Taking Stock 2016

by Dana Kester-McCabe

It’s the end of the year and like many people I am taking stock, looking back on this year and actually a few behind it.

Besides being a writer and radio host I actually am also a painter. I have a bachelor’s degree in fine art painting and communication design. After college, I juggled family life, painting, and freelance graphic design for some time. Then, about twenty years ago, I put aside the painting in order to try and make more money which I did mostly through my freelance business and a handful of what I would call “legit” jobs working for somebody other than myself.

I began producing the Delmarva Almanac online eight years ago, as a way to attract clients who wanted multimedia websites and, especially to improve my writing skills. Since then I have interviewed 112 artists who live and work here on Delmarva. A few were musicians, some directed theater productions, and a few ran art galleries. There were a small number of writers and photographers. There were seventeen artists who made three-dimensional work: in wood, glass, metal, stone, clay, and fiber. Twelve were artisans who made functional fine art crafts like jewelry and pottery. And there were 66 visual artists working in a variety of two-dimensional mediums and styles. The most popular genre altogether was Impressionist painting with thirty practitioners.

My interview subjects ranged in age from their early twenties to their mid-eighties. Most of them had been making art since they were children. At the same time, it was common to hear that someone had an unrelated career for most of their life and became a fulltime artist in their retirement. The interviewees were chosen for the quality of their work, and often because someone in their community recommended them when they were about to have a show or present a special project to the public. Just one person described themselves as more of a hobbyist than a professional artist.

I really only met two people who could be described as stereotypical diva artistes with big ego’s and arrogant attitudes. It was pretty amazing to find that across the board just about all of them were humble people who lived simply and viewed their art as a calling not as a way to make a living. Many had day jobs; though by my calculation 72% actually were supporting themselves primarily with their artwork. That’s pretty good and more than you might expect.

So, that describes these artists by the numbers. They were and are much more than that. I have learned a great deal from these folks. In fact, these last eight years have almost been like a very long but enjoyable master’s course at what I like to call the Delmarva School of Art.

Now, many of these folks would be great teachers in terms of technique. However, I steered away from that in our conversations because many of them offer courses or workshops and I did not want them to give away something for free that they usually charge for. My primary objective was to talk with them about why they loved making art and what inspired them, in order to introduce them to the public and promote their work.

There were some artists who never returned my calls or emails trying to get an interview with them. Not everyone wants to be recorded talking about themselves. Those who did were incredibly generous with their time. We would sometimes talk for more than an hour to get a story that lasted less than ten minutes. Often it was just fun to swap stories about being an artist, which hopefully made some usually shy folks a little bit more comfortable. I felt that my job was to ask a few questions and then get out of the way.

I had never met the majority of my subjects before we talked. There were about a dozen that I did know. For example, Dana Simson and I have known each other for several decades. She is recognized for her whimsical painting and clay creations.

Dana Simson:
“I just, I just always loved sitting there and going into my mind, and emptying my mind out onto paper. And, it was just always joyful. And I think that, you know, it’s very important probably in my development. Because that was like practicing, and practicing, like the scales, as if I was going to play an instrument. And, so I just continued to stretch my imagination, and hone my craft and skills. All these years later, it’s still that much fun.”

Dana is one of those people who, whenever we run into each other, I am struck by how simpatico we are and how many overlaps there are in our creative interests.

Another is Patrick Henry. He and his family have known my family for a very long time. He is the only person that I interviewed twice for the Almanac. In part that was because he is so well known for his easily recognized cheerfully impressionist style of painting. Also, he is just a joy to talk to.

Patrick Henry:
"I have always walked with this strong inner voice, and I am very curious. I study everything. Travel they have said, really opens the mind of artists. And sure enough it was no way I could come back here and look at those images and see a few that - I want to try that. I want to go to a realm other than somebody wants me to paint this or that. And just explore..."

