<< Prev Entry | Next Entry >>










Google Places and Platypie

Memories in a Garden

July 21, 2016

As a small child in the 1940s, my mom, left alone while my father was off fighting in the Pacific, would sometimes take my brother and me to the National Gallery of Art. The Mellon Collection, the Kress Collection… the walls of dull, unseeable, fearful paintings like vague windows into another much darker world meant nothing to me… my god, people were killing, there was blood, a dead man1 just lying there. I knew what war was.

But I remember the Garden Courts seemed to be the most be beautiful places imaginable anywhere. Surely I thought, those little winged babies playing with a swan in a fountain surrounded by white marble  and flowers  must be the portal to that magical place that only existed East of the Sun and West of the Moon. (How I loved fairly tales.)

(click to enlarge)

Thirty years later, in the 70s, I started taking drawing classes at the Corcoran School of Art. The thought of drawing in public was terrifying. (Drawing naked people in "life-classes" was scary enough) Bill Christenberry2, probably the greatest teacher I have ever been lucky enough to study with, on nice days would hand out the drawing boards and send us into the neighboring parks to sketch. Bill would move around, sitting and talking with each of us in the most encouraging way imaginable. He was such an inspiration that I really believed I could draw and certainly that I had nothing to fear when unfolding my stool and laying out my materials to draw in public.

A quick memory sketch and some computer layering (click to enlarge)
Calligraphy pen drawing of Bill Christenberry in Rawlins Park.

My memories of times drawing in Rawlins Park, just a few blocks from the White House, are vivid to this day. Looking at my old rough sketches, including one of Bill chatting with a classmate, I can feel the temperature on that warm morning, the breeze ruffling my sketch pad and the sun’s dappled light coming through the trees. And I can remember so well how Bill treasured his life and his history.

Last week I returned to the National Gallery of Art to draw the West Garden Court. Sitting down and taking out my pen, I had the strangest sensation of something both pushing me away and yet pulling me down. My mind stretched back… my father - gone so long, my mom always sort of sad and angry…   Fortunately a couple of kids came by and photo bombed me as I started to take a few reference photos for later.

About an hour into my drawing I became part of someone else's unique memory. While sketching away in my little world of ancient memories, a lovely Asian woman stopped just watching over my shoulder and pantomimed that she wanted to borrow my sketchbook for a photograph of herself. Holding up my sketchbook in front of her chest, she handed me a pink iPhone so I could take her picture posing with my drawing in front of Jean-Baptiste Tuby’s lovely fountain. We finished, she gave a small curtsy, patted my arm and flitted away on the wings of a swan.

A quick memory sketch and some computer layering (click to enlarge)
A quick memory sketch and some computer layering

1 Edouard Manet (artist) French, 1832 - 1883 The Dead Toreador

2 Bill Christenberry

Lovely - did not know that Christenberry was your teacher + enjoyed the Post article. Have long admired his work and did not know he is dealing with Alzheimer's.

Thanks, Peggy


Beautiful memories! I wish I had more to latch on to....


What Leah and Stan said!

Bob F

The song "East of the sun, west of the moon" was written by Brooks Bowman, a Princeton Undergraduate, for the Princeton Triangle Club's 1934 musical, "Stags at Bay." It's also a Norwegian folk tale.

Jon C

Lovely remembrances and especially the last story and photo!

Leah S

Lovely! Now I know who taught you to draw, but who taught you to write?

Stan F

Questions? Feedback?