Eulogy for the Cabin
The Cabin burnt down this month. The historic and deadly Beechie Creek wildfire came down the river in Oregon, and destroyed the little cabin on September 8th. My great grandfather (My mom's mom's dad) lived in Salem, and built the cabin in 1920. He called it Jessie's Inn, for his wife. The Cabin was only 25 miles from Salem, Oregon, close by today's standards, but I imagine back in 1920, it seemed like it was out in the mountains.
Everything is gone now, except the river and the kind neighbors who have looked after the place for years.
Many people in the Santiam Canyon have lost so much more than we have, and my heart aches for them. But my heart is sad for the loss of the Cabin, and I want to share about it, because I think it will help with my grief.
The Cabin was very rustic and not in the best shape. And by rustic, I mean that you had to be prepared to share the space with rats ( wood rats- cuter than city rats, but big) spiders and bugs. And so many ants. There were several large ant hills on the property, and the ants had developed a complex network of highways for conducting their ant business. when I went there last week, the ant hills were gone, but the ants were still there, looking dazed and confused. I am confident they are rebuilding as I write.
The outhouse was called Friendly Village. I never thought to ask my Mom why until we found out it was gone. She told me that my great - grandfather used it as a church retreat in the 20's and 30's, and his church friends named it that. That didn't really answer my question of why, but it doesn't really matter.
We kept a diary at the cabin, where usually people wrote about the weather and what we ate for dinner. There were diaries at the cabin, going back to the 1960s. In the stack of diaries (now gone) my dad wrote about my first visit when I was a baby. He wrote something like “Jule didn't have much to say. She has yet to say anything about anything because she hasn't learned to talk yet."
Somewhere, I have video of my high school friends and I having a small party at the Cabin. We are drinking beer, dancing and singing to Tom Waits -Rain Dogs - getting progressively more into it, as time passes, and more beer is consumed. Thank god social media did not exist then.
Most everything of value had been stolen from the cabin because it had been broken into countless times over the years. When I was about 21, I discovered one of the biggest robberies. They took many antiques including my grandmothers wedding trunk, an antique dresser, any dishes that had any value, and a giant rack of elk antlers.
The beds were all lined up on a covered sleeping porch, where you could sleep outside under crisp sheets and blankets, listening to the constant sound of the river as it lulled you to sleep.
Memories of family, friends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, kids, music, dogs, games, the 70's clock radio in the kitchen that constantly played equal parts static and OPB -- if ever a space and place and a soul, this one did. It was a place that five generations of my family shared and loved in our own way. It wasn't insured, and really the only value it had was sentimental.
I went there on Saturday for the first time since the fire. Every single thing that wasn't metal was burned, melted or broken. Of the house, only the chimney stood surrounded by ash, the crumpled metal roof, glass and nails. On the surrounding property, only the charred tall trees remain ( many of which will need to come down). On the edge of the property there were many charred cans and bottles which had been thrown from the road. Some cans were from the days before the pull ring openers.
I rescued a couple of charred things out of the ashes. But I really am working on just letting go of that old place. This helps to write about it, and think of what that place means to me. That love helps me to move forward, and think about what the future holds.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give an artist talk for the Pitzer@Home series on Zoom. I spoke about the evolution of my work and my current project. I was a little nervous, because I have never done something quite like this before, but it was great. It was so fun to share my work with a group of people I mostly didn't know, all from the comfort of my own home. Here is the video of the talk. I'm to scared to watch it, I hope it isn't word salad! I did notice that my cat, Elliott, makes a cameo.
Secret Treasure in Hazel Dell, WA
I have always loved motels. When I was little, they were part of vacations with my beloved grandparents, where we had so much fun, and usually got those little boxes of cereal.
As a teenager, there were several motels in the Portland area that allowed us to drink and party with our friends. That kind of escape was my favorite thing to do in those days.
Throughout my painting life, motels have found their way into many of my paintings. Not only because I love the look of them, but they carry so much emotion, potential and remembering for me.
So I am always looking....