Some artists really inspired me. Denise Dumont is another impressionist painter with a distinctive style. Her subtle hues and pastoral landscapes invoke such a feeling of peace.

Denise Dumont:
“Brush marks are almost like fingerprints. They really are unique. I love painting. I am painter at heart because I take pleasure in the physicality of it. So, I really like the way the brush feels and the way it goes on the canvas. It's something you don't even think about until after it is done. So, um, it's part of the love of oil painting. I think."

Lillian Rippa is a Chinese brush painter in her eighties who is extremely prolific. Her reverence for the ancient traditions, handmade materials, and a daily work ethic result in paintings with amazing spontaneity and vitality. I love that she said that she found a sense of freedom in her daily discipline.

Lillian Rippa:
“You have to know your subject. You have to know the strokes you want to use before you start your painting. Then you have the freedom to do whatever you want. So, if I put a stroke down on the paper, and I am not strong or I am weak, or I am not interested, it shows. And, it looks shaky."

“I don't paint with anything in front of me. I have to see that. I can take a picture. But you have to get the essence from that, otherwise you will have a photograph. I have to carry that in my memory. And then I analyze it. Do I need certain strokes? What do I want to show on this? All my ink is ground. All my colors are ready. Everything has to be ready. You have maybe worked on some strokes for quite a while separate from this painting. But, when I go to do the painting itself, that has to all be behind me and I have to be able to do that with my soul."

Indeed, artists are a diligent lot. Even when it looks like we are sitting around daydreaming our minds are busy at work. I also found that an optimistic outlook is very common among the creative community here. Maybe it is a reflection on my choices for interview subjects, but I can’t really think of any whose work was predominantly about the dark side of life, pain, or suffering. Delmarva is known as the land of pleasant living after all. Artists move here for the light and the laidback lifestyle, so that clearly affects their perspective.

Another trait that is universally held by many longtime artists is their tenacity. When I asked them to offer advice to people new to making art, just about all of them talked about “never giving up”. Some warned about the financial and social pressures against starting a career in the arts. But they all said that once you know what it is that you want to do, you should not let any obstacle get in your way. That’s good counsel no matter what you do for a living.
Not one of these artists could imagine a life without making art. It seems that once infected by art it is almost impossible to shake it from your soul. Which brings me to where I am now personally. Over the years, I have continued to paint: wedding gifts and the occasional commission. Now it seems my own art infection has come back full force. It is time for the Delmarva Almanac and much of my freelance business to go on hiatus while I dive back into the creative waters of painting.

So, this will be our last radio show. Our online publication will take a break and come back in some form or fashion next summer. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for regular Delmarva trivia and for a heads-up about our plans which include a book called The Delmarva School of Art.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank all the people who made this show possible: Jim Rapp and Dave Wilson for their wonderful nature stories, our talented occasional contributors Scott Duncan, Marilyn Buerkle, Gretchen Hanson, and Keyanna Bowen. Thank you to all the people who agreed to tell us your story. I wish I had time to mention each and every one of the you who shared their sage wisdom and creative insight with us. Every one of you is an inspiration.

Thank you also to our underwriters, all the towns and arts loving organizations that participated in our program, and volunteers who encouraged us including Marina Dowdall, Ann Jenkins and Lee Nelson, and especially Lisa Challenger who was instrumental in getting this show off the ground and on the air.

I’d like to thank the Friends of Delmarva Public Radio, and the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore for all their support. And I’d like to give a big grateful shout out to Dana Whitehair and Chris Ranck right here at the radio station for all they did for us. Finally, I’d like to thank you our audience for spending your time with us every week. If you enjoy this type of local cultural programming I hope you will become a member of this radio station as a holiday gift to yourselves. I also hope you’ll check out the art strolls held monthly in a town near you.

So, that's all for the Delmarva Almanac. Thanks for tuning in. Happy New Year and until we meet again may the rhythms and tides of Delmarva bring you good fortune.