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Our Home, Not My Home

posted Jan 15, 2020, 7:36 AM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Jan 15, 2020, 7:55 PM ]

Cardigan Mt. - oil painting in progress


I have been working on a painting of Mt. Cardigan and I was fortunate enough to be able to hike to the top of it recently to breathe in the splendor of that place.  My entire family went with me. My husband helped me to identify the peak names that are in my painting. My whole family was wearing hats that I made specially for them and I felt loved in the act of having them worn.  A gift born of love. A gift created and offered. A gift accepted. A gift cherished and valued.  



It was a sunny winter day with wind-shaped snow clinging to the short alpine trees and our microspikes clinked on the ice as they gripped our feet to the earth.  The hike was one we have done countless times, and when I break the treeline onto the granite bald top, I always pause, turn and drink in the view. I offer a prayer of gratitude to be able to live in such a beautiful place.  Yesterday was no different. It is a place that fills me with contentment. It is a place that puts ease into my body. Slowly I feel my shoulders relax.    


As you climb higher and higher, the trees begin to change from deciduous to coniferous.  Soon there is a fragrant piney smell that makes you want to breathe deeply, drinking in calm, expelling tension.   The trees get shorter. And as you look, you see the dirt is so shallow; there is mostly granite. And yet these trees press their roots down, down, down - breaking through even the tiniest of crevices to stay rooted.  They are short and wind battered, but they stay firmly fixed in place. They are little miracles to me.


New England has been categorized by its lack of religion, especially in contrast to the southern and interior states.  In particular, according to a Gallup poll, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire are the most irreligious states in the union.  When I moved here in 2005, I had no idea what I was to face. It was here that I would wrestle my anger and PTSD resulting from a traumatic childhood.  It was also a place that was not immune to more turmoil. It was here that I developed Asherman’s syndrome, resulting in serious health problems, the loss of a little girl in late term pregnancy, and more than a month long hospital stay.  It was a time of physical devastation, marital upheaval, depression and spiritual angst. It was in the most unlikely place and time I can imagine for myself to learn to taste healing. Yet, this is a place I value because it is exactly where this healing and deep change in me happened.  


I have heard it said that you can only love what you know.  The Upper Valley is a place I value because it is where I came to know God’s goodness.  His goodness was shown to me through the natural beauty of the Upper Valley, by my husband's faithfulness, by the support of people at church, and by my neighbors and community in Canaan.  It was these shafts of love piercing one of my darkest times that helped me to believe in something bigger than myself. It was a feeble trust at first, but somehow it rooted. When my life was filled with bitter despair, something good and beautiful inside me grew.  Seemingly, there was nothing for faith to cling to, and yet, here it is. A little miracle. Just like the trees clinging to the granite top of Mt. Cardigan.


I celebrate this place because I want my children to see that transformation concretely - to understand that all things are redeemable even when hope is lost.  I want my children to know that miracles happen. I want them to have a physical place to see and touch when they feel hopeless someday. I want them to know God’s presence can break through even their darkest hour, just like they saw happen to their mother.


The very first sentence of the Bible is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth …. And it was good” Later in this creation account, it says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them … and it was very good.”   This text is over 3000 years old and is valued as a historical document by both secular and religious scholars alike.  Humanity is very good.  Whether you believe the Bible to be true or not, it cannot be denied that for over 3000 years, many have believed that creativity, beauty, making things, generation of new, is the foundation for all of humanity and civilization.   For me, the very beginning of this ancient text defines art: beauty born of goodness and offered as a gift of love.   


Not so long ago I was in the pottery studio and I was trying to throw a particular shaped pot on the wheel.  I was struggling with it, and created several failed blobs. I asked my friend, Pat, if she would let me watch her throw one.  She took the time to slow down the process for me to truly observe her pressure, her hand placement, her process. Afterward, I asked if she minded if I tried to make that same thing, or if it was a bother to be copied.  She replied, “it is always the highest compliment to be imitated.”  