I drive on I-5 between Tacoma and Portland often, and I have often noticed a great mid-century motel in Hazel Dell, WA. (you can see it from the freeway - it's on the east side). Several weeks ago, I noticed it was boarded up, which inspired me to pull off the freeway to take some photos. I decided to drive around the back, to get a look at the side.
The access was a strange open driveway with big signs and arrows to lead you around the corner to the now boarded up Value Motel.
It was in this weird open driveway that I discovered this sign hidden under a tree. It was a secret treasure that I had discovered. It is so beautiful, and I felt like I was led to it. It was kind of a miracle!
These types of mysterious empty spaces and events really fire my imagination, and get my creativity going. I think it is because I know that there must have been something else there before. But what?
I keep going back to visit my sign under the big tree. Despite being right between I-5 and old Hwy 99, it is a peaceful place - like a cemetery. Plus there are a bunch of rabbits there, which makes it a little more magical.
Because of the internet, I was able to find out more about the Red Top Lodge Motel. And I even was able to buy 2 postcards from a dealer in Montreal. Here are the postcards:
One looks like it is from the 50's, way before I-5 ran past it, and the other looks like it is from the 60' possibly when I-5 was still being built.
All that is left of the old Red Top Lodge Motel is the old battered sign ( which was moved to make room for the newer, larger signs), some trees and the curbs.
Maybe the next incarnation of the Museum of Bad Judgement will be all about the Red Top Lodge Motel, and what happened there.
By coincidence (but are there really any coincidences?) - in recent days, two different friends shared an article with me titled Photographer Updates Postcards Of 1960s Resorts Into Their Abandoned Ruins, without knowing that I had recently been spending time at the grave of an old forgotten motel. Its a beautiful and fascinating article. Click here or in on the title to link to it.
There is so much all around me that cuts right through all the noise, and inspires and transfixes me. I just have to keep my eyes and my heart open.
You can visit the old sign and the weird empty space where the Red Top Lodge Motel once stood too. Just look for the tall motel sign, east of I-5, a couple miles north of Vancouver, WA.
I made this painting after I visited the CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) and was incredibly inspired by the art made by the protesters and the particular moment that we are currently going through. I feel like there is light coming in and our country is going through a shift. Change feels possible.
This painting is the third of several large acrylic paintings I have done on paper lately. They are meant to be fast and spontaneous. A real departure from my oil paintings which I spend weeks on. This one is 48" x 62" and took me about 5 hours.
I was thinking of my white ancestors who settled in the Oregon Territory in the mid 1800's The people in the painting are based on this family photo that was taken on Broadway - in Seattle ( just up the block from CHOP) in 1896:
The two men seated are my great great grandfather and his father, who moved to and settled in the Oregon Territory in the 1850s. Black Exclusion laws were the law of the land in Oregon, starting when it was a territory into the 1920's. My ancestors settled and prospered in Oregon 160 years ago because they could. Slavery was illegal in Oregon, but black people were forbidden from moving there. (Incidently, I never learned about any of that in school in Oregon, which is a problem.)
They were all very religious christians, and I have no evidence that they were racist. But, as far as I know, they were completely removed and silent about the brutality suffered by black people. And that silence was passed down through the generations.
I have lived much of my life in the same way.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I can easily avoid dealing with the pain suffered by such a large part of our population. My whole life has been built around whiteness, and the comfort that being a white woman affords me. That makes me feel uncomfortable, but at this moment, I want to lean into that discomfort as much as I can. I think that is where change and growth can begin.
To me, Divesting from Whiteness means rejecting a culture that insulates and protects white people from the racism and brutality that is suffered by people of color. I have a lot learn and unpack, and I am not even sure how to do it, but I think this is a start. I will not be alone and I will keep my eyes, ears and heart open for the helpers and the healers.
I plan to paint more about this. They will probably be big, fast, imperfect paintings like this one.
I finished this painting a couple of weeks ago. It is large - 60" x 48" - Oil on Canvas. It is part of the Museum of Bad Judgement series. I like to imagine that this is the same girl who appeared in this painting I did in 1995. Later that year, it was used for the cover of my friend, Joel's first album.
