In 1951 when I was five years old, I began my education at The Camp School in Kent. It was idyllic. Set in bluebell woods the school was made up of ex army huts from WW2. Each hut was surrounded by a garden where we grew our own vegetables. Those vegetables were used for our daily lunch eaten in the main hut.
Along with learning the three rs.- I remember days filled with colour, laughter, country dancing and much more.
Everyone walked to school….very few people had cars in those days. I remember certain teachers very fondly and to this day I still have good friends that I met there.
Then came the infamous 11 plus examination….taken when we were 11 years old. This examination was to determine our path through life. Those who passed went onto the Grammar School which lead to university and higher education…those who failed went to a secondary modern school, which lead to trades etc.
I failed the Eleven Plus twice!
I failed twice because I didn’t pass the IQ test. (intelligence quotient)
I now understand why. Back then, there was no understanding of left brain/rightbrain thinking.…or for that matter the word dyslexia had yet to be heard of. In short, it was all pretty black and white. My brain didn’t and still doesn’t work that way. I saw multiple answers for the IQ test rather than the one answer prescribed by the examiners…..
Along with the practical element of ‘what were my parents going to do with me – there was the strong emotional upset that this caused for me and probably many others
In hind sight failing the 11 plus was probably my first major rejection…the first of many to come!
I was fortunate in that my parents could send me to a small, private girls school, which is another story – or should I say the source of more vignettes. That school opened the door for me to go to art school when I was sixteen years old………something I will be forever grateful for.
So what did I learn from this rejection…..??? To pick myself up and get on with whatever fate had presented to me…and most importantly – to never give up.
Witnessing the rise and fall of the World Trade Centre – New York
I mentioned in my first vignette that during the late sixties/early seventies, I became a registered representative on Wall Street where I worked for White, Weld & co. I was a single mother and so needed to make a decent living. At that stage in my life, just out of art school, there was no way I could do that through my art.
During the four years I worked in New York I lived with my son Jarrod on Staten Island, in a little cottage on Harbor View Place. From the end of Harbor View Place we had superb views of the Statue of Liberty, the Verrazano Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.…as well as the harbor traffic.
Each morning I would take Jarrod to his babysitter Marie. Then a bus to the Staten Island Ferry which took me to the foot of Wall Street on Manhattan Island. This was during the period from 1967 til 1971.
During this time construction on the World Trade Centre complex was under way. I remember watching the Twin Towers grow with great fascination…..
In this photograph I am seated at the White Weld – Block trading desk – note that all the technology was state of the art for that time. Pre my Wall Street experience I had no interest whatsoever in business or in making loads of money! My training was in the arts.’ I simply needed to support my son. After my four year stint on Wall Street..I knew for sure that it wasn’t for me. Having said that, it was an incredible experience and to this day I have good friends from that time (including my boss Sandy Lewis and his wife).
Fast forward to September 11th 2001.
I am in my studio on Mill Street in beautiful Crickhowell Wales where by this time I had been living and working for eight years. It was a million miles from Wall Street in every sense of the word. It was a lovely day and I was enjoying the tranquility of my studio.
I always keep BBC Radio 4 on when I am painting. On this day a very unusual announcement came on saying that anyone who had a tv close by was to switch to BBC News….and so I did…and there it was……the destruction of the Twin Towers..the very same place that I had seen being built all those years before.
It was all so shocking. At the time, we didn’t realise the world wide ramifications of this day. That in fact our lives would be changed for ever….
3 Harbor View Place..Staten Island
Harbor View Place had originally been one of the Vanderbuilt estates. My cottage and three other cottages had been gate houses and guest houses during that period. By the time Jarrod and I moved there, the area had been developed very beautifully within the walls of the old estate. It was a great place to live in New York.
With Jarrod on Harbor View Place…..
I had been scheduled to visit Atlanta in the States two weeks after 9/11 for both personal and work reasons. When I asked my travel agent whether I should go or not. She said if I did go to get to the airport at least five hours before my scheduled flight…..and so I did.
