry.

The remaining artwork by Granville had a distinct celestial theme so I wanted to group them together. A couple of them were a surprise to me because they weren’t in my sneak peak! I was inspired in equal parts by his illustrations and the book The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, which was gifted to me last Christmas. Despite the name, the moon, sun, and stars all play a pivotal role in this magical book. Since reading it, I’ve wanted to create some jewelry that reminded me of how I felt reading this book.

An Animal in the Moon is quite a tongue-in-cheek illustration. I’m enthralled by anything with a man on the moon – this piece reminded me a bit of Georges Melies “Trip to the Moon”. I’d like to think that in some corner of the universe a little mouse snuggles up in the night and cast his shadow over the moon.

The closest I could get was with this beautiful bead of a rabbit against the night sky with a full moon. This gorgeous piece is the work of Natalie McKenna of Grubbi Beads. I paired it with a selection of charms from Vintaj, a bright gold leafy bead cap, and a reticulated grey agate bead. It is strung on oxidized silver chain. The mix of dark grey and bright gold reminded me of the dark night sky and brilliant light of the moon and how those two contrasts intertwine. In The Starless Sea, there is a character – a little girl who likes to pretend she’s a rabbit. Her story was my favorite in the book and so this necklace is an homage to Eleanor, who “was a rabbit, not a girl”.

Now, to say that Wanderings of a Comet captured my attention would be an understatement. When I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t break away from it. It is breathtakingly beautiful and I love every aspect about it – from all the celestial imagery mimicking diamonds, to the flying chariot pulled by fiery horses, to the contrast of the solid black background – everything about this piece sings of the magic of night skies. And how imaginative of him to fashion the comet into a woman wearing a cape of stardust! Fold in a bit of Art Deco influence, and I’m sold. This is my favorite of the selection of illustrations from Granville.

This piece takes as its inspiration another pendant from Grubbi Beads, this one featuring a lovely crescent moon with a twinkling of stars against a painterly grey/black background. I think it perfectly captures the essence of the Granville illustration. I suspended it on an etched silver jump ring and then created a heavily beaded necklace comprised of dark black agate and labradorite. Silver spacers and patterned silver diamond beads add light and shimmer to the otherwise dark palette (and a touch of Art Deco), much like stars do across a night sky. The necklace is finished with soldered circle chain. In The Starless Sea, the stars form a coup to control time and fate, but the Moon intervenes. This moonscape pays tribute to the story of the Moon, who takes shape as a dark-haired woman clothed in silver and light to aid our heroes in their quest.

Our last stop on our journey is A Promenade Through the Sky. I was delighted by the transformation of objects as they fly through the sky, ending with the horse-drawn chariot afloat in a sea of stars. What imagination Granville had to place all these objects together and morph them slowly into each other! It’s quite a fanciful take on charts that show the waxing and waning of the moon.

I used as my starting point, this hauntingly beautiful ceramic connector from Grubbi Beads. (Can you tell I have a passion for Grubbi Beads moon themed pendants?) This one features an owl perched amid a mountain forest with a full moon hovering above. I used a selection of grey and peach moonstone beads to string the necklace, punctuated with tiny matte grey seed-beads. The necklace is finished with etched silver chain and a heart toggle. Both the owl and heart are nods to the imagery in the Promenade. To cover the bare wire loop at the top of the connector, I hand dyed some seam binding in shades of grey and gold and tied it to the piece. A silver umbrella hangs open and suspended beneath – again as a connection to the imagery in Granville’s illustration. Owls have an important role in The Starless Sea. The Owl King and his flock fly in and out of the stories that fill the pages to tell the tale of the Starless Sea across time. This necklace reminds me of his story too and the power of transformation that Granville so artfully reminds us.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey together through these remarkable pieces of art. If you haven’t yet, take some time to sit with Granville, let your imagination wander, and make your own creative story from the art beads and bits of your collection.