Joel's music is haunting, and beautiful. And seems to fit this time perfectly, even though he created it so long ago. I have lost touch with my friend, but my hope is that he is still creating and making his music.
Here is the first song, and one of my favorites from that album.
And this one - OK Reno - the penny whistle at the end will break your heart.
You can find a ton of other music by Joel R.L. Phelps over at Bandcamp.com.
Something that has occurred to me over these past couple of months:
A large percentage of the work I create is not going to make it out of the studio, and some of it will just be plain bad. The good news is, work creates work, and every so often, something will come out that is beautiful and haunting, and tells me a story that makes me think of more stories. That keeps me going.
This will change us.
In November of 2019, I made the decision to quit my very stable job with the state of Washington, and pursue my painting full time. Being anxious by nature, it was a difficult decision, illustrated by the fact that I didn't actually end up leaving my job until February 10, 2020.
Besides having a very supportive partner, who encouraged me and is making it possible for me to do this financially, it came down to me saying to myself "If not now, when?" At 51 ½ years old, it is finally clear to me that my obsession with painting is a gift, and it is what I really need to be doing with my time. So, I stepped into this new chapter, leaving a lot up to chance (and by "a lot", I mostly mean, how I am going to make money).
Needless to say, none of it has unfolded as I had pictured it. My original plan when I quit was to hide out and go deep in the studio for a few months, and follow where that path is leading. That plan hasn't really changed, but with the pandemic everything else has changed.
We are extremely lucky to have a home to stay in, and my out of state parents have people coming in to help them out, so I am grateful for that. I keep asking the universe how I can help in all of this, and every day, I end up back in the studio, in my backyard. But I keep asking.
I am realizing that pursuing my painting is more important than ever. It is like an anchor that I never knew I had. It has been difficult to paint with all my worried thoughts running through my head, so I paint in shorter blocks of time. But I keep showing up, and painting through the difficulty.
I don't know what will happen, but I know this will change us. I am going to keep showing up for this mystery, and help where I can.
A New Series of Paintings is Currently on View at Brooks Dental Studio in Downtown Tacoma
The ideas for the paintings in this series grew from a memoir written by Bruce Spaulding (my grandfather) in 1983, entitled Some Interesting Criminal Cases I Have Tried. He died in 1990, and I discovered this unpublished memoir many years later. He was an attorney in several towns in Oregon starting in 1930. His memoir covers eight murder cases between the 1930’s and 1960’s.
His writing about these cases and the people and circumstances involved is unusually visual and detailed. In addition to the memoir, I have several of the case files, as well as newspaper clippings and other ephemera related to the cases. These stories and the pieces of evidence evoke vivid images for me that I am using as source materials for this series of paintings. I am not painting or recreating murder scenes, but instead drawing on my own visions of the people, places and things surrounding these stories.
Some of the larger themes I am exploring are turning points and decisions, memory and loss. My grandfather began losing his memory to dementia shortly after he wrote down these stories, and most of the people involved, I assume, are dead.
To start the series I had to narrow my focus, so I could concentrate on my approach to each painting, otherwise I knew I would be all over the place. I decided to pick four cases, and paint 3 paintings per case. (One large, and two smaller) Reining myself in helped me concentrate, and really connect deeply with what was going on in each painting.
Here are brief summaries of the four cases that I am currently working with. I'm not sure if knowing about these cases add to the experience of seeing these paintings, because they definitely stand on their own. Also, there is so much more to these stories than I am sharing here, but these are the basic facts.
State vs. Richard Layton
(This case took place in 1943, when my grandfather was the District Attorney in Polk County, OR. He was the prosecutor in this case. I recently went to the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas, Oregon, and I imagine it is much the same as it was back when he tried this case. ) Richard Layton was the chief of police of Monmoth, OR, and was accused of raping and murdering a girl named Ruth Hildebrand in 1943. My grandfather won a conviction in this case, and Layton was later executed.
State vs. Marjorie Smith.
In 1955, Kermit Smith was murdered when his car exploded in the parking lot of the Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland. My grandfather defended his wife, Marjorie Smith, who was accused of hiring a man to place dynamite in his car. It was a sensational case, and was followed by national press. My grandfather won an acquittal for Marjorie smith.