Many Americans had been stranded in London and were understandably very upset and concerned. When we got on the plane the BA cabin crew informed us that all newspapers had been removed and that only a few gentle movies would be played. The cabin crew were wonderful and to the best of their ability put everyone at ease.
After giving a workshop at the Quinlan Visual Arts Centre and spending time with good friends, I then flew to Philadelphia to meet my son Jarrod. The following day we drove to Staten Island where we left the car. As we took the Staten Island Ferry across to Manhattan we could see smoke rising from where the towers had been. It was a strange and surreal moment.
When we got off the Ferry it was mayhem….Lower Manhattan was completely sealed off from any form of transportation or communications. We walked up to Washington Square and then onto the Armory where people were scanning thousands of photographs of the missing. It was a very sad and poignant moment.
Here we are now twenty-one years later in our brave new world………..!
During the summer of 1963 when I was seventeen years old, I was hitch hiking through France with one of my art school friends. We were staying in youth hostels along the way which were often in beautiful old chateaux and castles.
After becoming a member of the International Youth Hostel Association – (very inexpensive), the world was our oyster so to speak. The main rule for staying in youth hostels was ‘no driving to the hostel’ door. Walking, canoeing, cycling and trains were acceptable. Many young people, including ourselves cheated a little by hitch hiking for part of the way and then we would walk for the last few miles to the hostel. Back then we lived in a much safer world and hitch hiking was something many people did….it was a lot of fun…more about that later.
watercolour of village in the south of France.
My friend and I were staying in a beautiful old fairy tale castle in Luxembourg where along with young people from around Europe we met two American boys who asked if we wanted to join them for the next leg of their journey through France. They had picked up an old Volkswagen with Danish plates along the way.
Those were the days when fear was not part of the equation – rather a sense offreedom and camaraderie. After three days in Luxembourg we drove with the two American boys to the south of France. There were no mobile phones – in fact very few phones of any kind…. There were no highways – just beautiful country roads, villages and small towns. Finding our own way through life was part of the great adventure of living…..
This gave us plenty of time to talk and get to know one another. The Americans had met on the road and explained that they came from very different backgrounds in the States. One was a Harvard graduate and the other a Brooklyn boy. At that point in time, I had very little knowledge about the States other than what I saw in films……and certainly had no idea that just a few years later I would be living there! However something that made an impression on me even back then was that both boys agreed they would not have met in the States…it was because they were travelling through Europe that their lives came together. They were free to be themselves.
I had visited France quite a bit and had already come to love the country.
In hindsight I realise that we were experiencing a very special moment in time. WW2 was almost behind us and we were yet to be inundated with highways, cars, inexpensive international travel, fast food and everything else that was just around the corner. – Life was simple and from the perspective that we now live – a very different world.
Most of the villages we drove through had a Boulangerie (baker) and a small Epicerie (grocery shop) where we were able to buy baguettes plus cheese and fruit. What more could anyone wish for? To this day the smells of good coffee, fresh baked bread and gauloises cigarettes….are evocative of so many happy memories.
I remember that it was a glorious day – everything sparkled in the way that it does in the south of France. Somewhat lost we found ourselves following a long drive leading to an imposing chateau. Sitting on a large terrace in front of the chateau were a group of men and women with their dogs – who at first site looked more than surprised to see us. When they realised that we had foreign (Danish) plates one of the party came over to talk with us. It was Pablo Picasso.
To this day when I close my eyes, I can see every detail of that moment. He came up to the car – looked in the window – smiled and asked if we would enjoy a drink. We declined….It was a split decision….I have often wondered what might have happened had we said yes. But there he was – the man himself. His charisma and life force shone through.
One of the many watercolour sketches made in Franceover the years.
Through these vignettes I will be spanning several decades, and two continents….They are not in any kind of a sequence…rather selected randomly.