You can follow me on my blog where I write about the ordinary miracles that fill our days: https://anordinarymiracleday.wordpress.com

And on Instagram: seraines317

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Gift #1190: Summer Days

Hello everyone and Happy Summer!  I hope this post finds you well.  In my neck of the woods, we have welcomed summer with days of plentiful sunshine and warm temperature, and lots of watering in the garden.  We have tadpoles in the pond and have enjoyed the voices of the frogs and toads at night.  There are at least two chipmunks that frolic on the deck, along with the squirrels, and they have taken an interest in what goes on in the house too.  The birds are visiting the feeders quite frequently and we’ve seen a few fledgling birds as well.  In the garden, the lettuce is about to run it’s course, we had a grand total of 3 strawberries (well the ones we got to eat), and there are baby tomatoes and peppers.  Summer is a wonderful time of growth.

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We had the most beautiful display of peonies this year – I don’t think they’ve ever been as beautiful!  The hydrangeas won’t be long in coming into bloom.  I’ve been walking every evening in the neighborhood and it’s really fun to see other people’s gardens and what’s blooming in every yard.  I love spending time outside listening to the sounds of nature and feeling the sun.  It’s incredibly peaceful to fall asleep with the windows open to waft in a gentle breeze and the sound of crickets.

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Here are a few quotes to celebrate summer:

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” – Al Bernstein

“We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.” – Jenny Uglow

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“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.” – Maude Hart Lovelace

 

“In summer, the song sings itself.” – William Carlos Williams

Let the song sing in your heart and find joy in the ordinary miracles of summer.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1189: A Walk in the Woods

Hello and welcome to June.  It feels strange that we’ve already come into the summer months.  The year feels like it’s moving more slowly than the calendar says.  It’s been hard to write and I had started working on this blog post over a week ago.  Mom and I went to check out a nature reserve near our home that we’d been wanting to visit.  We got a quick walk in before afternoon storms chased us back to the car.  It was so nice though to be outside in the woods again.  I’ve talked before about how therapeutic it is for me to be near trees and meandering through forested paths.  My heart and mind clear and I can regain focus and perspective.

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It’s been a hard and heartbreaking year for us.  And the whole world now feels like it’s crying.  So much pain and tears.  In the midst of such grief, nature is a source of solace and calm.  It is one of God’s greatest blessings to us that His creation brings joy and comfort in our broken world.  It’s beauty can pierce through our sorrows to bring the light of His presence and speak hope into our hearts.

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One of the great delights in our short walk was that we were able to see some wildflowers.  I thought that we had missed them all during quarantine but the frothy blooms of false Solomon’s seal were abundant.  And joy of joys, there was one precious trillium left in bloom – my favorite forest flower.

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We admired the floor filled with lush emerald foliage – including these heart-shaped beauties.

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And we even found a magic kingdom of mushrooms!

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But best of all, we found some peace and quiet to be still and listen to God’s voice speaking truth into our hearts.  We took time to remind ourselves that in spite of our disappointment and hurt, God loves us and He cares for us.  One of the verses that has become very precious to me this year is Psalm 31:7.

I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, for You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversity. 

I love this verse because it reminds us that God knows our troubles – He knows what grieves and hurts us.  And even more than that, He knows our soul intimately in our times of trouble.  He hovers over us and wraps His arms around us when our lives are in turmoil and grief.  He is near, He is love, and He is calling for us.  I hope wherever you find yourself today, that you experience comfort, work to be a blessing to those around you, and look for the ordinary miracles that fill our world with joy.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1188: The Great Greening

It has finally arrived.  The trees in our forest have greened up and now you cannot see through the forest for the leaves.

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The great greening took about two and half days last week.  It was like watching a drama: you could literally watch the forest grow and change.  After a night of rain, it went from lightly leafed out to nearly full canopy.  Since then the layers of green have deepened and grown.  And with the leafing out I’ve felt something in my soul stir and loosen.  It feels like I’ve been holding my breath since November and finally took in air.  It has been a joy and comfort to be home to watch spring unfurl right in front of my windows this year.  I often just go stand in front of a window during the day, soaking up sun and staring at the green.

