Hollywood, Howling and the Wisdom of Artist Natalie Blake.

Finally back in Saint Mark’s place after a long hiatus!!  Back to Grandma Maggie and the littlest Timothy Duffield, who just this minute (back in 1937) came home from the hospital and is  howling on the bed amidst Hollywood actresses.

February 21, 1937

This morning to Wanamaker’s to try to get another brassiere, but they had none I liked.  Nice day, felt nice to be out though found had to walk rather slowly.  Liddy Nowell sent us several large branches of cherry blossoms, odd floral piece but very effective against our wallpaper and the only use we have found for the ugly vase Papa sent on.   Edith and Nelson came over and we all sat on the bed, they had Scotch while I had orange juice, baby lay in the middle, howling, I let him howl in hopes he wouldn’t howl afterward. Katherine just came home from Hollywood , said Richard’s new girl was worst he’s ever had and her name is Golly Hayes, said she spent a good deal of time refuting rumor which had preceded her trip west that she and Dale were separating.  Grace bathed baby, M. and I had oyster omelet.  M. read aloud to me from Boswell’s Life of Johnson* which we found very entertaining and a propos of same I read him the account of Dr. Burney’s Evening Party by V. Woolf from the Traveler’s Library, played sticks and to bed.  Baby wore me out going to sleep at last feeding and not getting enough milk down contrary self ‘till midnight.

And what  is yours truly doing in Brattleboro, Vermont in May of 2010?????

Joe Fichter’s Winter Thunder at the BMAC

Perhaps Brattleboro’s not Saint Mark’s Place, but it has its own enclave of fabulous artists who make their living sculpting stone, slapping paint on canvas, and working the pottery wheel.  So last night I ran down the sidewalk and across the street to the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center, where Joe Fichter’s sculpted horses prance on the lawn, and entered the arched, stone doorway because Brattleboro West Arts was sponsoring an artist talk by a famous ceramics artist, one of my very best friends in the whole world, Natalie Blake.

Because this is Vermont, there was a potluck first in the middle of the museum with pounds of fresh produce, vats of rhubarb and real apple cider.  The Brattleboro Museum is sort of shocking in the caliber of art that comes through and right now, among many others in their oblique/abstract show, they are showing Rudy Burckhardt’s paintings from New York City. Rudy happened to move from Switzerland to Manhattan at exactly the same time my grandmother did.  Because Rudy portrayed beauty in unlikely places, like a woman’s ankles, I kept thinking I might be seeing the Patten leather party shoes of my grandmother in his photographs.  Debra Bermingham, Yvonne Jacquette, David Kapp, and Nicola López were also featured.  Maya Gold was my favorite because when you look at her paintings, you feel like you are flying.  But be careful googling Maya Gold, her name is also the stage name of a Hungarian pornographic actress.

Everyone ran around gazing at art and eating potato salad until finally someone blew a whistle and we found our seats.  I sat with Natalie’s parents, who I consider family. “She loved to be in her room making projects,” her mother said about Natalie in childhood.  “Her door was always open, of course.”   That pretty much sums Natalie up.  Except now her projects sell for $50,000, and she runs around the country selling them at exclusive craft shows.  More than not, I am saying goodbye to Natalie as she packs up her tiles and vessels, popping with bright blue glazes, and heads south, on I91.  She’s always calling me from San Fran or Chicago or Palm Beach Florida or New Orleans, where she’s combined her trip with a music festival and is singing at the top of her lungs before she gets me on the phone. Every September she trips out to Nevada, to Burning Man, a huge festival in the desert that is so wild and difficult to explain, so much about another galaxy opening up right here on earth, that you will just have to google it to understand why it is Natalie’s Mecca.

Natalie wore a bright blue dress I coveted the entire time she talked, and she curled up in a club chair in front of us just like a guest on Oprah except Oprah happened to be a man with a very hairy face and wire-rimmed glasses. The talk was about success in the arts and right away Mr. Oprah asked Natalie if she thought she was successful. Now, Natalie got a Watson fellowship and traveled the world studying ceramics, she came back to Brattleboro, plopped her clay on a wheel, fired up a kiln and in twenty years she has become one of the most successful ceramics artists in the United States, hiring staff to carry out the work of her designs, winning multiple awards and being featured on the front page of high-end art journals. “Well,” she told the hairy-faced man.  “I have a car and a house and a business, if that’s success.”  Of course, Natalie’s car is a $45,000 van she can literally live in and her house used to be a Catholic church until Natalie renovated it, putting the bathroom where the confessional used to be and her bed in the belfry. Recently she and her soulmate, Nic, bought the house next door so now they will be just like Frieda Kahlo and Diego except, of course, in Vermont.

Natalie kept turning towards us while she spoke and calling us by name. As soon as she possibly could, she was throwing out paper and pens and telling us to get busy drawing. “Just doodle whatever you usually doodle,” she said. “Or something new.” About five minutes later, we were imagining those doodles huge, we were imagining them carved in wood, moving on wheels, we were imagining them painted murals on a gigantic wall in the town square.  “Write down one step toward making that happen,” Natalie said. “That’s how you start.”  Natalie didn’t want to talk at us about her fabulous art career, she wanted to empower us.  In turn, I thought it might be a good idea to inspire you with Natalie’s words, so here are some of the most important things she said:

About resistance:
Notice Resistance.
Allow the resistance to speak, what does it have to say?
Sing to it.

About Judgment:
There are no ugly colors. (Or judgement limits or everything can be an inspiration or make art not criticism)

About the blank canvas, the unformed clay, the empty page:
Make a move.  Any move. It’s okay if only one move is your work for the day. That’s enough. (this she credited to our very own Doug Trump, another amazing Brattleboro artist)

About life:
There are no mistakes.
There are no mistakes.
There are no mistakes.
There are no mistakes.

Thank you Natalie Blake!! My grandma Maggie would have loved you!

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