A great many years had passed in my own life before I understood the desirability, the sanctity, the glory of a studio of my own.  years lost to imagining that, despite drawing and painting from an admirable young age, I did not deserve such a thing.  A special place.  My own private study.  A workshop, a room, a corner of my room, a ten square foot holy land where my mind and my hand might partner up in adventuring the unsurveyed.  no one else in my house thought I deserved it either.  I did, at long last, have my own studio at the advanced age of twenty-two years which I, at long last, made for myself. Curse the wait. I should have done it age three.

Georgia O’Keeffe in Her Studio georgia-okeeffe-studio

salvador-dali-studio Salvador Dali in His Studio


I was living on the lower east side of Manhattan, street level old apartment house with one big room, tall barred-up windows in front, tub in the livingroom and half a partition with a bed on the other side.  It was on the corner of Avenue B.  Opposite Thompkins Square Park.

e-9th-st-nyc-c-1964  Six months later I moved a block up to Ninth Street between Avenue A and First Avenue into a five floor walk-up on the fifth floor. It was long and narrow, half the building’s width of about 12 feet, full length of about 35 feet maybe with windows on both ends, what was called a railroad flat. It cost $36 a month. The first place had been $26 a month.  I was working steady now and could afford the extra ten, though I confess, it took my breath when I decided to move. $36 was a lot of money.  Mostly I was enchanted by the back-most 5 X 10 foot, glass enclosed ‘extension’.  I’m coming to that. I promise. I just want you have the whole picture.

Like a lot of New York City, neighborhoods were defined block by block and the nationality of who mostly occupied that street.  This was Italian.  Shining Cadillacs lined this part of 9th Street. No spotless windshield ever sported a parking ticket, no fingerprints on the chrome.  The block I’d left behind was Polish, Jewish, and Russian.  If they had cars they got tickets. But it was the lower east side and nobody was rich and if they were rich they already left.

e-hopper-studioEdward Hopper in His Studio

My multi-locked front door opened into the kitchen, tub and sink on the left, stove and fridge on the right, the water closet in the skylit airshaft next to that.  The middle room had space for a narrow bed and table. The front had two windows looking down on ninth street. The tenant before me had pulled up the old-timey linoleum and polished that sucker to its high shining gorgeous broad planked wood grained oak self. nyc-e-9th-st-apt-c-1964There was an exposed brick fireplace too hazardous to use.  Mr Neri was the landlord. He was crazy about me.  He brought in a really fine near-new stove for me.  E 9thSt Apt NYC1964.JPGAnd a couple of months later when the old refrigerator exploded Freon, the firemen rushed in and carted it up the narrow flight of stairs to the roof and left it there. Mr Neri got me another one. To do that, Mr Neri called up his friend “The Humper” who showed up within a few days, early morning, lifted the fridge off the back of the truck parked in the street below then carried the new refrigerator up five stories on his back, held in place with a mover’s strap and stopped one time only for a breather. The Humper was about 6 foot 5 and something in the neighborhood of 275 pounds. I never saw anything like it before, and not again until I met Barefoot Adam of big Sur who is a slim vegetarian-farmer with dreadlocks and can lift about ten times his weight with one hand.


thtvdb0995You know whose studio,

55fd2c0ffb9196654faa27313afa34ee and Claude Monet’s.

But back to New York in the Sixties and MY STUDIO.

doug-uranek-kitchen-sink-e-9th-nyc1964 With visitor.

It turns out they kind of build themselves. Trust me on this.  I was too self-conscious to think I could make a studio –do it–just like that. But here was this beguiling wide and narrow place at the last drop end of the back of the apartment with about floor to ceiling windows and a wood roof and a door of its own, facing clothes lines above concrete courtyards filled with a lot of crappy New York millions of people’s left over and forgotten and thrown out the window stuff.  But screw the view.  If you’re not familiar with them, and they may no longer exist, an ‘extension’ at the far end of a New York apartment is a very chancy deal.  Most likely entirely illegal, really old and unstable. It hangs out over the back of the building, nothing below, usually only on one or two floors above the second or third, no heat, no electricity, and built of wood planks, old window glass and other questionable materials by the mother-in-law’s nephew around the turn of the last century.  Why it didn’t fall off with me in it I will never know. But it did not.

It sang songs to me every time I looked at it from the day I moved in.  first just folksy chanting bare melodies, then serious pop songs about love and glory, and then full-blown opera that was very loud in my heart and ears and bursting soul and I thought OH! Wow.  Is that you?  Might you be a studio?  My studio?

And all I heard was yes I am.

Come on in.  me-9thst-studioc-1964 Which I did.