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My magnolia has done something rather miraculous too.  She blooms early, and each year, bless her, she tries so hard to create a stunning pageant of grand pink blooms.  But she has two arch enemies that conspire against her – squirrels who insist on chewing her unopened buds, and late frosts that wait until she’s just opened her buds and then… zap!

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I’m always devastated by this because magnolia blooms are one of the greatest enchanting delights of spring.   As expected, we had a few days of her loveliness before a frost browned and withered her blooms.    But….  she secretly held back many blooms and we’ve had another chance at spring with her.  When I saw them, my heart soared – what a delight!!!  Her blooms are with us still.

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It is a relief to have spring with us again.   This has been a season of loss and hard times for my family.  Watching spring come is a comfort and reminder that God is always working and He is making all things new.  The forest in the backyard had a long winter – if you hadn’t traveled through the seasons before, you’d think all the trees were dead.  But in the right time, what looked like a pile of dead wood springs into green with wild abandon.  Watching the miracle unfold has taught truth to my hurting heart.  There is always hope and the promise of new life.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1187: John Muir and Earth Day

Hello everyone!  As today is Earth Day and this week was John Muir’s birthday, I thought it would be a fitting tribute to include some of my favorite quotes of his in honor of this day.  Muir is one of my heroes – and a kindred spirit – as he championed the importance of preserving our wild spaces.  He viewed wilderness as a kind of church, where in both places God meets with man and reveals His glory.
Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

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Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.

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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
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Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves
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Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean…
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This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
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This last quote is my favorite.  The miracles of nature awe us and remind us of an existence far greater than our own lifespan.  Spending time outdoors, especially in forests, renews my mind and refreshes my perspective.  It calms my heart and makes me more open to seeing God at work in my life when I can see His hand so clearly in creation.  God often uses metaphors of His creation to remind us of His faithfulness – like the turning of seasons, dawn emerging from dark, and harvest following sowing.  As we can set our days on the rhythms of nature, so we can set our hearts and souls on God’s promises and His faithfulness.  He uses examples of His care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field to reinforce His love for us.  The beauty we see in nature pulls us to the beauty and glory of God.  I’ve been relishing daily walks as an opportunity to experience God at work as the world wakens up to spring.  The flowers and birdsong and sunshine fill this corner of the world with beauty.  I hope wherever you are this week that you find a bit of time to head outside and nourish your soul with the ordinary miracles all around you.
Blessings to you,
Sarah
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Gift #1186: Happy Easter 2020

Happy Easter everyone!  While this Easter celebration has been quite different, the God we celebrate is not.  He rises and He reigns over sin and death, over all powers, and over all circumstances.  We can rejoice in who God is and what He has done for us regardless of what circumstances we’re in, knowing that God is working for us a “far greater eternal weight of glory”.  I pray that you’ve found comfort and a reason for joy wherever you are today.

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Like so many others across the world, our church is closed too.  We had online services today and worshiped virtually.  While we can certainly worship God wherever we are and church is not confined to a building with walls, I did miss being in our church building worshiping as a large group.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the beautiful churches and cathedrals we saw in England – large and small – and my heart aches that they too are closed.  However, I started researching and found lists of churches that were broadcasting services online!  Through this, I’ve been able to connect with places across the world in ways that weren’t possible even a few months ago.

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One special cathedral we visited, the first outside of London, was Litchfield Cathedral.  Since it has been closed during Holy Week, the Cathedral instead chose to illuminate the cathedral with images of hope and reminders of the Passion of Christ which were posted online.  Their Easter Eucharist services are also online and the presiding Rev’d John Hencher offered this beautiful prayer for Easter:

“Risen Lord:

Give us a heart for simple things:

love, laughter, bread, wine, dreams.

