Tuesday, June 30, 2009

end of a long summer day

Today prompted my husband to quote frequently from "Grampa Simpson" as it was a day "not so much interesting as long." We spent the entire day from first light until supper time, waiting for plumbers who never came. "Tomorrow" they say.

To refresh my spirit I wandered outside a bit catching the last lingering fingers of sunlight on our lawn and on the creek.

Then I said good night to the pure white morning glories* as they folded up their petals for the evening.

*my best guess as to what these flowers are, if you have an alternative identification, please let me know!

Monday, June 29, 2009

gang aft agley

Concerns about our water pressure mingled with images from my current bed time reading (Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis) caused me nightmares about plumbing fixtures bursting and drowning ceilings in gushing water. Unfortunately, this morning my dream turned out to be prescient. No ceilings were inundated, but hundreds of gallons of hot water poured out beneath our house when a joint burst from excess pressure. No painting today, while we clean up and wait for plumbers.

Some day I want a house where the water heater isn't hidden behind a clothes closet (a common arrangement in manufactured housing).

(Thanks to Robbie Burns for the title).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

One Single Impression -- Blue Rain

Two Haiku

muddy torrents dash
dreams, sweep hope and life away
--excesses of spring.


destructive water
pours off denuded mountains
--legacy of coal.

"Clean coal" is a dangerous myth. Help stop mountain top removal mining. Call your representative to support the Clean Water Protection Act. Learn more about the devastating way in which coal is mined today at http://www.ilovemountains.org/, and what you can do to stop it.

Photo by sgreerpitt June 17, 2009 in Letcher County Kentucky.

For more poems on the prompt "Blue Rain" check out One Single Impression.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--09 The Bridge

More details today, but none as tedious as yesterday's bricks. Consequently, my back does not ache quite so much today.

One important detail of our Whitesburg campus landscape is a walking bridge over the river to connect the two parts of the campus more conveniently. The bridge runs directly from the Belinda Mason building to the rear of the Allied Health building. Prior to construction of the bridge a little more than one year ago, it was necessary to leave the campus and travel through a block or two through residential streets and cross a roadway bridge with inadequate walking space to get from one part of the campus to the other. This was particularly a problem since the majority of student parking is on one side of the river and the majority of classrooms are on the other side of the river. I imagine that the college's neighbors are as pleased as the students with the addition of the walking bridge.

I'm nearly finished with this upper left hand corner of the mural. A nice place to be at the end of the week.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

ruminations on identity as an artist

Today, I decided that perhaps the time has come that I may be willing to claim the label of "artist." Until the last few weeks, I spent my life disavowing that identity.

In high school, after one semester in a regular art class, the teacher pulled me and three other students out, placed us in a private studio on our own to paint whatever we wished. I filled my notebooks with sketches (rather than lecture notes) of fellow students that were recognizable and admired by all. Yet when class president, basketball star, and all-around-dream-boat Rob Cooper asked me why on earth I wanted to be a history/social science teacher when I was so talented, I was flattered but adamant that I just simply wasn't an artist. [The drawing to the right, obviously on notebook paper, was not of Rob, but another fellow student.]

My college art instructors assumed that I was an art major. Not an unreasonable assumption given that I took as many hours of art (mostly studio classes but also art history) as I did of sociology. During my senior year I spent more time in the painting studio than I did on all my sociology classes. I painted portraits of everyone I could convince to sit still long enough, some twenty different people over the course of my junior and senior years -- and rewarded their cooperation with the finished portrait. Yet when one friend, spoke to me of a career in art, I responded with the following flip/impatient verse:

I never said I was.
You ask to much
of a two-bit scribbler.

One reason that I resisted thinking of my self as an "artist" was that I did not feel responsible for what came from my hands. I looked at things, and moved my pencil or paint brush, and the things I saw appeared on the paper or canvas. This is not to say that I didn't learn many things in art classes. I learned about the tools and techniques of art. What kinds of pencils to use to get certain effects, how to mix paints and select brushes. But most of all I learned how to see things that most people don't see.