Kamenstein’s Hardware was a block off, facing Cooper Union Square on Third Avenue and Ninth Street.  They carried everything, and in the heady mix of serious tools and lumber and nails and electric and plumbing supplies for the landlords, were things for the artist.  Kamenstein had easels and palettes and brushes and paint.  He had palette knives and linseed oil, turps and varnish, and sketchbooks. He had canvas stretchers, brass tacks, and gesso. One day I walked in there and bought a huge redwood palette (which I still have) and a seven foot high huge easel on a square base with wheels (which I left with Misia in Virginia).  I wheeled my bold declarations of my trade one block home and lugged them up five flights and opened the front door then walked straight to the back extension and put my new life inside.  I brought in my brushes. I put a slim bookcase against the wall, filled my big glass jar of turpentine and set it on top, and rags, and boxes of charcoal, pastels, pigments.  I laid out the new palette with all the colors I had.  Then I stepped back and look at this wonderland and I whiffed it in deep and long and then I cried. It’s very moving to do something like that. Here I am world. No more guessing. You will recognize me from a mile away by this aroma.

The cheapest white pigment to buy was Lead White (likely outlawed in public and private today).  I’d get it by the quart can.  It was actually heavy, good heft to it.  It covered really well, wonderful texture but had a serious propensity to go yellow, and that meant the solid white places and all the colors you mixed with it too.  Friends from Goddard would stop by my place to crash the night, have a bath, eat spaghetti en route to elsewhere.  Part of the deal on a good day was helping me get the huge canvases I was painting weaving it around a short staircase to the roof to lay out flat in the sunshine in the hope it would bleach the yellow out of the white lead. I’m not sure it actually worked but it was entertaining to do and made me feel like I was on a blue river green grassy bank next to an impressionist’s rowboat living the life, taking advantage of the great outdoors. Fantasy is an important component of surviving slum living.

there’s the business of joining a, well, what….a kind of….way of living, that all of a sudden you’re doing something other people have struggled with and loved for centuries. You are a part of all that, is what I mean.  Like understanding mathematics, or how the stars turn, or a leaf grows, or fixing a motor, is this experience of being inside something magnificent bigger than just you and crowded with fantastic people since the beginning of time. You have to love it to get there.  Love is what does the trick. You can hate it later but at some point it really has to throw your spine out of joint so that you’re never the same you were, only better.

I lived in that apartment about two years, and painted like mad whenever I could. It was a thrilling, freezing, airless, roasting, terrific first studio. I can’t believe I only have one photograph of my first studio, but that’s it, maybe due to its sacredness, the privacy, the wanting it to remain inscrutable, a thing of spirit, untouched by historic actualities.

east-broadway-chinatown-nyc   East Broadway, View to Manhattan Bridge

I moved to a Chinatown loft when I left Ninth Street. chinatown-loft-e-bway-1967 It was on East Broadway next to the Manhattan Bridge, third floor, and by then I knew who I was and what I was up to. I was in the animation business and making a lot of money though irregularly. I never have learned how to budget anything. The rent was $75 a month.  And that was really a lot.  But I did it.  And applied to the city for what was called an ”A.R.T.” Permit.  ‘Artist In Residence.’  It became a law when artists started to lust after big empty spaces. Light manufacturing buildings housing people needed to alert the fire department in case of emergency. It was an enormous badge of honor, not easy to get.  You had to prove you made your living painting. Oh ha ha.


I had 7 rescued cats by then, not one with sense or training to stay out of my palette, not scratch my canvases, not get fur in the portraits.  Sylvester, Brownie Golden Swallow, their babies Theophrastus, Jasmine, Orion; and Muffin and Pennywhistle. So I built a room out of 2 X 4’s and chicken wire that the cats could climb up but not get through. I had an unhindered view of Chinatown and the bridge, and protected my ever-increasing emotionally connecting output of paintings and drawings.  The loft was huge.  About 50 by 100 feet, fifteen foot ceilings.  I remember more than ten floor to ceiling windows. The windows were huge. I was in half the corner building’s floor. There was another artist on the other side of me who was a successful fabric designer and related to the Impressionist, Prendergast. the floor below was storage.  The floor above was occupied by a Chinese guy who made leather coats. His forty workers showed at 8 and left at 4. I have no idea what else was in the building. All eleven windows rattled when subways traveled across the lower part of the Manhattan Bridge.  It was a hell of a lot of glass.  Huge sheets, only two sections the top and bottom, and about six feet wide by ten feet tall. They never shattered or cracked. Old stuff. Great light. In a couple of weeks the shake, rattle and roll was no big deal.

Chinatown was likely the best place I’ve ever lived in a city.  The colors and words, the architecture, shapes, smells, senses electrified at every turn. Friendly people. The Tongs ruled and made the streets incredibly safe.  Most everything ran 24 hours a day and I’d walk out of my loft the three blocks to shops, get some fabulous bun or noodle thing at two in the morning cheap and good, and walk back home, happy for the freedom. Around the time I moved out a couple of years later the young, bloodthirsty and ruthless Hong Kong gangs were doing the impossible by challenging the Tong leaders.  Blood ran red in the streets. Wholesale murder came to Chinatown. It was wild and dangerous for the first time since maybe the 19th century, maybe ever. But it was spectacular to me when I lived in it. If I forgot to say it then, thank you all for the good time.