State vs. Vera Rossa
Vera Rossa was accused of murdering her husband by poisoning him in 1965. The couple were in a terrible car accident on the road between The Dalles to Portland, when Arthur Rossa had a heart attack and lost control of the car. He died that day, and the DA accused Vera Rossa of staging the accident to hide the fact that she had poisoned her husband. My grandfather defended her, and she was acquitted as well.
State vs. Robert Sproul
This case took place in the John Day country in Central Oregon in 1958. I haven't started these paintings yet. Before I do, I am going to make at trip out there for research. Robert “Bobby” Sproul was on trial for shooting his brother-in-law Link Williams in a stand off over a property line between their two farms. My grandfather defended Bobby and he was acquitted. It was also a very sensational case and was treated like an old fashioned, western “high-noon” shoot-out by the national press.
As I work on the paintings in this series, my imagination moves to the people involved and what they were going through, the houses and buildings - the smaller parts of the stories. In a way, I am inviting these long dead characters, into the very current, living world of my paintings. It’s a series about connecting my imagination to real evidence and true stories.
Why Bad Judgement? Because that is the common thread that runs through all these particular stories, and so many others. Realizing this has opened me up creatively as this project has evolved. To me, my Museum of Bad Judgement is about these stories of murder, denial and mistakes from the last century, but everyone has their own thoughts about what their Museum of Bad Judgement could be. I hope it helps people let their curiosity lead them as they experience these strange paintings.
The first group of these paintings are on view now in the beautiful space at:
Brooks Dental Studio
732 Broadway - Tacoma, WA 98402.
Please join us for the Artist Reception on Thursday, January 16, 2020 5pm - 7pm.
I hope to see you there!
Tacoma Studio Tour - This weekend 10/12 & 13
...and by limited, I mean you can count the edition on one hand. I made archival Giclee prints of 4 of my paintings this year, and they turned out so great. The colors are very close to the originals, and I am really pleased with them. They are $150 each, unframed. I have some framed in simple black wood frames, and those are $295. Paintings are also for sale, and are priced individually.
I hope you can stop by for the Studio Tour. My studio is #1 on the map on the Tacoma Arts Month website here. I will be open both Saturday and Sunday form 11am -5pm.
Tacoma Studio Tour Coming October 12 and 13
It's almost October and almost time for the 2019 Tacoma Studio Tour. We had a blast last year, so we are doing it again this year. My studio will be open both Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 - 5:00 PM.
We will be making collage postcards again. You make the postcard, and address it. We will stamp it and mail it for you. So think of someone you are secretly (or not so secretly) admiring, and make them something at my studio!
I am #1 on the map of all the studios. Also, I am creating a little painting on glass for the passport prize, which will go to some lucky person who manages to visit 7 studios.
Find out more about tour, the passport prize and the other incredible Tacoma artists opening their studios here.
I have a bunch of new paintings that are all part of a far-out series called The Museum of Bad Judgement. They are a collaboration with my grandfather who died long before I began these paintings. It's kind of a long story, and it's late. You just gotta see them, and I will tell you the whole story.
OR, I will write more about it here... stay tuned.
Just in time for Valentines Day.....
Happy New Year and I can't believe it is February already. I have been working in the studio in some new larger paintings, which I am excited about, but I have also set up a new STORE on my website!
Right now the purpose of this store is to sell some beautiful (very) limited edition Giclee prints of four of the paintings I made in 2018.
This is new for me. I have never made or sold prints of my paintings before, and I am really blown away by how good these prints turned out. They are on a matte paper, with either a 1/2 " border, or a 1/4" border. The color is very, very rich, and they really look beautiful.
So, please head on over to the store and check out these new prints.
Of course I have paintings for sale too, but they are not in the store right now. If you are interested in purchasing a painting, or have any questions about the prints or anything, please contact me, and we can talk.
I don't know what life in 2019 will bring, but I am trying to stay close to the studio, and get as much out from my head and my heart as I possibly can. It will be an adventure, that's all I know.