The Wedding: A Short Short Story

The Wedd

The Wedding

Short, short story by Becky Ruth Powell

She looked at the name on the wedding cake.  She couldn’t remember whether she was Lisa, or Beth, or Mary.  She was Lenora this time.  She looked at her new in-laws, who adored her.  Mother, aunt, sister, like three scoops of sherbet in pastel dresses, strands of pearls buried in folds of neck-fat.

Lenora considered whether she’d rushed things by spiking his cup of wedding punch, but when his head plopped onto her shoulder she dismissed doubt.

Amid the chaos of death, she inherited his sizable estate.  Her in-laws fussed so over her well-being, she grew fond of being Lenora.

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Evocative Sights

Mother of God Santa Francesca, Rome 3rd-4th century Encaustic icon

A recent customer shared with me the memories and feelings that one of my collages evoked for her.  It got me thinking about the feelings triggered by things we see.  We’ve all seen people who so resemble someone else that we are compelled to call that person and tell them we’ve spotted their doppelgänger.   A glimpse of something similar to something else evokes memories that may feel good or terrible.

The way the brain processes information when we read is a good example of how we processes what we see.  A veteran reader reads faster than a new reader because, through her experience, she’s looked at so many letters, words, sentences, and patterns that her eye doesn’t have to register every single letter.  Instead, her eyes take in chunks and her brain fills in the rest using its own complicated system of probability.  What are the chances, our brain might say, that “a_d” is anything other than “and” . (A gross oversimplification, but you get the idea.)

But what about when visual images evoke connections and emotions that don’t relate to any memory we’re conscious of?  For example, recently I’ve been looking at medieval art – in particular icons – in preparation for teaching medieval history next year.  The images have taken my breath away.

French historiated initial with men slaying a monster, from a theological manuscript. 1110-1115

Until recently, I don’t think I’ve known how to appreciate art.  Until I began doing art myself, I don’t think I knew what to look for or how to feel about art.  So, it is as if a new dimension has opened up for me – an entire new way in which to view the world.  For a girl who has always dreamed in words rather than images, this is a big deal.

Mary Magdalen announcing the Resurrection to the Apostles, St Albans Psalter, English, 1120-1145.

I know that these centuries-old icons are not touching me because I’m particularly religious, so it isn’t so much the subject matter that moves me.  Nothing in my past is sparked by seeing these images.  I’ve tried to figure out what it is that I “like” about the images I’ve been viewing, and the first thing that came to me was the color.  The vividness of the colors – blues, ochre, reds–give me a palpable rush of pleasure.

Romanesque interlace, "inhabited" with figures, England, 1190-1200.

But, why does a color make me feel good?  I started to research how colors affect our moods, but it didn’t hold my interest for long.  All I could thing of was how an old neighbor of ours was convinced that our son’s bright red nursery would emotionally cripple him for life.  Articles about “color trends” have always struck me as kind of superfluous, and anything I could have written in that vein would have been pulp.

So, I contemplated the colors and the feelings some more.  The vivid colors created an immediacy to the image.  It was real, in-your-face intensity.  And I wondered, how did those vivid colors survive all these centuries?  What power did those brushstrokes have to leap across centuries to reach out and touch me?  My husband suggested it was lead paint and all kinds of other terrible stuff that can’t be used anymore.   (see note below)   Maybe.  Probably.  But I prefer to think of it as something more elegant.  I love reading history books, but I could read all day long and not experience the visceral feeling I do when I look at one medieval icon or illuminated page.  I’m not creating new historical insights or anything like that.  It’s just an emotion.  It’s just the feeling that we are connected throughout the centuries and across the globe by the humanity and passion of artists.
NOTE:  I did find some info on the make-up of paints used by medieval artists on wikipedia:


“The medieval artist’s palette was surprisingly broad. In addition to the substances listed below, unlikely-sounding substances such as urine and earwax were used to prepare pigments[13].”