Imitation is an expression of love, but we must choose wisely what to imitate - what to love.  


And we must remember that love is not a feeling of butterflies and rainbows.  Certainly, it can contain those emotions, but there is plenty of grit and determination involved in love.  Love is a choice. It is caring for and tending of something. It is choosing to steward and protect. It is showing up.  Even when those butterflies and rainbows are fleeting. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it is awkward and hard.  We choose to love.


The Upper Valley, and Canaan in particular, are important to me.  But the Upper Valley is not just my home. It belongs to a whole community.  My work is love made tangible. While creating does benefit me, my work is not solely for myself.  It is for my community. It is a gift - like a hat made in love and then worn to the top of a mountain.  


Often I hear people mourn their lack of community.  Talking to people from all different backgrounds I have noticed a common sense of “not belonging”.  These feelings tend to isolate people. With the growth of technology and the digital age, our interactions with one another have decreased. Our isolation has slowly crept in and grown without us realizing.  And we have made our own places of comfort by consuming like-minded things. Online and with the advent of cars, we rarely need to interact in non-homogeneous spaces. There is an online “community” for anything and everyone.  Don’t like what they have to say on Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat? Just delete their friendship. Because of our lack of interaction with neighbors and people in our physical communities, our ideological differences seem heightened.  We no longer see our commonalities.  


I am deeply troubled by the state of our government.  I have great concern for many of the political hot topics of the day.  But what distresses me the most is how I see wedges being driven into our everyday interactions with one another.  With the impeachment trials of President Trump, I hear both sides using destructive language and tones, lobbing insults at one another, sometimes in the form of “jokes”.  But it is not funny. We make snap judgments and harshly write off people who think differently from us. Suddenly conservatives are being called Christian fascists and racist bullies, while liberals are being called immoral socialists and out-of-touch elites. There are “make them cry again” hats. There are “pussy” hats.  Anger, fear and hate are consuming both sides. It has become so partisan that we can’t sit at a table and civilly discuss anything with someone not from our camp. 


But I encourage you to choose to love your place.  Choose to love your community. Choose to participate.  Go to the library. Go to town events. Share a flower from your garden with your neighbor.  Bake banana bread and visit the elderly woman up the street. Make eye contact. Learn people’s names. Show up.  Share a coffee. Let love grow from tending and caring. Be active and purposeful in your choice of what to love.


Though these little acts were once common, they now seem culturally strange and uncomfortable.  Many of us don’t even know our neighbors’ names. These actions are not just for the benefit of the “other”.  If we cannot love what we do not know, then we must allow ourselves to be known in order to experience love. In the act of loving your place, you come to know all of the goodness and all of the flaws, but your goodness and flaws become known too.  The only way for us to conquer this hate that has so perfectly corrupted our society and so effectively perpetuated this cultural war, is to know one another. And in that knowing, we become empathetic to one another’s perspectives. Understanding is generated.  Assumptions of ill intent are diminished. Grace is extended. We will never agree on everything, but gall can be eradicated.

  

Take a look at the paintings I have been making this year.  They are of the Upper Valley. They are of OUR home. They are to remind you we have so much in common.  We are more alike than not. We are from the same place and share the same space and see the same things.  Our children share classrooms and teachers. Our taxes pay for the same town offices. We know what Listen is and how to make do with few restaurants.  We know who to call for cord wood. We can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone familiar. Our lives are linked in so many ways. Our pasts may have been vastly different and our perspectives may not align, but our present is undeniably similar just by sharing space.  Like those alpine trees growing so beautifully where there is mostly hard granite and very little rich soil, we must choose to let our care for one another press down, down, down. We must look for the crevices in our fear and anger filled lives to find where love and patience and gentle words can happen. 



I want my art to remind us of our common ground; use it as a starting block from which to form relationships with one another.  Only then can we mend our political brokenness and reconcile our different ideologies. Our brokenness will not be fixed with the outcome of the 2020 election, regardless of who comes out on top.  We must choose to quiet our anger and listen to one another now. We must choose to have empathy now. We must chose words and tones of respect now. The situation is dire. We cannot choose to wait until November.  We cannot choose to entertain false hopes. We cannot choose to wait to love. We must choose to love now, and we must love wisely.  