It’s the same with most things in life.  Better remembered for the precious moments, the brief spells or unexpectedly extended ones.  We get touches, glimpses, episodes, departures, arrivals, enter stage left exit stage right. Home fires burning around heady, productive fires in the belly.  Unforgettable decor. Fabric that looked just so in a certain shadow or brightness.  The hat hanging on the peg. The broom in the corner. The orange ladder-back chair from a Vermont farmhouse. Sketches pinned over the sink. The palette empty, full, the easel on wheels. Peculiar lights. The smells of heaven. Build you one. The studio.

The End

Copyright October 23, 2016 BD Sparhawk

PS There seems to be some trouble correcting typos–especially capitals at the start of sentences.  It has something to do with doing a copy/paste from another page that’s preventing doing the change. Sorry for that, still working on it. Thanks for the visit. Sparhawk.


CHARLES, Who Lived Through Wars

CHARLES, Who Lived Through Wars 

An Illustrated Short Story

©2016 B Sparhawk

His name wasn’t  Charles but it was how he introduced himself to me and it was all I ever called him.  I didn’t care, I liked secrets. I’d go so far as to say I admired secrets though Charles shared few. He sometimes slipped up, well it wasn’t a slip, a man like that doesn’t make mistakes, he’d refer to himself with a variation on Charles that was an endearment in another language.  He spoke, what was it he said? Seven, I think so. Yes,  fluent in seven languages. Several dialects, Bantu naturally. And he was aces at telling jokes and knew a thousand, and Irish was his best accent. Did he ever tell you the one about the twins in the bar in Dublin, the brothers?  How about the nuns and the cobblestones. Really, no kidding, Scots, too, very fine imitation Scots.

We spoke French to each other, well mostly English of course.  He did a native’s job with both and I did a fair job with French from living in Paris, I had my one year high school vocabulary in German, and about sixteen words of Russian and oh God but we laughed and laughed falling off the table falling over backwards right off a chair laughing and having such a good time. You know honestly I fell on the ground more than once in bust at the seam hysterics with Charles, I really did, on the ground, pounding the dust with my fists.


He was older than me by a few years but looked so much older than his age because of war wounds making it damn hard for him to walk, more every year, worst at uphill. He was handsome blue eyed blond German stock~~ South African~~ and he was hiding out in Carmel from enemies of a war few in America might recollect, the civil war in Rhodesia, the cruel, violent, dangerous, costly of man and treasure Rhodesian war. The old enemies were still living and still looking for Charles. His eyes would red up.  Here was this tough fighting man and the war fought was a part of him, he’d been deep in about as far as anyone could go, the memories made him cry because it was war of incredible meaning to Africans.  It was  his country, he had been born in Johannesburg, and grown up in it, and loved it.

He told me in that war, racing flat out on the desert sand between camps, three of them in a jeep, and they knew they were being pursued. Him and another soldier and a woman too, all of them Intel. It was dusk, almost dark, where the hell was the road. They hit a mine. The jeep blew sky high.  Charles got thrown twenty-five metres off. The other guy was dead on the ground in two pieces.  The woman was alive crumpled in a heap, bent half over trying to lift her head, calling to him.  Come here, come now now……. now she said. Charles pulled himself over, then  to standing next to the upturned vehicle, vaguely aware he’d got hit, that his back was full of shrapnel, shock does that with pain, then seeing his bleached desert khakis go dark, as he stood looking, like a goddamn red tide coming in over him and that registered…oh…yes I see….because his blood was pumping out of him, fast.  They could hear  vehicles coming up behind them. The enemy rounded the closest hill.  He had staggered to the woman. She said, ……shoot me, for the Christ’s sake shoot me now, you know what they’ll do with me, you know what they’ll do, you…….  And so he did.  When he told me he cried.  His faced moved only a little but his eyes poured out like waterfalls.  I think he loved her but he didn’t say.  I bet in a war with the constant state of crisis of unseen death lurking beside you, of course you fall in love in a damn second, of course you do. And the human heart responds to courage in people we know. So there on the desert alone, the sole survivor, wounded, in the hands of the horrific enemy, Charles managed to live.  He got beat up, kicked and interrogated and would not talk.  He told me he lay there with his arms wrapped around his chest trying to protect his heart, a boot against the back of his head pushing his face into cinder and metal and soft beige sand while they discussed  (in an African dialect he knew well) what to do with him. Rifles locked and loaded.  He told me he was glad for the hurt helping him fight drifting. He felt so wanting to drift.  He was getting the most beautiful pictures imaginable behind his eyes, as if someone had made him a movie just for him of everything he loved and he was aware of beginning to smile for it…… We are warned against that, he said to me. Stay conscious, stay alert, force yourself…... He was dragged to a hospital where a lieutenant identified him and after that he was treated with care. They put blood back in him, three litres (half the six, said Charles, of what his Jaguar took.) He got his rosy cheeks back.  He was valuable, an asset. He could be exchanged.  He didn’t say anything more about it to me.


