Archive for the ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ Category

“Just in front of him he saw three beautiful white swans advancing towards him from a thicket . . . . ‘I will fly to them, the royal birds, and they will hack me to pieces . . . .  But it won’t matter.  Better to be killed by them than be snapped at by the ducks, pecked by the hens . . . .’ 

“So he flew into the water and swam towards the stately swans.  They saw him and darted towards him with ruffled feathers . . . .  But what did he see reflected in the transparent water ?  . . . his own image, but he was no longer a clumsy dark grey bird, ugly and ungainly.  He was himself a swan . . . . The big swans swam round and round him and stroked him with their bills.”

From THE UGLY DUCKLING, by Hans Christian Andersen

Ever since I can remember, Andersen’s UGLY DUCKLING has moved me to tears—and it does to this day.  I’m mopping my eyes after typing the above quotes! 

In 2005 I began my art adventure, and I’ve often thought of the UGLY DUCKLING.  Having always loved art and desired to participate in that world, I was totally unprepared for the reception I’d receive as an embryo painter from the REAL artists—those who have worked professionally at their calling the way I’ve worked at my profession of writing, from childhood on. 

I’ve been literally “bowled over” and stunned by the joyous attitude of acceptance on the part of artists!  When I began painting in 2005, I wasn’t completely surprised that family members and a couple of very gracious friends responded with enthusiasm.  The children never dreamed that Mother “could do that”, and since they love me they probably missed the fact that I really wasn’t doing very much at all at that point—just blopping some paint around on paper.  My choice of in-your-face colors seemed to resonate with viewers of those early renderings.

But I metaphorically hid in the woods, when it came to sharing with the real artists I know.  That would be going too far, I thought—just too presumptuous of me, to stick one of my paintings in the face of someone who knows what he or she is doing artwise!

Then somewhere, something SNAPPED!  I knew I’d discovered a fantastic pastime.  Since sloshing paint and glueing stuff on paper were so personally rewarding, so indescribably delicious, it suddenly occurred to me that the pleasure of doing art outweighed all other considerations and concerns! 

Finally, I began showing my work to friends who are real artists.  Rather than hack me to pieces like the UGLY DUCKLING thought the swans would do to him, these compassionate souls responded with approbation because I was doing something I loved!  They made constructive comments.  They welcomed me as if I were actually “one of them”, causing me to understand that there are many levels of art—and there is room for every one of us, no matter whom we are or what we can do!

Although there are volumes of rules concerning art making, we in the 21st century know that art can also be a world without rules.  That’s a huge part of the art charm and allure for people like me!  All of my writing life, I have been conscious of rules.  Not so, with art.  Every one of us is different—and artists know that.  Some are excellent, and some are “world class”.  I’m happily just “me”—ever learning but never driven, as I sometimes felt when I wrote for publications and competed for awards. 

For me, painting and collaging are arts without angst.  I never wonder, “Is this clear and understandable?”  I love that element of mystery in art.  There is always the remote possibility that someone will view a piece of work and say “AHA”!   If not, I am still more complete for having created the rendering. 

I realize that my art is a subjective discipline.  When we go off half skewed in writing—or even more so in music composition—we are apt to lose anyone who is not as crazy as we are.  But in art, there is room for everyone. 

Part of the art acceptance which has totally warmed and won my heart may be based on the fact of COLOR.  In general, artists are colorful people.  We love to wear color on our bodies, we like to dress like one of our paintings, and we reflect color in our work.  No matter how skilled or inexperienced, we are bonded by a mutual passion for color. 

Artists are visual beings and that makes for an exciting lifestyle—a lifestyle where all are welcome.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

NOTE:  My first edition of this entry was posted early today.  Later, I returned to “check it out”, and I discovered many errors.  In the process of correcting typos, I began hewing and hacking away at the content of the piece—and eliminating chunks which had nothing to do with the main focus.  This is the life of a writer!  Although I do make additions and corrections to my art renderings, I hope I’ll never edit them as ferociously as I edit my essays!

If you, dear reader, were caught in the midst of editorial changes to this essay, please refresh your browser and try reading it again so it makes more sense!  Thank you for your patience!  🙂 MLB

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As you can see from the above photo, taken a couple of years ago in our up north guest house, our grandsons Joel and Nathaniel are fascinated by my beloved craft of spinning. 

The fact that I knit sweaters, hats, shawls, and scarves from my hand spun yarns (spun from sheep wool, llama hair, mohair from angora goats, dog hair, and/or silk) lends a practical purpose to this ancient but currently popular art.  The easy-to-comprehend mechanics of a spinning wheel add to the marvelous mystique of spinning:  engendered in those of us who were raised on the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm.

The wheel pictured above is one of my 5 spinning wheels.  It’s a replica of the Irish Castle Wheel, and it is the one I use most often as it’s easy to move from room to room—or out to the patio where I sit and spin on warm days.  The wheel’s main location is our living room next to the Saxony wheel which I also use frequently and love.  Both wheels (pictured below along with my yarns and some of the garments) have the same mechanism with exchangeable bobbins.  They are Jensen wheels—made in Lake Delton, Wisconsin—and they are “top of the line” in performance as well as exquisite beauty.

