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!
We recently had the pleasure of hosting my freshman college roommate and her family for the weekend in Bremerhaven.
My friend Stefanie and I met thirty-one years ago when we were matched as roommates at LaGrange College in southwestern Georgia. Stefanie was a foreign student from Germany and I was a crazy girl from Delaware.
Surprisingly, I was already friends with her cousin who was studying at the University of Delaware. (Small world) I only attended LaGrange for a year, but Stefanie and I kept in touch. When I was studying Art in Wolverhampton, England in 1991 I visited her and her family in Germany on my spring break and Andreas and I were able to visit her during our travels in Germany Christmas 2017.
Luckily, she is not too far away in Bonn and was able see us with her husband and two girls ages five and eight. The older one loves all animals, especially horses and the younger one loves speed and sport.
We had a wonderful weekend seeing the Harbor through their eyes. The Harbor area was so fun for them we never made it to town.
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.
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.