“The climate here in Carmel, in Big Sur, Monterey, Marina, it’s the same, you have a Mediterranean climate on the central coast, there are only seven places in the world with this climate, like Capetown.  You need to see Africa. But this, look at that sky, look at that ocean. What a place, I love it. Come on,” he said, “get in the car,  I’m taking you for lunch. Deetjens.” I looked down starting at my workboot-covered toes and sagging blue socks; the white linen Bermuda shorts needing a stitch and a wash, and then my billowy pale yellow shirt that had red paint on one elbow and green alfalfa smudge on the collar from feeding the horses and getting a muzzley thank you nudge.  “Don’t be a fool,” he said, following my inspecting eyes.  “You’re perfect.”  Bless him, Charlie cut a lot of slack for tan, leggy blonds.

When I broke my leg it was Charles who picked me up at the Monterey hospital after the third day, slapped a blue pack of Gauloises in my hand, laughing at our French soldier joke, and had already lit the first one in his mouth like Casablanca, leaned over  and I let him roll it between my lips, me sitting next to him in the front seat; he piped Edith Piaf up and her Vie en Rose and off we went over the reeking air of camel dung tobacco, regretting nothing. He used two fingers to pull his silver flask out of the door pocket and toss it into my lap; his broad, cheering, blue eyed smiling tan face beyond it. Benedictine, our favorite brandy. Sacred, made by the monks. Let the good times roll. We knew each other.  At least, I knew as much as he allowed of him and he knew me, and what kind of rare joy that is in a life. Shit.

Those were the early days when being with Charles was feeling, as he allowed, perfect.  He changed in his last years and by then you couldn’t stand being with the man for constantly dodging rockets he’d shoot off at you aiming to kill, but most of the time I spent with him was just great, to near the end.  Pain made him bitter. Memories, lost loves, abandonment by an entire nation made Charles bitter. Being hunted. Running for cover. A pricey divorce, not seeing his children again, only knowing they’d reached 3 and 7 and 9, followed by forever’s silence. Then America’s endless surgeries on his back when the Stanford doctors dug around for the shrapnel alongside his spine, and his ribcage, and inside his leg muscles. Later they tried treating his thyroid for the cancer but the radiation didn’t work or they got it wrong in the first place, or both. For almost a year he practically lived at Stanford. He had to give up Camels and he had to give up cognac, and he started wearing a scarf around the multiple scars on his neck. But worst of all he stopped telling jokes.

I knew him nearly two decades here and he made life worth living, he did.  Charles. We were never lovers.  I was still too screwed up from my son’s death, my life started all over again moving from New York to Big Sur.  I told him that:  Unh uhn Charlie baby, no way, in case you haven’t noticed I can’t see straight and I’m lucky to thread words together into a sentence just now.  And you, sweetie pie, are way too dangerous, but I’ll visit all you want and hang out all you want and do silly serious anything together between dawn and sunrise you’re always welcome to my barn.  Charles said okay. But after that he never let up teasing me about other women or flirting outrageously with any bon bon crossing our path.  Which really got annoying.


He’d drive the ten miles out from the coast to see me. Corozon at Barn Studio I had a studio at Holman Ranch in the big red barn on the hill.  Carmel Valley –just past the village.  Holman, up land, 1

400 beautiful acres around me and 150 horses in the pastures. Dorothy was still alive and owned the place then, she had let me turn the tack room and the first two stalls into an apartment, and we put in a bathroom at the very end.  Geez that was great.  Skylights, concrete floors, I made a studio and kitchen, we built a four foot open shower out of river rock and the sink was a fabulous bird bath I had piped with copper tubing and red outdoor garden faucets, and filled the bottom with grout and colored glass bits. Geez that was sure great.  The bathroom ceiling was marcelled transparent fiberglass sheets and I jammed every square inch with plants. The two donkeys, the mule Corozon, the goat Rambo, and a couple of sheep whose names I never knew got tucked in for the night in the paddock next to me and the last three stalls.DSCF4378  Everything crashed off my walls when they butted heads.  Charles showed up with lumber for bookshelves poking up out of his top-down front seat. Sometimes he brought a working hot plate, electric kettle, boom box,  a stunning chair from a Pebble Beach dumpster. Dorothy raised my rent $200 a month. She said because the bathroom got added but I think she was jealous.


I was working, you know.  Five days a week in Carmel at the marvelous Little Swiss Cafe, off Dolores, favorite for locals, best food on earth, open breakfast and lunch that’s it.  Stevie the surfer and his incredible Dad, Hank the Dutchman, and Forever Carol of course.  Charles came in for early lunch, split pea soup usually, sometimes oatmeal.  I’d see him at the door and run up and simultaneously our hands clasped and our cheeks slid together and off we’d go in a tango up the aisle.  The customers looked away or clapped, depending. How did that start anyway?  I have no idea.  Then we’d speak French and he’d eat and leave and I was off by three-thirty and a lot of days during the week he’d drive his beaten up convertible up the hill and park in front of my barn door.  The name of my studio was his idea, by the way, that was Charles being brilliant and right on the money:  The Hawks Perch.  Yup.  A gift of a name from Charles. I’ll never call it different.

He was a painter too, he just took it up as a kind of innocent empty-headed disguise that would add to his incognito and give him an edge with the ladies.  He was a good painter though, original, scenes of the Africa landscape.  Life Is A Dance Studio he called himself. And oh but he had an eye for the girls. The older he got the younger the girls got.  Everybody pretty much adored him. He really had that nailed, the charming-adorable thing.  What was not to love.

