Hello from America. We’ve had eleven days to re-adjust, re-decorate and re-dedicate ourselves to our old lives.
On the flight home we shared our row with a friar or monk (whatever you call the dudes in the long brown robes with rope belts) a talker, originally from South Jersey. He’s stationed in Jericho now and was coming home for a holiday at the shore. I caught up on a few movies that I hadn’t seen while we were in Germany on the plane. When we landed in Philadelphia, a half hour late, we were told that the computers in customs were down. Two hours later we happily greeted Andreas’ sister who patiently waited three hours to pick us up.
My in-laws watched our house for us using our place as a base while they build a new home. So, not only was the house clean and ready to live in when we arrived, but we had groceries and good company.
The first things we noticed in Delaware were the sounds of insects at night and the blood thirsty mosquitoes. Even though it’s hot we open the windows to hear the insects through the night and the birds in the morning. In Bremerhaven we heard drunks, sirens and seagulls. I’ll miss the seagulls.
During our first couple of days back we manically cleaned, re-organized and unpacked. Andreas spent three days in the garden untangling and cutting back a years’ worth of overgrowth.
He also spent some time editing and cleaning his office at work which hasn’t changed much in twenty years. Even though we felt tired and jet lagged, the excitement of being back and the desire to do the things we dreamed about in Germany overcame it.
My car wasn’t running well after sitting for a year, so I had it towed to the mechanics. Even though I’m home I haven’t had a car to run errands. That’s frustrating, but I think it helped me to stay focused on submitting a grant proposal before it’s deadline, and to unpack the studio prepare it for commissions and classes.
We had our kitchen remodeled when we were overseas. It turned out great and it’s been fun to unpack and thin out our combined kitchen utensils and gadgets. It’s so much brighter than the old kitchen!
Oh, and I turned 50 a few days ago and had an awesome dinner out with a few friends. It was wonderful to understand the conversations at the table, to understand the waitress and to be able to read everything on the menu. Also, super great to see my friends. I kept staring at my friend Sherri. I couldn’t believe she was actually sitting there in person, not just a video on the phone!
I miss our apartment in Germany a little bit because it became so familiar. All in all, though I am very happy to be HOME!
Never have I ever consumed so much Pilsner and Riesling. Not in copious amounts, it’s the only type of beer and wine Andreas likes to buy here.
Never have I ever had this much time to focus on my artwork. I’ve had a few months here and there in my life when I’ve attended workshops or been between jobs, but never a whole year to slow down and focus.
Never have I ever exhibited my paintings abroad! Wow, that was cool.
Never have I ever eaten gooseberry (Stachelbeere) or rhubarb (Rhabarber) pancakes.
Never have I ever traveled by train so much or been without a car for so long.
Never have I ever had a “destination wedding” back to my house.
Never have I ever spent hours in an immigration visa office. Thank God Andreas can speak German. I feel really bad for all of the others there who didn’t have a native speaker with them.
All in all, a wonderful experience. I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself and I think Andreas did too. We’re looking forward to visiting again soon.
A photo essay about the color variants I perceived on the Arctic Sea and from within the Scoresby Sound, Greenland.
My job for five weeks between August 10, 2018 and September 12, 2018 aboard the research vessel FS Maria S. Merian was to document the scientists at work and the landscape through photography, blogs and paintings. During the cruise I was drawn daily to the color of the sea in different locations and through various weather events. The color varied from gray to deep blue on the open sea to almost a turquoise farther in the Scoresby Sound.
My scientist husband, whom I sailed with, chose to collaborate on this post by creating a wonderful map representing the locations of the photos.
For more about this research trip please read my earlier posts.
My Germany bucket/wish list for this sabbatical year is checked off. I created a new body of work, had an art exhibit, and last week I was given the opportunity to speak to five high school art classes. I was also invited to visit their school and interact with the students as they worked on their projects.