Fill us with green growing hope.

And make us an Easter people:

whose song is Alleluia,

whose sign is Peace,

and whose name is Love.”

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As is my usual practice, I post a song for each Easter.  Based on the prayer above and the opportunity to worship with the Church of England today as well as with my own church family, I’ve chosen “The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done”.

Refrain:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun:
Alleluia!
The pow’rs of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions has dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst:
Alleluia!
The three sad days are quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head:
Alleluia!
He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heav’n’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell:
Alleluia!
Lord, by the stripes which wounded You,
In us You’ve won the vict’ry too,
That we may live, and sing to You:
Alleluia!
Refrain 5:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Let us indeed choose to be an Alleluia people, and Easter people, who rejoice in what God’s love has accomplished for us and spread that love to others.

Happy Easter blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1185: National Gallery of Art Part 2

Hello everyone!  How are you all doing?  Since we’re all at home and the museums are closed, I thought it would be an opportune time to share with you more pictures from our day at the National Gallery of Art.  I’m really missing my local art museum – especially because right now is the Spring Blooms exhibit in the gardens and the orchid displays in the greenhouses.  I was able to rescue my orchids from work before we went into shutdown, so at least I have some to look at.  But I digress….  we have art to enjoy!

Now last post was Medieval art through the 1700s.  We’ll pick up in the mid 1700s today with a focus on landscapes, starting with my favorite artist, J.M.W. Turner.  Well, it’s hard to have a favorite artist, but he’s definitely tops.  I learned that he had bequeathed all his personal paintings to the National Gallery and it was thrilling to see many of his works in one place.

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He has a very distinctive style and was one of the rare artists who could expertly paint tiny vignettes to soaring, huge vistas.  He was known for his prowess of sketching detailed scenes with the attention of an architect, and he also created beautiful, loose impressionistic panoramas later in life.

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The museum had many of his sea scenes on display, including this action-packed scene with the riveting title “Calais Pier: An English Packet Arriving”.  Doesn’t that sound like a thriller?  Honestly, the names of works of art are hilarious to me.

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This one, “Ulysses deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey” is an example of when Turner starts veering more to an Impressionistic style – you can see the brushwork is much looser and a lot of the detail is missing.  But it’s a lovely scene to be sure.  My local art museum was slated to open an exhibit of 30 of Turner’s sketches from his travels of Europe this month.  I’m looking forward to seeing them when the museums open again.  I love spending time with Turner’s art.

Another great artist with many works on display at the National Gallery is Thomas Gainsborough.  He was to portraiture what Turner was to landscapes.  Brilliant and beautiful.  Although Gainsborough also did magnificent landscapes too.

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“Mr and Mrs William Hallett” is a lovely example of his portraiture.  Gainsborough reported loved to paint fabrics and he certainly does a stunning job with the woman’s silk gown.

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“Mr and Mrs Andrews” is a personal favorite of mine because it was featured on a mini series of works of art that I’ve watched over and over.  The host believed the woman was painted subtly unfavorably because the Andrews’ marriage took personal ownership of vast acreage that had been open to the farmers and Gainsborough disapproved.  He went to school with Mr. Andrews though and they were friends – the host referred to his treatment in the painting as “he’s dim but nice”.  I think it’s quite a dramatic portraiture with the stormy clouds behind and idyllic country scene in the forefront.

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My favorite Gainsborough is this portrait he made of his two daughters.  It’s a touching scene, with the two girls chasing a butterfly – he captured an intimate and poignant moment.  You can almost feel in it his wish that his daughters would find happiness that would not be fleeting.

From here we moved on to the Impressionist galleries and beyond.  We actually spent so much time with the older paintings that we had to rush quite a bit to get through the rest of the galleries.  We were a bit frantic to get through everything but not knowing how much was left.  We finished at 5 minutes to 6pm and they virtually threw us out!

