Sand Castle LandsDeep within the forest medieval, somewhere near the sea lives a wizardess of wonder. Called simply Lady Jane she lives with the animals of the forest and talks daily with her friends the birds and other creatures of the forest. Two of her closest companions and allies are Shadow and Cara who trail after her as constant buddies. A dark black-cat darts through the room without announcement or identification. Jane smiles and I wonder how many other creatures occupy this home.
Lady Jane: An Alchemist of the Spirit
Edited by R.J. LeBlanc
Faithful companions Shadow and Cara
Many years ago Lady Jane, who prefers to be called "Jane," discovered the secret language of birds, how they communicate with one another and warn each other of the dangers coming their way; she studied this method of communication until she began to understand the messages and then she learned to decode them. Over the years she gradually found herself becoming one with the forest creatures.
Now she spends her time trying to capture in her art, through painting and sculpture, the spirit of nature in the land. This forest wherein she dwells has been home to her and her family and ancestors for several generations. She has ties too, in her lineage, to the Indians who called the land "home" long before the coming of the "whiteman."
There is a mystery to Jane's paintings and sculptures, a directness of style wherein the very elements of the land, particles of earth, branches, leaves become her pallet. In her earlier work Jane used the conventional elements of oil, watercolor and commercial pigments but, as she experimented with her images she found natural materials more often becoming the major components of her pallet.
Jane's works speak of ancient mysteries, of knowledge long lost, though once common information to our distant ancestors. Her figures are runic symbols harking back to those languages now unknown. She senses their meanings as she calls them forth from deep within the wood. I wonder if, perhaps, she is indeed in contact with those native American ancestors of hers.
Jane's woodland home is a collection of nature, art objects, sculptures, paintings and a miscellaneous sorting of "things" waiting to be painted or put into collage form. Add Shadow the wonder dog, Cara the cat and several other critters and you have an interesting mix. It is often difficult to discern the "real" here from the abstract -- the art from the non-art as it all blends together as part of that homogenous mix.
I think I came to an appreciation when I was about ten years old, when my grandfather gave me a Brownie camera. The camera makes you "look" at things more intently. Some compositions please you more. My grandfather, that was his hobby, photography; he had masses of films, photographs, all mounted; then he made motion pictures.
He subscribed to "The National Geographic" which was a pioneer and he gave to me his complete collection of Geographics starting from 1917 up to the early 50's. He died around 1956. It was a huge collection that I would never have been able to absorb into my home. But when I was young I spent hours and hours looking at the pictures in those magazines.
Of course the "Geographic" was a pioneer in color and nature photography; but of course, they were looking at the more scientific aspects of photography rather than from the artist's side. They had a number of articles by Beebe and Admiral Bird, of course. Those were very inspirational. I read Admiral Bird's, "Alone," and then I read works by the early aviators, St. Exhuperie; there's a story where crash lands in the desert in Africa, very inspiring. But then there's inspiration in most everything, its just in how you look at it.
There's nothing like a camera to draw you to look at nature and to see the details there. Then you start composing and before long you have become part of that world.
A skull sitting high up on a shelf may be a recent addition to the collection, brought in by Joe the hunter or it may have settled in that spot a dozen years ago. It might be a real skull or a sculpture; it's difficult to draw the line here in this surrealistic world.
Still-life here perhaps, or is it yesterdays lunch.
Often its difficult to tell one from the other and then again sometimes one thing turns into the other. The rules are different here from the "normal" world and fantasy often crosses over into the land of the "real," just as the opposite is also true.
One continually has to touch objects to determine if they are the "real thing" or a collage, or a sculpture, all artifacts of Jane's imagination.
Magical images and figures lurk in every corner, every wall, the yard, woods and fields.
Nature, made curious by this artist's love of natural materials, strives constantly to gain entrance to the house by any means possible. Vines cover the outside walls, flowers dance along the stairways and trees scratch at the window looking to understand the woman who brings the outside indoors.