Since I’m an art instructor in America and students in Germany study English, I thought it would be fun to visit a class to show them my artwork and have conversations in English. Through my show at Art Impressions Gallery I became friendly with the gallery owner, Fernando Valero who invited me to his garden birthday party. There I met local high school art teacher, Christiane Matthai who teaches at the Geschwister Scholl Schule in Bremerhaven. I told her I was interested in speaking to students and she not only brought her students to my exhibit but invited me to her classroom.
Both experiences were wonderful. At the gallery I spoke about the theme for my show and then a little bit about each work individually. I shared my inspiration for the images and the watercolor and watercolor pencil techniques used in rendering them.
I showed a Power Point presentation that I prepared on the Ship last summer for the scientists about the other art mediums I work in, and about my past artistic and work experiences. I wanted the students to know that I haven’t made a career out of painting old women in diners, I also paint goats on skateboards, make stained glass windows from garbage and drive an Art Car.
I really enjoyed each class. I was curious about the similarities and differences I would observe comparing German kids to American kids. No differences I could see or sense bar one and that was that the German students showed more independence. The teacher was recently sick and I asked her if she had to pay for her substitute like the teachers do in California. She said that that subs are not hired for high school classes. Her students acquired the key for the room, worked independently and cleaned up after themselves. That was shocking to me. I could see how it was possible though after spending time in her classroom. I observed the students set up their projects, work independently when their teacher wasn’t giving them one on one time, and clean up their area. They spoke to each other quietly and worked steadily throughout the long class period without need for redirection.
The German student’s clothing, shoes, hair styles and demeanor were so similar to my students. I told them if I saw them in America I would never guess that they were from Germany unless they spoke to me. It’s interesting how access to the internet is changing design cross culturally. Also, their English vocabulary and pronunciation was very good; better than they think it is.
I feel very lucky to be given this experience and hope to work with Christiane again during our future visits.
Newark, Delaware artist Dragonfly Leathrum exhibits new work in Bremerhaven Germany. The artist exhibited seventeen watercolor and colored pencil paintings and thirteen pencil and colored pencil drawings. All artwork was created in an eight-month time span while on sabbatical.
Exhibits in Germany, thirty works created in eight months, watercolor paintings? Who is this person? Me? How did that happen? If someone had read that first paragraph to me two years ago and said that’s going to be you, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have said that it sounds even more far fetched than some of the goals I set for myself in my sketchbook. If you follow this blog you know how this happened. If not, the cliff note version is that I met a wonderful German/ American Oceanographer just shy of two years ago. We started dating, fell in love moved in together, moved to Germany for a sabbatical, and got married. For the detailed version of that journey see previous posts.
So here I am in Germany for a year and I have the freedom for the first time in my life to dedicate most of my time to creating art, but my studio and supplies are in Newark, Delaware. I can’t paint in acrylics or oils and I can’t create stained glass windows (or can I?) without a large investment in new supplies, and then how do I ship them home? My solution to this first world, artist problem was to switch to watercolors and colored pencils. This worked well on our research trip in the Arctic and has been a wonderful solution to creating new work quickly that is easy to ship and can also fit in a suitcase.
My art goals during my stay in Bremerhaven were to 1. Practice a drawing/ painting skill that I want to improve on for future work, 2. Create a new/full body of work with one theme, in one medium that I can exhibit when I return to the States and 3. Icing on the cake, and a dream, to have a show in Germany.
So, what to paint? The blank tablet of watercolor paper asks, “What will it be, ma’am?” I ask myself what would I like to see on the wall? What do other people want to see on their walls? What’s important to document? After a lot of thought I chose to create dining companions. Portraits were my challenge that needed a lot of practice and I enjoy figure drawings more when the background gives some information. I was also a bit lonely. I chose to paint friends, relatives, people from the newspaper, a few faces from online sources and one self-portrait. If the face was interesting and the figures were in a dining situation, I was ready to paint them.