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Here is a Cezanne – my favorite of the ones in the collection, entitled “Landscape with Poplars”.   It’s a lovely, dreamy scene – don’t you think?  I like the restrained use of color too, which make it feel more realistic, like a scene in late summer.

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No collection of Impressionistic art could be complete without a ballet dancers from Degas.

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I was delighted to see some water lily paintings by Monet.  This particular scene is from his gardens at his home in Giverny.  He built the Japanese-style bridge and this pond became the focus of 17 paintings of water lilies.

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He also painted this stark scene of the flooded river Epte, a tributary of the Seine.  I found this piece quite mesmerizing.

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The artist Odilon Redon was one that I was introduced to through the Art Bead Scene blog, where we create jewelry inspired by works of art.  We have his works several times.  I was really excited to learn that the National Gallery had his work too.  This one is called “Ophelia among the Flowers” and depicted a drowned Ophelia floating among flowers, as described in Hamlet – he apparently had a fascination with Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  His pastel work is quite incredible and his work has a dreaminess about it.

At our rushing stage where we were basically just taking photos and quickly walking through the rest of the gallery, we ran into this series of paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot called “The Four Times of Day”.

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These were so lovely – I wish we had more time to gaze at them appreciatively, but we at least snapped photos to remember them.  They were long narrow treescapes of  early morning, midday, afternoon, and evening.  And they were enchanting.   It was a full day at the National Gallery and so thrilling to see great works of art from the masters.  I hope it is uplifting you to see them as well.   This blog post has been a bit poignant for me since all the wonderful places we saw in England are now closed.  I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to travel and experience all that we did.  It’s been a blessing to remember it all with you on my blog.  Till next time…

Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1184: National Gallery of Art

Hello dear readers!  Welcome to March – I’m so delighted that we’ve had some sunshine and warmer temps here.  January and February are really hard on me and I feel great relief upon entering March.  Now there’s just the time change this weekend to contend with…  But last weekend, Mom and I went to the local art museum and went through some of the galleries and outdoor gardens.  It tickled my mind that I needed to share with you my experience at the National Gallery of Art in London.  So, spoiler alert, there will be a lot of photos.  And the artwork started before we even got into the building.  There was fabulous chalk art on the sidewalks leading up to the Gallery.

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Aren’t these amazing?!  Part of me felt rather foolish taking pictures of these on the doorstep to the world’s treasures of great art.  But then I thought these are beautiful and bringing joy into the lives of all who pass by, and in that way they are every bit as important and special as the art within the Gallery’s walls.  Besides, it was the first time I’d ever seen real sidewalk chalk art outside of Mary Poppins!  And that squirrel…

Now, a word about the content of today’s post.  It was very important to my mom and I that we view the art on display in chronological order.  There are 4 wings at the Gallery, loosely divided along timelines, and what I’ll show today are highlights from the Medieval and Renaissance eras.  We valiantly went through each gallery, starting with #44 – please don’t ask me about the numbering scheme – it gave me an eye twitch.  To make the visit more exciting, the galleries weren’t really in numerical order, so it took a lot of backtracking and wandering about to find each gallery, but that was the only way to ensure we’d see everything.  Oh, and a few gallery numbers were missing – as in, they didn’t actually have a gallery #3 and #7, but for some reason they just skipped those numbers and went from #6 to #8.  Why??  In another bit of marketing brilliance, you also had to pay to get a map…. evil genius I tell you.  But now to art.

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The crowning jewel in the Medieval collection is this lovely gilded diptych.  The deer is absolutely lovely – in fact, it is on the cover of the guide we got in advance.  The deer is actually the back of the piece, which is the oldest in the collection, dating about 1395.  The white hart was the royal symbol of Richard II and this piece commemorates his reign.

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Understandably, there were hundreds of paintings of saints from the Medieval period. This one of St. Jerome was my favorite of all of them – I loved the imagery of him pulling the thorn from the lion’s paw.