Charles had this fascinating photographic memory and an impeccable ear.  Well what do you call that, total recall of anything you hear, has it got a name?  The son of a bitch never forgot a single word you said or where you said it or what the weather was like or the time of day or the song on the radio when you said it.  You ever know anybody like that?  It was amazing, kind of like watching a magic show to be with him and see those rabbits pulled out of a hat.  It could really get annoying too, I mean you wanted the average dish for everyday, a little leeway with a memory, something commonplace, didn’t you?  I thought so.  But it was fascinating.  He was in espionage of course, an intelligence officer.  So bright a guy, and a scholar, and a linguist, and he, to hear him tell, could run circles around ten country’s spies at the same time in the same room and even Henry the K. if he happened to be in town talking about what kind of weapons who had where and tease with what the fuck was on the plane. That’s what he said.  I believed him.


Wherever Charles lived, nobody ever knew.  I mean nobody.  We used to ask each other, ones who knew him: You ever been to Charles’ place?  Charles ever show you where he lived?  No. No. NO. No.

Tucked up away somewhere in some craggy den. I think he wore clothes til they got too dirty then threw them out and bought some more.  He did that with phones. He used them a few weeks and threw them away.

I think he had millions in all kinds of currency and precious metal socked away in twenty places in forty countries on ten hilltops in empty cans buried three feet under a rock he’d marked in chalk with X.  Charles knew every bank on the coast and the name of every manager and president. He conducted a lot of business.  Out of a briefcase. Or his army vest pockets. Or cargo shorts pockets or from shoe boxes side by side in the trunk of his car.  He had drops.  Places where messages were left and exchanged, and using a couple of different names, mail boxes and message centers, that kind of thing. I know that for a fact because he took me along to one once, it was kind of not on purpose but I was in the car and he needed to find out something. A little post box place off the beaten path by the wharf, dark and narrow, a bright eyed guy alone behind a counter, like a bar in a way. How cool is that. So Charles.


He instructed, this man who knew how to survive combat.  THE BLUE THUNDER“Check the fluids. No, I mean it! It’s not some goddamn joke. Get out of the car. Goddamn lift the hood and check the fluids! You don’t ever take off in a vehicle without checking the fluids. It takes a minute. It saves your life.”  I was lazy, it used to burn him up, so I learned, now I do it unfailingly.


The last time I saw Charles he was moving half an inch at a time leaning on a walker, coming out of the River Inn in Big Sur after lunch with Abby.  She’d been in charge of the stables at Holman Ranch.  Her husband and Charles had been close, too.  She was driving him around now when he needed it.  He was nasty, angry, furious.  Abby couldn’t put up with him long, nobody could.  But he was sweet that ten minutes he came and went inside my gallery in Big Sur he didn’t know I had opened. I was selling my paintings and drawings. He only looked at one painting, a portrait I’d done of Van Gogh. “That’s world class,” he said.  I smiled. It had been a couple of years since I’d seen him.  He was sweet, he was the old Charles. He told us a joke in a thick brogue that took him five minutes to land on the punch line, and it was damn funny enough that we were laughing til we cried. Sparhawk Pt Lobos  Like the old days. Then they left.

I saw Abby a couple of years later.  She came to the gallery I opened in mid-Valley and wanted me to make another cloth rug for her, this time with her Siamese cat. Gallery new photos July 16, 2011 008

The first one was a leaping kind of Navajo horse deal and fifteen years later, well it got more beautiful every year. That’s the truth.  She said Charles was living in a hospice in Carmel and could no longer walk.  Then a guy from the village stopped in maybe a year after Abby, and he was on his way visit Charles, and it was rough he said, seeing him like that. Did I want to send a message. Did I want to go along to see him. Come with me, he said.

Tell him I said hello and I love him, I said. Tell him that for me. Please.

I pictured him, you know I did in part from the descriptions and part imagining, the warrior curled up with his back to the world in a small dark room devoid of class or luxury or worldliness, curled against the light, and not all the pain killers on the peninsula enough to ease the hurt so he just took it and shut up though sometimes a growl came out, his eyelids pinched tight against those brilliant blue eyes pinched tighter on the face no longer tan, hair not sunbleached white blond and thick, and the beaten up body all that was left to live in, it all made him a little less gorgeous. I couldn’t have cared less about that part, who cares, the Charles inside is what I cared about but man oh man he was hard to reach before and now forget it. And I was older too by twenty years, and he hated to see a woman whose skin was no longer a girl’s smooth, who looked older than 25.  Jesus Christ.  I’m sorry old buddy. I can’t even comfort you, can I.  What the bloody freaking hell did you go and arrange for your departure from the world.  Nobody admitted entry, nobody home.

Then he died, which I knew when a friend handed me his obituary, torn out from The Carmel Pine Cone.  And it was a sanitized white wash of the briefest thing written either by somebody who never knew him or had copied down a dictated version out of the mouth of the mystery man himself.

