"Using Middle America as her muse, Kowch draws the history of a particular place -- invariably rural -- to the surface as it collides with a new reality in layers of metaphor and moodiness. The faces of her women may remind you of characters in a Tim Burton film."
--Steve Parks, Newsday

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"No Turning Back"

24" x 48"
acrylic on canvas

My latest. More personally influenced than some of my previous ones, part of the idea stems from the realization that experiences present themselves because they are there to teach us about ourselves. We've all had our share of experience, good and bad, and, odd as it may seem, it's the harder ones that eventually leave us with a feeling of gratefulness for them in the end, because of what they showed us, what they taught us, and the positive ways in which they ended up shaping us.

This painting is about new beginnings, when we come to terms with things past, and move on once and for all. While it may seem strange, maybe even negative at first glance, it is, in fact, positive. Farmers burn their fields each year to cleanse the earth of any lingering diseased crops and prepare the land for re-seeding. So, like the way in which fire paves way for nature's re-growth, the flames symbolize purification and renewal. Will the house catch fire? That's where a lot of the suspense lies in this piece. The figure is not in the house. The swallows who nested in the upstairs room are leaving, too. All the living things are free. The house is old, decaying, a thing of the past. So maybe it will burn to the ground. She doesn't care. She broke the strings that tied her down, making her free to move on. As perilous as it looks, she's never felt safer. She's moving on, and not turning back.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exploring New England

Last week, I had the amazing experience of visiting the East Coast. Thanks to my younger brother who is beginning college in Boston, I was able to finally make my dream of visiting New England a reality. Those of you wonderful folks who read this blog are, by now, probably well aware of my deep-rooted interest in early American history. So, imagine me finally being able to visit places like Boston and Salem, Massachusetts! Unreal and totally invigorating! And dare I mention inspiring? After doing illustrations for stories like The Crucible, The House of the Seven Gables, and Sleepy Hollow, you bet I was absolutely thrilled to be in the presence of the real things.

But, aside from trying to take in all I could in my quick day-trips to places like Salem and other surrounding areas, the place that will forever leave its mark on me is the Olson House in Cushing, Maine – the site and inspiration that gave birth to over 30 years of work by Andrew Wyeth. We all know his most famous work Christina’s World, the most beautiful, haunting painting to ever grace the face of American art. I remember the first time I saw Wyeth’s work. It was Braids, one of the Helga paintings, which I came across in a book back in high school. All I remember was sitting and staring at the image, wide-eyed with awe. A few years later when I was a senior, my teacher had hung a large poster of Christina’s World on the wall. It was the first time I had seen it, and I felt something I couldn’t explain. It still does the same thing to me today. And, after many hours of reading and researching the poignant and touching story of Christina Olson and her brother Alvaro (direct descendants of the Hawthornes from Salem), it’s no wonder why the Olson paintings are so powerful. When I was there, it all felt like a dream. Totally surreal. It still feels that way recalling it. It's hard to even find a place to begin describing it. Janice Kasper, Curator of Historic Properties for the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, ME, explained it best in her introduction for Wyeth's retrospective of the Olson paintings at the Farnsworth back in 2000:

Over the past nine years, I have seen the effect "Christina's World" has had on the public through my association of managing the Olson house for the Farnsworth Art Museum. My very first experience involved a person who flew to Boston from North Carolina, rented a car and drove to Cushing to see the house after hearing that it had recently opened to the public, and drove back to Boston the same day. Since then, I have encountered many others who drove from out of state to see the Olson House and, after visiting the site, returned to their home towns the same day. Many remember seeing a print of the painting "in their school, or their home, or the doctor's office" and that strong image from childhood has remained vivid in their adult minds. Some are intrigued with the mystery of the woman in pink crawling up the hillside, while others being disabled themselves, or having relatives with disabilities, identify with the disabled Christina Olson. For some, the farmhouse on the hill is reminiscent of their parents' or grandparents' home in Iowa, Maine, or almost anywhere in the United States. The painting and the farm evoke pleasant memories of family times together, times of hardships, a time that was closely lived with the natural world. Through "Christina's World," people are intensely drawn to the old saltwater farm in Cushing, and like the painting itself, their reasons for being there are strongly felt but unexplainable. At the house, I have often witnessed people who are so overcome with emotion that they are brought to tears. Another common occurence is to have people linger the entire day at the site, not wanting to let go of the experience.

The Olson House brought me to Maine, and as a result, Maine won me over, too. The Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, ME is a must-see for Wyeth fans, housing breathtaking originals by N.C., Andrew, and Jamie.

I have LOTS of pictures that I want to share with you all, so I uploaded them to Flickr (with captions) to make it easy for everyone to see. There you'll find my excursion to Salem, MA, where I spent a warm evening at the House of the Seven Gables and the birth house of Nathaniel Hawthorne, surrounded by a breathtaking harbor and lush gardens (unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the houses, but let me assure you, it is unreal! Filled with 300-year-old secret stairways, hauntings, and all!), and my misty Maine morning at the Olson House in Cushing, ME. New England is everything I expected and more.
To visit my online photo albums, click HERE.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Gagaguwon Pow-wow '08

During the last weekend of July, I had the pleasure of once again attending the annual Gagaguwon Pow-wow, held in Oscoda, Michigan by the banks of the beautiful AuSable River. Hosted by the Preservation of Native American Culture (PONAC) each year, it's an event I always make a point to attend, being an avid collector of native jewelry and a staunch supporter of American Indian artists. It was great to see the new traders that were here this year, and even more great to see some familiar faces that I had the opportunity to meet again. So, I spent my weekend absorbed in all the beautiful handmade goods, stuffed my face with signature Indian frybread, listened to moving prayers of thanks, watched dancers in their breathtaking regalia, and walked away with, not one, but a few new pieces of jewelry. As a result, I'm not allowed to treat myself to anything for a few good months, but oh well!! I probably can speak for a lot of collectors in saying that if you find something that you just know is for you, it's a good idea to grab it, because once it's gone, it's gone, and there'll never be another like it.

I started collecting only about two years ago, but it's growing slowly and surely, thanks to the artists and other wearers who help me along in what to look for in terms of craftsmanship and authenticity. I learn something new with each piece, and that's a major part of the beauty and thrill of it. Southwest Art magazine's current issue is the 2008 annual which devotes itself entirely to contemporary Native American art, and it's the best one I've seen yet. Check it out here. You can also visit PONAC's official website here, as well. Hats off to this organization for all they do! Migwich (thank you)!