Artist’s Landscape: a conversation with Jane Carr

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The following is a piece I wrote for the Smithy Center for the Arts as part of my internship with them this summer.

Jane Carr, 74, has considered herself an artist since she was eight years old, when her parents started sending her to the Baltimore Museum of Art for classes.

Every Saturday of my life I went there,” Jane said. “I loved it.”

Jane studied sculpture in art and graduate school, but in her late 50s, she left her 20-pound hammer behind. She returned to painting with egg tempera, a medium her high school art teacher introduced her to. Now, all she wants to do is paint.

SCA: You do a lot of landscape painting of the area. How long have you lived in the Catskills?

Jane: I moved up here in 1980. I lived for nine years in a house that this man and I built in the woods that had no plumbing and no running water and no telephone. It was fun, but it got old. When you get old, living that way is kind of difficult.

SCA: How did living in that house change your art?

Jane: Because we had no lights in our house, I had to only work during the day at a window. I started making these little cutout wooden houses. I’d make maybe ten at the time and paint them all the same. They were modeled after buildings in this area. I did one of the Smithy. In fact, I gave them all to the Smithy. That’s how I made my living. I sold them for $20 each. And then I moved here, and I have a big studio and I paint every day. I don’t do the little houses anymore.

SCA: What sort of artwork did you return to when you returned to electricity and indoor plumbing?

Jane: I returned to egg tempera.

SCA: Tell us about egg tempera.

Jane: First of all, it predates oil painting. Egg tempera was used back in Egyptian times and Byzantine times.

What it is is very simple. All paint starts with dry pigment, but you have to add something to the dry pigment to make it flow onto a canvas or a board. If you mix oil with pigment, it becomes oil paint. If you mix with liquid plastic, you get acrylic. If you mix egg yolk, you get egg tempera. That’s all it is.

You mix egg yolk with pigment, and very little water with the egg yolk. When you make your yolk, you have to squeeze out the inside and throw away the little sack that the yoke is in.

When egg tempera dries and cures, it’s so indestructable, I suppose you could take a knife and scratch it, but it doesn’t fade and it doesn’t yellow and it doesn’t lose its color. Things that were done back in Egyptian times are still brilliant.

SCA: What do you like about egg tempera?

Jane: I love the color. I love how simple it is. When I teach people, I tell them—it’s kind of a joke, but it’s really not a joke—I say, ‘The thing about egg tempera is you keep adding layers until it looks right. If you don’t know what you’re doing, just keep adding layers. It’ll turn out, sooner or later.’

It’s very forgiving. If you don’t like something, you can paint right over it, and it even makes it richer, because you’re seeing everything underneath peeking out.

SCA: One of your pieces currently on display at the Smithy is a portrait of an Inuit man. You’ve done a number of these portraits.

Jane: I did them all in one year. I was going up to this Inuit festival in northern arctic Canada. I went there seven times teaching egg tempera.

SCA: How did you start teaching there?

Jane: I went camping in Alaska with this man that I lived with. I really wanted to see where Jack London used to live in Dawson, so we crossed into the Yukon and I saw this welcome center for the Northwest territories. I’d never heard of the Northwest territories.

We drove up this road and it went to this little village called Inuvik. There wasn’t much going on there, except there was this art festival that was on the last day, and there were a couple of little old Inuit ladies sitting there carving. I said, ‘I got to come back here. I can’t believe I missed this whole festival.’

When it was the fifth year, I went back. And I went back the tenth year, the fifteenth year, the seventeenth, eighteenth, and twentieth. But the reason I went the second time was because I contacted them and said, ‘I’m a painter and I’d really like to come up and see the festival.’ And they asked me if I would teach and give workshops.

SCA: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Jane: One of my teachers—I can’t remember who it was—told me, ‘Jane, put your hand to art every day, even if it’s just sitting at the phone doodling while you’re talking.’ And I’ve done that. I have done that every day. Some days, it’s not a hand scribbling. It’s sometimes picking up a book out of my bookcase, leafing through it, and learning more about some artist. But I do that every day. It’s my life.

Jane Carr currently has three pieces on exhibit in the Smithy Center for the Arts gallery. A Smithy show of her landscape work will open on August 12, 2013.

Singlehood’s Embrace

Look at people as people, not prospects.

Those were my words of wisdom to my brother, whose high school graduation we celebrated yesterday.

It was a good graduation party — the most successful we’ve ever hosted — starting off with talk and food, and eventually segueing into a barefoot game of soccer at the park with about 20 people.

For me, it allowed some entertaining encounters with kids I barely know and a nice conversation with a friend I haven’t seen or talked to in about three years. During soccer, I kicked the ball beyond the field (my favorite thing to do), got hit in the face (resulting in a bloody nose, I found out later), developed a few thumb-size bruises on my calves and — through all of this — mulled over a conversation I’d had earlier, considering compatibility with the converser.

“Something happens when you go to college,” I told my brother, “and I’m going to warn you about it: you start reading into every conversation, every interaction, every passing glance that you have with people of the opposite sex.