During the past few years, along with painting, I have been writing short random vignettes of some of my life experiences which I plan to share here during the coming year. Ultimately they will be part of my autobiography.
For each vignette I will add one of my paintings….not necessarily connected to the writing…although having said that everything is interconnected.
2022 represents for me 50 years of being a working artist and so a good time to take stock.
I just completed this image of a friend’s beautiful little granddaughter…who I am besotted with:). She represents new beginnings…hope and love.
During the last month or so the iconic painting Christina’s World has come up several times in my life which has prompted me to think back to 1970 when I was 24 years old and had my first encounter with Christina’s World.
A little know fact to most people is that from 1968 til 1971 I was a registered representative on Wall Street working on the block stock trading desk at White, Weld & Co. a very well thought of investment banking firm. As a single mother living and working in New York there was no way I could support my young son through art…and so there I was….in the middle of the financial world.
in 1970 I was dating a man on Wall Street whose good friend happened to own the Coe Kerr Gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We were invited to an opening at the Gallery.
Upon arrival we were taken to a private room on the top floor of the building.
I remember we were sitting on the floor drinking champagne and enjoying interesting conversation when I was told that across the room from me the painting propped against the wall…was the original Christina’s World!
At that point I had never heard of this painting, nor of Andrew Wyeth or Chadds Ford known for its many connections to the Brandywine River Tradition of Art. At that moment in time I had no idea of the paintings significance.
Just a couple of years later I found myself living in the West Chester/Chadds Ford area – close to the then newly renovated Brandywine River Museum which opened in 1971 – one year after my first encounter with Christina’s World which is now housed at MoMA in New York.
Along with other interesting connections which have just arisen….my daughter gave me the book ‘A Piece of the World’ – by Christina Baker Kline. I began reading yesterday and I can’t put it down….and yes it’s all about Christina’s World.
May you enjoy peace and creativity during the coming year.:)
The moment I saw my friend with her new born baby, I experienced a tableaux that suggested gentleness and peace. The placement of the sheets represented the baby entering a world filled with both protection and turmoil.
May all my blog friends experience joy and peace during this holiday season.
Remember that hummingbirds continue to weave their unseen magic.
The following is a true story about my Mother’s traditional English Christmas Cake…and how it saved my life and helped to sustain others….:and at the same time enhanced international relations………:)
In 1960 when I was 16 years old, my parents sent me to Holland for the summer. Travelling by ferry and train, I was to stay with friends who lived in the countryside outside of Eindhoven.
Before leaving my Mother made sure to pack some of her traditional Christmas Cake into my suitcase. No matter where I went this always happened. It was my Mother’s theory that if I got lost, or ran out of food, her cake would sustain me.
A traditional English Christmas Cake For those who are not familiar with traditional English Christmas Cake – a little more information.
My Mother made the cake months before Christmas every year. All manner of fruits and spices were mixed and liberally doused with brandy in order to preserve the cake.
During the several month standing process the cake would be fed with more alcohol during two week intervals…..then wrapped in a cheese cloth and put into a north facing pantry to settle. About two weeks before Christmas the cake would be covered in marzipan along with a thick white icing resembling snow….and then Christmas decorations added.
Given that the cake was very rich….there was always quite a lot left over….plus my Mother would make two cakes at a time….leaving one un-iced, filled with booze, waiting for any natural or man made disasters to occur!After a wonderful summer in Holland…swimming in canals with local children, riding bicycles around the countryside – stopping at farms where we were given the most delicious fresh cheese and milk straight from the cow, and of course sketching…..even back then I carried a sketch book with me. Alas, it was time to return home.
This was the sort of canal we swam in…I was put on a train heading towards the Ferry port at Calais France.
I am not sure when I realised that something was wrong…..I suppose when I arrived in Germany!!
In those days it was quite normal for trains to split – one end going to one country and the other to another, and this is what had happened. I got on the wrong end of the train.