My favorite art teacher in college, Forbes Whiteside, was passionate about color. One of his favorite lessons was a slide show of "white" porches that demonstrated that white is rarely white. The time of day, the season of the year, the presence of sun or clouds all change what we see. Most students in his classes were bored to tears after four or five slides. I was one of those students who could watch his slides for hours. Whiteside was exactly the right teacher for me and I was exactly the right student for him. He taught me to paint better human faces by sitting me down in front of a Rembrandt in the Oberlin Art Museum, telling me to look at it and "think translucence." After an hour of sitting in front of that painting, I came back to the studio and had the secret painting of human skin. But I still didn't feel like an "artist."

When the Southeast Whitesburg mural project first came up, I was talking to my husband John about it. I told him that I was probably better for this job than a "real artist." A real artist, I told him, would have specific ideas about how the project should be done, but I would be willing to do what the committee wanted done. John asked what made a "real artist" and why wasn't I one? I told him that while I was technically talented and able to reproduce anything I saw, I was a copyist rather than an artist, I wasn't really "creative;" I lacked "artistic vision."

Well, I've changed my mind. Turns out I had a lot of ideas about how this project should be done, and I was willing to fight for those ideas (and willing to change some details that weren't central to my ideas). My creative vision goes well beyond merely copying the world as it is.

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--08 Getting the Details Down

Bricks. Lots of bricks. Tiny little bricks. I've never painted bricks before -- never. It's going to be race to see which gives out first, my back or my eyes!

On the whole I'm very pleased with todays work. Details, except in portraits, were never my strong suit. So it was hard for me to stick to working on details for five hours. No, it didn't take 5 hours just to do these bricks, there was also cement blocks, and window details, and a few other things. Oh, yes and did I mention my back hurts?

Picture above shows the bricks and other details completed today in situ.

I enhanced my "living space" on the scaffold today with a rug -- to cushion shins and knees getting up and down, to cushion feet while standing, and to make my little folding camp chair stay put. At the end of the day, I had Ron Brunty our student counselor/advisor/admissions guy take a picture of me with the scaffold.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--07 Belinda Mason Bldg

Today (Wednesday June 24) I got an excellent start on painting the Belinda Mason Building. This is the newest of the Whitesburg campus's three buildings, and the one closest to my heart as it contains my lovely office. It is also the building with the most interesting scenic detail surrounding it. The picture shows the end result of today's labors.

I am finding it extremely challenging to remain standing for five hours painting. As I move lower on the painting I'm sure that I will be able to sit for some of the work, but almost all the work on the buildings and hills requires me to stand.

Does anyone know a place (brick and mortar or on-line) to purchase large numbers of popsicle sticks or even better tongue depressors? We've been saving the ones we use from our lime and lemon bars (low fat summer time treats), but I'm running through those much too quickly. I suppose I could switch to plastic knives and spoons, but I just prefer the aesthetic of wood.

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--06 Sky

Yesterday (Tuesday June 23) was the day for getting the sky laid in for the entire mural. This turned out to be much harder than anticipated.

I'd never painted such a large area in one color or hue before. It took me a while before I got the hang of mixing up enough paint at one time. Moreover, while I wanted consistency across the entire wall, I didn't want one solid flat color or hue. I wanted a sky that looked like a day with thin clouds. So that meant that I had to have a range of values (tints and shades) that remained consist across the entire wall.

A brief lesson in terminology for the non-painters in the audience. A "hue" is the basic colors of the color wheel -- yellow, blue, red, green, orange, purple and other combinations of those basic colors. "Value" refers to variations on the basic hues accomplished by adding white pigment for "tints" or black pigment for "shades." Pink is a tint of red, created by adding white. Mid-night blue is a shade of blue created by adding black. The third variation in color (after hue and value) is "intensity" which refers to the clarity of the color. Intensity is modified by adding the "complement" of a color -- the color opposite it on the color wheel. Orange is the opposite of Blue, so one can dull or gray the intensity of blue by adding orange. Green is the opposite of Red, so one can dull the intensity of red by adding green.

Adding to the difficulty of the project was the necessity of stopping, climbing down from the scaffolding, releasing the wheels and moving it, locking the wheels and climbing back up. It took moving the scaffold to four different locations to complete the entire sky.

The Color Wheel from The Color Wheel Company. All other photos by sgreerpitt.

Monday, June 22, 2009

booger's last day

Booger is not quite 15 years old. The friendliest of all my cats, the first to greet any stranger that enters the house, the most persistent lap cat I ever had, Booger unaccountably does not wish to be held at all in his final days.

In a perfect world I would have spared him the pain of the last two days, but my regular vet left town on vacation with no back up. I have located a vet, someone I knew years ago, a hour and a half away, who is willing to ease Booger on his way. Soon we will leave on Booger's final trip to a vet.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One Single Impression -- Assimilation


in each new place
she changed
picking up the local
like protective coloring
she went native.

Sunday June 21, 2009


For more wonderful poems on this weeks very intriguing prompt go to One Single Impression.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--05 Sketching

Saturday seemed like a nice quiet time to head for the college and get started on the sketching. Quiet it was, but it was also hot. It had not occurred to me that the thermostat would be turned up so high (80 degrees F) to prevent the heat pumps from turning on. Next time I'll bring a good box fan.

I was not completely alone which was very nice (the buildings can be kind of spooky at times). One of the staff from the Letcher County Adult Education program was using the quiet of the weekend to get caught up on paper work. During the week they are so busy helping students that there is little time for maintaining files. I regret to say that I don't know all the names of the terrific Adult Ed. folks, or I'd commend her diligent weekend work properly (you can actually catch a glimpse of her in the photograph through the open door). She also saved me from having to go back to my office (in another building) to find my yard stick by loaning me one from their office.

Armed with the yard stick and my sketches, I mounted the scaffolding and began sketching in the line of the hills and the three Whitesburg campus buildings. The graph I superimposed on the sketch yesterday came in very handy for getting everything in the right place. After sketching each building and its surroundings, I masked (the blue tape) the top/outer line of each building, so that I can paint background right up to the building and still have a clean line. After the background is painted, I will mask in reverse before painting the buildings. It helps to maintain that sharp architectural edge especially of more modern buildings.

The first of today's photos shows (above) the whole wall with the end product of today's three hours of effort. Unfortunately as I am always telling my students light pencil marks do not reproduce well (which is why I'm always asking them to use pen on things we're going to copy). So you can only see the blue tape outlines and not the sketches themselves in the picture of the entire wall. So I took two close-ups of the sketches, although even close at hand the light pencil markings are still very faint.

The first close-up (photo left) is at the left of the mural and depicts the original Whitesburg college building variously known as the "Coca-Cola" building or the administration building (it will be christened with a new formal name at the anniversary ceremonies this year).

On the far right of the mural (photo right) is the newest building, the Belinda Mason classroom building, which also houses a small auditorium and most of the faculty offices. The bridge across the river (that connects to the third building) attaches to the rear of the Belinda Mason Building.

The next step -- start painting, beginning with sky and clouds. I'll probably wait until there is air conditioning available. Perhaps Monday.

Friday, June 19, 2009


This mother duck and her three ducklings kept chasing me around the campus while I took photos today. They kept hoping I'd feed them. Next time I'll have to bring some corn for them.

Yesterday, I saw -- luckily before I ran over them -- another mother duck with two, much smaller, fuzzier ducklings crossing the main street in Whitesburg a block from the Courthouse. I imagine that the flooding displaced them from their nesting area. Although I could have gone around them I decided to stop, since there were several other cars behind me and I wasn't sure that they would see the ducklings in time -- I almost hadn't. Mother duck was very business like and hurried her babies across the road in just a few minutes. Too bad I couldn't reach my camera in time.

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--04 Waiting for Gesso to Dry

First task this morning was taping up the new drop cloth. I am pleased to say that I didn't get any gesso on the floor or parts of the wall where it doesn't belong. But I did end up with more gesso in my hair. The morning was devoted to finishing priming the wall with gesso. I felt like an old hand getting up and down from the scaffold. But, I forgot to put my new "Little Giant" two step footstool in the car this morning to bring with me, so I still had to borrow the maintenance department's eight footer--a bit of overkill. The final swipe of gesso went on the wall just before noon, so I was able to share lunch with our wonderful office and maintenance staff people.

You know the old saying about nothing being more boring than watching paint dry...so instead of watching, I went back to my office for some imaginative and conceptual work. Our librarian Evelyn Hensley provided me with more photographs, especially of the Physical Therapy Assistant students, which I promptly scanned into JPEG files. I'm trying to represent activities distinctive of all of our allied health programs (Physical Therapy Assistant, Radiography, Respiratory Therapy, and soon a nursing program). I also took a few new photos, including a great one of a student working at a computer that to fill a corner that was lacking.

Working with my master design, I added the new photos and shifted some of the elements about, until I have a plan that is good to go, although I'm certain there will be some tweaking down the road. Then I set up a grid that will make it easier for me to accurately place my elements where I want them on the wall, and help keep the various pieces in proportion. The graphic below shows the results of my afternoon's work, ready to serve as a guide as soon as the gesso is thoroughly dry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--03 Gesso

The scaffolding arrived from the main campus in Cumberland, KY yesterday. Torrential rains and extensive flooding prevented me from making it to campus until today.

The photo at right gives a good view of the scaffold. When I first arrived on campus at 8:30 this morning, the top platform had been set on the second highest set of rungs, making the platform be just above my head (I'm 5'6") about six feet off the ground. I borrowed an eight foot step ladder from maintenance, and very gingerly crawled up on the platform.

Once on top it was immediately apparent that standing was out of the question. There simply was not enough room to stand -- the platform was at six feet, and the ceiling at ten feet -- even if I had so desired, and believe me I did not desire to stand. With the platform on the second rungs, the safety railing was only 18" above the surface.

Since I was up there, I decided what the h***, grabbed the folded up drop cloth to protect my knees (no more shorts after today!), and proceeded to sand the wall from a kneeling position. After I finished everything within reach, I awkwardly crawled back down with the help of the ladder. Keep in mind, I'm a 265 pound (proud to say down 43 pounds from last October), 58 year old woman with rheumatoid arthritis and extensive osteoarthritis. I'm amazed I got up there at all.

I found someone to help me lower the platform to a more reasonable four feet on the third set of rungs (as in the photo). In the new position, it was easier to get up and down; there was room to stand, and the railing actually worked as a safety railing, being placed exactly at hand level. From that point on it was a simple matter to finish sanding the upper portion of the wall.

Then it was time to get out the gesso. For those non-artists out there, gesso is a type of primer used by artists on canvas, fabric, wood, paneling, even paper. It makes soft, flexible surfaces stiffer, it prevents paints from soaking into a porous surface, and in my case it provides a little more texture (called "tooth" by artists) so the paint will stick better.

I had placed the drop cloth on the floor beneath the scaffold, but discovered right away that was not sufficient. No matter how neat I tried to be, drips persisted in falling on the wall as well as the floor. So my friends Angela and Jerry from maintenance helped hold the drop cloth up while I taped it to the wall. It was not long enough for the whole wall -- I purchased a second one this afternoon for the rest of the wall.

As you can see from the photo below, I gessoed about 55 percent of the mural area this morning. Some folks might say that I also gessoed about 55 percent of myself--as hands, arms, legs (again, no more shorts!), even hair, ended up decorated with white splotches and streaks. [My hair dresser, Todd, was amused when I turned up this afternoon with white streaks in my bangs.] I stopped because I ran out of drop cloth, and out of time (had to get to that hair appointment).
Tomorrow, baring new floods, with new drop cloth in hand, I'll go back and finish coat of gesso.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

rising water

The call came to say the scaffolding had arrived in Whitesburg for my mural project, so I took off for campus at noon today, only to be turned back by flooded roads.

In several places the stream had jumped the bank and was flowing, rapidly over the road way.

When I returned I took photos of Yonts Fork, which flows into the stream flooding the main road. This is the highest I've ever seen Yonts Fork, the first time in 13 years it has come so close to the roadway. In the picture on the right, the water is so high that you cannot even see the large metal culvert that channels the stream (most of the time) under the entrance to our road.

In the second picture (left) you can see the pipe, but just a bit downstream Yonts Fork has risen nearly to the level of a neighbor's driveway bridge.

The combination of extensive strip-mining in our locality, and heavier precipitation in recent years contribute to more and more problems with flash flooding.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

One Single Impression -- Walls

This deceptively simply prompt caused me to think quite a bit. Below are three small haiku variations on a common theme:

firelight flickers
casting warm and strange shadows
on sheltering walls.

stone, adobe, log
protecting fragile humans
on the hearth within.

safety of a wall
against his back, a hunter
waits for break of dawn.

June 14, 2009

At first I thought about walls as barriers to be overcome, about the ways in which we wall ourselves off, and shut our selves down. I thought about the breaking down of walls. One of my favorite lines from American poetry is the first line of Frost's Mending Wall: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall..." But then I thought about why walls exist, about the purposes they serve, about the safety they provide humans from our earliest existence on this planet. I thought about warmth, comfort -- welcome walls.

obesity and air conditioning

One of my students posting something today that caused the proverbial light bulb to go on over my head. She said that one reason kids are obese is because in the summer time no one wants to go out in the heat.

It dawned on me -- when I was a child 50 years ago, air conditioning was extraordinarily rare in homes. Only the most affluent had air conditioning. Even fans, which were made of metal and relatively more expensive were not within the reach of many people.

This was of little consequence in the San Francisco Bay Area community where I grew up with its mild climate. But in much of the U.S., sweltering summer heat and humidity forced people, and especially children, out of doors, to seek summer breezes and shade and cooling sources of water. I spent part of many childhood summers in Virginia and a vivid part of those childhood memories is smothering damp heat, and the various ways we attempted to stay cool, with cool drinks and splashing in water (lawn sprinklers, wading pools, creeks and streams). Riding bicycles, roller skating, even running around in the shade of the back yard was cooler than sitting still inside.

The heat and humidity affected how we cooked and ate. No one wanted to heat up the house with the oven -- which can easily be avoided these days by using your microwave. One also felt less like eating a heavy meal on the hottest days.

Makes me wonder to what extent the prevalence of air conditioning (and microwaves) in American homes has helped turn us into a nation of overweight couch potatoes, computer and video junkies. Of course, no one is taking my air conditioner except from my hot dead hands (to paraphrase Charlton Heston).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

music for the folk

A great place to hear music for the folk (i.e., true folk music) is at the Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Appalshop which turns 40 this year, got its start through a program called "Community Film Workshops" from the Office of Economic Opportunity in the 1960's. The local youth involved with the program, turned what was suppose to be a job training program into an indigenous expression of mountain culture, which continues to thrive through music, art, film, and theatre. One of the highlights of the year at Appalshop (for 23 years) has been the Seedtime on the Cumberland festival with live music, films, and crafts.

I've probably missed more years than I've attended since I moved to this region 20 years ago. Some years its just been too darned hot; other years I've been ill, or had too much work to do; some years I just forgot until it was over. But I made a concerted effort to go this year, because one of the featured performers was John McCutcheon; McCutcheon is one of the performers who helped ignite my love of bluegrass and traditional folk music of the Appalachian mountains.

My father is from Appalachia, from the tiny hamlet of Troutdale, over in Grayson County, Virginia. Yet despite this fact, and despite having spent a half dozen summers in Troutdale while growing up, I don't remember ever hearing even one bar of traditional mountain music until I wound up at the University of Kentucky in January 1975.

I don't remember the first time I heard traditional music or bluegrass; as both were ubiquitous in Lexington in the mid-1970's. But, I was already familiar with traditional music by July 7, 1977, when I attended a long standing "Old Time Fiddle" convention in Galax, Virginia while I was working on my master thesis research (an historical/ethnographic study of Troutdale). As part of my thesis research I met and interviewed luthier and musician Albert Hash of Whitetop, Virginia, and I had the rare (for a non-musician) pleasure of listening to Albert jamming with a variety of musicians young and old, behind the scenes at the Fiddle contest in Galax.

So I was already well on the hook by the time the winter of 1977-78 rolled around. The winter of 1977-78 was a long cold one, especially in the coal fields of Kentucky and Virginia where one of the longest strikes in UMWA history was unfolding. A concert was held at the University of Kentucky that winter (if memory serves me right in January 78, but it could have been earlier or later) to raise money for striking miners and their families -- and raise awareness.

My reasons for attending were more political than musical -- at least at first. Two performances of the evening stand out in my memory. I have long since forgotten the names of any of the other acts, but I remember in shining detail both John McCutcheon and the all female Reel World String Band (which also still records and performs--sometimes at the Seedtime festival).

McCutcheon, an instrumentalist par excellence, played several different instruments that winter night, but what I remember, what has stayed with me all these years was his performance on the hammer dulcimer. Despite its ancient and venerable history, I had never encountered the hammer dulcimer before that night. The notes of the hammer dulcimer fall sweetly like spring rain, tripping brightly on the ears. The next week I purchased his album "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" (which was produced by June Apple records of Appalshop!). [I just put it on the turntable to provide the right ambiance].

Although it was his performance on the hammer dulcimer that made me a fan in 1977-78, I have since come to appreciate McCutcheon's own formidable song writing skills. This afternoon, he played both traditional pieces and his own compositions, including the "world premier" of a song against strip-mining and mountain top removal that he wrote last night on his way to Whitesburg.

Photo by sgreerpitt, John McCutcheon today, June 13, 2009, at Seedtime on the Cumberland, at the Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

Friday, June 12, 2009

One Single Impression -- Intersections

Better late than never. This week’s prompt overwhelmed me with a surfeit of images. Not sure the following really counts as a “poem”!


day intersects night in the gloaming,
arching mountains merge in misty valleys,
while heat and rain combine in burgeoning forests,
and brilliant green foliage cuts across deepest shadow;
will hope and history unite to save our future?

Friday June 12, 2009

This week the Obama administration announced efforts to better regulate mountaintop removal strip-mining, and to end the "expedited" approval of mountaintop removal permits begun under the Bush administration. This is a move in the right direction but does not go nearly far enough.

a new tool for those who love numbers

A new, free resource on the Internet is Wolfram:Alpha, an astounding computational tool. While there will certainly be debate among mathematics instructors at all levels about whether or not students should be allowed to use this tool, there is no question that this is an amazing computational machine.

Not having any particular mathematics problems that needed solving this morning, I tried a few of the suggested demonstrations -- such as inputting my birth date. I learned that I am 21,311 days old, and that as I had long suspected I was born on Chinese lunar day zhenghue 1, 4648 (Chinese New Year). I was also born before sunrise, on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras).

I also input the town where I work: Whitesburg, Kentucky and found that the exact coordinates of the town are 37.12 deg N, 82.82 deg W, and the current temperature is 59 degrees F, 15 degrees C. I was able to see a five week history of hourly temperatures -- including the unusually low temperature for last Friday night/Saturday morning.

You can put in a phrase like: "Poverty rate Kentucky" and get back not only the most recent, available poverty rate (16.3% in 2007), but also the median household income and the percapita income for the state (with years give for each piece of data).

Great stuff!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--02 Sanding

After several delays occasioned by the maintenance schedule (floors had to be stripped and waxed), I was finally able to get access to the wall and get started.

The first task was to measure, mark and mask off the bottom edge of the mural. There will be student seating area in front of the mural, so it did not make sense to me to start the painting at the floor. It has not yet been determined what will be done with the area below. A variety of suggestions have been made such as bead-board or wainscoting, but my guess is that budgetary considerations will result in paint.

The area where the commemorative plaque will be attached was also decided today (by others), so that I could measure and mask off that area, to paint around it. The decision was to lift the plaque up to eye level, which changes my design a little, but nothing that cannot be easily accommodated.

After masking the edge of the painting, I lightly sanded the surface of the wall up to about a foot above my head. The existing wall paint is a medium gloss paint, and I decided that a light sanding to take some of the gloss off and remove some of the little rough spots would help the gesso go on better.

The task took about an hour, and gave me a really good work out. I tried to use both hands/arms equally so that the aches and pains are evenly distributed in the morning. I corralled Sheila from the Adult Education department to take a photo of me. I'm hoping that along with chronicling the progress of the mural, I'll also be making a record of some weight loss!

The word is that the scaffolding will arrive tomorrow.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Southeast Whitesburg Mural--01 The Beginning

The Whitesburg campus of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in the Fall 2009 term. (The college as a whole celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2010).

The original Whitesburg campus building was renovated from an empty Coca-Cola bottling plant. The photo to the right shows the original front of the building with its logo, as it looks today. This is now the back of the building. Two other buildings were added to the campus over the past thirteen years.

The committee responsible for planning the twentieth anniversary celebration felt that the lobby of the Coca-Cola building (aka the administration building) needed a new focal point, that it was too bland and empty -- as is apparent in the photo to the left that shows what one sees as they enter the front doors of the building. (Normally there would be seating for students across bottom of the wall, but the maintenance department had just finished stripping and re-waxing the floors when the photo was taken on Friday). The committee's decision was to find someone to paint a mural on the big blank wall.

The committee talked to several local artists, none of whom had any real enthusiasm for the project. Then one committee member remembered seeing some of my paintings in my office, and a conversation we had once had when I told him about painting a small mural in my office complex at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He cornered me at our honors night in May, and asked if I would be interested in the project. My first thought was "oh my goodness, I couldn't do that." But the more I thought about it the more enthusiastic I got. So I put together an electronic portfolio to submit to the committee (to view the portfolio click http://www.flickr.com/photos/27863300@N08/ and then look on the right hand side of the page are "sets" for the one labeled "Drawings and Paintings" That set is organized with paintings and landscapes first, then portraits and sketches of people). They were wildly enthusiastic. Most had no idea I painted, much less that I minored in studio art in college.

The committee then asked me for a "proposal" for the project. The theme of the wall is "A Dream Realized" based on the words of the family that was most instrumental in getting started the project of a college campus for Whitesburg. I envisioned a historical panorama in which the major buildings were displayed in historical order from left to right against the backdrop of our beautiful hills in spring time foliage. The river (North Fork of the Kentucky River) which runs between the college buildings would be featured along with the ducks that are an omnipresent feature of the college life. The lower half of the painting would depict students studying, talking, learning, and would feature our four allied health programs -- physical therapy assistant, radiography, respiratory therapy, and soon to start an evening and weekend nursing program (the college has always had LPN and RN programs centered on other campuses).

I created a digital "sketch" with MS Paint (not an easy thing to do with only a mouse), that showed at least an rough representation of what I hoped to do. (The area with the students I envision as being filled with students, I just didn't have time to put all the details into the proposal sketch). Below you can see the "sketch" pasted into the wall.

The committee liked the proposal and I was "hired." Last Tuesday June 2, we ordered all the paints and supplies and on Friday June 5, they arrived. (A shameless commercial plug -- Dick Blick art supply company ROCKS!). The only thing lacking is the scaffolding that will allow me to work all the way to the top of the 10 foot wall. That has to be brought in from our central campus.

I am excited and scared. I am confident of my artistic abilities, but am worried about my physical capabilities. Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease, and several other problems have limited my mobility. I'm going to have to climb up and down from scaffolding, and stand for hours at a time, reaching and stooping to complete this work. On the plus side, it will almost certainly help me lose weight!

I plan to chronicle the entire project here in my blog through posts and photographs. Hope you all will enjoy reading about it as much as I will enjoy doing it.

relay for life

Twenty seven years and one month ago, I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Thanks to educational materials from the American Cancer Society, I had spotted the change in my mole immediately, got treatment early, and became a long term cancer survivor. The educational role of the American Cancer Society is one reason why I have been a supporter of that organization for many years.

During those 27 years unfortunately a very long list of friends and relatives have not survived cancer. Among those whose memories I donate to the ACS are: my aunt Mildred Greer French who died from multiple forms of cancer including a melanoma brain tumor 7 years before my own diagnosis, my cousin Becky Crittenden who died from breast cancer in her mid-thirties leaving behind a husband and two small children, my dear friend Andy's wife Juliet Singer who died from relatively rare uterine tumor when their daughter was two, one of my best friends Ellen Hoffman a life long non-smoker and professor of communications at University of Pittsburgh Johnstown from lung cancer in her forties, my father-in-law Jimmy Pitt who died of lung cancer.

Over the past decades I have regularly donated to the ACS and to several breast cancer organizations, but I had never participated in a Relay for Life event or been a member of a relay team. This year for the first time in nearly a decade some of my friends at the college were motivated to create a relay team -- driven largely by the hard work and enthusiasm of Mitch Caudill who has been the single thread of continuity in our campus's tiny library through a revolving door of six professional librarians in 13 years. The tall guy at the survivor's table is Mitch.

Mitch convinced me to acknowledge myself as a survivor and participate in the survivor ceremonies. At first I was reluctant to do so. Since I was vigilant and caught my melanoma early, I did not have to suffer through chemo or radiation. Sure, I'd had a potentially very deadly form of cancer, and it had made an indelible imprint on me and how I viewed life, but I felt like I'd gotten off easy. But with Mitch's encouragement I did participate, and it was an incredibly meaningful experience to be up on that stage, to listen to all the others' stories and briefly share my own. Turns out there were four other malignant melanoma survivors in the group.

After the survivor ceremonies came the rest of the (very, very long) night. I don't know how Relay is done outside of eastern Kentucky, but here, the Relay lasts from six PM to six AM. This was the first time in nearly twenty years that I stayed awake all night (either by design or by insomnia). While everyone does some walking on the track, and relay teams try to keep at least one member walking through at least the first two-thirds of the night, the walking part of the relay tends to be played down here, with more emphasis on "spirit" through a variety of games and activities. What we lacked in experience (almost all of the other teams had been participating for many years), we made up for in enthusiasm. The photo (left) shows several of my team mates working on the words to our own Relay relevant words set to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." For almost no rehearsal, we gave a pretty credible performance.

After about midnight, there was considerable attrition around the Relay track, the majority of non-team members -- children/parents/friends -- went home to bed, and even a fairly large number of team members gave up and went home. In several cases entire teams left. Our group dwindled from 11 team members and about 20 family members to just six dedicated team members. By sheer coincidence, our chosen Relay night, turned out to be misty and unseasonably cold: thermometer readings stayed in the low 50's, but a brisk little wind from about 2 AM on was chilling. None of us had really come prepared for the weather, we all had sweatshirts, and light throws, when what we need were jackets, hats, gloves and sleeping bags or quilts. A fire would have really been welcome. Also we'd brought lots of food, but it was all summer time, cold fair -- there were a LOT of left over ice cold beverages, but no one had any hot drinks.

The best part of the experience was getting the chance to talk to and get to know one of my fellow workers -- Angela. Angela and I are the same age. We first met when Angela's daughter Sandy was one of my students at my previous job -- a college in near by Virginia. Then six years after Sandy was my student, she became my office mate at Southeast for seven years until a new building was completed that gave us all separate offices. A couple of years ago, Angela who had worked as a nurses aid for most of her career, came to work at the college in the maintenance department. I see Angela almost every day, but she has little time to talk, as the maintenance department is vastly understaffed and overworked. Being more than a decade older than our other team members, Angela and I teamed up to walk together, and huddle against the cold together.

Relay night was a rewarding experience and one that I would not have missed. I especially treasure the time spent with Angela and the other members of my team. However, I think next year I'm going to donate money, and stay at home to sleep in my own comfortable bed!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

demise of an American elm

American elms are hard to find in the U.S. today, as the inroads of Dutch elm disease (introduced to North American in 1928) destroys most trees before they reach maturity -- which can take 60 years. So it was with surprise and some awe that I identified a young (less than 20 year old) American elm at the edge of our property when we first moved in 13 years ago. The tree had the classic "jar" shape, beautifully symmetrical.

Signs of ill health began to appear in the tree in the last six or seven years. Every major storm cost it a few limbs. In the photo to the left, taken last May, you can see that the tree had become lopsided after losing most of the limbs on one side. I developed a fascination for the tree in the last year, as it presented a dramatic natural focal point for our yard.

I shot pictures of the elm under a variety of conditions (see right) such as in the late fall, and more recently used the tree as a subject to explore the capabilities, limited though they may be, of Microsoft paint. (See below)

Yesterday, an unexpected, unpredicted storm with violent winds, lightening, thunder, and hail swept through our area between five and six PM. Just as the storm was slacking off, we heard this horrendous cracking sound which seemed to go on and on, and watched dumbfounded as the limbs of the elm slowly fell over. Below is the tree with one remaining upright limb as it appears this afternoon. Luckily, the downed limbs did not block the narrow lane that seven families must use to come and go from our holler. But since the next big wind might change that, we will have to borrow a chain saw and lay the twisted branches to rest.