One theme and all in watercolor with colored pencil. (this is unusual for me) In the few months since I began this project my drawings and paintings have improved with practice which inspires me to keep going.
Now for a show in Germany, I approached a few galleries, some were interested but didn’t have an opening until 2020. By chance I found a gallery close to my neighborhood with an opening in April and I was able to book it. Yay, a show!
Uh oh…now I need to matte and frame thirty pieces of artwork and I can’t bring these frames home to Delaware. The Owner of Art Impressions Gallery saved me the matting costs by applying for and receiving a grant from the city for exhibiting an international artist. For frames I did something I would never consider doing in Newark and that was to purchase all the frames from IKEA with plexi windows instead of glass.
(I can hear my artist friends and my framer 4000 miles away screaming NO!!! in unison.) Those were not easy to transport on the 505 bus. I will donate them to the gallery or a school when I leave for student artists.
We had the show opening on April 27th 2019, it was a success. Four of the paintings were sold through commission, three sold through social media before the show and two sold opening night. Framing costs covered.
The local newspaper covered the show twice and I’m looking forward to two art classes from the local high school to visit the show next week.
My next goal is to complete at least three more paintings before mid-July and to apply for a grant through the Delaware Division of the Arts.
We traveled to Vienna in the Middle of April so Andreas could present at the European Geophysical Union Conference. We chose to travel by train for about eleven hours which would have been fine except that the trains we booked, and the seats we reserved, were cancelled a week before we left because of track construction. This made coming and going to Vienna pretty miserable.
We booked an Airbnb room in the Alsergrund neighborhood. Former Alsergrund residents include Mozart, Freud, Schubert and Beethoven. The rented room was nice with a little kitchen, bathroom and a view over a palace’s back garden. Also eye level with a raven’s nest. When we booked the room, we chose it for the price and how minimally it was/ was not decorated. Silly us did not consider its location in reference to the museums in Vienna or more importantly Andreas’ conference. Live and learn. It worked out in the end because our little neighborhood had some great restaurants, wasn’t touristy, and public transportation is really easy in the city.
I chose to walk everywhere. I feel like I can understand a place better by taking my time and being on the street. Thus, I walked on average six miles a day. Not too bad. Andreas prefers to move as quickly as possible from A to B so he opted for trams, the subway and bike shares. He didn’t have much time to be a tourist. He visited one site with me, otherwise we saw each other in the late evenings.
Left on my own was a bit lonely but I chose what I wanted to see in the city. Top of my list was anything related to my favorite artist Hundertwasser. Hundertwasser was a painter and an architect mainly. Vienna is home to some of his creations and has a museum that he designed that features his paintings and prints among other cool stuff. The museum was so special to me that I visited it twice.
Second on my list was the Leopold Museum which houses works from other favorite artists of mine. Namely Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and their contemporaries. This museum has wonderful collections. I saw these exhibits before I visited the Hundertwasser Museum and I’m glad I did because I hadn’t realized how similar Schiele’s and Hundertwasser’s work are. I have a new appreciation for Schiele’s work after seeing more of his oeuvre.
A friend of mine on Instagram noticed my Vienna posts and alerted me to the fact that Wes Anderson and Juman Malouf curated a wonderfully bizarre exhibit at the Kunst Historisches Museum. I’m really happy I went. Not only was the exhibit incredible (I walked through it three times), but the Museum itself was lovely and I saw some artworks I wasn’t expecting to see.
On the fourth day I was art and museumed out and decided to try to be a more serious tourist and do something touristy like walk to the famous St. Stephansdom. After getting lost a nice policeman helped me find the church where I saw the floating pink art exhibit inside. I didn’t go up to the roof or down to the catacombs which are its cooler features.
On my last day I wanted to see some modern art that I could understand so I walked along the Danube Canal where graffiti is legal. I was not disappointed. There were some beautiful pieces including a clever yarn bomb. Check out this map of graffiti in Vienna.