This meant getting back on the right train, and then arriving at the Calais Ferry Terminal far too late to catch the ferry that my parents would be meeting me from at the Dover Ferry Terminal – which in turn meant a long wait.
And this is where Mother’s Traditional English Christmas Cake came into its own.
Calais France Ferry Terminal – just 29.4 miles from Dover UK. When I arrived at the Calais Terminal I joined many other young people from all around Europe sitting on the floor waiting for ferries.
Remember this was many years before fast food, mobile phones, and of course the Euro Star train – everything was simple and basic.
I was hungry as were many of my fellow travellers. I removed the tin containing Mother’s English Christmas Cake from my suit case and shared it with young people from around Europe. The Christmas cake brought us together.
Ferry docking at Dover Ferry Terminal After docking at the Dover Ferry Terminal, I found a policeman waiting for me. Clearly alerts had been sent out…..
The policeman took me and a young German boy I had befriended to the Dover Police Station. There wewere given a slap up breakfast while we waited for my parents to arrive. I had assured the German boy that my parents would give him a lift to Canterbury and then he could hitch hike on to London. The German boy and I kept in touch for many years.
So what’s the moral of this story?
Be Prepared and always carry extra food – especially traditional English Christmas Cake.
(I was reminded of my story when recently a 100 year old fruit cake was found in Antarctica – perfectly preserved. I rest my case. )
In this watercolour image, Christie the Cat looks down onto the Magical Town of Crickadoon (AKA Crickhowell Wales) hoping to find a home of her own.
I hope everyone enjoys a lovely holiday season and that we can all help one another during these difficult times. Janet 🙂
I am asked quite frequently why my work has changed a lot over the years. Given that next year I will. have been a professional artist for fifty years, this is a good time to write about this subject.
Just as we develop ourselves and become more of who we really are, our artistic voice does the same. With every life experience we change and grow – which in turn is mirrored in our art.
Teachers influence – plus our patrons and the demands of our audience. All of this along with the general socioeconomics, political and cultural climate that we find ourselves in have a play in the way we view the world and consequently are artistic voice.
It’s so important not to judge an artist on one painting or one exhibition. Learning about the life of an artist will help to understand their journey and changes in their work.
The next two photographs show where my journey as an artist began. I was sixteen years old when I received a scholarship to the Medway College of Arts in Rochester Kent. It is now under the umbrella of the University of the Creative Arts.
I was very fortunate to go there when the college was still at the old East Gate location, (shown here) rather than the new campus between Rochester and Chatham.
The Entrance to Medway College of Art in Rochester Kent (now part of University of the Creative Arts)
Charles Dickens’ Swiss Chalet writing house in the grounds of East Gate. I have very happy memories of sitting in the little garden in front of the chalet with my fellow art students.
After art school I left for the United States where I lived and worked for twenty-eight years until I returned to the UK/Europe on 1993.
By 1975 (the year my daughter was born and my son was eight years old) I had my first solo exhibition at the Chester County Arts Association in West Chester, Pa. At the same time I was represented by Newman Galleries of Philadelphia who carried my ‘wildlife’ work.
First exhibition at The Chester Country Arts Association – November 1975
Even then I realised that I was not interested in taking the conventional path of getting galleries and having exhibitions. From the get go I wanted to explore my creativity in different ways and allow it to mirror my life journey.
After quite a few years of selling through galleries and exhibiting, I spent several summers with artist friends painting on Isle au Haut an island off the coast of Maine – part of Acadia National Park.
It was on this Island that I had an incredible awakening to the fact that all of life is interconnected. I knew then that I was the rock and the rock was me….at the time it was profound and has been the basis of so much of my painting and writing over the years.
One of the first large paintings of rock formations on Isle au Haut. Along with large canvases I was also producing many watercolours of these beautiful rocks. .
I would take these sketches and paintings back to my studio in West Chester where I would incorporate the human form.
This painting is about the moment we humans turn our backs on one another. We might stay connected for years, but the backs have been turned.
