Daddy's Christmas Angel

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Jefferson Hotel, Alligators, and Blogger Stats

With all the interest in U-Tube productions going viral, a current peak of interest in a blog I wrote last June about the alligators that used to live in the Jefferson Hotel lobby has me wondering. In the last seven days, there have been almost 700 page views of that little story. That's almost going viral for me.

I'm not sure how the stats in the Blogger "overview" come about, but I like the listing of the most viewed blogs. Until this past week, the blog I wrote two years ago about Joe DuBois and the sad and unexpected ending of the Medium television series has always topped the list of page views. (That's probably because my blog post comes up second on the Google page--I don't know why.)

That alligators were ever allowed in lobby of any hotel is certainly amazing. I wonder now if guests were in any danger while they were there.These days, the Jefferson has a wonderful array of the iconic alligators in its shop in the Rotunda lobby that is appropriately named Gators Gifts.

Alligator at hotel entrance - copyright MMSikes

During the Christmas holiday season, the bronze statue of one of the original live alligators is decorated to greet guests at the lobby entrance. What a lovely way to honor those creatures that used to adorn the hotel in their unusual habitat.

I'm still curious about the Blogger stats which, incidentally, are completely different from the stat counter I keep at the bottom of my blog. If anyone knows what causes difference, I would welcome that information.

The Jefferson, alligators, and stats. The hotel is worth a visit just to see and photograph the bronze gator. But the restaurants are good too...

--Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, January 25, 2013

Weekend News-- Snow, Books, Art, and Giclees

We have the coldest weather in Virginia that we've had for the last couple of years or more. Late this afternoon, snow came down in a rush and made the roads super slick. I'm glad we don't have to go out tonight.

Jacquie Rogers of Romancing the West has me for her guest this week. I'm discussing my novel, A Rainbow for Christmas and much more.

On the Romancing the West site, I'm also talking about the exhibit of work by Lillian Wilhelm Smith, the illustrator of the Zane Grey books. We saw this show at the Sedona Art Center while we were there last November. I loved reading the Zane Grey books and dreaming about the Old West and was especially interested in the paintings that were part of her work.

Next week, I'm one of five artists putting up work for the February show at the Art Education Center Gallery of This Century Art Gallery in Williamsburg. Twelve of my original paintings from the Hotels to Remember project will be featured in this exhibit. It will be exciting to see the pieces together again. All of the paintings in the book have been reproduced as Giclees. Five of those will be part of this exhibition.

What are Giclees? many of you are asking. The word was created over two decades ago by a printmaker named Jack Duganne who wanted to depict prints made with an inkjet printer in a very positive manner. Giclees are made by carefully matching all the colors in a piece of art using high quality archival inks that will last over 100 years (if kept out of direct sunlight). The pastel reproductions are beautiful and much easier to frame than the originals that must be handled very carefully.

The art exhibit at 110 Westover Avenue will feature Elaine Abbott, Jason Hillegas, Devon Rawson, Juliet Kirby, and me . The opening reception will be Friday, February 1, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Present?

"Waterlilies" original pastel MMSikes
What does it mean to be present? That's a provocative subject I've begun to ponder. 

Are you attentive to the person conversing with you inside a crowded room? Sentence fragments and words from others around you creep in and garner some of your attention. You try to listen, but the clutter of sounds pulls you away. You cannot stay in the present.

Now, even while talking on the telephone, you are probably multitasking. Reading e-mails on your computer. Doing a Google search. And we all know about those who text and drive. Never in the present.

As I consider the way a writer works, I don't believe he/she is really present. Not often anyway. Writers are off on flights of fantasy to some far away dream-struck destination. They are considering, recording, remembering, but they are not present. Even now, as I strike the letters on my keyboard, my mind is far away to other lands, a scattering of ideas, a fantasy landscape that no one but I will dare to enter. Even the mundane pulls me away from the present. What we might have for dinner. What I will do tonight and tomorrow. In fleeting images, all these thoughts pass through my mind.

I think of the true artist. Is she the one who is forever present? Hypnotized by imagery, drugged with paints, her mind connects with color on the canvas and is held like a magnet that will not let go. Time flies by, but she does not notice. She is caught in the present.

Writer. Artist. What does it mean to be present?

Are you?

--Mary Montague Sikes

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Departure of A Legend and An Icon

The statue of St. Louis Icon, Stan Musial - MMSikes
What makes a legend and an icon? I don't believe it's possible to define exactly, but for St. Louis Cardinals' fans, Stan Musial has been a legend and an icon almost from the time long ago when he first appeared in a Cardinals' uniform. Unlike most major league baseball players, he remained on one team all of his playing career--22 years. Then he made St. Louis his home for the rest of his life which ended Saturday, January 19, 2013.

Although in declining health, Musial was always present for special events including the season openers, playoff games, World Series, 2009 All Star Game and more. At the season openers, we often saw his grandson drive him around the stadium warning track in a red golf cart. He was "The Man" in St. Louis. His statue stood at the main entrance of the old Busch Stadium and was later moved to the new stadium when it opened in 2006 and now stands at the main entrance there.

Musial was an ambassador for baseball, a gifted player who long stood in the shadows of the more heralded greats, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. He was just as good--maybe better--but the other two players were in New York and Boston where center stage lights shown brighter.

America needs icons. America needs legends. Ones that the children can look to as their special heroes.

Number six is retired forever. A hero is gone. Cardinals Nation is saddened.

--Mary Montague Sikes

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Weekend Gallery in Williamsburg

The Weekend Gallery, part of This Century Art Gallery in Williamsburg, is a new and exciting addition to the Virginia art community. My original pastels from the Hotels to Remember project will be part of the next event. The opening reception is Friday, Feb. 1.Weekend Art Gallery at the TCAG Art Education Center

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Beautiful Piece of Art, A Damaged Soul

"A New Heaven, A New Earth" copyright MMSikes
At the Petersburg Regional Art Center open house this month, I did my usual walk through the main gallery to view the work in the juried show. One piece especially stood out for me. It was a glorious and delicately polished wooden sculpture.

I thought, this belongs in a museum. It was probably the best art piece I've ever seen in a non-museum setting.

Later in the evening, I stood by an easel working on my painting demo when an older black man stopped to talk. It turned out that he was the sculptor who created the fabulous art work that I loved. As we talked, I learned that despite his amazing talent, this artist had not been a success in New York and was unable to find work.

"People were afraid of me," he confided. This was in the 1970s when so much racial turmoil existed.

His comment started me thinking. We judge people by first appearances. We are afraid of certain stereotypes.

Artists are unique people. We see beauty others sometimes overlook. We often care about the work we make and the process we use more that we care about selling the art piece to a stranger.

We are sensitive people. Every comment made can touch us or it can hurt us.

Sadly, we live in a world now where it is not easy to trust a stranger.

Do we have more stereotypes to fear than ever before? I think we do.

Guns are not the answer--having them or not. It doesn't matter.

The answer lies in the children. We need to build a world through them that does not have stereotypes to fear. A world without bullying.

A world where the spirit of an artist is revered.

A world that does not leave an artist with a damaged soul...

--Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, January 11, 2013

Resurrecting a Book that Never Got Promoted

A silent resolution I've made for this year is to promote my book, Night Watch. For many reasons, this mystery/adventure/ romance never got promoted when it was released more than two years ago. The major lesson I learned from this failure is that it is always up to the author to create the necessary promotion for every book. It is the author's responsibility unless he/she is with a major publishing house with a huge budget for marketing.

Night Watch came about because of a trip my husband and I took to Trinidad a few years ago. Before we left, I connected this island nation off the coast of South America with the old movie, Casablanca, starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. Of course, this World War II era movie was set in North Africa, so I'm not sure why I made that connection. But I did.

I began thinking about the glamorous Ms. Bergman and how she dressed in that movie. Wouldn't she travel in a white suit to her destination? Of course, she would. I bought a white pantsuit for our trip and wore it for our airplane trip. The suit was fine for that part of our travels. However, I hadn't counted on what happened after we arrived at the airport.

We were met by two not so well-groomed men who threw our luggage into a very beat up old car. We were booked in a timeshare resort located on a small island off the coast of Trinidad. These men were wearing T-shirts with the name of that resort emblazoned on them. That fact was the only semblance of confidence I had that we were not being kidnapped.

In this ramshackle old car, we flew down a dark and bumpy highway. From time to time, one of the men stuck his hand-held radio out the car window, calling "Gasper Two to Gasper One". It got a little creepy.

Eventually, we reached the waterfront where we saw a small rowboat with a motor on the back arriving at the dock. The two occupants, both wearing yellow slickers, met us, a flashlight in the hand of one. As we motored past huge ocean-going vessels, it was evident my white suit was a very poor choice for travel attire.That was especially true as water began filling the bottom of the boat, and they started bailing it out using tin cans.

We spent a week at this Trinidad island resort and every moment was an adventure. Night Watch was born from things we actually say that happened. I embellished all the facts with my imagination. Because of a relationship with art theft, I used the title of a Rembrandt painting for the title of my book. I wish now I had made the title, Night Watch: A Case of Mistaken Identity. Two many books and other things bear the title, Night Watch, which also caused a problem with promotion.

Promoting this book is a resolution I intend to keep.

--Mary Montague Sikes

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Is Inspiration Only for Amateurs?

Recently, I tuned in late on a television morning show during a time when the famous realist artist, Chuck Close, was speaking. He talked about his work which he has created using a wheel chair since a seizure event in 1988 that left him paralyzed from the neck down. During his talk, Close said that "inspiration is only for amateurs." I believe he was making the point that professionals work day after day on their creations never waiting for inspiration. That kind of determination and work ethic has kept Close going as an artist who since the life-changing "event" now paints with a brush strapped to his wrist. A person with less strength and determination might have given up. Chuck Close did not.

"Inspiration is only for amateurs" is a statement that intrigued me. Since that day, I've thought about it over and over. Do creative people, like artists and writers, need a determined work ethic more than they need inspiration?

What is inspiration anyway? For me, it's a revelation that causes change of some kind. Perhaps it's a change in the way of thinking. Perhaps it's a change in life direction. Perhaps it is something more intangible.

"Mountain Flower Inspiration" photo copyright MMSikes
Perhaps it's connected to the magic amulet for success. Is that possible?

While there is no substitute for dedicated work ethic, I believe we all need inspiration. Some more than others.

And they aren't all amateurs.

Thank you, Chuck Close, for making me think. Thank you for making me consider what is inspiration and who needs it.

We all do...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is There a Magic Amulet for Success?

"How long have you been a writer?" people ask.

"Forever," is my usual reply.

And that's how long I've been insecure. But the insecurity is not about my writing. I've always felt confident and secure about what I've written.

My concern is the reader's response. Will it be what I expect? Will it be what I want? How can I reach a wider audience with my work?

For 2013, the writing insecurity I intend to tackle is that of how to gain an entire new audience for my creativity. Over the years, I've made lots of talks about branding, marketing, and promotion. I've learned a lot and I've shared a lot. But there's something missing, something more intangible.

"In Search of Magic" - MMSikes
It's the magic amulet for success. When writers discover this illusive, invisible gem, they no longer need to search for success because it will find and surround them. All of a sudden, they will gain a wider audience and touch people everywhere.

How do you find the magic amulet? Is it something upon which writers stumble accidentally to propel them to a new level of success? Is it a new found charisma?

I don't know. With your help, I intend to find out.

It should be an exciting journey.

--Mary Montague Sikes