Red:   Mercuric sulfide (HgS), often called cinnabar or vermilion, in its natural mineral form or synthesized; “red lead” or minium (Pb3O4); insect-based colours such as cochineal, kermes and lac; rust (iron oxide, Fe2O3) or iron oxide-rich earth compounds
Yellow:     Plant-based colours, such as Weld, turmeric or saffron; yellow earth colours (ochre); orpiment (arsenic sulfide, As2S3)
Green:    Plant-based compounds such as buckthorn berries; copper compounds such as verdigris and malachite
Blue:     Ultramarine (made from the rock lapis lazuli) or azurite; smalt; plant-based substances such as woad, indigo, and folium or turnsole
White:     Lead white (also called “flake white”, basic lead carbonate (PbCO3)); chalk
Black:    Carbon, from sources such as lampblack, charcoal, or burnt bones or ivory; sepia; iron and gall
Gold:     Gold, in leaf form (hammered extremely thin) or powdered and bound in gum arabic or egg (called “shell gold”)
Silver:     Silver, either silver leaf or powdered, as with gold; tin leaf

Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illuminated_manuscript

Too Cool Artists — srichter’s Drawings

sakura marker and watercolour on bristol paper by Etsy artist srichter

Recently, I’ve been fiddling around with black ink line drawings on white paper.  A simple enough idea, my family calls “doodling.”   But, these days, there’s a new word for these line drawings:  Zentangle. I admit there’s something a little obsessive about these drawings.  My family sometimes wonders what evil spirits compel me to throw such detail and complexity onto a relatively small piece of paper.   But, there is something elemental about a simple black line on white paper.  That’s why Etsy artist srichter’s art caught my eye.

The subtle addition of colors adds extra dimension to this drawing by srichter

Srichter adds watercolor to the line drawings, creating vivid, mythological worlds that are both realistic and slightly tipsy.  What make srichter’s art complex aren’t the lines themselves, but the patterns that emerge under the artist’s hand.  These pieces are an excellent example of the old trope that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Too Cool Artists — U-Ram Choe

Una Lumino Portentum by U-Ram Choe

In the midst of an amazing experience viewing European art, my son and I stumbled into a world of light, shadows, and an oddly graceful mechanical ballet.  U-Ram Choe’s “New Urban Species” exhibit at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville is called “kinetic sculpture” but there aren’t really words to describe what Choe does.

When we first saw this piece, the flowers were unlit and all we saw were the tendrils of light. When we walked back through, the flowers were opening and closing, going from dark to light.

Choe, born in Korea in 1970,  combines robotics, botany, and art history.    The Frist presented Choe’s work perfectly against the dim lights and dark walls of a small, intimate gallery.  Hung from the ceiling were conglomerates of gears and metal parts that rotated or opened and shut like the most delicate flower buds.  The precise  shadows cast by the sculptures created a further  layer to each piece, adding to the sense that what we were seeing — though constructed with cold hard metal and precise machination — was somehow alive and supernatural.

If you have ever wanted to have your breath taken away, go see Choe’s exhibit at the Frist.  If you can’t do that, he has a website with a well-done gallery of his pieces that shows his evolution as an artist.  There are also videos on the website.  (http://www.uram.net/)   As good as the photographs on the website are, they don’t begin to do justice to the power and imagination of Choe’s art.

Short Short Stories: The Wedding

Something I do to help myself learn to write where every word counts is by writing stories that are exactly 100 words long.  I thought it would be impossible at first, but it isn’t.  It just requires making every word pull its own weight.  Plus — it truly takes very little time to read.

The Wedding

  So, enjoy!

The Wedding

Short, short story by Becky Ruth Powell

She looked at the name on the wedding cake.  She couldn’t remember whether she was Lisa, or Beth, or Mary.  She was Lenora this time.  She looked at her new in-laws, who adored her.  Mother, aunt, sister, like three scoops of sherbet in pastel dresses, strands of pearls buried in folds of neck-fat. 

Lenora considered whether she’d rushed things by spiking his cup of wedding punch, but when his head plopped onto her shoulder she dismissed doubt.