Charles had lived at least a year with his back against intrusion, hardly able to move, feeling fired on by strangers for their touching him, strangers who could not imagine his journey, strangers who tended to his pills and fluids and did his washings up, strangers with never an idea what secret brave history moved inside the man on the bed who stayed true to the cause, who refused to talk.  Charles, the soldier who lived through wars.


                                      SPOON   RIVER   ANTHOLOGY


                                                   EDGAR LEE MASTERS

(“The earliest Angry Man in American Poetry”,  suggests the author of his book’s introduction, May Swenson, “though born 17 years before Ezra Pound.”)

Did I miss this or was the public school English Lit impact on my child’s brain so small~~ because the thoughts were so large. 

Because I had no ability to reference a life lived as full as it would ever be.  Hearing these post-mortem declarations, of lives halted for real and imagined citizens of

Spoon River.                                                  

 Masters had “fled…determined not to submit, as his father had submitted, to the hypocrisy and deadly existence of the small town.” (From the unclaimed preface to the 1962 Collier Books edition). SPOON RIVER was a bestseller–  following his 11 published  books of plays, verse and essays which brought him little attention. 


It’s on a single page, or even less than a page, you see, from each summarized life, an autobiography…from outside Chicago 1915…from the side of a hill.   

If you missed it too like me, or like me forgot, go on, will you? Read this now? 


                                                           “Willie Metcalf “

“I was Willie Metcalf.

They used to call me “Doctor Meyers”

Because, they said, I looked like him.

And he was my father, according to Jack McGuire.

I lived in the livery stable,

Sleeping on the floor

Side by side with Roger Baughman’s bulldog,

Or sometimes in a stall.

I could crawl between the legs of the wildest horses

Without getting kicked — we knew each other.

On spring days I tramped through the country

To get the feeling, which I sometimes lost,

That I was not a separate thing from the earth.

I used to lose myself, as if in sleep,

By lying with eyes half-open in the woods.

Sometimes I talked with animals — even toads and snakes —

Anything that had an eye to look into.

Once I saw a stone in the sunshine

Trying to turn into jelly.

In April days in this cemetery

The dead people gathered all about me,

And grew still, like a congregation in a silent prayer.

I never knew whether I was part of the earth

With flowers growing in me, or whether I walked —

Now I know.” *



This bit read now, today, by me, this morning, made me gasp and cry and whimper.  I read another ten entries before closing the slim paperback of its 318 papers, turning to it’s final back cover stamp identifying the volume’s earlier home:  Martin Luther King High School, 635 B Street, PO Box 38, Davis, CA95616.   I confess I suffered an impulse to mail it back, (though it was likely not through purloining found this day in the library of my friend who is an honest, long suffering teacher of children), lest some one child miss this.



“Mr Kessler, you know, was in the army,

And he drew six dollars a month as a pension,

And stood on the corner talking politics,

Or sat at home reading Grant’s Memoirs,

And I supported the family by washing,

Learning all the secrets of all the people

From their curtains, counterpanes, shirts and skirts.

For things that are new grow old at length,

People are prospering or falling back.

And rents and patches widen with time;

No thread or needle can pace decay,

And there are stains that baffle soap,

And there are colors that run in spite of you,

Blamed though you are for spoiling a dress.

Handkerchiefs, napery, have their secrets —

The laundress, Life, knows all about it.

And I, who went to all the funerals

Held in Spoon River, swear I never

Saw a dead face without thinking it looked

Like something washed and ironed. “



“Masters said he wrote under a spell of such intensity’ that he lost all sense of time and was pulled back to the real world only by the coming of twilight at the end of each day.”*




“We stand about this place — we, the memories;

And shade our eyes because we dread to read:

‘June 17th, 1884, aged 21 years and 3 days.’

And all things are changed.

And we — we, the memories, stand hee for ourselves alone,

For no eye marks us, or would know why we are here.

Your husband is dead, your sister lives far away, your father is bent with age;

He has forgotten you, he scarcely leaves the house

Any more.

No one remembers your exquisite face,

Your lyric voice!

How you sang, even on the morning you were stricken,

With piercing sweetness, with thrilling sorow,

Before the advent of the child who died with you.

It is all forgotten, save by us, the memories,

Who are forgotten by the world.

All is changed, save the river and the hill–

Even they are changed.”



Maybe it’s too sad for childhood.  Because there’s too much information.  About what’s ahead of an earthly existence before any of us blindly launch off with a living things courage swaddled in ignorance.  Thank God for that. 

But read it now.


And here’s the thing:  Go live a life you alone might say: Good job. Okay. Well done. Au Revoir.Sparhawk mona lisa 2


*In quotes–Excerpted from 1962 Macmillan Publishing Company paperback edition. Spoon River Anthology made more money for the author and his publisher than any other previous volume of American poetry.

Sparhawk self portrait; Sparhawk clothesline










































SOBERANES FIRE~View From the Valley

7-30 night sky (2)sundown, last weekend, from the hills over Carmel Valley Village


Soberanes  (Pronounced so-BRAN-neez) wild fires continue. I am told this is the number one fire concern in America now.

I’m not doing a lot of traveling around in this.  Holman Ranch, Pasture, 2 Horses, DawnNormal routes are periodically jammed or closed or busy.  In fact these days when they’re empty they’re eerie.