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“The Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck was one of the pieces I was most excited about seeing with my own eyes.  My family enjoys documentaries and we have a mini series about 8 works of art that we’ve seen more times than I can count.  This is one of the paintings that is featured and it is rich in symbolism and detail.  I was surprised to find that it is actually a rather small work and it was one of the few that you couldn’t get right up close to.  It’s a fascinating piece and one you could stare at for hours, finding all the special details in this scene.

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In contrast, “The Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci was of an impressively large scale, taking up nearly the entire wall in its enclave.  This depicts the Christ Child and John the Baptist as infants with Mary.  In a DVD about the Gallery that I received as a Christmas present, there’s a section on the framing of certain of their works of art.  This frame was acquired at auction from the 1700s I believe and there was enough of the woodwork to fit this piece perfectly.

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The Gallery has its share of mythology as well as sacred.  This fantastical scene depicts Orpheus, who had the power to enchant all living creatures as well as inanimate objects with his music.  I loved the menagerie of animals shown here and the way the eye travels from the foreground back behind the trees to the forested ruins and open sky behind.

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One of my favorite ways of exploring a painting is by taking closeups of certain areas to highlight a particular focus.  For example, this photo was a small part of a scene depicting the death of a mythical character.  While not thrilled with the action part of the scene, I thought the background was magical and created its own story.

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We were making admirable progress, considering all the galleries full of amazing treasures to behold, but things came to a screeching halt when we found a gallery entirely of still life pieces.  This is one of my very favorite genres of art – especially those done by Flemish masters.  The entire room was like a jewelry box.  This one by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (isn’t that a faulous name?) was so precisely painted it was more like a photograph than a painting.  The little butterfly looked as if it would fly off any second.

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“Glass Vase with Flowers” by Jan van Huysm was a spectacular composition too.  My heart fluttered with joy over the delicate nest.  The powerful use of light made the  flowers luminous against the dark background – this is an aspect I find irresistible in still life paintings.  It speaks to me of the way beauty draws attention even (or especially) in dark circumstances and they are eloquent life lessons for me.

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Still life is a particular amenable genre for taking closeups – I took many in this gallery.  There are so many details to enjoy – the curve of a stem, a flower with a butterfly dancing nearby, a spiderweb in the corner, a grasshopper on the table, the way flowers move from light to shadow…  I was delighted to find that a woman painted this masterpiece.  Rachel Ruysch created “Flowers in a Vase” in 1685 – her father was the head of Amsterdam Botanical Garden, so it’s easy to see where she found inspiration.

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“Insects with Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not” by Jan van Kessel the Elder breaks from traditional still life form.  Instead of a formal presentation, van Kessel arranges the elements of a still life more like a curiosity cabinet.  The expert light and shadowing made me think that it was an actual insect collection for a moment.  And may I just mention that the names of still life paintings make me laugh with their utter literalness.  No hint of imagination whatsoever, which is ironic given the prolific talents of their creators.  I would have called it “Collection from a Walk in the Woods” or “How many insects can you find on a hawthorn leaf ?”

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As we moved into the 1600s, we ran across this touching scene of “The Infant Saint John with the Lamb” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo.  The banner along the rocks reads “Behold the Lamb of God”.  I loved this one so much – it’s incredibly tender.

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Another of my favorites is “The Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio.  I love this account in the Gospels where a newly risen Christ walks with some of His followers and then shares a meal with them.  As he blesses the food, they suddenly realize that it is their Lord who has been with them all that time.  It is captured with great warmth and emotion here with skillful hand and delicate brush.   The peaceful serenity and love on Christ’s face draws you in, even as the surprised reaction from the others at table makes you hold your breath in anticipation at what is revealed.  I spent a long time with this magnetic scene.

I hope you enjoyed a stroll through the early artwork of the National Gallery.  Did you have a favorite from this selection?  Next time, I’ll share the highlights from the 1700s – 1900s, encompassing the great eras of British landscapes and European Impressionism.  Until then, may you find beauty all around you.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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