There are numerous paintings in this series, most of them in private collections. I continue to work on this theme up until this day.
One of the more recent paintings in this series. Note as the series has evolved and my life changed swans and hummingbirds have been added….Everything is interconnected….
Around 1984 Bonnie Paul an art consultant came into my life and suggested that I take on mural commissions which was a great way to make income. This was the beginning of our working together on many mural projects.
Here I am with my daughter Christie in front of the mural for The Philadelphia Heart Institute. These jobs were all about making income which would give me the freedom to paint what I wanted to paint. The spec for this painting – was Fairmount Park with the city of Philadelphia in the background.
Around the same time I purchased an old carriage house on Prescott Alley in West Chester Pa….It had no heat and running water but was a fantastic work space. Unbeknownst to me an architect Carl Massara was renovating an old building at the end of Prescott Alley at great cost. He was having trouble renting the space and asked if I would lend my creativity to the building….He gave me carte blanch.
I painted this mural plus I designed and built three large hanging mobiles. The bottom line is that after a large opening reception…all spaces in the building were rented out. Job done.
My friend `Patricia Strawbridge in front of the large mural I painted. Once again the theme was all about interconnections.
A detail from the large mural. oil on panel
Three kinetic hanging mobiles I designed and built for the building.
From the mid eighties until I returned to the UK/Europe in 1993 I produced a large series of still life paintings featuring quilts. These paintings are in private and corporate collections.
Symbolic autobiographical still life. – oil on canvas
Large oil on canvas self portrait. – note it is in my autobiographical still life.
Throughout the years my watercolours have been with me. After returning to the UK/Europe I began painting watercolour portraits – and can safely say that I have left a paper trail of portraits around Europe and in the States where I have returned many times to work.
In the UK/Europe I continued to paint murals….work on a project for children based on Christeve the Cat….and teach in many different countries.
So what about the hummingbirds?
I began incorporating them into some of my large paintings about forty years ago. They symbolise the ‘unseen’ energy and magic in the world. I believe that they are with me wherever I go.
Like everything else the hummingbirds are not separate….but interconnected with all the other work I have done and will do.
Remember never to judge an artist on one painting, one exhibition or for that matter one series of paintings………
I almost forgot to mention that I am writing a book entitled ‘Born with a Silver Egg Cup’
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand – they listen with the intent to reply”. Roy Bennett.
My dear friend Claudia, actress and theatre director – listening. – charcoal
I watched a superb episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ this week featuring Dame Judi Dench.
I have always enjoyed her as an amazing actress but what struck me during this programme was the way she listened so intently to whoever was speaking to her. She not only listened but also made constant eye contact.
Aged 86, I was struck with how beautiful she continues to be. So much of her beauty comes from her ability to be present for others using both her listening skills and her eyes to communicate.
My friend Charlotte fully present and listening…..
Tony is a therapist which means his life is all about listening to others. He and I have been good friends for a long time. It occurred to me after watching Dame Judi Dench, that one of the reasons Tony and I continue to be such good friends is because he is such a good listener.
I know how frustrating it is to be in the company of those who keep interrupting and so to have a friend like Tony is very special..
I am also fully aware that I don’t always listen as well as I should….but I work on it. When I find myself wanting to jump into the conversation so that I can be heard, I step back and stay quiet for a while. Not only does this give the conversation an opportunity to flow, but I inevitably end up learning something.
Tony – The Listener – oil on canvas
“Listen with your eyes as well as your ears” – Graham Speechley
In this portrait of my friend Fran – she is listening to the unseen energy surrounding her….Sometimes we don’t need someone talking with us to listen intently.
‘One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say’. Bryant H McGill
Patricia – French actress and such a wonderful listener.
I am a teacher and am very aware of how much is missed by not listening.
I would also suggest that putting aside all distractions – i.e. mobile phones is a very good first step to effective listening.
I hope you get to see the Dame Judi Dench – Who Do You Think You Are episode. It’s wonderful..