At the end of the art display on the canal I noticed that I was close to the Hundertwasser Museum so I visited again and was joined by Andreas for a drink.
My friends said, “Oh, you’re going to Vienna, go to the cafés and drink coffee.” Yes, this is a fun idea, but when you’re walking around by yourself it’s a boring one. I did go to one cafe’ every morning for a smoothie and coffee for breakfast after Andreas left for the day. I learned that I had to ask for an Americana if I wanted a regular coffee.
Most evenings Andreas and I were able to have dinner together. I wanted to have foods that are hard to find in Bremerhaven. The first night, a night with Andreas’ PHD student, and a dinner by myself were enjoyed at the Beaver Brewing Company restaurant across from our Airbnb. It was a mostly pub food/ burger place owned by an American. We liked this place because they had dark beer and the waiters, who were from all over the world, spoke mostly English. We also dined at a Vietnamese place, had a fancy five months married anniversary dinner of traditional Viennese food and stumbled upon a wonderful wine tasting in our neighborhood after vetoing a smoky Bolivian restaurant.
The most important and wonderful thing about Vienna in my eyes was how civilized it felt. What does that mean? To me that means that the city was very clean, the people were friendly and not rushed and I felt pretty safe walking around or using public transport.
Did we do Vienna right? Ha ha no, not even close I’m sure. Still, I had a good time, Andreas connected with a lot of scientists and the city is high on our list for a second visit. Maybe we’ll fly in next time.
In the US I am a proud member of an Artist Collective called Trashy Women. We are a collective of nine women artists who all have our own artistic specialties. There are painters, ceramicists, jewelers, sculptors, glass workers and some of us work in all these mediums. When we meet as a collective and show together, we make art out of found objects and trash. Some people called it upcycling which is a useful step up from recycling.
In March the Trashy Women will be having a show at the Gibby Center for the Arts in Middletown, Delaware. I really wanted to participate in this show but I’m almost 4,000 miles away in Bremerhaven Germany this year. Bremerhaven has no shortage of garbage, but my tools and art supplies are in the States in my studio. So, what can I create for this show? I had collected a pile of beach glass from the Weser-Strandbad and some broken shards from the street but I wasn’t sure how I was going to put it together without my stained-glass supplies.
I walked to the hardware store for inspiration and found some wire in the gardening section. I figured I could wrap the glass with the wire and create an image from there. An insane, time-consuming undertaking, but what are sabbaticals for if not for projects like this?
I started with a piece of paper equaling the dimensions of the mailing box I picked up from the post office. I wasn’t taking any chances with shipping. Ha ha.
Then I drew an image on the paper and placed the glass on the image using colors and shapes that I felt were appropriate. Once the image was realized I proceeded to wrap each piece with wire and then connected the pieces together. Connecting the pieces was tricky, especially on the first window. I developed a method of “sewing” them together with the wire.
By the third one I was a pro. Like all things I make they are over engineered and extra strong. Probably much stronger than they need to be.
I then had to figure out how to hang them. I didn’t see any chain around that I liked, so I used some left-over yarn from a scarf I knitted for my sister-in-law and double knitted some rope. In Diez I found key rings to hang them from hooks in the show.
So yeah, they’re weird and very different from what I would have created in my comfort zone at home. I’m happy with how they turned out and they’re very interesting in the sunlight. The wave has sold already from a social media posting and I’m hoping the other two find good homes at the show. After my painting show at Art Impressions Gallery in Bremerhaven on April 27th, I’m hoping to make more.
When I recently published a blog about my current artwork I searched WordPress out of curiosity to see what other women artists create and write. I came across Dr. Nell Painter and read that she had recently published a book titled Old in Art School. This caught my attention as I’ve considered returning to art school after 26 years to earn my MFA.
