Archive for November, 2012

“Transformation” (detail) c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is whiskers.

“American Gothic” by Grant Wood

My mother’s parents were staunch churchgoers, strict parents, active members of a large and close-knit family, and always very hard workers. Remember that famous painting by Grant Wood? Like that. Hiram and Clara Sorrell, in my child’s view, were serious about everything, and I can’t remember either of them ever smiling.

My grandfather was a house painter, and his large garage on the alley behind the house was a place of business: carefully stored ladders, stacks of folded drop cloths, paint buckets and meticulously clean paintbrushes. There must have been a work truck, but it was his Town Car, the pale green (if memory serves), round fendered Ford, complete with leather upholstery, shiny chrome and careful wax job, that I most associate with him. Hiram’s persona swung between the khaki cap, suspenders and baggy khaki work clothes of his trade…and the dapper suit, perfectly polished leather shoes and felt hat of town and church. He taught me how to whip butter and dark sorghum molasses into a sweet spreadable paste for slices of white bread. He ate his every morning with a cup of hot water, cooled by ‘saucer-ing’ it. Before breakfast and then again after his workday, he shaved his considerable whiskers with a lethal straight razor, stropped on a long strap that hung behind the bathroom door. To be nuzzled by Hiram’s pre-shaven face was an unpleasant experience, and perhaps the twice-daily shave was my grandmother’s idea.

My grandmother was an imposing, unapproachable figure, who mostly lived between kitchen and the basement laundry room. My memories show her with a large apron and flowered house dress, standing over a stove or sink, or hanging up wet laundry from the wringer-washer. Clara was an exacting cook and baker, in the era when everything was made from scratch, as were all of her many female relatives. Perhaps it was di rigor then? In a room off the basement, stored away with canned peaches and dill pickles, a very large collection of salt and pepper shakers was the only clue I had to another side of her. She was much taller than my diminutive grandfather, but they were not a couple you could joke with about that. Not at all.

For a child, their Saint Louis, Missouri brownstone was a mysterious place…spotlessly clean and filled with the heavy wooden furniture, leather-bound books, ancient wind-up clocks, and gorgeous rugs of every antique dealer’s dreams. Everything creaked, especially the stairs, and there was that particular fragrance of shaving cream, black soap, flour, lavender perfume and old wood that I now associate only with them (and antique stores). There were puzzles, glider planes (not in the house!), comic books and boxes of Lincoln Logs in the closet, and although we were permitted to make tents with blankets over the dining room table, I can’t imagine that a visit from the grandchildren was anything less than stressful for the elderly Hiram and Clara.

On good weather days, we lounged in metal lawn chairs and sliding rockers on the wide porch which overlooked the neighbors and street below. It was a street of quaint brownstones in that time before freeways cut up cosy neighborhoods and turned them into low-rent districts. I can still hear the melody and electric light hum of the Mr. Softy ice cream truck as it came slowly closer in the fading evening hours. We ate our cones while parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles played cards and drank sodas at the dining room table. Once in a while we were permitted to rake maple leaves for quarters, quickly spent at the corner market, four adventurous blocks away. I see those kind of markets in old movies sometimes now: wood floors, candy and Wonder Bread racks, reach-in coolers for the sodas and the bottle-cap opener by the door.

I was the oldest child of three then, and the fourth child did not come along until many years later. I was in grade school, still playful enough to blow gum bubbles in the back seat of grandfather’s Ford or soap bubbles on the porch, run through the sprinklers in a silly bathing suit, and wade in the creek for rocks and frogs with my pants rolled up at the family’s farm in rural Missouri. I had no idea, back then, that it would all change so quickly.

I suspect that my mother didn’t know that either, when she married an Air Force mechanic who took her far away from the familiar, small world of her childhood home. I don’t think she ever really adapted, and now her dwindling memories are all of that time, long-gone.

“Transformation”   (oil on board)   Another from the archives.

Only a few more days to cast your much-appreciated vote in M. Graham & Co.‘s first Online Painting Show and Competition. View the entire exhibition and vote for your favorite three paintings before November 29th. Three winners will receive loads of M. Graham & Co.’s luscious paint. My own entry, Parlor Persona, can be voted for here. Read the main post for this competition here.

“Parlor Persona”
c. Susan Sorrell Hill

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is zoom.

Confession: I belong to the minority of women who abhor shopping. It’s not because I don’t love clothes, stores or spending money. I do love them. I love those things as much as the next average female. It’s because I absolutely detest dressing rooms.

I think there’s a special place in you-know-where for the persons who invented the dressing room, and especially for the ones who invented dressing room mirrors and lights. What were they thinking? Perhaps it is some secret plot to get a woman to just buy everything she’s dragged into the dressing room, in order to get out as fast as possible? Or could it be some subtle misogynistic thing…?

It’s the zoom effect of those lights and mirrors that freaks me out: the up-close-and-personal confrontation with my face, my behind and, yes, my thighs. “Do I really look like that?” I wonder, just before my brain starts bouncing violently against the insides of my skull. I’ve tried trying on clothes without looking in the mirror, but the truth is I really do want to know in advance if I’ll be making a fool of myself out there.