In 1993, when I returned home to the UK after living in the USA for twenty eight years – I decided to stop driving for good.
I don’t like fragmentation in my life. I find it interferes with my thinking process and consequently my creativity. It’s all that stopping and starting…..
Those following my blog will note that I have travelled extensively, but it was always to a destination where I could remove myself from the madding crowd. A place where a car was not necessary to function.
Overlooking the Usk Valley in Wales where the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains meet. watercolour/gouache
In 1993 I moved to Crickhowell in Wales – a small market town in the Usk Valley – a place where I could walk to the butcher, baker and candle stick maker as well as pubs and coffee shops. The magnificent surrounding countryside along with the local people gave me all the inspiration I could ever wish for. As soon as I was introduced to the place by my cousin I knew that it would work for me. It was a place where I would not need a car.
The high street in Crickhowell –
Along with many other shortages currently in the UK there is a petrol shortage. I wont go into the politics and reasons behind this, but rather what it brings to the forefront.
As people fight on the forecourts of petrol stations and others fill any container they can find…it is clear that for most people the concept of not driving isn’t even part of the equation. It has also pointed out how much better off people are who have electric cars.
Back to sanity.
A sketch of the Crickhowell Bridge and behind it St Edmund’s Church which sits in the heart of the town. watercolour and Tombow Pen.
I lived and worked in Crickhowell for twelve years. When I needed a car to get to the train station at Abergavenny I simply called a taxi. Extremely convenient and far less expensive than keeping a car on the roads.
One of the many watercolour portraits I painted of the local people. After living with my cousin and family for six months, I rented my first small flat on the High Street from Anne Trott. Over the years I painted her several times including a large oil on canvas.
Anne Trott – Crickhowell
What I have learned over the years is that society doesn’t make it easy for people to live without a car. Public transportation in some areas is superb….but in many areas it is not good. As an environmentalist I have been banging on about this for years. To get people out of their cars we need to change our whole way of living.
My second home in Crickhowell – the cottage at number 11 Mill Street. A very special place. I was able to walk from the cottage to all the shops and everything else. All my needs were met and I had no car.
There have been times, including this past weekend when I have been driven by a friend. I fully appreciate this, but it is always a reminder to me that cars are not my favourite form of getting around. I prefer public transportation and my walking legs……
Walking in the beautiful Usk Valley – watercolour/gouache
The effect on my body and mind of living without a car in a place where all my needs could be met was extraordinary. I was at peace….and very fit. The priorities of life were made clear.
Consequently, my days were not fragmented…but rather there was a gentle rhythm to them.
A photograph from this past weekend from one of my favourite painting places. Curlews is owned by good friends, and for me it is always a good place to get away from the madding crowd and to be reminded of just how beautiful our world is.
Curlews is just outside of Crickhowell way up high overlooking the Usk Valley – looking up towards Brecon.
On the way up to Curlews we passed John’s house whose portrait I painted a few weeks ago. John Addis is very well known in Crickhowell and his family go back a long way. He has produced some beautiful books with old photographs of the area…
and then a little further up we passed Gwynn’s house. I painted this watercolour sketch about 20 years ago.
I have painted/sketched so many of the people of Crickhowell….As I said earlier, along with the magnificent landscape and people there is a constant source of inspiration. All without a car………
Like the rest of the world, even a place like Crickhowell and the Brecon Beacons is changing. There is a lot more traffic about than when I first went there in 1993. Thank goodness it is part of the Brecon Beacon National Park which does give some protection.
And hopefully we are all recognising that we do need to change our ways. That there is only so much space…and with mental illness growing in leaps and bounds we need to look at a more rhythmic and gentle life….in my opinion one away from cars.
I fully appreciate that for many living without a car is nigh impossible….but we can at least begin to look at different ways of living and being.
I no longer live in Crickhowell but I do live in a place where again I can walk to the butcher baker and candlestick maker……I have no car.:)