Suddenly, the people you talk to aren’t just people. They’re potential life companions, spouses, husbands or wives. And if you’re single — even if you’ve always been — singleness is just a passing phase. Your real life has not begun. It doesn’t truly begin until you’re attached to someone else.

That seems sufficient to make the single 20-year-old female (i.e. me) feel pointless. Better find somebody — pronto! Otherwise, you’ll be stuck by yourself, and everyone knows that’s no way to live.

But wait a second. If I don’t want to spend my life with me, why would anyone else want to spend their life with me?

I spent a solid half hour the other night reading this article from The Atlantic. It touches on a lot of aspects of and reasons for single womanhood. I don’t agree with everything it expresses, but I thought it made a good point on the whole my-life-doesn’t-begin-until-I’m-hitched issue:

We are far more than whom we are (or aren’t) married to: we are also friends, grandparents, colleagues, cousins, and so on. To ignore the depth and complexities of these networks is to limit the full range of our emotional experiences.

If I am so focused on developing one relationship that may not ever work out, how does that impact my other relationships as a friend, sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, aunt, and employee?

I’ve always hated when my older brothers have spewed their relational worries — of never finding someone, of being alone forever, etc. — on me. What about right now? I’ve wanted to ask. What about being my brother? I’ve never had a problem with you being just that.

What is it about singlehood that makes us want to tear it off like a sweaty soccer uniform and scrub its nervous sweat off our backs?

I think it’s high time we embrace wherever we are relationally and stop neglecting full living out of our worries for the future. It’s time to quit seeing people as prospects, and just see people as people. 

Unshackled

Do you ever feel tied down by fear? That your fears, however serious or illogical, have you shackled to the ground? Do you ever fear that your fears aren’t so much yours as you are theirs?

I do. Every other hour of every passing day.

I don’t remember when I first noticed how fearful I was. Maybe when I remembered my 11-year-old self staying awake at night worrying about her future livelihood and living situation (how do you find an apartment? how do you pay for it? how do you even make money?). Maybe when my innumerable dreams started to look possible, nearly doable.

My fears have controlled me a lot in the past year. Immobilized me. Clamped my feet to the ground and duct-taped my mouth shut.

A year ago, I realized that I’d never imagined or pictured myself at 20 years old. As a person who’s always looked to the future and seen myself in it, this realization scared the bejeebers out of me.

Why have I never imagined myself at 20? What does it mean that I haven’t?

My logical, vocal self brushed these questions off: “Meredith. Stop being ridiculous.”

My inner, fear-filled self decided it was because I would never turn 20.

Last summer, my main initiative was to get my driver’s license. I’d driven 7 times the previous summer and I was determined to more than quadruple that, pass my driver’s test, and return to school a college junior with the ability to drive.

Learning how to drive wasn’t easy for me. I’m convinced if you put any beginning driver in a manual Ford with a sticky clutch, a loose shift stick, and brakes that don’t engage until your foot’s on the floor, you’re not going to have pretty results. Add that my dad — who’s not the greatest communicator or the most patient coach — starting me off by explaining the car as a something-ton missile with a heavy projection and the ability to destroy, and the likelihood of this scared pup calmly entering a test is pretty slim.

On top of that, put my conviction that I’m not going to make it to age 20, and what do you get?

A 19-year-old who’s convinced that not only is she in her last year of life, but she’s going to leave this world in a car crash.

Welcome to my mindset less than a year ago when I failed my first driver’s test. And my second one.

Was I governed by fear? You bet I was.

Sure, the car was a piece of junk — I will always confirm that fact — and the testers were basically awful, but the main factor was I was a bundle of nerves. And I was a bundle of nerves, because I was scared to death.

Needless to say, I made it to my 20th birthday, I’m still living, and the third time I took my driving test — over Spring Break this past March — I passed, but don’t get so caught up in what has happened now that you miss my point.

Without a driver’s license, I felt unprepared for life as an adult. And rightly so. Unless you live in a major metropolis (meaning D.C., New York, or Chicago) or have the moolah for a car service (I don’t), you can’t be independent without a license. I needed a license. I needed to be able to drive.

But I was tied to my fear. My fear that I wouldn’t make it to 20 because I’d die in a car crash kept me from accomplishing something I needed to accomplish.

Don’t let your fears do that to you.

Don’t let your fears take your ability to accomplish something, to do something great and necessary, and nail it under the floorboards it’s shackled you to. Don’t let your fears put the shackles in place. Whatever fear you have, use it to drive you to accomplish exactly what you’re afraid of.

Since my 20th birthday and the ultimate realization that not only did fear control me, but my fear was irrational, I’ve begun recognizing when my fears start to clamp my arms to my sides. And before they have my elbows locked in, I wrench free and tell myself, “No. I’m not going to be controlled by fear.”

In these moments, I often think of 2 Timothy 1:7:

God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Fear may exist. But it has no place in my life. And it has no place in yours. So don’t leave room for fear. Say no to shackles.