I was hoping for some tips on applying to schools, managing graduate critiques and the general atmosphere and expectations of art graduate school from the perspective of someone older than 25. The book offered this and a truly interesting memoir about Dr. Nell Painter. The full story was unexpected and I’m happy that she spoke of her life experience during her studies, not just the art school happenings. I am sad to read that women are still thought of as somewhat second-rate artists who will probably not become “real artists.” I had enough of that sentiment during the completion of my BFA.
I recommend this book to women artists and anyone else who is considering a career change mid-life. Also, to anyone who enjoys a beautifully written memoir.
Nell Painter and I both had/have a German sabbatical year. We also hail from Newark. Painter lives in New Jersey and I’m usually in Delaware. I hope to meet Dr. Painter someday to talk about our paintings over coffee or a beer.
R/V Maria S. Merian headed from Greenland’s ice to Iceland’s green hills to Greenland’s ice again during our third week at sea.
South of Iceland Surtsey Island is visible in the distance. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
We sailed from west to east along southern Iceland to recover ocean moorings from a submarine ridge that separates eastern Iceland from the Faroe Islands. There were a lot of Icelandic fishing vessels in the area most of which left for port as the weather turned bad. Time passed strangely for me when breaking waves at 13 ft and gale force winds of 63 mph hit us. My cabin window is four or five stories above the sea and this sea was splashing up against my window as the ship crashed through the waves. Windshield wipers cleared the windows of salt water on the bridge one level above my cabin. It was intense.
I spent the day sleeping, drowsy from the seasick medicine. My cabin mate was awesome, he left his lab and checked on me throughout the day bringing little pieces of bread and reminding me to drink water. At one point I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom and I noticed that the water was flowing sideways from the tap. I almost called out to my cabin mate before I realized that the ship, the bathroom and myself were all in fact sideways. The seasick medicine makes me dopey too.
The spray from the storm waves at the bow of the ship. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
Eventually the calm eye of the storm found us and even though the seas were still rough the sky brightened. When the fog lifted we saw the mountains of southern Iceland and the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. Cabin mate was excited that Surtsey, created by a violent volcanic eruption in 1963, and the biggest Island we could see, was two years younger than him. Puffins live there, but I saw none through my telephoto lens.
Icelandic mountains and a glacier on the horizon. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
The rough seas soon returned as we headed back to Greenland now to the north of Iceland. I walked around the ship holding on to railings and stumbling from one side of the gangway to the other. To travel anywhere on the ship stairs are involved and depending on whether the ship is pitching, rolling or both gravity shifts a bit. You can time your steps to save energy, that is, climbing up the stairs is easier when the ship is moving down and gravity “feels” less strong. In the cabin I used elbows, shoulders and hips to hold open cabinets and doors while trying to get dressed. I also found myself sitting longer than usual at the dinner table, because the thought of trying to walk across the moving floor with a tray full of glasses and dishes seemed like a bad idea. It reminded me of the first time I was a waiter on a train. Knitting, sleeping and complaining were about all I got up to.
By Friday we were closer to the east coast of Greenland, a little further north this time. We encountered calmer seas, with a few icebergs. Scientists and crew were competing in Foosball (kicker) and ping pong tournaments below deck when they were not processing data from CTD stations, recovering moorings from the ocean, or running the engines of the ship. Foosball in high seas is pretty unpredictable.
Another storm was on the horizon with high winds. I packed away all loose things laying around the cabin, showered while I still could without being thrown around, and ate a bit more in case the storm made me seasick. I also spent my time on deck taking pictures.
Saturday arrived, but the storm did not. The waves picked up, but the winds did not. Traveling north across Denmark Strait to Greenland, I noticed the temperatures were dropping. Ice formed on deck and we were forbidden to go outside. The mountains of Greenland seemed close and became clear, sea ice appeared, and more icebergs drifted south as we moved north. The week and August ended with an unusual, beautiful sunset behind layers of fog and mountains.
Sunset behind fog and mountains on Greenland’s eastern coast. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum