Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Grand Caverns and Orbs in a Photograph

Grand Caverns ©Mary Montague Sikes
Until last week, I had not visited an underground cavern in a very long time. As a child, I remember going to the caverns at Luray, Virginia. They were both spooky and spectacular to a little girl. Then, a few years ago, we visited caves in Trinidad that featured stalactites (ceiling formations that look like icicles hanging down). There were stalagmites rising from the floor of the caves. I wrote about these impressive caves in my novel, Night Watch.

My latest cavern adventure was to Grand Caverns in Grottoes, Virginia. This is the oldest "show cave" in North America with more than 200 years of guided tours. Soldiers from both armies in the Civil War took side trips there and even left over 200 of their signatures on the cave walls. These caverns were discovered in 1804 by an 18-year-old trapper named Bernard Weyer who called it Weyer's Cave.

The draping formations in Grand Caverns often resemble the wings of birds, particularly eagles. Some formations are very rare and look like shields. As I reviewed my photographs, I was surprised to discover one with a series of well-formed orbs quite visible. Using my Nikon Cool Pix digital camera, I was taking a picture of the rock formation and was very surprised to see the orbs. This is the untouched photo, except for resizing. 

Grand Caverns with Orbs ©Mary Montague Sikes
We were visiting the Appalachian Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. This was a side trip for us.

Have any of you had orbs show up in your photographs? Years ago, I had orbs appear in a photo I took of Mayan ruins with my 35mm Minolta camera. Those orb images became part of a painting in my series created of the ancient grounds and structures in Palenque and Chichen Itza in Mexico.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Selecting Powerful Words for Your Writing

Sitting with Linda Dobkins at the book signing
The Virginia Writer's Club Symposium "Navigating Your Writing Life" was very successful. "The Word's the Thing" - our panel for the event worked out well. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss word choices with Kim Dalferes and Angela Carter from our three diverse angles. Kim talked about comedy; Angela, poetry; and I spoke about words in feature article writing and the word connection dredged up between art and writing. We received positive feedback, and people were even turned away from our room because of a limited number due to the fire code.

The informational booklet for the symposium was an impressive 70-page book that contained all the handouts from authors participating on panels and making talks. My handouts were lists of power verbs and quality adjectives as well as a sample press release. I hope that at some point attendees will be able to use my press release as a guide to create one of their own. I want them to insert power verbs and adjectives from my lists.

Here are the power verbs from my list in the Symposium booklet: accelerate, achieve, administer, advance, build, chart, clarify conserve, consolidate, control create, customize, design, devise, enhance, envision, execute, expand, expedite, focus form, gain, guide, head, improve, initiate, inspire, institute, motivate, operate, pioneer, plan, produce, program, refocus, revamp, simplify, spearhead, streamline, strengthen, transform, update, upgrade.

Perhaps you can take a look at your own press release and enhance it through the use of a few of those power verbs. Having a good press release sample to which you can refer for the future is always a good idea, especially for book authors. 

What words have power for you?

Friday, August 5, 2016

"The Word's the Thing" - Virginia Writer's Symposium Panel

Mary Montague Sikes
Angela Carter
Kim Dalferes

I'm fortunate to be a part of the "The Word's the Thing" panel for the Virginia Writer's Club 2016 Symposium. I don't know either Kim Dalferes or Angela Carter, the other two authors on the panel, but I'm looking forward to meeting them.

Being on the panel has really started me to think about the importance of word choice. Long ago, when I first started writing for an afternoon metropolitan newspaper that no longer exists, I remember my shock and awe at the headlines written by others to go above the stories I filed. Those headlines brought extra power to the words in the leads I chose for my stories.  Sometimes the headline words changed the meaning of what I wrote and got me into trouble with county and town officials. I had never before known that such word power existed.

One time I wrote about an historic old church that had paint peeling like flower petals from the ceiling. That wording caused an irate response from one of the members of the congregation. I was trying to paint a word picture of the interior, not antagonize a reader.

The poor choice of words can sting and hurt someone. It can leave a memory that lasts forever.

Giving someone an unexpected compliment can bring them joy. You have spoken a word they might never forget.

That's why lyrics to songs become memorable. That's true of the words of poems as well. I've always loved the writing of Edgar Allan Poe.

Who can forget, "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary..."?

I enjoy the idea of creating our own memorable words.

Think about light and love. The word's the thing.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Tale of Two Angel Paintings - The Tapestry for Peace

Eve Mackintosh with Tapestry for Peace project ©MMSikes
"Angel of the Marshland" is one of my favorite angel paintings of all time, and I've been painting angels forever. This painting and my Tapestry for Peace project painting were both inspired by Eve Mackintosh, a lovely lady with whom I had a meeting in Denver, Colorado only a few months before her untimely death in 2005.

I don't remember exactly how Eve and I connected, but I know it was through the National League of American Pen Women. During a trip my husband and I had planned to the Colorado mountains, Eve and I arranged to meet in the lobby of a hotel located in a Denver suburb . When I first saw her, I felt as if we had always known each other. She was vivacious, energetic, and filled with joy about the Tapestry for Peace project she had instigated and that was being sponsored by the Denver Branch NLAPW.

The first panel that Eve Mackintosh showed me in our Denver meeting.
That day, Eve told me about a vision she had in 1997 while driving along Florida I-10. She saw a gigantic angel in front of her, reaching high with the planet earth in one hand and holding another planet close to her heart. Overcome with wonder, she pulled to the side of the road where she heard the words, "There's a place in space for peace."

Eve was uncertain what to do, but she knew in her heart she must do something. She remembered the bloody war scenes depicted by the Grand Bayeux Tapestry of the 1066 Norman Conquest of England. In contrast, she wanted to create a giant peace tapestry that would inspire children to look to the future without thoughts of battle but with dreams of peace. She contacted Masters of Linen in New York City who donated 120 yards of fine linen for the project. When she became an active member of the Denver Branch NLAPW, she shared her story and idea for the tapestry and thus found the help she needed to bring the Tapestry for Peace to fruition.

When Eve described her vision, I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of her project. Using a piece of her linen and Robert Doak intense watercolors, I created "Angel of the Earth and Skies" as a contribution from Virginia Pen Women for the project.
"Angel of the Earth and Skies" ©MMSikes

The angel image is the dominant feature of the art work. Beneath the angel, five oak leaves, representing the earth, float. Three stars,depicting faith, hope, and love, shine in the sky.  Above the angel’s head, two doves fly with a banner of peace. The angel holds three golden and silver ties in her hands. These are the ties that could bind the hearts of people all over the world in an atmosphere of love. 

Before I sent my tapestry panel off to Denver to be part of the Tapestry for Peace project, I displayed it at Petersburg Regional Arts Center. It is on view in the photograph against the old staircase in the main gallery at PRAC. (That staircase is restored and is now a focal point in the Grand Gallery at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art.)

When the angel left me for its long journey, I missed her and decided to create another angel painting with acrylics on a large canvas. Thus, "Angel of the Marshland" was born.
"Angel of the Marshland" ©Mary Montague Sikes
This week, as I began to recall the stories and events that led to these angel paintings, I forgot about the ceramic angel that "posed" for both pieces of art. During a Tuesday night thunderstorm, I was emphatically reminded. That angel is one of three now sitting on a dresser in our bedroom. Every time, thunder sounded and lightning flashed, that angel sounded a little rumbling noise and lit up with light. The other two angels, although they are the ones with batteries and small light bulbs inside them, did not. The ceramic angel spoke to me as she had once before inside a Pennsylvania store where I knew I must purchase her. 

My panel "Angel of the Earth and Skies" is part of the 264-foot long "Tapestry for Peace". "Angel of the Marshland" is on view now at Dara LeBlanc Haynes' Mathews Country Galleria. The ceramic angel stands ready to pose for yet another painting. The new painting will probably be "Angel of the Trees" because I look out into our woods and wonder where angels might hide.

Our nation and our world is in dire need for peace. Perhaps the Tapestry for Peace will one day come out of storage and travel the world inspiring the children. That is what Eve Mackintosh planned all those years ago.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Ward Center for Contemporary Art - A Beautiful Addition to Old Town Petersburg

"Cloud 9 Band Performs at Ward Center" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Old Towne Petersburg is booming. Just up Sycamore Street from where new episodes of "Mercy Street" were recently filmed stands the Ward Center for Contemporary Art. The renovated spaces there are impressive. As a resident artist in Petersburg Regional Art Center for the entire ten years of its existence, I am in awe of its transformation into the Ward Center.

For the July Friday Night for the Arts open house, Cloud 9 Jazz Band was playing beneath the same staircase (beautifully refurbished but no longer functional) where another music group performed in December 2012. The refinished original wooden floorboards sparkled beneath glorious new lights that show off the unique paintings to perfection.The floors fascinate me. Their beauty makes the transformation complete.

"PRAC 2012 Christmas Gala Music" ©Mary Montague Sikes

At the far end of the Grand Gallery, Pegalicious was serving some of the most delicious treats I've ever encountered at an art event. These included appetizer pastries filled with cranberry/almond chicken salad and pimento cheese. Cupcakes with luscious caramel/pecan icing highlighted their dessert table. I was surprised that a line had not formed outside on the sidewalk to enter this special event. That will surely happen in the future as word spreads about the exceptional open house events at the Ward Center.
"Pigalicious serves treats at The Ward Center First Friday open house" ©MMSikes

Two of my large seascape paintings decorate the spacious windows that front North Sycamore Street on the left. The windows, along with the historic Butterworth's sign were retained during the six million dollar renovation project completed last summer.
"Earth Rising" and "Sea Surf" Acrylic Paintings ©Mary Montague Sikes
The Ward Center for Contemporary Art has an open house every second Friday. The next open house will be Friday, August 12. The gallery and most of the artist studios are open anytime by appointment. Contact Noelle Ward, 804.252.9233.