Jane is often fascinated by certain aspects of nature such as the structure of clouds, their shapes often resembling animals and other creatures of nature. In one series of paintings she tries to capture those forms and bring them into her living room.
Jane: "It's all a matter of decisions, painting that is. See that cloud; I know already where I want it on the paper. The cloud is out there in the sky so I have to balance the horizon and the cloud to see where they go in the right proportions, not simply the way it actually is out there. I have to create the picture that I see in my mind and to translate my "idea" of the cloud to paper.
It's not just mechanics but the essentials of creating a composition; the choice of colors here too. Now, this cloud happens to be a lot darker than the actual cloud was and the horizon needs further darkening still, to balance the darkness and light. I know generally what the colors are that I want so I do first of all a yellow wash and then perhaps a bit of red, and finally the blues. Again, it's not just mechanics but proportions to the whole thing. But I wait for the cloud to show me what to do."
Often Jane's work explodes from its canvass to roam across the walls, the ceilings and to race down toward the floor as if seeking escape back into the external world.
Jane is constantly exploring any and all materials for color, texture and form as she adds each substance, each object to her canvases. She is curious about life in all its forms and daily seeks new answers to the mysteries of creation.
Jane: "I had a marvelous conversation with my friend Joe, the hunter, the other day and both of us agreed that there is a vast intelligence in the Universe. The way that animals communicate with each other, the way they function SO intelligently. It's the intelligence of life. Life couldn't exist without its own intelligence. We pagans celebrate the Winter Solstace, before Christmas. I respect Christmas and those Christian traditions, but the real worship is that of the seasons. The Winter Solstace is the important day.
Joe's idea -- we were talking about rats, he was saying that rats have so many senses that they can actually smell through their skin, so they know their way. With their whiskers they have another sense and they have a keen sense of smell. I was talking about the fact that experimental psychogists who put their rats in the maze did not take into account the fact that the animals could smell their own trails, they didn't even have to remember the way; it was right there.
Humans are the problem here, a greedy lot, never satisfied with what they've got, a beautiful planet with bountiful water and food, enough for everyone, if they shared. But no, they grovel for power over one another so that they can brag about how powerful they are. And they'll do this even though it means the destruction of the planet and eventually themselves and their children's children . . .
It's Joe's contention, a handler of many kinds of animals, that every animal is extremely bright with an intelligence that we human beings can not even imagine. Joe was talking about a nuclear island somewhere in the Pacific, Bikini Atoll, I think, where the only living things on the island are cockroaches and rats, interwoven with each other. They're doing fine thank you, everything else, the plant life is extinct. But the cockroaches and rats are doing fine. . . "
In a small room just off the kitchen area we stopped to look at a fishtank terrarium containing a wide selection of old wood.
Jane: "This "living" collage is getting quite complex as it grows. I have it "growing" in the terrarium. There are all sorts of mosses in there. It began while I was sitting out in the summerhouse after a rainstorm one warm summer afternoon. All of sudden the ashtree droped this piece, and this and this .. .
Ah! I said, more parts to add to the collage. I liked these pieces because they had the grey-green fungi on them, whereas this piece has white fungi. And the bark here I found on the ground. This is a particular type of fungus which I find only very occasionally which grows in a marvelous rosette, I believe on oak trees. . ."
I asked Jane how she began her painting career.
Jane: "I started painting because I went to a progressive grammar school and they had all sorts of arts and crafts; we did clay and we did painting. I can remember thinking 'I don't know why everybody in the class wants to imate her (the teacher) because they think she draws so well; I like to do my own thing. That was back in Mountclaire New Jersey. It was the Brookside School that was a converted farm really. We had stables with a couple of ponies that the older kids took care of. It was started, like a lot of those schools, by a group of parents hiring interested teachers.
We learned a lot of things, like carpentry and the whole art studio with modeling clay, painting . . . We didn't have ceramics. I started there at around four in kindergarten. I enjoyed the place; we had great teachers. Our fifth grade teacher was a guy just out of college who was very interested in doing things with us. He wrote a play with us based on "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and I was the page because I got the joke - "I'm not just a paragraph, I'm a page."
We put on plays regularly in first or second grade. We studied older civilizations so we put on a play about the cavemen. And I was chosen to be the cavewoman because I always told the boys what to do. I can remember my most famous line: "Go! Shoot us a deer!"
I was terribly embaressed, I found some old scraps of fur in a closet and I made myself a caveman costume but Mother insisted that I wear royal blue wool underwear underneath my caveman outfit, the one I'd made for myself. (Jane's laughter) It totally destroyed the effect that I had created to look like the pictures in the book of the cavemen in just their fur pelts. I remember being so distressed by having to wear the royal blue woolen underwear. The school is still intact, in fact.
Art has always been an important part of my life. It was partly Mother and partly Grandfather who selected pictures for our house, not famous works, though my Grandfather had quite a collection. In my bedroom there was Raphael's Madonna, not a religious thing, but just a fine painting, then there was painting of some cupids from Pompeii with a little go-cart. Of course it had an effect on me. Now, why it didn't effect my two sisters and brother the same way I'm not sure. Some of the paintings on the walls here belonged to Grandfather.
I came to my naturalistic approach to painting through observational psychology; a lot of good nature studies are based on observation. It's the whole philosophy of the modern movement was painting "au planair" painting what we see. And then there were some very imaginative painters along with that.
Watching and listening to birds has long been a favorite pasttime of mine. They're communicating with each other all the time, and with all sorts of inflection. That's particularly true for jays and crows; they're just beginning to be studied now seriously by animal behaviorists. Of cours Lawrence and Tindbergen did the test before then. Lawrence in particular was very attuned to the types of ineractions that there were between animals. His whole theory concerned avoiding agression by mock agressive gestures.
I was watching the other morning; there were some jays who flew in where there was red bellied woodpecker. The red is a little smaller than the jays but has a log bill. The jays fly in and pretend to pounce on another jay; they bounce him out of his place at the feeder - sort of "I'm coming in!" It doesn't matter that there are other spaces at the feeder; his joy is in getting his so called rival to leave. Anyway, most of the jays here, a group of youngsters, well one of them came in and tried to bounce the redbellied woopecker. All the woodpecker did was turn his head toward the approaching Jay, with his long bill toward the jay, and the jay was bounced by the woodpecker.
I watch all that sort of interactions among the birds and that's not vocalization but through gesture, action. But they do it vocally too. One of the interesting thing is that jays on certain occasion will indicate the call of the hunting hawk. Now whether they do it to get the reaction from other birds -- Everybody ducks for cover when they hear that sound. I think its very gentelmanly of the hawk, or rather ladylike to warn with that cry when they're approaching too. They do it too; its fair game; they play fair. They make sort of a whistling call a number of times, then perch in the trees and wait for a bird to pounce on.
Now, some of the stupider birds like the wooddoves forget that the hawk is there and they're the ones who are easily caught. But the jays know all the time. And some of the small birds, the chickadees are very alert. Obviously the memory that there's a hawk right there stays with them. Sparrows on the other hand forget completely; they get caught.
The hawks dine mainly on wood doves. The other interesting thing is about mocking birds. We had at least five mocking bird pairs nesting here. And then we had a tremendous hawk living down by Route 80 there. I saw him once when he was being mobbed by crows. He looked like an athlete who was standing up there on that tree branch with the wind blowing. He was balancing himself against the wind with the crows all around him; it was awe inspiring.
I started to paint him but never finished it. It looked like a very strong and agile athlete standing up there; he was disasterous to the mocking bird population here because they can't resist going up to the hightest point of the roof here and sitting and seeing. He picked off every one of them. We have no mocking birds here now. But they'll come back because the hawk is gone now.
- A work in progress: to be continued -
This work can be found on the Internet at: http://www.wesleyan.edu/av/gronican.htm
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