As I keyboard on my laptop, I can honestly say that I love old things best:  old appliances, old tools, old dishes, old artifacts of most any kind.  That may sound oxymoronic as I blog, gather information, and do most of my shopping online (with the exception of groceries).  Sometimes I even write letters on the laptop, although email is my least favorite computer function.  There is nothing, no nothing in the world like a real letter on pretty stationery.  The ever-escalating cost of postage will never dim my fondness for the U. S. Postal Service!

New things can be useful, even delightful—as in the case of favorite kitchen appliances like my BREADMAN, electric percolator, and blender for those refreshing smoothies.  I’m on friendly terms with a refrigerator, and an electric oven and range.  I have no desire to cook on wood, even though I’ve nostalgic recollections of my Grandma Rose doing exactly that.

We have a dishwasher, which we do not use—as dishes are too lovely to stash in a machine, and I get much pleasure out of washing them and seeing them lined up in the drying rack on a kitchen counter.  When we had little children and babies, I thought differently and did use a dishwasher.  Now the dishwasher is one of our resident “museums”.  It houses old kitchen gadgets, cookie cutters, etc. which were once used by departed family members—or culled from garage sales and antique shops.

Flush toilets and running water are luxuries I’ll never take for granted.  I love them and would not want to go back to using an outhouse, and pumping and hauling water.  It’s fun to recall the fact that we had only an outhouse (and slop pails for nighttime use) at our summer cottage in the 1940s—and that we hauled water for drinking, cooking, and washing.  But having “been there, done that”, I certainly don’t wish to return.

No!  Other than periodically eschewing a few things like email, I don’t want to go back.  But I do want to preserve, and whenever possible use and enjoy vestiges of the past through home arts such as spinning on my spinning wheels.

Why is preservation so important?  I believe that an appreciation of the past is a vital dimension of life in the present!  Quite basically, we have roots.  Just as a plant is nourished by its God-given roots, we are nourished by ours.  Roots are part of our down-to-earth quality of life, and they are instrumental in that profound pleasure which we derive from simple, everyday things.  Without an appreciation of our roots, we would be plastic people—sterile, robotic, generic, and boring! 

Family roots are vital but so are cultural, lifestyle roots.  I’m not alone in my passion for roots, as evidenced in the popularity of THE ANTIQUES ROADSHOW and the crowds that throng to living history museums.  Life is richer today when we know something about yesterday! 

Our home is blessed to be a mini living history museum, one in a constant state of production with spinning wheels, baskets of wool (still remaining from 20 years of raising my own sheep), a surplus of knitting needles, and a plethora of hand spun yarn and hand fashioned garments!

NOTE:  The 3 shawls on your left as you face this photo are some of many that I wove on my 24″ Baby Wolf Loom–one of 2 looms which are currently still up north due to lack of room for them in our condo.  Having only 2 hands, I manage to keep my fingers moving fast enough as it is with spinning and knitting. 

The “center stage” colorful striped scarf is one I knit over this past winter from yarns which I recently spun and dyed.  Embellished with funky beads and a crocheted border, the scarf is wide enough to double as a stole.

It always freaks me out, when people look at my spinning wheels and call them “looms”.  More education and advocacy are needed in the area of the fiber arts! 

Occasionally, I spin for public events.  People always cluster around the spinning demos, and ask wonderful questions.  How great to be able to promote an appreciation of this time-honored craft!  🙂

Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

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The first time I heard the swans in our northern bay, I thought I was hearing Canada geese with COPD.  The swans frequently hang out in the midst of an entourage of Canadas—but swans bark in a louder register, with a rusty twinge that reduces me to a pile of goose bumps whenever I hear it.  Like the keening of coyotes in the night, swan music has its own mystique.

Joe took the above photo through his telescope; hence the darkness around the ring of light.  These are the whistling swans.  They pause in our bay every spring, en route to the far north—and sometimes again for a few days on their southward journey in fall.  

The swans never fail to touch me profoundly, with their wild beauty.  Thanks to Hans Christian Andersen’s UGLY DUCKLING, swans are forever imprinted in my soul.  Here is an ode to a mute swan, which I wrote a few years ago.  Different from the noisy swans in our bay, the mute swan carries unique metaphorical implications for me. 

Mute Swan

Voiceless, relegated to the torments

of a heartless wind, storms assail – – –

rain pelts and turns to ice while you,

you cannot speak or breathe a protest

as wind’s anger wreaks the pain

of cruel ice upon your neck, curved in grace,

or spews a deafening spate

of condemnation in your face.

Bend low.  The waters darken. 

Tomorrow your ravished image will be caught

in corrugations of a winter lake,

and wings renewed will take you skyward,

Sunward, ’til you seize your voice

and scream your triumph over wind

defeated, conquered, stripped forever

of its heartless power to break.

Margaret Longenecker Been—All Rights Reserved

(Mute Swan was published in A TIME UNDER HEAVEN . . . seasonal reflections and poems . . . by Margaret Longenecker Been, 2005)

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