  


A Gift For You

posted Dec 16, 2019, 11:31 AM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Dec 16, 2019, 6:15 PM ]

Recently I have had a huge breakthrough in my work - and it was measured with my first solo exhibition of my paintings.  It was a small thing in the art world, but a huge thing for me. It was marked by an opening in which my friends and family came together to help me celebrate. Before the opening, a friend of mine asked me “what makes you feel like your work is valued?”  I didn’t have an answer for her. But I have let the question tumble in mind for some time.  


I am not formally trained in the arts.  I just know I cannot stop making things.  It is innate to me, like breathing. To make things is both joy and because of joy.  Even if there is a sadness or brokenness, there is still a hope of joy and wholeness.  To create is to simultaneously share something of myself and something bigger than myself.  To create is to express and experience and cherish my humanness. It is delight, refreshment, contentment, worth.  


Over the last two decades, I have watched my community,  country and culture be slowly torn apart by division. I have seen it rented politically.  I have seen it ripped morally and spiritually. Great divides have been slashed through this society.  I have heard language and seen behavior further those tears until they seem insurmountable. There is the left and right, people of color and people who are white, the religious and irreligious, rich and poor, educated and non-educated, rural and urban.  The language between these groups has become divisive and accusatory, lobbed at the other, laced with bitterness and anger. The great fissures in our society continue to widen and deepen and destroy.  


I have long realized that I am uniquely positioned to help lessen these chasms because I often tread between these many opposing camps. I was raised in a very conservative family, in a very liberal community.  I grew up in a home riddled with strife and extreme long-term abuse; now my husband and I have a home built on love and peace.  I have known the hopelessness of poverty, and I have lived in plenty. I grew up with the uneducated and then went to graduate school. I have routinely gone to church and yet work with those clinging to secularism.  I have known suffocating doubt and cynicism and yet have had faith grow and blossom. I have experienced a strong body, and have had extreme health problems. I have known the fullness of life and love, but I have known the pain of death.  I am currently in a calm part of my life, yet, I deal with diagnosed complex PTSD. It seems my whole life has been filled with juxtapositions. Because of these experiences, I easily shift between worlds and groups of people that normally stay isolated from one another.  I have grown to understand each group's culture, language and values.


The other day, I had the opportunity to stop at the Audubon for a few minutes of quiet.  I walked through my display quietly, looking at my work alone with only the lights from the windows streaming in.  In the Christian tradition God created beauty - all of creation - out of nothing and bestowed it as a gift for humanity to enjoy. Beauty was born of God's goodness. As I stood there, I was struck with the realization that every single piece in the exhibit was made in response to a moment of wonder.  


As I looked at my Indian Pipes painting, I remembered crouching down in thoughtful awe.  I had seen them countless times, but was delighted to see them again. It was a moment of beholding.  I remember pulling out a loupe and studying them. I remember researching them and seeing the nuances of the different varieties.  I remember being enthralled to learn they are actually a flower, rather than a fungus. Yet, they have no chlorophyll for photosynthesis.  Indian pipes obtain nourishment from the rich organic soil and can thrive in even the deepest, darkest parts of the woods. I remember thinking I am not so unlike an indian pipe flower - I can survive and even thrive in the darkest of circumstances if I ensure my roots extend down deeply into what is good and true.


My Three Waterlilies painting is my favorite piece.  This is not because of the quality of it, but because of the memory it evokes.  It makes me recall the dawn I saw them out on Clark Pond. It was a moment of wonder.  I was captivated by beauty. Though the lilies were stunning, the beauty of the moment was greater.  I had camped in a tent with my children and we were just kayaking lazily back toward the car. It was very early in the morning and the warmth of the sun was on my back.  A loon had just popped up and I watched my youngest son pause as he studied it. My oldest was fishing. Bugs were buzzing and water beetles were darting. It was a moment overflowing with wonder and contentment.  It was a moment in which I was basked in the rich generosity and graciousness and goodness of god. The moment was a gift given to me and the painting oozed out of my fingertips from gratitude. 