Amid the chaos of death, she inherited his sizeable estate.  Her in-laws fussed so over her well-being, she grew fond of being Lenora.

Dr. Chase’s Last and Complete Work

In a recent browse through the local antique mall, I discovered a weathered copy of a book called Dr. Chase’s Last Receipt Book and Household Physician,  published in 1906.  I snatched it up to use in my art.   After doing a little research, I found out that Dr. Chase’s Receipt Book was one of the first “how-to” books and was popular  before and during the Civil War.

If the worth of a book correlates to its full title, this book is one of the most valuable on earth.  The complete title is: 

Memorial Edition of Dr. Chase’s Third, last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician, or Practical Knowledge for the Peopled; from the Life-Long observations of the author, embracing the Choisest, Most Valuable and Entirely New Receipts in Every Department of Medicine, Mechanics, and Household Economy; including a Treatise on The Diseases of Women and Children; In Fact, The Book for the Million; with Remarks and explanations which adapt it to the Every-day Wants of the People, Arranged in Departments and most Copiously Indexed.

  As a kind of afterthought, below the author’s name is one more statement:  “Why Conceal That Which Relieves Distress?” 

It turns out the copy I bought was a salesman’s copy.  It has the beautiful cover, but includes only samples of  Dr. A.W. Chase’s copious knowledge.  In the back of my copy, there is a subscription page for a salesman to record orders on several fold-out lined pages.  Apparently, the owner of my book wasn’t much of a salesman because the order sheets were blank.  They looked like the old Red Chief tablets kids used to use in school. Though my copy has just samples, the full book contains advice on everything from medical treatments to bee-keeping, to  how to wash lace veils.

The advice about women’s conditions was interesting.   Dr. Chase warned women about their periods   “Allow me here to give a word of caution about taking cold at this period. It is very dangerous. I knew a young girl, who had not been instructed by her mother upon this subject, to be so afraid of being found with this show upon her apparel which she did not know the meaning of, that she went to a brook and washed herself and clothes — took cold, and immediately went insane.”

Of course, I was curious what kind of man could boast such vast knowledge.  Dr. Chase was born in New York in 1817.  In the introduction to an earlier edition of Dr. Chase’s book, he wrote  that he “carried on the Drug and Grocery business for a number of years, read Medicine, after being thirty-eight years of age, and graduated as a Physician.”     The success of his books put  Dr. Chase on “the high road to fortune” according to a memoria in my copy.  Alas, Dr. Chase lost most of his wealth because he was apparently generous in the service of “advancement of education and benevolent enterprises.”  The memoria goes on:

But the storms of life finally overtook him and swept with almost resistless fury around the now aged physician, and a few of the prejudices that characterize the human family found a resting place in the heart of this noble man; yet, when the last chapter shall have been entered in the book of life, the account will probably be balanced. 

There is a black and white drawing of Dr. A.W. Chase, M.D. inside my copy.  He is extremely wizened with a long white beard that tapers to a point just at the top of his vest.  It is an oddly intimate portrait, maybe because the lines of his face and beard are so detailed.   Much of Dr. Chase’s advice is outdated.  Think about the place where we now get “copious” information on endless subjects — the Internet.   It might be kind of comforting to hold in one’s hand all the information necessary to manage domestic life.

Spring

"Faerie" by Ruthsartsandletters on etsy

Although it’s still February, this past weekend gave us a glimpse of Spring.  Going out the door without a coat felt reckless and the white skin of my arms was blinding.  I looked through the jeweled-tones of the art I created this past fall and winter.  The colors that seemed rich and festive in the winter, seem shabby by the light of the Spring(ish) day.  It’s time to rethink the color pallet.

The first spring color that comes to mind is a color midway between yellow and orange.  It’s that hard-to-name peachy color.  Not the sherbert color that older women wear to church, but the kind of peach that boils beneath the surface and will transform by summer into a color so vivid it aches.  That’s the color of a ripening peach in the open market in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Spring Collage on Microscope Slide