I wish sometimes I’d be pleasantly surprised in a dressing room. That it would be a nourishing and comforting shopping experience, and that I would not come away, ego-bruised and praying fervently that my clothes would last forever. Just so I wouldn’t have to go shopping again. Wouldn’t happy, confident shoppers spend more, in the long run?

I’ve started to really appreciate mail-order catalogs. Especially the ones with the Easy Return Policy. So much less pain.

“Self-Portrait–Sort Of”   (watercolor, pen & ink)

Still time to vote for your favorite three oil paintings in the M. Graham & Co.‘s first online art show and competition: please vote for my own Parlor Persona painting here, or use this same link to browse the entire show to find your own favorites. (Read my recent post about this competition here.)Voting ends November 29, 2012. Thank you!

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is tree.

1971 was the summer I spent flat on my back. Lest you assume that I was that kind of girl, let me tell you that I had mononucleosis. Instead of enjoying the Southern California, pre-college, ‘working on my tan’ sort of summer that I was fully entitled to, my post-Grad Night summer began with a raging sore throat and progressed to debilitating fatigue.

My mother took over as Recovery Expert, stuffing me with impossibly large Shaklee pills, strange protein drinks, and a tiresome quantity of hard-boiled eggs and cottage cheese. I had few visitors, and could hear the hum of life going by outside my curtained window.  It was a long summer, and I can still remember every detail of that tract home’s unfinished Bonus Room which was my bedroom.

Looking back on it now from a mind-body perspective, I wonder if I was just trying to slow down the flow of Time between the confusing years of adolescence and the even more stressful unknowns of Life As An Adult? Lying there, I eventually realized that I wanted to start my new life far more than I wanted to postpone it.

In July, someone gave me a J. R. R. Tolkien set: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. (Could it have been that unconventional friend with the long kinky hair, brilliant mind, and the enviable ability to wrap his own leg around his shoulder in Algebra class?) The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954 and a cult-classic by the sixties, had not made it into my conventional awareness, and I suspect that whoever gave me those books was nurturing the seed of imagination that I was not completely aware of at seventeen. I had trouble keeping track of who was who, and who was related to whom and where, on my first read through, but it was still wonderful. Can you imagine spending a whole delicious, albeit bed-ridden, summer immersed in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth? I had been a reader of serial books as long as I’d been reading…but Middle-Earth was a far more exotic and mysterious place than I’d ever ventured into. I was hooked on Science Fiction and Fantasy from then on.

Tolkien had a profound ability to weave magic, mystery and archetype into fantastical stories that touched deep cords in readers. His plots and characters addressed the universal struggles, hopes and fears of the human race but at the same time, were expressing his deeply held political sentiments. His books spoke on many levels, but met the reader, young or old, wherever she was and gave her something to grow into. But the walking trees, those Ents…they were my favorite part of his stories.

I think about those trees, and trees in general, sometimes when I am frustrated with my own seeming inability to move myself into my true life, the one I think is living itself somewhere else, without me. What can it be like for a tree who cannot change the view, the  job description, or the neighborhood, cannot protect itself from forest fire or chainsaw? At its worst, I imagine it to be a state of claustrophobia like the being-stuck sense that wakes me up in the middle of the night occasionally. But maybe a tree is beyond all that, connected to deeper and broader things, watching it all going by from on high…?

In Tolkien’s world, the Ents have succumbed to hopelessness and lethargy, and are only awakened into action by news of the evil Sauron’s destruction. The Ents are angry now, and they are powerful…they are a great force for change. The Spielberg movie version clearly paints the horror of a  massive annihilation of ancient trees that finally wakes the Ents from their passivity, and there are disturbing parallels with the reality of war and the state of the planet today. What will it take for humans to wake up, I wonder…

“Moon Tree”   (oil on board)   This vintage painting appeared on the cover of an Isabella catalog about fourteen years ago, and subsequently sold through the Guild.com site (now called Artful Home) to a lady doctor who hung it happily in her office. Hard to believe, but the Isabella folks told me that the image raised a bit of a stir…


There’s still time to cast your vote for my entry in M. Graham’s  (top quality oil, watercolor, gouache and acrylic paints for artists) Oil Painting Art Show Competition. You can vote for my own painting Parlor Persona here (read last week’s post about it here) as well as vote for your other favorites. Voting ends November 29, 2012.

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

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M. Graham & Company (maker of delicious, pigment-packed artist paints in oil, acrylic, watercolor and gouache as well as walnut oil and walnut alkyd medium for solvent-free oil painting) has just announced that their first ever Online Art Competition has opened for Public Voting.

My oil painting, Parlor Persona, has been entered…and I would be infinitely grateful for your vote!

To see and vote for just my own painting, follow this link. To see all of the entries, follow this link to the voting gallery.

Voting ends November 29, 2012. Each person may vote for up to three paintings and voters may only vote one time during the voting period.

The winners will be selected solely on the number of public votesThree winners will receive $1000., $750. and $500. worth of M. Graham paints.

Thank you so much for your support!

Parlor Persona   (oil on board)

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