CV FIRE skyThe old, closed CV Airport is being used for helicopter sorties. CV FIRE copter They fly in to refuel, meet for new strategies, check and change equipment. 

CV FIRE 2 coptersThey swing bright red buckets below as they fly, expandable water-carrying for 4-500 gallons a pop.  They’re dipping from ponds, and the ocean.

CV Post Office, facing south7-24-16There are always a couple of locals up the hillside there, staying respectfully behind the familiar yellow plastic tape.

This (below) is from about a week ago, a friend’s place at the top of Country Club Drive which is maybe a mile west of Carmel Valley Village.  It was quite a view, and as night fell to a dark sky, huge red flares shot up — visible fury from those hilltops. Beyond our gasps, we conjectured about exploding trees or what comparable made rockets that size, stunning even from our distance.


I heard from a neighbor that bulldozers were cutting a six lane wide swath for fire lanes, off in the flaming  wooded edge of oak and chaparral that thrill us all, resident and visitor to our spectacular and dangerous terrain. There’s a growing feeling that such lanes need to be kept up, not abandoned when the fires are out.

Firemen have come to all our houses down lonely roads, hidden away, off in the woods here, what an heroic effort! in a pre-potential-evacuation survey to warn, alert, inform.  They’re bloody marvelous.  They leave a yellow paper marker fixed with silver gaffer tape to the tops of driveways, announcing the contact made and who’s what where. Fire engines are here from all over California. Firefighters from all over the world.  One of them told me this, the Soberanes Fire is now the number one fire concern in our country. Early this morning a group of maybe ten firefighters were on an early morning jog up then down a side road here near The Running Iron, off Carmel Valley Road, staying fit.

One friend is sheltering a family of friends, one of six families she knows who all lost their homes in the past week on Palo Colorado, a strange/remarkable/fabulous uphill road about ten miles south of Carmel with out of this world houses.  The terrible count of homes burnt remains uncertain, some  residents still blocked from return. I’ve heard 41, then 61 houses gone.  One of my friends from Palo is in town while her husband and son stay, holding the hoses, holding hope, still untouched as of today.  These homes of Big Sur and Cachagua (pronounced cah-SHAH-gwah)  are almost universally stunning structures built by inventive architects and real pioneers with remarkable imagination and enterprise.  My friend Bette’s home, surrounded by giant redwood and fern, has a small stream running through the lower half, running with some velocity, too! It passes under then up then out of the house enclosed in part by a boulder-walled, rock floored, glass ceilinged room, full of plants, and it is spectacular.  There are undocumented out-buildings too, there are things that have delighted the eye and heart and made rare  homes for families and their animals, for lives that opened young to the great possibilities of being alive.  They won’t be rebuilt, not the same. Maybe something even better.  How lucky we have been to know such things and the people in them.DSCF2457

There’s some loose talk of the insanity of building or living in dangerous places.  I think it’s wasted on the initiated. DSCF2316Outside Studio, DaybreakCarmel Beach storm You get your nostrils full of a rarified atmosphere, a geography that doubles your pulse just by standing in it, a hand full of plant and soil that’s one of a kind in the world and you bet you want to stay.  Eucalyptus Group, Barbara's garden

In one of my chats with the firemen when I was outside Kasey’s grocery in the village,( I am always waving, smiling, thumbs up and thanking their passing vehicles), (the streets are filled with handmade crayoned signs:THANK YOU FIRE PEOPLE), and congratulating them on jobs well done, they answered my questions about hardship and risk and long times separated from families.  Then, in my response to my noting the light in their eyes, the ready athletic bodies, the strength and resolve  you feel radiating from them, and my asking if they hadn’t leapt at this….isn’t it what you train for….isn’t it about the best most perfect thing in the world you can imagine doing….the beaming smiles coming back say yes.  Well bless your hearts, all of you.  DSCF7081Thanks for coming when we needed you.  Safe days and nights, safe journeys, safe home when it’s done. We’re all sure we’re in good hands.

Good to know ya.


I’m planning to make a picture book of my studios some day.  I wish to heaven I’d had the sense to photograph the first dozens of them.  But then it had not occurred to me that they were important artifacts to this life I’ve chosen, unique in form and content. Which is why what follows here is a kind of alert to my fellows:  Pay attention to your environs.    

CV, Corozon at Barn Studio                      Tack Room Barn Studio.  Mule Corazon awaits carrots, Holman Ranch


 When I move into a new place, and if you happen to have witnessed the before and the after of where I am moving in to, you might exclaim: 

 This is very like the circus came to town!  DSCF7016

 And you would be right.

 I adore Excess. DSCF7044 Profusion. Plenty. Hilltop House Studio, StripesCV, Studio, Holman Ranch Barn, plants   MCV, Gallery Interior 6 MCV, Gallery Interior 7

Daybreak, outdoor studio

(Brief aside: I don’t mean the yacht in the harbor. I can see going somewhere unique. However. It’s hard to imagine a more boring time than climbing aboard a big boat on purpose, jumping into the water below, climb back, eat drink jump off again, and climb back to be waited on by a dubious hired bunch who are expected to scrape, bow, take good selfies of you and your buddies, clean up purgative messes following your misbehavior, and the dreaded exposure to stranger’s body parts which may fall short of movie star perfection).

