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.
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.
I never dreamed that I would be sailing off Greenland starring at an iceberg. To quote the Talking Heads, “This is once in a lifetime.”
First iceberg sighting.
Traveling is never easy in Germany for us Americans abroad: Andreas and I left Bremerhaven, Germany for Reykjavik, Iceland, but upon arrival at the station we learned that our train had been cancelled. Stress, panic, can we catch another train to catch our plane to catch the ship? Or would we be, “Letting the days go by” incognito in Bremerhaven? Have a month offline to ourselves to work on other projects and maybe show some of Andreas’ old iceberg photos at the end of the month? It didn’t sound like a bad plan.
Bremerhaven train station. Andreas took this shot to prove to the conductor that our train was cancelled.
Alas, our replacement, slow, and very local train delivered us in the nick of time to Hamburg airport although much later than we hoped. This put us at the end of an hour-long check-in line for Iceland Air. No quick kiosks here. We queued up behind two giant backpacks which were hiding two German Physics students from Berlin. Here we met a laidback, cynical Canadian Professor who studies birds somewhere in California. The hour-long chatting about Iceland, ships, politics, and philosophies of life and traveling was the highlight of our travels. We all made it to Iceland with no time or sweat to spare. This is our second experience with Iceland Air in a month: we know how to work their video on the headrest, we have their introductory video, and we have their Iceland advertisements memorized. Yet, both Andreas and I forgot headphones and we had to read lips watching in-flight movies.
Three hours later we landed in Keflavik, Iceland where the captain announced that he was dropping us off at the front door and that we had to watch our step. He wasn’t kidding. In Iceland they let you off the plane parking on the tarmac and everyone walks to buses ferrying you to the terminal. In contrast, we were blown by the welcomed cold wind towards the terminal. [It was unseasonably hot in Germany.] A taxi was waiting for us, because the ship’s agent had arranged this transport to the ship docked in Reykjavik.
The Harbor where the ship was docked in Reykjavik. Top: Photo from the ship. Bottom Watercolor and colored pencil.
The forty-minute taxi ride included background music of Joy Division on the radio and a landscape of rocks. Iceland is like no other landscape I’ve seen. I kept pointing out the window exclaiming, “Ooh look at this and did you see that?” We saw a lot and I mean A-LOT-OF-ROCKS. We saw rock sculptures, rock gardens, random rocks, rocks to divide parking lots … We also saw a sign for Dunkin’ Donuts, cold people on bicycles, beautiful mountains in the distance, and empty plains with more rocks.
Rocks! Watercolor and colored pencil of the landscape near Keflavik. 6.5”x9.5”
Iceland, wow. Where am I? David Byrne to the rescue:
“How did I get here?”
“This is not my beautiful house.”
“How do I work this?”
“Under the water, carry the water
Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean,” and measure the salinity and oxygen levels, please.