Beauty begets beauty, and it is always a gift.  It is always generosity given. As such, it should be cherished.


It is moments like these two that have grown my faith. These little gifts have morphed my bitterness to empathy, my anger to compassion.  It is these little moments that have taught me that God is good - that he can be trusted.  


As I looked around the room, I saw my paintings like illuminated crumbs of thankfulness dropped along my dark path toward faith.  


So what makes my art valuable?  I still can’t answer that fully.  But my paintings are little gifts of wonder given to me and then passed on to you. I hope it gives you a moment of wonder too, regardless of your worldview.  I hope it makes you pause and remember there is beauty and goodness even in the midst of our factions and dysfunction.  Let that beauty and goodness seep into you. Let it show you our sameness is bigger than our differences.  Let my work give you a desperately needed respite. Let it give rest in frustration, comfort in mourning, ease in despair.  Let it encourage grace and forgiveness. Let it be a catalyst for regeneration in your heart. Let it give you strength to reach across our divides, to lessen these distance between us.  Let it bridge these cleaves among us. My work is a gift of goodwill to you, an offering and homage.  


What's Happening

posted Nov 26, 2019, 11:50 AM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Nov 26, 2019, 2:13 PM ]

I hope you are able to join me at the marvelous McLane Audubon Center in Concord, NH on December 5th for the opening reception of my New Hampshire's Water and Woods show.  It is featuring some of my paintings in oils, pastels, and watercolor and ink.  Last Thursday I worked ferociously to hang it.  The space is stunning, featuring beautiful raw beams and plenty of windows that overlook the educational gardens.    Here is a (rough) sneak peak.  


The McLane Audubon Center

        

Hey!  That's my art on those walls!

In addition to the original paintings, I have also been getting together a set of limited edition prints.  These came out very well and I am excited to have them to offer!  Believe it or not, it takes quite a little time to get them all laid out for signing.  




And lest you think that all I have been doing is painting, here is a picture of the work I've been doing in the pottery studio this last week.  


Here is a hand carved 16" platter ready to get bisqued in the kiln.

 
This morning I pulled a dozen handles to complete these mugs, also ready for the bisque kiln.



And lastly, what is not over-the-top-cheerful about a giant piggy bank for a vacation fund? 





A Roadblock

posted Oct 3, 2019, 11:42 AM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Oct 4, 2019, 1:12 PM ]

I have been practicing the art of discipline by painting everyday.  This is because (deep breath) I have been excepted for three solo art exhibits in the next 18 months! These exhibits are a major realization of a long term goal I set years ago.  The focus, the goal, the challenge!  I have been exhilarated!  While I am still in the pottery studio twice a week and teaching fiber classes, my focus has been painting nature-scapes of the Upper Valley for these shows.  

I was beginning to think I know a fair amount about painting because of a few self-perceived successes.  The first one was my diptych.  The scene is not anyplace in particular, but it was largely inspired by Grafton Pond and McDaniel's Marsh.   Working from my imagination proved to be much harder than anticipated.  The color, the angle of light, the perspective, the scale, everything seemed to give me a challenge.  However, in the end I was happy.

  

I decided to make my work a little easier by painting with a reference photo which was taken near my home.  Wow!  My confidence was boosted!  This is the way to go!  As always, I found the color difficult because I wanted it to feel a bit warmer in the painting. Again, I felt successful.  

 
Painting

Photo

In the end, I prefer paintings to look more free and less photorealistic. I started experimenting with looking at a photo only once in a while.  I added moss and a leaf, and changed rocks. Whamo!  Another self-perceived success.  


Because I really do want my paintings to look painterly, I tried just using some mild references for these indian pipes.  

 

Again, I patted myself on the back.  I'm starting to feel puffed up.  I've got this. 

And then there was today.  I have no idea what happened.  I tried to use this picture of red eft and somehow a total mess of nonsensical color just splat on my canvas!  What in the world!?

  


Everything I learned in the past year turned to nothing.  Staring at it, completely confuzzled (as my kids say), I grasped at an adage from my engineering days: if you can't fix it, feature it.  But how do you feature total visual chaos?  Then I recalled the old saying: sometimes it's art work and sometimes it's art didn't work.  Pride comes before the fall.  Ugh. I think I'm done for the day. 




Felting with the Bird and Garden Club

posted Oct 21, 2015, 5:55 PM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Oct 21, 2015, 6:30 PM ]

A number of months ago, I was asked to be a guest artist and give a presentation to the local Bird and Garden Club. The Bird and Garden Club is a local organization that is focused on local environmental issues.  They have played an active role in our community, providing educational opportunities and assistance in events carried out by the town library, schools and local Historical Society.  .  

Yesterday I was able to meet with them.  It was a delightful time, which included some time teaching the rudimentary principles of felting. Usually, I teach felting to a much smaller group, and in a much more thorough way.  Here I am trying to assist 18 people at felting!  I gave them each a piece of pre-felt to put a picture on.  To aide them, we used very basic coloring pages of local birds and flowers.  After needle felting their image onto the pre-felt, we then wet them down and put them into a zip lock bag with a drop or two of soap.  By sealing the bag, they were able to felt their pictures down with very little mess!  

Notice my four year old son in the thick of it.  He was showing them how it is done!  Go Darren!  




S.R. Harris Fabric Outlet

posted Jul 16, 2015, 7:50 PM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Jul 17, 2015, 5:29 AM ]

I have been living in Canaan, New Hampshire for almost a decade, but I spent ten years living in downtown Minneapolis before that.  When I first moved to NH, it really only took me about two days to adjust to living in a rural setting, which was very similar to my hometown in upstate NY.  I missed almost nothing about the midwest.  But I did miss S.R. Harris Fabric Outlet - a 30,000 square foot textile mecca.  

Over the last few years I have been sewing much more, designing my own clothing, bypassing paper patterns and going right to draping on a dress form.  I have also been teaching dressing making classes.  However, there are incredibly limited options for fabric in the Upper Valley, especially for apparel.  And if you are looking for wool apparel knits, forget it.  

Recently, my family took a road trip back across the country to attend my brother-in-law's wedding in South Dakota.  For months I have been dreaming of stopping at S.R. Harris, and I finally made it! 


It is a breath of fresh air as soon as you walk in.

Ahhhh.  This is only one of over 50 aisles.  


And I walked away with some beautiful wool knits to make myself some clothing and to use as teaching materials for my students interested in learning to use stretch fabrics.


   

These fabrics will make knot dresses and wrapped tops and graceful, sporty, reversible skirts like this one:


As for the rest of the trip, there was plenty of peaceful relaxation, hiking and camping in Lake Superior Provincial Park to get me all rested up for my next round teaching in the fall.  Come and join me in Hanover, NH for one of my eight upcoming classes!



Dyeing

posted Jun 28, 2015, 3:37 AM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Jun 28, 2015, 3:49 AM ]

It is that time of year again.  I got a new shipment of wool and have been having a marvelous time dyeing it. Like the excitement of seeing spring flowers pop up after a long, cold winter, dyeing produces a riot of color.  

Over the course of a few days it morphs from a white fluffy mound

to a riot of warm colors in the sunshine

and then to a parade of blues.

The weather must be watched.  And when the sky looks like this
 

you need to run outside like a mad woman to collect all that freshly dyed wool to save it. 
You heap it on the table. 

Then you spend hours balling it up to keep in storage containers:


And you feel happy because you have worked hard, even though your job feels like playing.  You have touched soft wool, and smelled the pungent vinegar mordant, tried to analyze each color.  One is the exact color of a lupine leaf.  One is the exact color of seaweed.  And two blended will make a beautiful sky, with a few others to highlight clouds.  One will be the base color for water.  One color might just be too beautiful and will be kept out for spinning.  Each color holds so much possibility and cheerful images of all the cool things you can create run through your head.

NH Wool and Sheep Festival

posted May 14, 2015, 8:15 AM by Kathleen Peters

The 2015 NH Wool and Sheep Festival: It is that Mother's Day tradition that seems to shout "Spring"!  So off we went to Deerfield, NH.  As usual, it did not disappoint.  


There was a riot of roving!



And scads of skeins!




And numerous knits!




This stunning shawl was hand carded, hand spun and hand knit - a true treasure!




And of course, there was felting.




And I just couldn't help myself.  I came with ..... wool.  
This is a fantastically beautiful romney fleece that is just springing for the spinning wheel!






Spring in NH

posted Apr 29, 2015, 4:40 AM by Kathleen Peters   [ updated Apr 29, 2015, 9:21 AM ]

This was quite possibly the most grueling winter I can ever remember.  There was gobs and gobs of snow, and the temperatures plummeted well below zero for extended periods of time.  We burned much more wood this year.  But all that cold and snow brought a nice sugaring season.  

We do our boiling in cast iron pots over an open campfire.  There are some obvious disadvantages - you need to tend the fire much more closely, and pray for non-windy days for boiling.  But doing it over an open fire makes the syrup taste superior, giving it a pleasant smokey flavor.  This is the way I like it.  


After boiling and boiling and boiling some more, we got about 2.5 gallons of syrup.  For most people who sugar in New England, that is not much.  But for us, it is a pleasant way to spend time outside as a family.  When we boil, we usually have hotdogs and eggs boiled in sap over the fire, and roasted peeps.  Roasted peeps are a tasty spring alternative to roasted marshmallows.  


All the sugaring has brought inspiration for some new felt.  This piece was done as an example to guide students through the felting process in one of the classes I taught at the League of NH Craftsmen in Hanover, NH.  It is much simpler than most landscapes I do, but it seemed the perfect way to show the earth slowly waking from its winter sleep.  


Now, all the browns and whites and shadowy blues of winter are slowly giving way to the lushes greens of summer.  Soon I will be able to take my five flats of seedlings outside to watch them magically grow into food for my table.  



Color Study in Pastels

posted Apr 8, 2014, 5:32 PM by Kathleen Peters

In all of my work with fiber - and in anything creative, really - the area I feel I would like the most improvement is in choosing the right color to make my work come alive.  Sue Pearson is a friend of mine who is very talented with color - and she does amazing still life pastel paintings.  After several years, I finally got the chance to take her class so that I could glean some much needed color theory.  

I had a blast learning some tricks from her.  Last fall I took my first class with her and learned the basics of blending colors.  I made my oldest son a painting of a red breasted nuthatch.  


And then I went on to do a pastel painting of painted trilliums for my daughter in order to learn about shadowing.  Oddly enough, I didn't realize that shadows are more than just a darker color of the object.  For example, sometimes on a green leaf, adding some red will deepen the shadow and liven up the picture.  Take a look at how the white petals actually have shades of purples and pinks to show the shadows and delicacy.



This winter, I took a second class with her.  In this class, we focused on light and reflection.  Since, I had done a painting for my older two children, I decided to make a painting of a fruit bowl for my youngest.  He seems to do nothing but eat fruit, and apples are his favorite.  The picture here is not quite finished, but you can see how I spent extra time depicting the reflection of the window on the fruit.  And notice how some surfaces reflect more crisply than others.  I used some of the skills I gleaned from the first class also.  Notice how the green grapes have just a tint of rust on the shadowed sides.  And see how the yellow apple has pink in the shadow, while the table cloth has hues of blue from the reflection of the bowl.  



In the past, I have learned that sometimes a break from fiber can really enhance my fiber once I get back to it.  I am now looking forward to trying some of these techniques in felt!



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