I am instead BS, Gallery Interior 3talking about the

MCV, Gallery Interior 2expansive joys of the luxury of emotion, and an excess of that which, with imagination and substance, you at once may call your own no matter your finances because you carry it with you wherever you are.

DSCF5695   DSCF5715   It’s given me endless pleasure and I want to pass it on in case you haven’t discovered it yet.

It is the business of living inside who you are.DSCF5121.JPG


DSCF5096Ever since I was the only grown up at home, which is presently and has been a very long time prior to now, I have by accident then by purpose centered my nesting around my studio; the rest of my life spirals out from there, cornucopia form.Mid April Big Sur house 008


I had a friend who wouldn’t hear of it for herself.  A fellow painter.  She could not bear the thought of waking up and going to sleep on unfinished work screaming at her in the dark, hectoring her in daylight: yes yes and yes: One’s painting(s) in progress are thoroughly in charge of your life.  Her finished work she did very moderately display where she lived, and you really had to have it pointed out to you.


Well then, I am a glutton for torture by her defining.  DSCF4608By my defining? I like immersion.  I rather like the communicating with my paintings and drawings, and therefore want all my work around me always and forever up and down the other side of every existing wall that makes up my home. WallDSCF4047 It does not torment. It edifies. It expands my history. It lays bare where my brain was heading on days I can recall at once with every sense I have and more. It fills my eyes with colors I will always think are marvelous; it fills my heart with emotions to see the portraits of flowers, the faces of friends, both animal and human.

Now that’s a fine excess is it not. I’ve only just begun here, the new place.DSCF7014


You know, Turner chose those paintings of his he wanted buried with him bless his heart, something I understood the minute I read that because of the intensity of love for some particular ones of your own work. Fortunately for the world nobody paid attention to his post mortem demand.

(I do pray you have not troubled your soul by watching the recently released Turner movie.  It is a blatant assault on a lively genius with the courage to depart from the rigid demands of artist-as-documentarian, and to launch an opposite, headstrong appeal to the human heart. More on the wretched movie which depicts Turner a brainless bouillon, another time.)


Back to STUDIOS.


I have another friend who, though a professional photographer, will not hang her work around her in her own home for fear critics will disturb her balance. I get angry at her for that, but know I may have overcome my own same terrors by finally opening one gallery of my paintings, then another. I hope she will do that, too. It may be an uneasy thought initially, but once you plunge in, you will be pleasantly surprised.


BS, The Gallery, April 18, 2010 023

The Hawks Perch Gallery I, Opening Day, Big Sur


The midnight before my opening, my paintings hung and windows covered with bits of unprimed canvas to frustrate the passersby until I was ready to open my doors to them, the broom at rest, the hammer finished with its day, the screw eyes and copper wire shimmering darkly from a far corner after so much action, the spotlights perfect; the rug just so, the bouquets perked and spread and lit, I sat alone at last amongst all this and trembled and shook and wept and laughed and tore hair and pronounced myself insane for the risk I was taking by showing my guts to the hard cold world…..before I finally went to bed exhausted by my endless internal tyrannies and remembered again the intent of joy that had started me on that path.  Mermaid Sign, facing right



I learned considerable in the days that followed.  As it turns out the world was almost universally as interested in seeing what I had up my sleeve as I have been myself.


 They didn’t even have to like it all — though that was nice too.

But instead of my every unwarranted anxiety I got to talk with total strangers about my single brushstrokes! My PaletteMy palette!      

Why I painted what!Two Bouquets, new  Why I painted at all.

It was an unrivaled revelation of comfort and joy which had very rarely happened before in over fifty years of exploring my artistic impulses. You still have to be prepared for not making much money; if you’re at all well-located the overhead’s a killer and landlords are generally ruthless. Artist’s profiting from their art remains illusive, which is why it is so especially important that your fulfilment comes undeniable from you yourself.


Spirits Studio, full paintingThis is all to say I recommend making what you dearly love a current, pressing, unshakable, crowding, smelly, pushing shoving part of your daily existence. I would even go so far as to say that if you in this regard fail your art, that your dying breath will pulse forth the cry:  MY STUDIO….WHERE IS MY STUDIO…… 

….which should have been around you every minute of every day, and where, if we any of us have the luck of it, we get to die.

Please, pay attention to your heart.


Central Coast Skies

We don’t usually get this much rainfall but the past month has been water-rich and it’s doing marvelous things to the atmosphere.    Here’s a recent dawn…



We’re getting the huge picturebook skies I remember from childhood, those illustrations of clouds filling every square inch, huge and billowing, on the move….


and an invitation to flight, don’t you think?  DSCF6762

Antoine de St Exupery, one of my favorite writers (Le Petit Prince; Wind, Sand, and Sky; Night Flight; etc)  said the most marvelous things about inspiring exploration:

Antoine de Saint Exupery quotes.jpeg